Should Evangelicals Become Catholic? (95 steps…)

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:

1. Begin to feel rootless
2. Start to notice fragmentation and disunity
3. Notice Bible’s inability to settle matters in dispute
4. Start to grow weary of Meaningful worship services
5. Get annoyed and stay annoyed at embarrassing evangelical spokespeople
6. Get tired of church shopping and wonder if churches should be shopped for.
7. Start wondering what the mystery of faith and life are
8. Hear about someone you respect becoming Catholic
9. begin wondering if being relevant is irrelevant
10. Notice American evangelicalisms cultural accomodations
11. Read some church history
12. Wonder where new testament came from
13. Read JR Tolkein
14. Start asking why evangelical churches are so segregated by race and class
15. feel some dismay about evangelical social ethics
16. Begin noticing how aollergic evangelicals are to mary
17. Start to grow bored with white bread and vanilla flavored evangelicalism
18. Note your dissatisfaction with th eheavily cognitive, often rationalist, nature of much of Protestantism
19. Start noticing that evangelicalism seems to thrive on external threats and alarmist claims
20 Begin to see how very thin the biblical basis of many evangelical beliefs are.
21. Start wondering why authors and pubishers of evangelical phophesy books are never held accountable for their failed predictions
22.  Think about why American evangelicalism continually spins off a never ending supply of problematic preachers
23. Notice that too many pastors and leaders seem to thrive by disputing minor doctrinal issues
24. Pay closer attention to any of your own or others primordial emotional reactions against Catholicism
25. Attend one too many bible studies that turns out to be not about the bible, but about opinions and feelings of uniformed participants
26.  Ask yourself why we need a new monasticism when Catholicism still has Christianitiys old manasticism
27.Start wondering if getting into heaven is the core of what Christianity is about
28. Start wondering where the true christian church was for the 1,000-1400 years between the apostacy and the Reformation
29. Notice that evangelical churches have their own man made rituals
30. Ask where the orthodox doctrines of the Trinity and Christology came from
31. Read martin Luthers 95 theses
32. Begin to ealize how very modern evangelicalism is
33. Consider the historic sociological connection between the reformation and seculatization
34.  Get to personally know some Catholics who believe in Jesus and are impressive in their faith
35. take note of substandard preaching
36 Entertain the question whether the kingdom of God really stands and falls on the doctrine of biblical inerrancy
37. Wonder what it means to profess one holy catholic and apopstolic church
38. Begin wondering what the difference is between evangelical museum pieces, memorials, and kitsch and Catholic icons, statues and sacramentals
39. Ask yourself why and how what began as a reform and renwewal movement became entrenched as yet another established religious institution
40. start doubting that the next evbangelical renewal movement will really renew the church
41 Read GK Chesterton
42. Take notice of John Paul II
43. Start to wonder if American evangelicalism, not to mention protestantism, actually ever really reforms itself
44. Start to wonder where all the evangelical intellectuals are.

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.



7 responses to “Should Evangelicals Become Catholic? (95 steps…)

  1. Jesse Nigro

    What I find interesting is that most of these “anomalies” would seem to be reasonable causes for folks to second guess their “non-denominational” evangelicalism, but could easily lead a person into traditional protestantism, which from it’s inception maintained quite a lot of catholicity in it’s different streams. Only a few of these anomalies actually pertain to Roman Catholicism as a proposed solution, and if John Paul 2 (good man that he was) can lead you into becoming an RC then why not let Gandhi lead you into Hinduism? Idunno, maybe my problem with these “reasons” is that they’re coming from a sociologist and his science is a little too “soft” for my taste. 😉

  2. simplefreechurch

    Jesse: I am with you– the reasons are soft, and to his credit, he is not trying to provide a technical apologetic or philosophical defense– rather, he is giving mostly sociological reasons (not all, but most of them are). I think you are right– that traditional protestant denominations (such as Anglican, which you are) can provide a stronger historical basis for church community. I would say I respect JP II more than Gandhi– particularly with respect to his personal ethics.

  3. Jesse Nigro

    Yes, of course I agree with you, Pope John Paul II ftw! His leadership did in fact display a very ecumenical spirit which I appreciated. I guess in all of these discussions I get mostly frustrated with the way the conversation is framed. Evangelical or Catholic? Protestant or Historic Church? My answer is going to be both and both, or course.

  4. Jesse,

    Out of curiosity, what part of the Protestant theology, where they differ from RC (and Eastern Orthodox for that matter), are you claiming is historical?

  5. Brandon,

    The historic things that I appreciate about the traditional Protestant denominations are actually those things which are shared with the Church Catholic (by which I mean universal). This includes, but is not limited to; “the prayers” of the church which are the liturgy, sacramental views on Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, the church kalendar, etc.. Often these are the things that evangelicals are reading or hearing about and missing the most. I can’t blame them! Being a part of a community of faithful Christians who practice these traditions is something that is better experienced than explained. The “rhythm” of the church is unmistakable to those who seek to live it out. Now these things just so happen to be available in the best examples of the mainline protestant churches; Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, and of course Anglicanism. It’s true, I do believe that Anglicanism has preserved the “fullness of the catholic faith” while these others have lost some things along the way, but that’s a conversation for another time (I’ve already posted enough here as it is!).

    In contrast, while I believe much of protestantism is “anemic” in one sense of having “lost some things” (one being the apostolic ministry), I also believe the Roman See has not only “preserved” much but has also distorted much of the catholic faith. How and what am I talking about? “The issue is really concerned with the assertion that the Roman See exercises the supreme magisterium and the dogmatic office by express divine appointment, so that papal decisions ex cathedra are not subject to reversal or modification even by the universal Church.” (Francis Joseph Hall – Authority, ecclesiastical and Biblical). Now this is an issue where the Orthodox Church in the east and the Protestant Churches in the west are in agreement, very much to their benefit and health IMHO.

  6. andygustafson

    Jesse, I think that you eloquently express two of the main concerns I have with the RC church– I would say it in terms of my being nervous about the non-congregationalism, and putting so much authority in so few hands– as well as the non-reversability and non-revisability of ex cathedra papal edicts, and a tendency to not revisit previous councils, especially later ones. Reformed and always reforming…

  7. I think the question you really need to ask is; “What is truth?” It doesn’t matter what church your friend is joining or all the stained glass windows etc.. Reading Scripture and following the pure unadulterated word of God is what leads us into all truth. I don’t care what a pope says or some church leader. They are not God. They have no final authority. God is the Ultimate Judge and what He says is final!

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