Our book-klub book is currently a book entitled “How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to Devoted Catholic in 95 Difficult Steps”, written by a sociologist at Notre Dame University who went to Wheaton and Gordon College, and then converted in 2010. He provides a number of questions or realizations which made him start to seriously consider becoming Roman Catholic.
The book is very interesting in that it lays out a lot of potential reasons why someone would go from Evangelical to Catholic. This sort of conversion could be confusing to some– I remember an atheist freind of mine who had seen a Christian friend of his convert from pentecostal protestant to episcopalian, and then again on to Roman Catholic, and his question to me was “isn’t he going in reverse?– isn’t he regressing back towards a less enlightened position?” Since the protestant reformation is often linked with the enlightenment historically, it can seem that a conversion to Roman Catholicism is a conversion to Medievalism– but yet that is exactly part of its appeal– its historical rootedness.
We have not finished the book yet, but halfway in or better, it is easy to ask the question my good friend Jim asked and say that the author definitely brings up a number of issues and problems in the evangelical world that we need to pray through and think through and work on– but just because there are issues here doesn’t provide an argument that the obvious conclusion is that you should go home to Rome and take on all the problems and difficulties you have there.
Anyway, we have found the book very helpful for discussion, and it is easy to identify with a lot of the ‘anomalies’– as he calls them– which one might find in the evangelical church. To understand fully what the author is saying, you really should read his explanation of each one in the book for yourself. But here are some:
I plan to follow this first blog post up with some comments on a number of these, but I’ll comment on a couple of them.
1. Rootlessness: Many evangelicals I know feel disconnected from any particular church, and denominationalism, which gives one a sense of roots and lasting tradition, is quite simply dying. Evangelicals have focused so much on criticizing tradition and in some cases (like in the Evangelical Free Church) intentionally tried to downplay the denomination, that often people have little rootedness to a church or denomination. The Evangelical Free Church I loved as a kid is in many respects gone now– its become a much different kind of organization– gutted of its historical roots (swedish/norwegian), with little of its historically congregational appeal, and much more efficiently run from a corporate home office. Obviously there is a rootedness in your own personal faith in Jesus, and your own devotional life, etc– Jesus will not leave you or forsake you– but that in itself does not provide social rootedness that we are talking about here.
2. Fragmentation and disunity:There is no doubt that in this era of fragmented evangelicalism, it is easy to wonder where your home is– what your real roots are, spiritually. What does it mean to be evangelical, when so many call themselves one? And the typical solution for Evangelicals seems to be: if you can’t find path to follow– start your own. Simple Free exemplifies this, as do many of the young churches which spring up weekly across the country, unafiliated, or affiliated to networks like Acts 29, etc. At some point, it is easy to become discouraged with all of this splintering, and begin to wonder how to have unity in Christs church. One option is to unify under a single organizational structure– the Roman Catholic Church. But I am not yet convinced that the unity Christ is talking about is about an institutional unity like that.
3. Settling matters of dispute: We all like to have matters settled, and it is sometimes hard to deal with a lack of resolution. Scripture of course provides the boundaries and the foundation of our Christian worldview and beliefs– but how should we interpret it, and how should we choose whose interpretation to follow? These sorts of questions can prompt one to long for a unified authority to provide an authoritative reading of Scripture passages and positions. Evangelicals carry a heavy burden of having to decide doctrinal points and social views on their own from Scripture. The Berean tradition was always for each person in the congregation to be reading their own Bibles and wanting to make sure what was preached was accurate. But at some points, we wish someone would tell us how to understand things (and at that point we turn to whoever our favorite popular theologians are within the evangelical world– and again we are faced with a decision as to who to turn to for our advisors). This sense that I have to figure this out on my own with my Bible and me can become tiring. But: if I choose to have the Roman Catholic church decide for me, then I am responsible for whatever the RC church’s view is on these topics. That doesn’t absolve me of responsibility. Ultimately, there is no way to escape this responsibility of having to choose…
I am not going to go through all of these, but two more this time:
5. Get annoyed or embarasse about evangelical spokespeople: Of course there are times when we wish we weren’t associated with Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, and some Evangelicals go out of their way to try to distance themselves from these folk. But honestly– this is not in itself a good reason to become Roman Catholic. One important difference between Evangelical leaders who say stupid things or who have moral failures (like the evangelical leader who spoke against homosexuality and then was found to be having gay massages in Colorado, etc) is that the evangelical church as an institution did not systematically cover up in a habitual manner child molesting among its clergy. Some evangelical leaders fail. But generally speaking we have not ignored and covered up the failings of our leaders in the same way that we seem to see in the Roman Catholic church.
6. Church Shopping: Of course anyone who has tried to find a new church knows how tiring and frustrating it can be. At some point its easy to just throw your hands up in the air and decide that the decision seems somewhat random anyway, and we all know no church is perfect. This point in itself is true– and we need to think not of what this church can do for me, but also of what I can do for my church– however, becoming tired of searching for a church is not in itself a reason to decide to become Roman Catholic, of course.
Again, this book is very useful for challenging us to think about our own evangelicalism. I look forward to finishing it.