Summary: Stories of conversion from Evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism and from Catholicism to Evangelical
I am a big proponent of story. I think that personal stories are often more valuable than discussion based purely on rationalism. I believe this because we are not purely rational creatures. There is something else that is important to us and story often communicates in a more well-rounded way than pure rational discussion.
The structure of this book is that an author discusses their move from one branch of Christianity to another. Then there is a response by a third party and then a response to the response by the original author.
In general, this allows for the story to be the main subject of the first section. Then the response can bring up rational/theological issues and then the original author can deal with theological objections.
I think the best overall section is the one on the journey from Roman Catholicism to Evangelicalism by Chris Castaldo and a response by Brad Gregory. Castaldo does not have a lot of his personal story in this chapter but he has written a whole book derived from stories and interviews of people that converted from RC to Evangelicalism. So he has a good handle on the topic. And if there was ever an essay that would convince me to become Roman Catholic, it would be Brad Gregory’s response.
I also really like Lyle Dorsett’s article about moving to Anglicanism and Robert Peterson’s response, although there was really very little disagreement there.
The two chapters that I had most issue with were there Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox chapters. I really liked Wilbur Ellsworth opening chapter on Orthodoxy. But the response was very weak. I would consider my knowledge of Orthodoxy the weakest of the four, but all I saw were straw men arguments against Orthodoxy. I also appreciate and agree with Ellsworth’s comment at the end; the biggest issues with conversion to Orthodoxy in the US right now is that Orthodoxy is very oriented around the cultures that have brought Orthodoxy to the US and there needs to be a real indigenous Orthodox church in the US before large scale conversions will occur.
Beckwith’s conversion to Catholicism probably has the most controversy, since he was the President of the Evangelical Theological Society when he converted. I can appreciate his reasons, and really all of the reasons for conversion seem quite appropriate and sound to me. The issue is that Beckwith’s issues do not appeal to me. In fact, many of Beckwith’s issues for conversion would be issues that would prevent me from converting. Allison’s response was very good, but probably the discussion between Allison and Beckwith was the most heated. Maybe that is inevitable given the prior history of Evangelicalism and Catholicism.
In some ways, the structure made it seem overly confrontational. So the Orthodox chapter asked almost silly questions that would be easily answered. The to RC chapter was quite confrontational because it seemed like it was the last 500 years all over again. The from RC chapter showed how much RC and Evangelicals tend to speak past one another. And the Anglican chapter seemed like it was searching for areas to disagree about to fulfill the requirements of the book.
On the whole, I think this is a useful book that brings up many of the issues of conversion within Christianity. I was a bit disappointed that there was so much focus on the issues of disagreement, but that seems to be the point of the book from Scot McKnight’s introduction. If there has to be so much disagreement, I was glad that the book ended with Dorsett/Peterson. The two of them really seemed to refocus the discussion on areas of agreement and minimized the areas of disagreement.
I am an Evangelical and I think most readers will be Evangelical. I will not be converting any time soon, but I do have friends that are seriously considering it and I think this book can be useful in bridging areas of disagreement.
A digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley for purposes of review.