Summary: Memoir of a couple’s conversion from Presbyterian to Catholicism.
Recently a good friend of mine has converted to Catholicism. This has been on his mind for a while. Over the years that he and his family have moved in and out of various non-denominational Evangelical Churches, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church (where he was raised) and now to Roman Catholicism, I had a feeling that this is where he was going to end up.
When we last talked he mentioned this book as a recent book that he strongly identified with and thought I might be interested in it as a way to help understand his journey. Like author Scott Hahn, my friend is a professor in the broad area of biblical studies. So I can see why this book in particular was so attractive to him. This book particularly focuses on the fact that it was Scott Hahn’s commitment to scripture that really drove him toward the Catholic church. This is a very helpful focus for the book since so many Protestants view Catholics as dismissive of the bible.
This book feels a little dated (originally published in the mid 1990s), but I am probably kidding myself to think that much of the attitudes against Catholicism that are mentioned as a part of the conversion process are not just as true today. It is the clear pain of conversion and the rejection of so many of their friends that I found most important about this book.
I have been following the ministry of John Armstrong for quite a while. His particular passion is to get the church to understand and acknowledge one another. His book Your Church is Too Small was particularly helpful for me to see the importance of acknowledging Catholics and Orthodox as well as Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Mainline Protestants as all Christians. (John has a short book, The Unity Factor, just 63 pages that I hope to review here soon that covers some similar areas and is only $1.99 on Kindle.)
Recently I have been seeing a lot of Evangelical Christians, particularly Reformed, but others as well, speak more strongly against Catholics as non-Christians. I find this very troubling. I think that much of it is out of ignorance, but many trained theologians are doing the same and they should know better. This book opened with a very good quote:
The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote: “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Roman Catholic Church; there are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church.”
I am not converting to Catholicism any time soon, but the heart-felt writing of this book, as well as some very clear myth-busting was very helpful. There is much need of good books that will demythologize the differences between Protestants (particularly Evangelicals) and Catholics. I felt Kimberly’s sections on her problems with Mary were very helpful in re-framing the way that Catholics view Mary, yet written in a way that Evangelicals can understand.
There are a few points where I feel a bit of a pang with this book. I think that some areas Scott Hahn saw as deficiencies in Evangelical/Protestant Theology have some good options, especially recently. Scot McKnight’s work on the gospel in his King Jesus Gospel hit several points where I think that Scott saw weakness. And there are many others. But the overwhelming push was for a Catholic understanding of theology. I know Catholics view their church as THE church. Statements since Vatican II have softened that stance a bit. But I will not ever be able to fully participate in a Catholic Mass as a Protestant. The same can be said of many Protestant churches, some don’t even share communion with people of the same denomination.
My theology is very different. I view Catholics as Christians of a different stream. But no less (or more) Christian than Reformed or Pentecostal or Baptist. Like many non-Denominational Christians I do not find perfect communion in any of these streams. I am more sacramental than most Evangelicals. I now have a different theology of baptism than the Baptists I grew up in. I am emotionally ill-suited toward Pentecostalism (but am drawn to some theological points). My anti-authoritarian bent makes me ill-suited toward submission to a Magisterium (although I intellectually understand the importance of submission.) And at this time I really do feel called to the church I am in, although I am not theologically on board with everything and practically I can see all kinds of issues with the method of megachurch that I participate in. So I read and explore and try to gain more understanding, while hopefully learning to give a lot of grace to others that disagree with me.
But that does not mean I ignore areas of disagreement. It is not good enough to gloss over differences, nor is it helpful to perpetuate myths. Instead we need more work that actually talks about the differences and great many areas of agreement. For instance, you might be interested in this joint statement from Lutherans and Catholics on their agreement in the areas of Justification. If Lutherans and Catholics can now recognize one another after 500 years of separation, particularly in an area like Justification, there is hope in the church being one as Christ and the Father are one.
If you are interested in the subject, you might also be interested in my review of a book on conversion from different areas of Christianity to another. Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Anglicanism. I thought the chapter on conversion from Evangelical to Catholic by Francis J. Beckwith was very much in the same vein as Scott’s portion of this book. Expect more on this subject over the next couple of months.