Monthly Archives: August 2011

None of Our Business: Letting God Work in Others in Strange Ways

I wonder if sometimes God gets slightly annoyed with us trying to figure out why He does what He does.  I wonder if He ever thinks, “why don’t they just mind their own business and think about what I’ve given them to do instead of bothering with trying to figure out what I’m doing?”  We busy ourselves trying to analyze God’s motives, options and perspective.  Our accounts of how and why God does what he does are similar in quality to the nuclear physics research of a golden retriever.

Its freeing when you come to the point of ‘letting’ God do what he does and you just keep your focus on what God has given you to do.  This even applies to other people’s situations.  I had cancer when I was 25 and I went through 8 rounds of chemotherapy.  It was difficult, of course, but honestly I handled it pretty well (the last couple of rounds nearly killed me, but still, it was OK).  I remember people– well-intentioned– saying things like “I bet you are really struggling with why God let this happen to you– I bet that is difficult!” And they were trying to sympathize with my situation, with loving compassion.  But the fact was, it never crossed my mind that I was suffering something I didn’t deserve.  It just was not a struggle for me.  To outsiders it appeared that I probably was going to be struggling with certain questions, but it turned out that in fact I wasn’t, and those weren’t questions for me at all (which is surprising, since I am a philosopher and all). 

So sometimes I see things happen to others, and I start to be concerned about their business, and I see situations where maybe I think someone is struggling– but it turns out they aren’t.  From my perspective, it looks like they got thrown under the bus– like my cancer maybe looked to outsiders.  But the funny thing is that when its you and God going through something together, sometimes its simply not a big deal– or at least not something you need someone else to help see you through.  God’s grace is sufficient, and if you happen to be an outsider to that, its likely you won’t get it– and its not yours to get anyway!

Its especially hard to not get involved, especially when it is someone you care a lot about.  But sometimes the way to be involved is to stay out of it and let God do what he needs, and you just pray.  God is weird– His ways are not our ways– and its good for us to simply get used to that idea and accept it.  Sometimes God doesn’t need us to get involved– he needs us to stay out of the way because he needs to get alone with the person and bring them through something alone. 

Kierkegaard talked a lot about Abraham going up the mount to sacrifice his son Issaac.  Abraham was in a situation which he could not fully related to anyone else.  He was, in Kierkegaards words, experiencing the ‘height of subjectivity’– it was him and God and no one else could understand.  His wife wouldn’t really understand what he was doing because she hadn’t heard from God as Abraham had.  He couldn’t go talk to his priest about it– he just had to go with God up the mount facing the situation himself. 

It is wonderful to have community, and to be supported and loved, challenged and embraced by community.  But there are some things that God wants you to face on your own.  And while its hard to know, as an outsider, when that is– its important to remember that sometimes God has plans for others which may seem strange to you– and its absolutely none of your business.  He has given you things to do– given you a direction and a purpose– and you only need to be faithful to that calling he has on your life.  What he does in anothers life is really between God and that person. 

It is important to sympathize with others– rejoice when they rejoice, mourn when they mourn– but it is also important sometimes to simply let God work in and through them in His very strange ways that are beyond our comprehension.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your way straight.

May God have mercy on us all…

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Holy Hill Pilgrimage — a cosmo journey

Catholic Churches are usually beautiful.  They definitely know where to build too– if there was to be a contest between Catholics and protestant evangelicals on architecture, I’m not sure what we protestant evangelicals would even put in to compete.  Evangelical protestants have traditionally spent money on missions and programs and staff rather than buildings, and when they do build, they build pretty functional buildings– thats why so many of them look like giant machine sheds. 

There are so many things I am thankful for from evangelical protestant church– like strong Bible focus and the community of love and the steadfast devotion and commitment to personal relationship to God.  But I am also thankful that God gave us good architecture through our Roman Catholic brothers. 

Holy Hill is about 45 minutes from Milwaukee.  Its a gorgeous church up on a hill from which you can see (up in the tower) the towers of downtown Milwaukee.  We up the tower, of course, to see what we could see.  We also went into the church sanctuary for as while, and a woman was singing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and so when I went home I looked up that hymn in my book on the stories of old hymns (101 Hymn Stories).  It was by Issac Watts, who lived from 1674-1748.  Watts was a bright kid, learning latin by 5 and greek by 9, french at 11 and Hebrew by 13.  And he started writing hymns because he thought the songs at his dissenting Congregational church stunk.  An example of a hymn from that day is given in the book, so show how awful they were:

Ye monsters of the bubbling deep, your Master’s praises spout; Upf from the sands ye coddling peep, and wag your tails about…

(Remember that next time you even think of thinking negative thoughts about singing “shine jesus shine” or some other chorus you aren’t too fond of…)

So this young kid Watts wrote

When I survey the wondrous cross, On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it Lord that I should boast, Save int he dealth of Christ, my GodAll the vain things that charm me most– Isacrifice them to His blood.

Were they whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small.  Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.

For a while Watts wrote a new hymn each Sunday, and eventually composed 600 hymns.  So this kid from a Congregational church which had dissented (broken away) from the Church of England (which had broken away from Rome, Obviously). 

On Saturday, I got to hear this hymn of a doubly-protestant teenager from the 1600’s in a beautiful Roman Catholic church atop a hill with Milwaukee in the distance.   Afterwards, we walked down and around the hill past the 12 stations of the cross– each with a beautiful relief carving of Jesus from the sentencing by Pilate to his burial.  A good reminder of the story of Christ’s crucifixion.

The experience made me appreciate again the diversity of the Body of Christ– the many components of Christianity.  God uses us in our own churches in various ways, and who knows what good God is going to bring us from one of these other churches we don’t regularly go to? 

I remember going not infrequently to the Church of the Holy Seplecure in Jerusalem when I was studying in Jerusalem for a semester back in college.  That church has at least 7 different denomenations who have a part of it, because it is thought to be on the site where Jesus was buried.  The Roman Catholics call it the Church of the Holy Seplecure (holy grave) while one of the Eastern Orthodox churches there call it the church of the Risen Saviour.   It was a massive vaulting and ancient structure, so different than Monroe where I grew up in the cornfields of Nebraska.  We know God is not contained by any structure, but I know he is glorified through them, and I thank God for such beautiful places like that, like Holy Hill, and like our living room where we meet on Wednesdays.  Simple Free sure doesn’t have such a nice building, and its nice to not have that maintenance expense.  But we also don’t have any monuments to our saviour on this earth made from brick and stone.  I am thankful some churches can provide such places of sanctuary for the rest of us to go to.  God blesses us in so many ways through so many different churches.

May God have mercy on us all.

Andy

Are Atheists More Ethical than Theists?

“The non-religious, or Nones, hold the fastest-growing world view in the market,” says Kosmin. “In the past 20 years, their numbers in the United States have doubled to 15 percent.”  (Der Spiegel)

My friend pointed me to a recent article in Der Spiegel called Does Secularlism Make People more ethical? which quoted some who study secularism claiming that belief in God may actually lead to less ethical behavior, not more ethical behavior.  I’ve met a lot of outstandingly ethical atheists, and a lot of not-very ethical theists, so I tend to think that belief in God is not alone a great criteria for knowing if one is ethical or not.  I know some people only go to Christian mechanics, etc– because they think they can trust them more– but I haven’t found it to be true that Christian mechanics are always more ethical, or that my non-religious one’s cheated me. 

Now there is no doubt that belief in something Transcendent (God, for example) does provide a basis for certain moral courage that others who don’t have such a belief may not have.  A friend of mine recently was pointing out that perhaps just wars are only possible if you have a belief in God, since only something transcendent is worth dying for.  Now I think that even if you don’t believe in God it still can make sense to die for your heritage, family, country, way of life, etc in war– its not like secularists care about nothing more than their own skin necessarily– that just doesn’t accurately describe reality.   But the more interesting thing about this argument that only theists could have a just war is that on the flip side of that claim is the atheists claim that “belief in God leads to violence.”  In other words, only a belief in God would lead one to kill people at 911, in the Crusades, in Northern Ireland, in the Pakistan-India skirmishes, in the Iran-Iraq war, in Crete (Turkish Muslims and Greek Christians), Croatia, Kyrzykstan-Uzbekistan, 30 year war (Lutheran-Catholic) etc etc etc.  Now from most of these skirmishes you could just as well say “ethnicity leads to war” or “desire for wealth leads to war” or even simply “pride and arrogance leads to war”.    In other words, picking out religion as the cause simply because many wars ostensibly use religious arguments to justify their claims and get adherents to go sacrifice themselves (the many virgins (in heaven) promised to Martyrs in sects of Islam who are willing to die for the cause is one case in point) is not an entirely accurate picture of what is going on.

Now there are Christians who think that non-Christians can not do good, because to do good requires God’s grace.  They also think that anything done apart from God is sin, so since an atheist is certainly apart from God, and nothing they do is done for God’s glory, nothing they do can NOT be sin.  Now I do not agree with this viewpoint.  I understand the gist of it, and see why someone would argue that any act done not for the glory of God is sin in some sense.  But I do think that atheists can love their wives, be kind, honest, follow most of the 10 commandments, etc.  I see all people in God’s image, and see the vestiges of that, regardless of the current state of their relationship with God.  Some people are in better shape than others morally and soul-wise, but you can tell that all of them were made by God and for God and that beauty is there regardless of their current stage.  It doesn’t matter if they are a theif a murderer, or a terrorist– there is still some of the goodness of God left there which is redeemable and lovely.  Some think that is semipelagian.  I just think its Christian.

 One reason I think theists think secularists are less ethical is that secularists don’t tend to follow the same restrictions as theists.  One reason atheists think theists are unethical is because they push all their rules on everyone else!  So the theist biased against atheists may find atheists to be sexually loose, unsupportive of basic societal goals of marriage and family and fidelity, supportive of unnatural activities, likely to cheat or steal if they can get away with it, willing to kill the unborn, supporters of killing the elderly (euthanasia), focused on animals more than people (Peter Singer, case in point), etc.  Atheists biased against theists will see theists to be oppressive to women (no abortion), anit-homosexual, oppressive to those outside the norm (single moms, etc), prone to be divisive and retributive, argumentative, and generally pushy.  (Kosmin, at the Trinity College (CT) center for secular studies said, “For example, many believe that the US population is steadily becoming more religious — but this is an optical illusion. Many evangelicals have simply become more aggressive and more political.”)

The article also points out that secularism increases as ‘the church’ generally is decreasing:

This heightened public profile may be contributing to the shrinking numbers of religious believers. Churches in the US are losing up to 1 million members every year. In Europe, secularization has advanced even further. The number of non-religious people, those who do not believe in God or any higher power, has reached approximately 40 percent in France and about 27 percent in Germany.

 But even though they may have increased in numbers, they still generally are not trusted, and the article points out that “since secularists rank among the least-liked groups of people in the US, falling behind even Muslims and homosexuals.”

The other problem, apparently, that secularists have is that they don’t have anything around which to organize themselves.  Kosmin mentioned a  ‘secularist demonstration’ planned in Washington last year, “But they couldn’t even agree on a motto,” he says. “It was like herding cats, straight out of a Monty Python sketch.” In the end, the march was called off. 

I have read a lot of Christian arguments claiming that if one doesn’t believe in God, then you don’t have a strong basis for morality, because you don’t have a metaphysical structure deep enough to really prescribe behaviors to others.  In other words, if there is no designer to plan how we are supposed to live, then there isn’t really a right way and a wrong way to do things. 

This argument is generally meant to show people that if they want to hold to a moral standard, then not believing in God is inconsistent.  Now I am not too interested in such arguments for the simple reason that I have never known people to believe in God after hearing this argument: “Oh you are right, I am inconsistent, I’d better believe in God right now then!…” 

But I also have a very practical and selfish reason I’m not too interested in the argument.  I tell my friends who try to use this argument to think about what they are doing: They are using it on Atheists who are acting morally– not murdering, not cheating, not stealing, being honest– and they are saying to them: “Look, you are really being inconsistent.  If you were a consistent atheist you would start cheating and stealing and lying and killing…”  My response is– DON’T TELL THEM THAT!  I mean, even if you are right, and the atheist has no good reason to not kill me unless he believes in God, why in the world would you want him to realize that?  Let sleeping dogs lie! 🙂  So I do not use that argument, and highly discourage its use.   

In the end, we obviously must take seriously the gradual increase of secularism and the gradual decline of theism.  There is no doubt that Europe is in most respects a post-Christian culture, and the US is slowly going that direction.  I’m not sure what the answer is to that.  I tend to think that it is not necessarily to become more politically antagonistic.  In a conversation I was having last night with a good friend, I asked him why he thought some high level Evangelical academics were becoming Catholic.  He said he wondered if it might not be because evangelicalism has become so identified with particular political outlooks, and the less they liked being identified with the tea party the less they liked being identified as evangelical.  I don’t know if that is acurate or not, but it was an interesting consideration. 

One might say, “well if we don’t do something and stand up, what will happen?” and I understand and appreciate that sentiment.    But we don’t want to let the vocal minority dominate the discussion and the perception of what it is to be evangelical.  Those who speak loudest are usually considered to be the spokespeople, unfortunately. 

Now there are Christians who think that non-Christians can not do good, because to do good requires God’s grace.  They also think that anything done apart from God is sin, so since an atheist is certainly apart from God, and nothing they do is done for God’s glory, nothing they do can NOT be sin.  Now I do not agree with this viewpoint.  I understand the gist of it, and see why someone would argue that any act done not for the glory of God is sin in some sense.  But I do think that atheists can love their wives, be kind, honest, follow most of the 10 commandments, etc.  I see all people in God’s image, and see the vestiges of that, regardless of the current state of their relationship with God.  Some people are in better shape than others morally and soul-wise, but you can tell that all of them were made by God and for God and that beauty is there regardless of their current stage.  It doesn’t matter if they are a theif a murderer, or a terrorist– there is still some of the goodness of God left there which is redeemable and lovely.  Some think that is semipelagian.  I just think its Christian.

As for secularists being more ethical– I doubt it.  As for theists always being more ethical– I doubt that too.  Fortunately, people who do not believe in God can still in many cases act as ethically or even more ethically than Christians, in my experience.  And though they don’t mean to, this in itself is something which glorifies God. 

May God have mercy on us all…

the article from der spiegel was at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,777281,00.html

Protestant Catholics: Nashotah House

Celeste and I got to go visit Nashotah House, an Anglo-Catholic seminary just west of Milwaukee 20 minutes, and get a tour from a friend I grew up with who teaches there– Fr. Tom Holtzen.  We actually went to Tom and Candace’s place for supper with their 4 lovely children, but we had wanted a tour of Nashota House as well.

Nashotaj House is a seminary of the Episcopalian Church, serving the Anglican Church worldwide.  It is actually a fairly autonomous seminary (not financed directly or controlled by the Church significantly), and is known to be much more traditional (and by that I mean more orthodox and Biblical) than other Episcopalian seminaries.  It tends to attract evangelical-type students.  

Nashotah is Anglican in the traditional sense, but they follow spiritual practices of the Benedictines (St. Benedict).  Every morning all the students come to the Church for morning worship.  This consists of the liturgy as well as chanting psalms back and forth (one side says one verse, the other says the next, back and forth like a round) and communion each morning.  Then they all go (with the professors) to have breakfast together.  They study all morning in class, then they have work-study projects to do (the students care for the grounds, for example)

The chapel is beautiful, and has stained glass windows of ancient saints of the church as well as more recent Christians who are important to the seminary.  In this way the iconography (both in windows and pictures) helps remind these Christians of greats who have gone on before–models to follow and immitate in their devotion to Christ. 

So they are Anglican, Benedictine, and obviously very classical and historically traditional. C.S. Lewis, J.I. Packer and John Stott were all Anglicans.  Here is what the site says about their being Anglican:

Anglicanism gives equal weight to Word and Sacrament in its worship, and secures its polity in the Apostolic Succession of bishops. With Holy Scripture as its rule of faith, Anglicanism reserves a place for Reason and Tradition in its theological discourse, and has always made a strong association between what the Church believes and what the Church prays. Lex orandi, lex credendi – “the law of prayer is the law of belief”—well expresses the close correspondence in classical Anglicanism between doctrine and doxology.

The seminary teaches the Bible, Systematic Theology, and practical theology as any seminary would– but in addition to training the head, it aims to train the hearts of its seminarians by helping them train their souls more towards Christ and Godliness through spiritual disciplines of prayer, etc.  In this sense it captures the Christian tradition of establishing habits of the heart which direct us towards God. 

St. Benedict (d.547) was a monk who established spiritual communities in the 500’s.  Here is what the site says about the Nashotah House ‘benedictine’ tradition:

Few guides to Christian spirituality have proven themselves more useful, adaptable and enduring than St. Benedict. His Rule underwrites the Book of Common Prayer and permeates the Anglican way of spiritual growth. A biblical spirituality, it is fixed in the scriptures and features plenteous use of psalmody. As monastic spirituality, it is concerned for community and the cultivation of charity, embodied spirituality, the Benedictine way fastens our spiritual life to the outward disciplines proven to foster inward growth – prayer, study and work.

Again, the focus here is on cultivating embodied spirituality– not just a head knowledge of God, but a daily practice of devotion to God and love of others.  They actively practice community together and seek to foster that community through active participation. 

Certainly a lot of evangelicals would probably feel like some of the ritual and structure seems foreign or possibly even works-based.  Of course evangelicals have our own tradition (and its not what is going on in a service like what you have at Nashota house) and that is why nashota house might feel foreign to us– because its not like our tradition.   The wonderful thing about evangelicals is that they don’t care where they meet– any abandoned Kmart or even a living room will do– and so evangelicals have little attachment if any to physical structures, buildings, or regular objects of worship.  But the downside of this is that we often have a very shallow tradition– very little with longlasting value to us spiritually which is embodied.  And so we as evangelicals often have a fairly spartan spirituality– with a faith of the head without any physical manifestations, for fear that those  physical manifestations might distract us from pure spiritual truths. 

But nashotah house, with all its icons and beautiful buildings, and priests with robes and rituals and habit formation practices is designed and sustained to help direct peoples entire lives– head, heart and bodies– towards a Christian way of being in the world.  It is a gem, and it is so unique– being conservative in ways that many evangelicals would feel comfortable with most of the theology here– while also being conservative in ways evangelicals have not been– conserving practices and traditions of the church that go back to the early church fathers.  That is why I think it is such a great place.    Here is a place where, if you are not convinced you should become Roman Catholic, you can have good theology and be immersed in practices of the historic Christian church.

It was really fantastic to see Nashotah house and to see how God brought Fr. Tom from the farm in Nebraska through seminary at Gordon Conwell (where I visited them) and a Ph.D. at Marquette (where he was when I was there) to become a seminary professor in this amazing historical Anglo Catholic tradition. 

I will end this post by simply posting their brief history of Nashotah House below. 

Our History

In 1841, Bishop Jackson Kemper, the Episcopal Church’s first Missionary Bishop, set out on horseback for what was then the northwest frontier, bearing the Gospel to the Onieda and Objibwe peoples. Three young deacons, persuaded by Kemper’s example, followed him on foot—one of whom was James Lloyd Breck, later remembered as “the Apostle to the Wilderness.” Inspired by the Oxford Movement and the catholic revival in Anglicanism, Breck hoped to establish a religious house from which missionaries, trained in the Christian faith and formed by its disciplines, would go forth to preach the Gospel both to indigenous nations and the eastern pioneers then settling among them.

In 1842, then, a seminary was born in a little blue house built in the wilds of the kettle moraine. The following year, a little red chapel—the Chapel of St. Sylvanus—was built beside it. The two buildings endure today on Nashotah House’s campus. The faith, the missionary zeal and the catholic tradition which built them endure here also. And for the 166 years since, a unique witness within the Church has been thriving in the wilds of southwest Wisconsin.

Chartered in 1847, Nashotah House is the oldest institution of higher learning in Wisconsin, and she remains true to her roots today. Breck’s monastic ideals were considered radical in the Episcopal Church of his day, but his strong vision of priestly formation through communal living, ordered prayer and shared work established Nashotah House’s unique identity and values in perpetuity.

For more than 160 years, the seminary’s purpose has been summed up in its distinctive name “Nashotah House” and its unofficial title, “the Mission.” The Daily Prayer for Nashotah House communicates the mission of a community “set apart to the glory of thy great Name and the benefit of thy Holy Church,” and expresses the hope that her students will “go forth animated with earnest zeal for thy glory…that they may speak with that resistless energy of love which shall melt the hearts of sinner to the love of thee.” Nashotah House’s strong Anglo-Catholic heritage, married to a high view of the scriptures and a missionary ethos, provides a clear context for a community of faith and learning.

Cosmopolitan Christianity?– Praying for all Christians

There are a lot of Christian denomenations.  Some think that is bad, because they are seen to be evidences of disunity and dissention in the Christian Church universal.  Some hope that we might be able to unite all Christians under a single unified institutional church.   I think of denomenations kind of like I think of cities.  Some cities are great, some cities are not very good.  Some have high crime and terrible infrastructure and are in disrepair.  Others are growing, dynamic, beautiful exciting and places you’d want to live.  Some may fit me really well, others are places I could live without too much trouble.  Others probably aren’t for me, and others still I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. 

There are a wide variety of church theological difference, style, worship, tradition, history and approaches to life.  For me, a fundamental concern is whether or not the church has basic theological commitments of Christianity.  The truths found in the early creeds of the church are enough—about who Christ is, and his death, resurrection and basic tennents of salvation.  Of course there are differences of opinion about theology such as Justification, church tradition, the work of the Spirit, and organization of the Church—and these are important issues.   We should pursue discussion and pursue truth as we seek lives of authentic faith in accord with the teachings of Scripture and the church. 

But what I’ve been struck by more recently is that I have concern for the many denominations—and for the weaknesses each of them have, and a love for the strengths that each of them have.  As church shoppers know, its hard to find a church that fits perfectly, and the same goes for denomination-shopping—each tradition has its own strengths and its own weaknesses and hang-ups.  No matter where you end up, it is important to find a church and get committedly involved in it, because commitment to a local congregation is how God will be able to push you and transform you, and also it will provide you a means to demonstrate your faithfulness to God and His church as you serve there.

But commitment to your church doesn’t mean that you should spend your time demonstrating why your version is superior to other denominations.  We want to protect truth from error, but it should also be our goal as Christians to see all Christian churches strengthened and transformed more into the likeness of Christ. 

Evangelical Protestantism has its problems.  Some prominent evangelicals have converted to the Roman Catholic church recently—including the former head of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, a former Theology prof I knew at Bethel, a couple of formerly protestant professors I know from Creighton, and a number of other prominent scholars.  I also have a lot of friends and even former students who have converted.  And I think they have for a variety of reasons, but especially I think they recognized a distinct lack of historical and traditional grounding for the Protestant evangelicalism they once held, as well as a disconnect from evangelical subculture.  So evangelical Protestantism needs, as I see it, to become more historically aware and conscientious of the historical traditions of the Church to reinvest its practices with meaningful disciplines. 

But the Roman Catholic church has issues as well.  Of course there is the priest scandal, etc.  But the real problem for the RCC is getting its parishioners to understand intelligently the richness of its tradition, and to become more Biblically literate—first by encouraging daily bible reading, and reading the texts for mass ahead of time.  Fr. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest recently wrote in an article for the National Catholic Reporter magazine,

“The church needs a massive Bible education program. The church needs to acknowledge that understanding the Bible is more important than memorizing the catechism. If we could get Catholics to read the Sunday scripture readings each week before they come to Mass, it would be revolutionary. If you do not read and pray the scriptures, you are not an adult Christian. Catholics who become evangelicals understand this.” (from: http://ncronline.org/news/hidden-exodus-catholics-becoming-protestants)

Instead of spending time telling Catholics they don’t know the Bible, what if evangelicals prayed that the Catholic Church would be inspired to start this massive Bible education program that Fr. Reese envisions?  How about instead of Roman Catholics and Anglicans telling evangelicals that they lack tradition and historical understanding, they prayed that evangelicals understanding of history and tradition would be enriched and that their churches could be reinvested with historical richness that the Anglicans and Roman Catholics enjoy?   It is hard for us to have this sort of a cosmopolitan-Christianity mindset, but I think it would serve Christs church well to try to have such a mindset.

Cosmopolitan simply means ‘at home all over’—and the common unifying element of all authentic Christian churches is the gospel—that Jesus brings reconciliation to God through his death and resurrection, and power to live transformative lives for the sake of God.  A cosmopolitan Christian would focus on the similarities more than the differences with brothers and sisters in Christ— and hope and pray for the good of the Church universal—across all denomenations.   Various Christian denomenations have strengths—and they all need help and prayer as well. 

As some convert from evangelical protestant to Catholic, others convert to Anglican, Episcopalians convert to Roman Catholic, and Catholics convert to Evangelical, can we pray across all of those for Christ to strengthen His church through this cross-pollination? 

As it is, there is evidence from a recent Pew research study that shows that 1/3 of those raised Catholic are no longer Catholic (and a large number of those who have converted to Protestant are now evangelicals).  I pray that those Catholics help infuse the evangelical churches with a newfound understanding of the tradition (if those Catholic converts in fact do know about the tradition).  And there are evangelicals (academics obviously) joining the Roman Catholic church.  I hope that our former president of the Evangelical Philosophical society, and the Episcopalian Theologian Rusty Reno who converted and now edits the Catholic Voice, and my close friends who have joined the Roman Catholic church from evangelical backgrounds all help to strengthen the Roman Catholic Church and transform it for the better, to the Glory of God. 

It is useful to consider the hard facts of conversion in the US.  The Pew Forum is a major research group who do various research projects to find out about religious tendencies in culture and society.  One of their more recent reports—the report on religious landscape study provides some pretty interesting information regarding conversion patterns in the United States. 

There are a few interesting things to note from the survey.  First, in the comparisons of what a person was raised to what they are now, nondenominational churches have grown while almost all denomenations have lost adherents.  In other words, denomenations are weakening, and the tendency is towards non-denomenationalism.

That more people are going to nondenominational churches is not surprising, especially considering the fact that technically churches like the Evangelical Free Church and the ACTs 29 Network of Mark Driscoll are not denomenations (although I am not sure how they really differ functionally from denomenations).  Fewer people are involved in the Lions club, Elks club, Optimists Rotary Clubs, or other such clubs either—people do not seem to gather around those sorts of labeled groups like they once did.   But the obvious net effect is that denomenations are not as strong as they once were.

Perhaps the most surprising figure is that 31.4% of Americans were raised Catholic, but only 23.9% are Catholic now.  That’s a significant drop, and the pew study points out that that the current number would be even much lower if it were not for all the Hispanic migrant population which has helped bolster the Catholic church to counteract the deconversion of other Catholics.  That is a disturbing trend.  Liberal Catholics likely attribute the deconversions to the conservative positions of the Church on marriage, homosexuality, male priesthood etc, but Conservative Catholics are more likely to blame the Church’s over-emphasis on social justice and loss of latin mass post Vatican II.  The Pew Survey seems to indicate that the main reasons Catholics left was due to wanting a more vibrant worship experience and wanting spiritual nurturing they found in Protestant churches.  Almost ¾ of those Catholics who converted to Protestant became Evangelicals. 

If anything, from these conversion statistics we can at least see that people are hungry and searching for spiritual fulfillment and nourishment.  Some evangelicals are leaving their churches for the greener historical traditions of the Roman Catholic church.  But as Fr. Reese pointed out in his article on the exodus from the Roman Catholic church,  “People are not becoming Protestants because they disagree with specific Catholic teachings; people are leaving because the church does not meet their spiritual needs and they find Protestant worship service better.”  Protestants have strong Scriptural teaching and dynamic worship services, the Roman Catholics provide a wealth of historical tradition and reflection on spiritual and theological issues from Centuries of teaching.  Our hope should be that God will use the strengths of each of these to bring about a stronger church universal—a more biblically-literate Roman Catholic church, and a more traditionally-rich community in the evangelical church.  Whether or not this is a real possibility, it seems like this Christian cosmopolitan attitude would be helpful as we pray for the future of Christ’s Church.

If you want to check out the data yourself, the section on conversion statistics starts on page 25: http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf

John Stott’s “3 things”

John Stott was one of the most influential evangelical pastors of the second half of the 20th century, and he died on July 27, 2011.  Having written 50 books over the course of his life including The Cross of Christ and Basic Christianity he had a worldwide impact and saw the transformation of evangelicalism in the Church of England go from being the ridiculed anomaly to seeing it become a powerful and respected theological movement in the Anglican Church.  He was, unquestionably, part of that transformation. 

I recently came across an interview with Stott in Christianity Today from 2006 where he clearly stated what he say to be three things he felt Christians had to offer to the world.  In memory of him, I thought I’d post those here as a reminder to us…So here is John Stott in an interview from 2006:

I think we need to say to one another that it[our culture] is not so secular as it looks. I believe that these so-called secular people are engaged in a quest for at least three things. The first is transcendence. It’s interesting in a so-called secular culture how many people are looking for something beyond. I find that a great challenge to the quality of our Christian worship. Does it offer people what they are instinctively looking for, which is transcendence, the reality of God?

The second is significance. Almost everybody is looking for his or her own personal identity. Who am I, where do I come from, where am I going to, what is it all about? That is a challenge to the quality of our Christian teaching. We need to teach people who they are. They don’t know who they are. We do. They are human beings made in the image of God, although that image has been defaced.

And third is their quest for community. Everywhere, people are looking for community, for relationships of love. This is a challenge to our fellowship. I’m very fond of 1 John 4:12: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us.” The invisibility of God is a great problem to people. The question is how has God solved the problem of his own invisibility? First, Christ has made the invisible God visible. That’s John’s Gospel 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

People say that’s wonderful, but it was 2,000 years ago. So in 1 John 4:12, he begins with exactly the same formula, nobody has ever seen God. But here John goes on, “If we love one another, God abides in us.” The same invisible God who once made himself visible in Jesus now makes himself visible in the Christian community, if we love one another. And all the verbal proclamation of the gospel is of little value unless it is made by a community of love.

These three things about our humanity are on our side in our evangelism, because people are looking for the very things we have to offer them.

God used John Stott’s life for the greater good of his Church worldwide.  I pray that God will raise up more like him for the future…

May God have mercy on us all…

andy

Not Going Home: Evangelical to Catholic?– (95 difficult steps)

Christian Smith’s book “How to Go From Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in 95 Difficult Steps” has been an interesting read.  The book is stronger at the front than the back end.  Smith’s sociological description of evangelical culture is really good in chapter 1.  Smith rightly criticizes evnagelicals for generally being  ahistorical and knowing little to nothing about church history or the origin of standard theology.  Often we evangelicals naively assume that correct doctrine (like the Trinity, dual nature of Christ, etc) are just obvious in Scripture without acknowledging the historical controversies and councils which hammered out these now-standard orthodox theologies.  Smith is right to remind us of the history behind these doctrines and the debt that all Christians owe to those decisions.   Smith also is right to point out that evangelicals often have misperceptions about much of catholic theology and practice.  He helps us more accurately understand the Roman Catholic practices of praying with and to the dead, praying to Mary, and purgatory.

In my view Smith fails to provide many real convincing reasons to go ‘home to rome’ and become Roman Catholic.  He does raise problems and questions for the evangelical Christian community, issues which should be dealt with and prayed about– and we are well served to have him raise these issues and help non Catholics to have a clearer understanding of some Catholic doctrines and practices.  But Smith seems to assume that if he points out some more egregious problems in the Evangelical subculture, that this would leave one little choice but to join rome.  He also seems to think that if we rightly understand the Roman Catholic Church’s position, we will agree with it.  But while Smith’s explanations may help evangelicals more rightly understand authentic Catholic doctrines, I think most would still hesitate to embrace the authentic doctrines any more quickly than their charicatures of them. 

Again, I do appreciate Smith’s challenges to evangelicals to think more about the historical background of the church and to embrace it.  I do think evangelicals can do this without embracing the institutional Roman Catholic Church as D.H Williams encourages in his book on Evangelicals and Tradition.  Of course the problem is that most evangelicals are so historically illiterate– unaware and without knowledge of church history– that it is a long hill to climb for most evangelicals.  (The idea of celebrating the Lords supper every week, for example, would be considered ‘works-based’ by many evangelicals)

While its impossible to engage with all 95 of Smith’s points, responding to a few of them may be useful.  Again– these are Smiths suggestions to Evangelicals to start questioning their evangelical practices and beliefs:

7. Start wondering where the mystery of faith and life are.  **It is true that evangelicals don’t have a lot of mystery in their faith practices– mystical is not a good word for most evangelicals.  Those who have more pietist practices– doing daily devotions, extended prayer, etc– often still do ‘bible-study’ approach– to learn intellectually new information, rather than having any mystical encounter with God. 

8. Hear about someone you respect becoming (roman) Catholic: There is no doubt that a lot of thoughtful Christians I know have become Catholic– usually because of their frustration with a lack of unity, lack of authority basis, conviction about the eucharist, or a seeking for a more historically rich and tradition-based Christianity.  I am always a little sad when I see evangelicalism loose those thoughtful people, because I know that they could have really helped Evangelicalism to become stronger. I also know of plenty of Catholics who have converted to Evangelical– but not as many who are intellectual standouts.   What is interesting to me is that evangelicals who convert to Catholic or Orthodox (like Franky Schaeffer) often become extreme critics of the evangelicalism they were raised with.  The same happens with Christians raised in a ‘dead’ mainline church or Catholic church– they often have strong feelings against the background they came from and have little empathy for those traditions…

10. Notice American evangelicalism’s cultural accomodations  **there is no doubt that evangelicals try to be relevant– often sacrificing historical tradition for the sake of contemporary tastes.  And with little historical tradition to maintain, its quite easy for them to discard the little baggage they have.  On the other hand, it took the Roman Catholic church until the 1960s to stop using the latin mass– when few if any of their parishioners had understood latin for years.  So while focusing too much on relevance is a problem, so is maintainin tradition with no sense of relevance– which all churches struggle with, but perhaps especially the Roman Catholic church.  If scripture does not speak to an issue, Evangelicals feel free to modify their practices to fit contemporary sensibilities.  The problem is that this can lead to a consumeristic Christianity where evangelicals shop for whatever suits their latest tastes. 

11. Read some church history.  **This is one of those points in the book where Smith’s antagonistic somewhat paternalistic attitude towards evangelicals comes through.  His assumption seems to be that if one would read Church history, you would become Roman Catholic, when in fact what has made many of us resist becoming RC is exactly that we know and understand the history of the Church in the high medieval period– the corruption of indulgences, the split popeships, corrupt clergy, variant practices and political allignments, etc.

12. Start wondering where the new testament came from. ** again, not all evangelicals are completely ignorant or thoughtless about this (maybe christian smith had never considered this as an evangelical, I don’t know) and it seems entirely plausible for an evangelical to accept the first 4 church councils without reservation and the process of determining the set cannon of the early centuries of the church without adopting everything else the Roman church has become since that time. 

14. Start asking why evangelical churches are so segregated by race and class.  **Although Smith claims he sees more diversity in Catholic churches, I think the same could be asked of most Catholic parishes.  I would expect there are a lot more African american baptist and pentecostal evangelical churches than there are Catholic ones in the US.   But there is no doubt that many of the large nondenomenational evangelical churches tend to be  in the white suburbs, and many of the mainline churches are filled with white wealthy parishoners, while Catholic churches can be found throughout most any city, in any neighborhood.

17. Grow bored with white bread and vanilla flavored evangelicalism.  **So Smith criticizes the evangelical church for being consumeristic and then one of his arguments to leave is that evangelical services are boring because they don’t have much ornamentation.  I personally love the ornamentation of the high church tradition that you find in orthodox and catholic churches– and they are a lot better than the ‘icons’ we find in evangelical circles at the precious moments chapel or the Billy Graham center at Wheaton, no doubt.  But onwe doesn’t need to convert to get stained glass…

18. Notice that Evangelicalism is a religion of the head** No doubt “evidence that demands a verdict” and our continuous debates over minutae of theology make us appear overly heady, in comparison with the typical non-evangelical who often has no knowledge of apologetics or systematic theology, much less the Bible.  But if Bible knowledge and theological interest are heady, I think they are good qualities to have.  On the other hand, when we focus so much on having correct doctrine, we sometimes get the letter without the spirit– and I have met many evangelicals who are full of truth but have little grace of Christ in them.  Our focus on the thinking-side of faith often also makes us ignore and neglect the mystical side of relation to God.

19. Evangelicalism thrives on Alarmist claims.  ** There is no doubt that some evangelicals seem to thirve on bringing up ‘end of the world’ scenarios and outrageous stories of examples showing that society is going to hell in a handbasket– and that sort of sensationalism should have no place in our faith because sometimes it is an attempt to manipulate people to action. 

20 Start to see how thin the biblical basis is for many evangelical beliefs ** His examples are: paid clergy, that a Christian needs an identifiable point of conversion, and that husbands are to be spiritual heads of their households.  There is no doubt that a lot of Evangelical assumptions are not necessrily Scriptural in the strong sense– they are not always the only clear position one could take– but there is some scriptural support for these positions (especially the male head role).  I don’t personally hold to these viewpoints, and I don’t think most evangelicals would hold them as essential doctrines. 

26. Ask why we need a new monasticism when the RC church has an old monasticism.  ** Well, monasteries are struggling to maintain their numbers, and most of the new monasticism movements are centered in struggling parts of the cities they are in (Philadelphia).  Monasteries have to upkeep their facilities etc and are not too mobile.  It seems that old monasticism and new monasticism have different goals and approaches.  I don’t think either is wrong.

27. Start wondering whether ‘getting into heaven’ is what Christianity is really about. ** There are recent attempts by evangelicals (i.e, the book “The Hole in our Gospel”) which try to address evangelicals lack of social transformation.  But perhaps even more in line with Smith’s point, Roman Catholicism offers a whole way of life, including Church calendar, spiritual orientation and habit formation, and a number of other helps to make one’s faith a total way of life (not that most Catholics follow all of those directives from the church very faithfully).  I do believe that Evangelicals who carry on a close personal devotional life have a rhythm of spirituality and daily sense of presence and purpose which are focused on much more than ‘getting to heaven’– they are focused on personal tranformation on a daily basis.  Maybe Smith did not experience that as an evangelical himself, as many Roman Catholics do not follow the ways of life encouraged by the spiritual habits of the Roman Catholic Church. 

29.  Note that evangelical churches which are opposed to tradition also have tradition.  **No doubt they do, and often not very historical ones– but they are by and large much more flexible than the RC church, as Smith has pointed out repeatedly.  Smith points out in a footnote that evangelicals who criticize the pope still have their own “popes of the market”– and he is right here.  We can think of Mark Driscoll, John Pieper, RC Sproll, and others who function in many ways as a pope– giving direction and theological illumination to thousands.  They are turned to for authoritative knowledge and direction by many evangelicals.

30. Start asking where the theological doctrines of trinity and christology came from.  ** Again, many of us have investigated this, discovered they came from early church councils, and have not become Roman Catholic.  Why?  Because when you make a break with someone or an institution, you don’t necessarily reject all things which arose from that relationship.  For example: SupposeI was in a partnership with Bernie for 10 years, and in the first 10 years we developed some very successful business models that I find essential and good.  Suppose then Bernie started coming up with some financial schemes I didn’t feel comfortable with– ponzi schemes, etc– and I made a break with John and disolved our partnership.  If someone came along and said, “well I thought you weren’t with John anymore– why do you still use those principles you developed together back then?  Isn’t that hypocritical?” I would say, “no.”  Think again of a marriage where a couple has three children, but then the husband cheats on the wife and runs off with another woman and so the wife divorces him.  The husband has more children, which the original wife does not think of as her own– but she would still think of the first three children as her own.  These analogies are not perfect, but they make the point that fruit of a relationship or partnership before a break are legitimate fruit for the dissassociated party to claim.  Protestant evangelicals can trace their history through the early Church and claim it as their own, even if they are not part of the Roman Catholic Church today…

31. Read Martin Luther’s 95 Theses which were nailed to the door (and notice how they support Catholic doctrines and offices, like that of the Pope.  **This is sort of a silly argument on Smith’s part.  Maybe he needs to read Church history some more, because anyone who knows about Luther understands that at first he was trying to reconcile himself to the Roman Catholic church (he was a monk) until it became obvious that the Roman Catholic Church was in his opinion corrupt beyond repair, when he made his break.  To rely on earlier documents in this struggle to try to show his acceptance of Catholic thought is somewhat misleading, at best.

32. Begin to Realize how Modern Evangelicalism is: ** This is perhaps one of the best points Smith Brings up, and it is one whihc evangelicals really need to think through.  Our model is very oriented around learning knowledge– enlightenment in the classic modern sense– through study of Scripture.  We are all considered able to decipher the text on our own, because we hold an enlightenment optimism abouit Human abilities (with help from the Spirit, of course).  Our services are oriented around a lecture/sermon, and our secondarry form of worship is bible study– to help us learn more.  Not that this is bad in itself, but it is modern.

33.  Notice how reformation leads to secularization. ** Well, insofar as protestantism generally encourages freedom of religion, which can go hand in hand with a secularization of society, that may be right.  Its not clear to me that a theocratic model which disallows diversity of religious beliefs (islamic or French or Spanish Catholic Church-state alliances) are a better model though…

34.  Get to know some Catholics who have an impressive faith.  This is a great point.  I am so thankful for the many devout Christ followers Iknow oman Catholic church.  They are models to me.

35. Take note of substandard preaching in evangelical churches.  ** Yes.  And check it out at local Homilies in your parrish as well.  Its everywhere.

36. Consider whether the kingdom of God really stands or falls based on inerrancy.  ** No doubt this is in itself not the ultimate litmus test for whether or not you are truly a Christian.  And Innerancy is often confused with a straw-man literalism which is untennable.  Smith claims one can be an innerantist and Roman Catholic, which is interesting, if true.

37. Start wondering what it means to profess one holy catholic apostolic church.  Of course the unity is a difficult question for an evangelical– usually we will think of ‘catholic’ as universal in the sense of all true Christ followers– not in one unified institutional church, but in terms of those who truly have relationship with Jesus.  Of ourse its true that the Catholic church has a lot of diversity within it– there are extremely liberal Roman Catholics whose faith their conservative Roman Catholic brothers would question– all going to the same universal Catholic church…so when unity contains as much diversity of thought and opinion as the Roman Catholic church, it becomes confusing to Evangelicals how it is really unity, apart from the institutional oversight of the Pope…  In terms of Apostolic, of course evangelicals (like Mark Driscolls ACTS 29 Network) want to be historially tied to the very early church of the apostles as we find it in the book of Acts.  (Interestingly, ACTs29 also has a form of leadership which in some ways appears to follow the apostolic model of top-down successive authority– the keys of Mark D passed on, etc)

38. Ask yourself what the difference is between Evangelical kitsch icons and the statues and icons of the Catholi Church.  ** THis one is easy– the Roman Catholic ones are way cooler.  Just visit any cathedral and then go to the Precious moments Chapel and you will know the answer to this question.

44.  Start to wonder where all the evangelical intellectuals are. ** Here smith lists off 4 Evangelicals, and 30 Catholics, and then asks the question why there are so few.  There are a few obvious answers.  First, Catholics outnumber evangelicals by far, and have had universities of higher learning for over 1000 years.  Evangelicals, when they lost the major seminaries (Princeton, etc) to Liberalism in the late 1800s and early 1900s had to start over and did so with Fuller, Gordon Conwell, etc etc  I think that another interesting point about SMiths list is that a lot of those Catholic Intellectuals are primarily popular among Roman Catholics– you don’t find a lot of secular intellectuals reading Maritan or Marcel or even Charles Taylor.   Catholic intellectuals in some sense have a large audience because there are so many Catholics.  But with regard to same-reading-same, the same, of course is true of Evangelical intellectuals, but to neglect CFH Henry, WIlliam Lane Craig, Kevin Vanhoozer, or the many evangelical philosophers who created and made the Society of Christian Philosophers (in addition to Plantinga or Wolterstorff) into the powerhouse it is is to overlook some pretty obvious candidates.  If Smith wants to make lists comparing Evangelicals to Roman Catholics, it would be interesting to see the list of Roman Catholic movie stars compared to evangelicals, and Roman Catholic Casino operators compared to Evangelicals, and Catholic Liquor store owners compared to Evangelicals, and Catholic convicted mobsters compared to Evagelical mobsters…

46. Read the Joint declaration between Lutherans and Roman Catholics** This is an impressive document, and shows a lot of goodwill.  I’m happy for it, and I think its great.  It did not lead to a union of the Lutheran Church with Rome, however.

47.  Realize that Sola Scriptura is not Scriptural.  **  I would put this another way– realize that ‘nuda scriptura’ is not scriptural.  The Bible itself seems to support the idea of extra-biblical teachings of the Apostles handed down orally and in practice, and to deny that is to deny Scripture.  SMith says Evangelicals hold to a bible-onlyism– and some do– but really only Zwinglians think that it is disallowable to do anything beyond scripture (thats why some churches don’t have organs or guitars– they aren’t in Scripture– but this is a silly position).   Evangelicals should realize that they do things beyond Scripture,and not every action has a verse to back it– but I think Smith has a warped view of what Sola Scriptura means.  It does not mean bible-onlyism.  it does mean we shouldn’t do things which go against scripture.

54. Let liturgy sink in and affect your worship.  ** I like liturgy.  Simple Free uses it and always has.  So do lots of protestants.

56.  Read stories of former evangelicals who have become Roman Catholic.  ** And don’t forget to read stories of former Roman Catholics who have become evangelical– like Luther.  All of protestantism is in some sense rooted in a conversion from Roman Catholicism.  Only a few protestants go back, int he big scheme of things.  But it is useful to see why they do. 

59.  Decide that there is something fundamentally wrong with denominationalism.  ** There are problems with denomenationalism and our tendency to want to seperate from what we don’t like or agree with.  But there is also a question of the integrity of a movement which is filled with so much diversity of opinion that it is difficult to know what the true beliefs of its participants is.  While the Roman Catholic church has official standard doctrines that are set, the Catholics in the pews have about as many different viewpoints as there are parrishoners– and this sort of disymetry between the offical stance of the Roman Catholic Church and the real church of the people is confusing and lacks institutional integrity.    Denomenationalism has its flaws.  But when I think of denomenationalism I think of Aristotle’s claim that you can’t have a governable city of more than 10,000 members, because then it is too big.  I think denomenations provide cohestive unity to individual churches– and I find I am in favor of denominationalism in contrast to nondenomenationalism.  I know Smith sees denomenationalism as devisive.  I see it as cohesive.  And I see his desire for a monolithic church as being similar to a desire for a monolithic phone company or restaraunt chain–

62.  Realize that Catholicism suffers from not having its ‘seperated brethern’ who are still dissassociated.  I do think about this.  Evangelicals are kind of like homeschoolers who, if they were in the school, would make it better. 

63.  Learn the distinction between the 7 sacrments and the many sacramentals.  ** If you don’t, check this out: http://www.davidmacd.com/catholic/sacraments_sacramentals.htm

A lot of the other points have to do with Evangelicals needing to get a correct understanding of Roman Catholic theological points and get past misperceptions or straw man representations of Catholic teachings.  These are useful for correcting wrong understandings.  Maybe it would convince some Evangelicals to go home ot Rome.  Nevertheless, here are some of them:

Mass: Christ’s body is not re-sacrificed each time mass happens.  Instead, mass is an openning back in time to the original sacrifice of Christ.  its more like a mystical time portal to that moment.

Real Presence in the Eucharist: Catholics do not think that, if you took the bread and wine out of a parrishoners stomach you would find that they had Jesus Blood and Flesh in their stomach!  But they do think this mystery happens: bread and wine become the flesh and blood of Christ.  Why do they believe this?  Because Jesus literally said it in Scripture (john 6: 53-57) (and in some cases Roman Catholics take Scripture quite literally)

Purgatory: Smith says Scripture talks of it when it says that some will be savedthrough the flames in I Cor 3.

Mary’s Immaculate Conception: Roman Catholics do think Mary was conceived of a virgin.  They do not think she was without need of the grace of Christ– the power of Christ is what made her born without the taint of original sin.

Veneration of Mary and the Saints: Roman Catholics are not supposed to worship Maryor Saints– but they pray to them, asking them to pray and intercede for them, much as you would ask your pastor or godly grandma to pray for you.  You ask th efaithful to pray on your behalf, and that is what veneration is supposed to be.

Assumption of Mary– Evangelicals evidently normally think this means Mary floated up into heaven– but the Roman Catholic Church has no offical statement on how it happened.

Papal infallibility: Not everything the Pope says in infallible– only things said ‘ex cathedra’ (as the spokesperson for God as his office agent)

Indulgences: They are not a big deal and don’t worry about it (thats almost verbatim from Smith)

Praying for the dead: We care about the dead an dlove them, so why not pray for them?

Most of the rest of the points have to do with advice on how to proceed to join the Roman Catholic church.

I liked Smiths book and it helped me think again through a lot of the reasons why I have not joined the Roman Catholic church.  I love so many things about the Roman Catholic church, and have high respect for it as an institution, its leaders, and my many devout Catholic friends.    I think Smith’s book was probably quickly written, and maybe with a little more distance from his fundamentalist frustrations and his newfound Catholic faith he would have written a slightly more objective account of some of the points, but overall I thought that he raises a lot of the key points to be considered when thinking through the Catholic faith and in contrast to Evangelicalism, and we should thank him for that service.