July 4, 2020

Riffs: 08:03:08: Heather King’s Catholicism

Christian and Roman Catholic convert Heather King got a major write-up at Amy Welborn’s blog. Amy says Heather’s memoir Redeemed is a must read, so I’d say that settles it.

But in the comments of that post I found this quote from an interview with Heather King. That sound you are about to hear is the current crop of cross-avoiding, Osteen-esque evangelicals clearing their throats and slinking down in their seats like the sniveling Gospel-avoiders they are.

Tod asks: And I’m interested to know why the Catholic faith was your path in particular? Why not, for example, a Protestant sect, or Buddhism, or even Islam? What was it about Catholicism that called out to you particularly?

Heather: I can say that when I began my quest I didn’t shop around for a church where I felt “comfortable” or where the people necessarily looked or dressed like me, or where I was going to hear things that were safe or familiar or politically correct. I was seeking the truth. I was looking for a church that would tell me the truth. I was concerned about the state of my soul, which I believed to be a matter of life and death. Catholicism was the only church that addressed that, as a matter of life and death: addressed it directly, continually, truthfully, without stinting or flinching. The cross in a Catholic church has a body on it. Right up front, right above the altar, is the message that subconsciously haunts us: someday, we’re going to die. Right up front, loud and clear, is the human condition: suffering, torment, conflict. As I say in Redeemed, the first time I went to Mass and really “saw” that body on the crucifix, I realized Christ isn’t saying that we need to suffer more; he’s acknowledging the suffering we’re already in. And I suppose on some level in that moment I “got” as much as I ever will, or as it’s possible to “get”—which is that God loves us so much he incarnated himself as man, he came down and pitched his tent among us to teach us how to come awake, to accompany us on the journey, to show what it looks like and what happens to you when you live in total integrity. Eventually, one way or another, they’ll kill you—which is why hardly anyone ever dares to live in total integrity.

Now go and read the entire interview, because it’s a monstrous piece of whup-up on whiney, milque-toast Christianity of every variety and as fine a Christian AND Catholic apologetic as I’ve ever read.

I could approach this piece like some Protestant apologist and say she goes too far here and there, but let’s just be honest. At its best, the catholic tradition produces everything Heather is talking about in this interview, and as a secular woman looking for the Christian message, she found that Catholicism had more spine than evangelism; had more backbone, more substance, more real world application, more truthfulness to the whole story of what life is about, more loyalty to the lessons of the saints and more integrity to the main issues at stake with Jesus.

Yes, we could talk scripture, justification, purgatory, transubstantiation and so on. But what’s the point? read what she says.

I just read the obituary of a woman named Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker who died at the age of 98, and who’d saved something like 2500 Jews, many of them children. The Nazis repeatedly tortured her, breaking her feet and legs, but she’d refused to give the names of her collaborators, or the location of the garden where she’d buried a jar containing a roll of paper with the names of the children and their parents. The Nazis finally let her go and as soon as she got out, she continued with her rescue work. You don’t have to be Catholic to be an Irena Sendler, but I can’t imagine anything that would encourage me more in that direction than Catholicism. Someone like Irena Sendler makes me realize how unworthy I am to call myself a follower of Christ: if I were really a follower, I’d live in a lot more courage, humility, poverty, chastity, and obedience than I do. But people like Irena Sendler give me something to strive for, to emulate. There’s something sublime about an Irena Sendler, about Catholicism, about a religion that makes saints out of sinners. Saints aren’t “good,” they’re beyond good, they’re part crazy. I read recently that faith means believing in the surprise ending. The Crucifixion was a surprise ending. You don’t expect the Savior of the world to die an apparent failure, rejected and scorned, spat upon, cut down in the prime of life and butchered—just like we don’t expect cancer, broken hearts, bankruptcy, alcoholism, war, lost children, famine, crime, and aging to cut us down like they do. So the Crucifixion was a surprise ending.

But the Resurrection—that’s the biggest surprise ending of all.

Now I think King is talking about what the entire Christian tradition- Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic- produces when we stop this insane renovation of the essentials of the faith into “Your Best Life Now.” We’ve got millions of Christian for whom Christ is no more than a life coach with a motivational message for when you’re “down” and “needing direction.” The idea that God has utterly invaded and transformed the human experience via the Gospel, and revolutionizes life now with the Kingdom- it’s really another religion.

King is right: The cross at the front and the way of Christ going out into the world. Both are attractive and transforming to the person who wants God, truth and a new life. If you just need some nice positive thoughts for a hard day, evangelicalism will do just fine.

A great interview, and one that deeply recommends King’s book. Thank you, Amy.


  1. Is Osteen actually considered a Christian? A genuine question from someone on the UK side of the pond.

    I do take your point about the drivel that can pass for Christianity in protestantism, but I didn’t think all this prosperity-gospel, me-packaged-as-Christianity stuff was seriously taken as ‘Christianity’, let alone ‘evangelical Christianity’ (and I don’t label myself ‘evangelical’).

    As someone with an extensive Catholic background (I know you have too), I’m not sure that the Catholic take on ‘the cross’ is the simple ‘Jesus died to pay the price, so now I’m alright Jack’ of Protestant theology, either. I think Heather is hinting at a deeper meaning, but I wonder how many Protestants would hear it?

  2. Osteen is considered a leading evangelical Christian by the vast majority of evangelicals here. Go figure.

  3. Dan Crawford says

    I’m reminded of the pastor of an EFree church who told me that the cross in his church made him uncomfortable and that he dreaded making hospital visits because he felt he “had nothing to offer” the people he was seeing. His great ambition was to raise enough money to spend six months at the Crystal Cathedral to learn as much as he could about “possibility thinking”. The dominant image of Christ in his church building was Salmon’s popular Christ leaving his hairdresser.


  4. Bart Mason says

    I’m re-reading R. Capon’s The Fingerprints of God, and I must say that what Heather King is saying here is what Capon drives home in the first twenty pages of that book, the only one of his I have ever read. Michael, I bring up Capon because I know you like him so much. And King’s idea of this “surprise ending” flows perfetly with Capon’s Bible as mystery novel so well that I would like to make the connection for those who have never read either. I think the big question for Christians is, “Can we handle the Truth?”

  5. In another post I was told that My seeing the RCC as a probable answer to my disgust with most of evangelism would also cause me to have problems with the RDD.

    “For everything that offends you in evangelicalism, you will have to accept an equal number of offensive aspects of RC practice. (Think relics, purgatory, indulgences, etc.)”

    Perhaps that is true but the sense I get from Catholicism is that they do not trivialize the gospel or the sacraments as evangelical bodies do.
    My last, and I do mean last, experience with a bloated evangelical church left me thinking that they just wanted to make everyone feel good about themselves.

    Heck, that’s why God Created Oprah.

  6. I didn’t mean to capitalize My in the first sentance. I guess I have a god complex.

  7. Also I can’t spell anymore.

  8. Clay of CO says

    Is the problem Evangelicalism, or evangelicals? I loved what Heather King says, and how she says it, but that spirit is not in Catholicism alone. I have experienced it in a conservative, dare I say Evangelical, Anglican church and have longed for it since. I have moved 1,000 miles from it to an Evangelical American Mecca city, and can find only hints of it here. I find so few evangelicals who really understand or want that kind of teaching and worship. When I describe it to them it is as though they are hard of spiritual hearing and all I get is a befuddled, “Huh?” I don’t know if their spirits have been dulled by a consumerist Evangelicalism, or if evangelicals have dulled the church by their collusion with American culture. Maybe both and.

    Note to Copy Editor: I could be wrong, but in Para 6 (“I could approach this piece…”), Line 5, I think “evangelism” should be “evangelicalism”?

  9. Christopher Lake says

    Heather’s observations here have much Biblical good sense. Christianity is not primarily about our earthly physical comfort or our “happiness” (in the contemporary, superficial sense of the word). It is about God and His glorification through our salvation and sanctification– and this *involves* suffering. Now, God does provide for our earthly needs, but I have come to believe that “needs” are as defined on His terms, not ours. God may allow us to go through any manner of suffering in this world, but as Christians, we can endure and even thrive in it, knowing that *God has already been there, in the incarnate Jesus on the cross.*

    I do wish that Heather would have looked into evangelical Protestantism more closely before choosing Catholicism though. Justification *is* a crucial issue. Moreover, specifically in the best of Protestant Reformed Christianity, there is both an acknowledgment of the reality of suffering and a sobriety about suffering. A great example is Mark Dever’s recent sermon on Job’s trials at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I highly commend it to all who wish to hear a more a serious, thoughtful evangelical Christian view of suffering. http://www.chbcaudio.org/index.php?s=losing+everything

    Not all of evangelicalism is fluff. In fact, I would say that the “fluff” is not actually, genuinely evangelical at all.

  10. Christopher Lake says

    P.S. That link is to the entire sermon series on Job. The message on Job’s trials is found at the bottom of the page.

  11. “I do wish that Heather would have looked into evangelical Protestantism more closely before choosing Catholicism though.”

    I don’t know if she did or didn’t, but my library has a copy of this, so I’ll find out soon. But as another former evangelical who made the leap backwards to the ancient church (EO), I feel very strongly that meeting Christ in the eucharist trumps a few choruses and a 40 minute lecture every time. Maybe Ms. King felt the same way.

  12. Christopher Lake says

    Sally, I’m a former Catholic, so it’s not as if I have no experience with sacramental, liturgical religion. The sad fact is that I never heard the Gospel preached in the Catholic Church. I also haven’t found it in the Orthodox writings that I have read. Now, I do honestly struggle with the loud, rock-band-style “worship” time at my non-denominational church. On the surface, the Catholic Mass *seems* more reverent and serious. As I said though, I just never heard the Gospel when I was there. I never heard it in the RCIA classes that I took as a Catholic convert. Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t understand that I wasn’t hearing it. I do sincerely hope that there are Catholic churches preaching the Gospel. I haven’t personally encountered that myself, but I hope that it exists.

    By contrast, at my current church, in the sermons (“40-minute lectures,” as you describe them), I do hear the Gospel, and I hear Biblical passages not merely read, but also explained and applied in a serious, thoughtful, challenging way. As for the music at my non-denominational church, I don’t like the *loudness* of it, as compared to the Mass (or compared to the more subdued music at my previous, Reformed Baptist church), BUT Christ and the Gospel are at least clear in the contemporary-style hymns and songs. Songs that are theologically off-point, or just shallow, are not used at this church. Again, not all of evangelicalism is fluff, or as Michael Horton once described it, “happy-clappy worship.” I am genuinely sad that you seem to have only experienced the less serious side of evangelicalism.

  13. Christopher,

    I hear Biblical passages not merely read, but also explained and applied in a serious, thoughtful, challenging way.

    This is an interesting thought. If the Bible is sufficient in itself, as many Protestants think, why do you not find fulfillment in reading it? Why is it necessary to add the words of men before you find it useful? The answer is that, like the Ethiopian eunuch, we need a teacher to help us understand. Unfortunately we are now in a situation where we can pick a teacher we agree with, rather than listen to one who speaks with authority.

    When you say you “never heard the Gospel preached in the Catholic Church,” I suspect what you mean to say is “I never heard an interpretation of the Gospel that I understood or agreed with.” So you went elsewhere and found an interpretation that you did understand and/or agree with.

    It is certainly true that many priests are not exactly dynamic preachers. This is a big problem. You did not say how long you were actively Catholic or how many different parishes you attended. Your experience does not match mine. I spent the first 30 years of my life as an active Baptist, but the Scriptures came alive for me only in the Catholic Church. Maybe both of us had an atypical experience.

    For the benefit of non-Catholics: you will hear more Scripture at a Catholic Mass than many evangelical services. At every Sunday Mass there are four separate Scripture readings. The first is from the Old Testament. Then there is a song, normally sung responsively. Next is a reading from one of the New Testament epistles or Acts. Finally there is the Gospel Reading. We pay special honor to the Lord’s own words. We sit during the other readings; for the Gospel we stand. We sing Alleluia and we make the Sign of the Cross on our forehead, lips and chest, symbolically asking that the Word of the Lord be on our minds, in our mouth and in our hearts. The priest or deacon reads the day’s passage and we respond “Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.” If you come to Mass every Sunday for the three-year lectionary cycle, you will hear substantially all of all four Gospels.

    Following this is the homily that is supposed to amplify the day’s readings. Sometimes it doesn’t, which is unfortunate. But it is hardly fair to say that no one hears the Gospel in the Catholic Church.

  14. Typo in next to last paragraph above: “Song” should be “Psalm.”

  15. Christopher,

    Maybe after being in evangelical churches for 30 years, my ears are somewhat attuned to hearing the gospel. I do hear it in both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, albeit possibly presented in a different style and language than which we are familiar. I do think some of the younger priests are communicating the gospel far better than their predecessors. In the EO, I’ve seen a flux of convert priests, young and old, coming from other traditions, who are fully aware of the need to clearly teach the faith. In the EO, with occasional visits to the RC, I came to a church that was, indeed, a “house of prayer” as Christ called it to be – moreso than I found in evangelical churches I had been a part of for so long. It is easy for me to see why someone finds solace and substance in these ancients traditions.

  16. Christopher Lake says

    PatrickW, I did not say that no one hears the Gospel in the Catholic Church. Therefore, when you write that it is hardly fair to say that, you are addressing something that I didn’t say. I never heard the Gospel when I was in the Catholic Church.

    What I mean by that is, I never heard that I am saved from God’s wrath against sin by His grace through faith because of Christ *alone,* and that works are a result of true faith, but they don’t justify me before God. (Before man, yes, in some sense, but not before God.) I never heard that God is now *pleased* with me because of Christ’s perfectly obedient life and sacrificial death on my behalf. I never heard that I now have the perfect righteousness of Christ counted to me by God through faith, and that this is why, and how, I can now approach God boldly at all times *and* fight sin and obey Him– knowing as I do so that my salvation is secure. In Catholicism, to believe that one’s salvation is secure is to commit the sin of presumption. However, John writes that he wants us to *know* that we are saved… and therefore, we can know. I never heard this truth explained in the Catholic Church.

    Patrick, I do find fulfillment in reading the Bible. Here too, you are responding to something that I didn’t say. I do believe that the Bible is sufficient for salvation and ultimately for all of life. However, the Bible itself contains the concepts of elders and wise counsel. Other people have studied the Bible for many more years than I have, and they are blessed to see and understand things about it that I don’t always see. Therefore, in appropriate humility (and with discernment, as the Bereans), I read and listen to what other Christians have to say about the Bible… including the main preaching elder at my church. Because I listen to him and others, and I consider what they have to say, does not mean that I do not find fulfillment in reading the Bible myself.

    Sally, I seem to have touched a nerve in you with my comments… again, I’m speaking of my personal time in the Catholic Church and what I have read of Orthodox writers. Perhaps you have a blessedly different experience, *through hearing very different things,* than I did. If so, then I rejoice for you. Perhaps you also heard very different things, in your time in evangelical churches, than I have. Many self-styled evangelical churches spend much more time on certain *implications* of the Gospel (living a Godly life, avoiding sin, the peace that Jesus brings us, etc.), or on how ungodly American culture supposedly is, than they spend on on the Gospel itself.

    I obviously don’t know what your time in evangelical churches was like. I just know that I have heard the Gospel in *genuinely* evangelical churches (as opposed to merely self-styled ones, such as Osteen’s), whereas I did not hear it in the Catholic Church. I’m not saying that *no one* ever hears the Gospel in Catholic or Orthodox churches. I would have to be omniscient to have such knowledge! I simply have not heard it from those traditions.

  17. Christopher Lake says

    Also, Patrick, it is one thing to hear the Bible read at Mass. It is another thing entirely to hear the Bible read, and then also to hear the Gospel explained and applied in the context of the passage *from* that reading. I never encountered the latter in the Catholic Church *or* in the books of Catholic apologetics that I read, many of them written by enthusiastic converts.

  18. This is actually an encouraging post, after reading the one about the spiritual apathy that plagues much of our culture. I have to believe that even the most cynical individuals deal with life and death issues. I appreciate her comments on the crucifix. My Lutheran pastor has a crucifix in his office, but none adorn the sanctuary. Several Catholic churches in town have beautiful altar crucifixes. I wish Lutherans could use statues of Mary as a symbol of God’s grace and faithfulness under extreme suffering, but I guess the past is too difficult to get over.

    Luther’s grappling with life and death is a big part of why I am Lutheran. But that can become self-serving. I like how King mentioned that the Catholic view leads to suffering with and for others. What I’m finding in reading Schweitzer is that religion without ethics – focused on selfish interests (here or in eternity) – is not Christian. There are world religions which separate themselves from the material and suffering world to pursue perfection; Christianity is not one of them.

    I would agree that the RC doesn’t have the corner on the cross-centered life (not necessarily a reference to Mahaney). Corrie Ten Boom was not Catholic. But I do believe symbols reflect ethics. Worship services filled with shiny-happy symbols will probably not lead to a congregation aware of the suffering around (or within) them. We have friends who pastor a church where a very graphic public health billboard depicting a meth addict is right across the street. It seems appropriate to me. Replace the sign reading “you are now entering the mission field” at the exit of many sanctuaries with that picture. Another way to prepare to receive the eucharist may be to reflect on receiving a broken Jesus into our broken lives to bring him to a broken world.

  19. Christopher,

    We heard the gospel in the evan church; I cannot fault them for such a lack. I think my complaint is more that other things, especially loud, rock-style music, was over-emphasized as the way to connect with Christ. Also, they were rather virulently anti-catholic and after searching and learning for myself, I find that what this particular church taught about RC was just plain wrong. I guess I am a bit sensitive to it, but please know that I do not wish to be argumentative at all.


  20. Christopher, I am glad you found a place where you are able to hear a message that you find enriching. Pax vobiscum.

  21. As a point of interest, in addition to the four readings mentioned by Patrick W, the Mass itself is replete with Scripture.
    To give a few examples:
    We start the Liturgy with a quote from Scripture: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (2Cor 13:14, RSV)

    When the priest washes his hands before the Consecration he quietly prays “Lord, wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (Ps 51:2)

    When the priest holds up the consecrated Host, he says:
    “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29)

    The congregation in turn responds: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the Word and I
    shall be healed.” We paraphrase the centurion’s prayer in Mt 8:8.

    A Liturgy saturated with Scripture and the Eucharist…truly, food for the soul.