August 5, 2020

A Response to “From Wheaton To Rome” at Jesus Creed

Scot Mcknight has a new book out called Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy. It’s an interesting discussion of the reasons people deconvert and convert, both in and out of their own traditions. The chapters cover conversion to unbelief, from Judaism to Christianity, from Rome to evangelicalism and from evangelicalism to Rome.

This is an academic discussion, with insights from sociology and studies of converts. No judgments. Just insights and descriptions of what researchers have learned in “conversion theory.” There’s valuable information here that will help us all be more aware and thoughtful toward one another as we face the very frequent reality of conversion.

Scot asked me if I would read and do a “response” post at Jesus Creed on one of the chapters. Want to guess which one?

My response to the chapter on “From Wheaton to Rome” can be found today at Jesus Creed. Yes, Scot thought I might have some thoughts on evangelicals converting to Rome. Hmmmm. Imagine that. 🙂 Remember, this is a response, not a review, so it’s personal. (Catholic convert apologists, please try to read the whole thing before telling me I just don’t get it 🙂

IM readers who lament evangelicalism and who find themselves unable to imagine crossing the Tiber may want to bring a box of Kleenex. I feel your pain.

I won’t be reprinting the post here, but you are welcome to comment here or at Jesus Creed.

Thanks to Scot for an outstanding book and the opportunity to discuss my response to a very personal aspect of conversion.

Comments

  1. Great essay.

    Only comment is that as Evangelicals we may sometimes overly-idealize Catholic worship as well. So many of the masses I’ve attended are every bit as bad as emergent dreck. The Church post-Vatican II is a colossal mess, despite an impressive Catechism. I can’t imagine Ronald Knox or many others even existing in the American or British Catholic Church.

  2. Michael, Thanks for alerting us to your post at Jesus Creed. Here’s the comment I left there relating my own conversion from a Evangelical upbringing to Catholicism:

    I was raised in various Evangelical churches, from Pentecostal to Presbyterian. While I was in college I began searching for a church to call my own. For seven years I went to various Protestant denominations and then the Catholic church.

    Eventually, after seven years, I found myself continually drawn to the Catholic church and converted in 1987. For me, it was simply the place where I felt most comfortable. I found great reassurance in the presentation of communion at Mass. I found comfort in praying the Rosary. Sure, there are still elements that are not easy for me to accept. And to this day, I attend a weekly women’s Bible study at a Protestant church, and previously enjoyed attending BSF.

    I still enjoy sitting through a good Bible centered sermon by someone like Charles Stanley, or the pastor at my mother’s church, Sam Lamerson (at Coral Ridge Presbyterian).

    My point is, I am happy to find God/Christ wherever I can and to learn in more than one setting. I’m happy that I converted to Catholicism, but I also treasure the good preaching of a Bible centered sermon.

  3. My last girlfriend was Catholic, and despite reservations about some of the RCC’s theology, I probably would have returned to to the RCC mostly for the reasons you mentioned in your comments. I say “returned” because I was Catholic until I was in Jr. High school when my folks pulled the family out. Thus, I’ve had all the pre-Confirmation Sacraments and wouldn’t have to go through full conversion. Visiting her church really made me spiritually homesick.

    Talking to my grandmother (an ordained Episcopal deacon), I thought Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church might be a good compromise for me. However, with ECUSA’s current dramatics and infighting, I really couldn’t do that despite my philosophical agreement with Anglicanism’s core teachings. And the splinter-groups of US-based Anglicans really leave a bad taste in my mouth as the fact that they’d splinter seems so un-Anglican to me.

    So, I’m not really sure what to do these days. That said, I have been meditating on some of the stuff you’ve been saying about taking some cues from St. Francis…

  4. It’s debatable that the RCC doesn’t or never had their versions of Osteen or Bentley. I would suggest that Tetzel fit the bill pretty well.

    I think your statement that postmodernism tries to get over the reformation is profound. I understand the argument that protestantism digresses into personal, designer religions, but I think history bears plenty of examples where tyranny occurs when individuals stop holding their leaders accountable. To do that, individuals need to study the scriptures themselves to validate what their leaders claim to be true. From that perspective, Bentley is not a poster child of protestantism but a perfect example of what happens when the protestant principle is abandoned or suppressed.

    Trust but verify.

  5. I grew up Missouri Synod Lutheran in the days when the Missouri Synod was VERY serious about the pope being the anti-Christ. My father is a lapsed (and excommunicated!) Roman Catholic, but his family were/are practicing Roman Catholics. I address your post on the other blog with some random thoughts; mainly because I can’t pull the ‘randomness’ together.

    I haven’t been following your blog long enough to know the story behind your wife’s journey to the RCC so please don’t view anything I say as a direct comment on her journey.

    The fundamental reason why I, personally, would never convert to the RCC is its ecclesiology. And not so much the hierarchy as the doctrine that it *is* ‘The One True Church’. I appreciate the Vatican II nuances about ‘separated breathern’, but this is the main sticking point for me. I also think this ‘One True Church’ doctrine is the main sticking point about Communion / The Eucharist, rather than the doctrine about ‘what the eucharist is’. Communion outside the RCC is ‘not valid’ precisely because it is outside the One True Church. This is the issue that the RCC and The Orthodox Church have been fighting over for centuries: both have the same ecclesiology and both believe themself to be the only True Church. To me, as a dyed-in-the-wool Protestant, this ecclesiology is absurd.

    Then there is the issue of ‘cradle Catholics’ versus converts. I believe from personal experience of cradle Catholics – as well as once having done a small survey amongst cradle Catholics – that many do not believe in the infallibility of the Pope’s ‘ex cathedra’ promulgations and many do not believe in transubstantiation either. But most practicing RCs would not leave the RCC because they are ‘Catholic’ in identity. The net result is that some people are members of ‘The One True Church’ by birth and others must convert. Rather like Calvinistic double-predestination! The doctrinal hurdle for converts seems higher than for those who are born into the RCC.

    Finally, as someone who does not identify as ‘evangelical’, I do not see Joel Osteen and Todd Bentley as being ‘evangelical Christians’. I see them both as purveyors of what I’d broadly call ‘The prosperity gospel’ – which I see as a heresy. (I think ‘God wants everyone healed’ and ‘God wants everyone to have everything they want’ are variations on the same theme.)

    To me as a non-evangelical, the risk of the evangelical tradition is that it becomes a purveyor of easy answers. And Osteen and Bentley have fallen off the edge of this tradition into (IMO) non-Christianity. Evangelicalism emphasises conversion, and this is its strength. The broad catholic tradition has many more tools – tools of doctrine and of practice – for deepening in Christian discipleship but it’s easy for a non-Christian to become lost in it if we don’t clearly articulate the first step of commitment to God in Christ, which evangelical Christianity does so well.

  6. Memphis Aggie says

    Michael,

    I just read your post and thought it was very mellow, not contentious at all. There was one bit I did not understand what are the “Big Four”?

  7. A lot of evangelicals don’t realize that the principle that prevented the denominational chaos you see in the USA has nothing to do with popes or Tradition and everything to do with the Enlightenment principle of freedom of religion. The single-church ideal can only be realized if the state chooses one and uses the force of law to suppress alternatives. If the state enforces a religion, there will be no denominational splintering. This held true in Catholic Italy, Lutheran Sweden, Reformed Prussia, and Protestant England. The splintering began in the USA for that very reason.

  8. Memphis Aggie says

    FYI Pam,

    One small quibble, the Catholic Church recognizes as valid the Eucharist of the Eastern Orthodox because they have Apostolic Succession. The only issue separating East and West today is Authority, and even that division is eroding. This past feast of Sts Peter and Paul were co-celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch and the Pope at the Vatican.

    While this doesn’t really change your general objection, for the sake of accuracy I thought I’d toss that in.

  9. Jeremiah Lawson says

    And ironically Christians had the influence they had because they refused to cooperate with a state-enforced religion. And now Christians pine for the sort of imposed unity that they changed the world resisting? 🙂 That sounds like God’s people to me.

  10. I think the zealous convert phenomenon (whether Catholic or Protestant) occurs because most denominational converts base their conversion on arguments.

    The vocal Catholic converts that I know all converted after long periods of research into historical Christianity, ECF’s, Cannon development, etc. They set out to prove that God exists, Jesus existed, and the Bible is true, and found Catholicism as the way to find certainty.

    The vocal Catholic to protestant converts I know base their conversion on biblical interpretation. They can’t understand why Catholics believe one thing, when the Bible appears to say another.

    Since the denominational convert’s faith is based on a series of arguments, they believe the arguments should convert others (and get frustrated when others don’t accept their conclusions).

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    For what it’s worth, my most blatant experience with the Order of St Borg (“You WILL Become Catholic! Resistance is Futile! Prepare to be Assimilated!”) was a convert from the Episcopal Church. I think she flaked out into 24/7 Marian devotions some time after I lost contact.

  12. Although converts may be viewed as either traitors or proof of that a particular group is “right” or “blessed,” the bottom line is that they are people who want more than what they are getting. As a Catholic I place my hopes on converts bringing spiritual life and scriptural literacy that is so sorely needed.

    I have been told “Catholics make the best JW’s” and “Catholics make the best Mormons” by members of those groups. I guess it goes both ways.

  13. To memphis aggie, I’m not sure, but I think Michael was referring to the four “solas” of the Protestant Reformation:

    1. The authority of Scripture: Sola scriptura (Scripture alone)
    2. The basis of salvation: Sola Gratia (Grace alone)
    3. The means of salvation: Sola Fide (Faith alone)
    4. The merit of salvation: Solus Christus (Christ alone)

    But then again, he might have been talking about Bill Bright’s Four Spiritual Laws. Or even something else, maybe, like the four most prominent Southern Baptist seminaries. 🙂

    iMonk, please clarify ASAP!

  14. >These are evangelicals who long, quest, thirst and occasionally obsess over certainty in matters religious, historical and ecclesiastical pedigrees, the lamentable lack of unity in protestantism and the crisis of authority in Christianity in general.

    1. Certainty
    2. Antiquity
    3. Unity
    4. Authority

    The RCC convert’s Big Four.

  15. Those are good concerns you list as the “Big Four”, Michael, but I think numero uno should be, simply, truth.

    Though honestly, before the Holy Spirit yanked me out of my comfortable Protestant life, those four were not concerns for me. I felt that certainty came from faith in the leading of the Holy Spirit (which was a problem when it started leading me towards the Church); that Baptists had a claim to antiquity as strong as anyone, even if there was little recorded reason to believe that (hooray Landmarkism!); that the apparent disunity of Protestantism led to a stronger Christian society as competing ideas competed, Darwin-style (got this one from the writings of John Milton, actually); and that the Scriptures alone were a valid authority over the Christian life.

    I was not overly concerned with any of these matters, though I felt a yearning for something more. Oddly enough, it wasn’t even the ceremony and pomp of the Catholic Church that initially intrigued me, as the parish I first attended is not terribly opulent, being run by the Paulist Fathers. Rather, it was the prompting of the still, small voice that cried to me, and I had no choice but to listen. I was not overly worried with the Protestant world, and the Catholic Church has it’s serious problems, so I really don’t see conversion as being *necessarily* tied to resolving anxieties on the part of the convert.

    Pax et bonum,
    Sam Urfer

  16. Err, where it says “competing ideas competed” above, read “opposing ideas competed”. Milton has a very interesting free market, survival of the fittest view of how churches should exist in society. Crazy 17th century Libertarian that he was and all.

  17. My basic point is that many- not all- RC converts from evangelicalism are “concerned” about issues that evangelicals tend to live with, and are less concerned about issues many evangelicals take seriously.

    I could point out the relevant blogs, but there’s no reason. It’s obvious from my ever growing mail file that many RC converts were semi-tormented by the possibility they might not be in the one true church or that they might not have authority for what they taught or that their disagreement might mean they had abandoned the faith.

    Meanwhile, discussions on assurance, evangelism of actual unbelievers, preaching, church planting and Biblical interpretation and application are major concerns for evangelicals, but are non-starters for many Catholics. If you are on the right ship, then what’s to get worked up about?

  18. Ahhh, okay. I can get behind that distinction, broadly speaking.

  19. Memphis Aggie: Thank you for your correction which I agree with. Yes, the RCC views The Orthodox Church as part of the one true Church but the Orthodox do not return the favour!

    Personally speaking, were I hold a belief that God created a One True Church Hierarchy that he wanted all Christians to belong to, I’d be Orthodox not RCC. I don’t see how anyone can justify the Roman Schism, but that’s just me.

  20. 1. Certainty
    2. Antiquity
    3. Unity
    4. Authority

    The RCC convert’s Big Four.

    I’ve been suspicious about number one being in a convert’s bag for a long time. My thoughts are, if that’s what’s truly important in the search for meaning, and if the searcher is honest and critical, then the conversion won’t stick. The same goes for so-called confessionalists. Best to jump ship for some other reason, and numbers 2–4 are a start (even if # 4 nudges up against # 1).

  21. Personally speaking, were I hold a belief that God created a One True Church Hierarchy that he wanted all Christians to belong to, I’d be Orthodox not RCC. I don’t see how anyone can justify the Roman Schism, but that’s just me.

    Pam, I went through that when I was in the process of poping. I, too, would have rather been Orthodox, but it was pointed out to me (I think in a quote from Thomas Howard) that as a westerner, I come under the authority of the Patriarch of Rome either way. I suspect God prefers obedience to either doctrinal or ecclesiological correctness. The disputes between Rome and Byzantium are beyond me to resolve, even in my own mind; better for me to submit to the patriarch God placed me under than to cavil at things I don’t fully understand.

  22. As a convert to Catholicism, I completely agree with Michael’s assessment about evangelism, outreach (even to current members) and preaching aren’t even on most Catholic’s screen. (Much less being important)

    You don’t know how many times that I have tried to push doing some evangelistic type work, only the get the following responses: “It’s not a Catholic word”, “We don’t want to offend anybody (generally followed by a example of truely offensive evangelism)”