Saturday, May 15, 2010

Converts: Philosophy, Liberalism, and Justification

I was reading an article on more people who converted from Protestantism to Catholicism:

The interesting thing that I'm starting to notice about all the conversions to Catholicism is that they're usually based on two things:

In general, people tell the tale of how on the road to persecute more of God's faithful, a blinding light shone and Lo! Aristotle stood before them saying 'why do you persecute me!'. And then they have a conversion to Thomism. Certainly that's where alot of people have gone to hide from postmodernism, and continue to 'give medieval answers to contemporary questions' (as one Church historian described Trent). This is at least a good reason to convert, philosophy is important, and Catholicism offers the best philosophical system I've seen in a long time. So I don't mind this option, as it's kind of why I converted (the philosophical argument about the canon and infalliblity of the church), although it has nothing to do with Christ and God whose ways are above our ways, and who calls us to be 'fools for Christ'.

The second of course is that their church had 'suddenly' grown liberal, and that because our Roman Catechism and Pope Benedict XVI are conservative, that means our Church must likewise be conservative. I think this is a bad reason, as you will find almost immediately, just as many liberals in Catholicism as in the Episcopal Church or the ELCA. The only difference between Catholic and Protestant liberals - and it's a big difference to be sure - is that the Catholic liberals are just biding their time, slowly undermining things, destroying Catechesis and the ministry of the Word with Historical criticism. In Protestantism they do the same thing, except they're open about it, and declare themselves (which really only makes them easier to avoid, but also means they are better organized).

A final observation is that I've never heard of a convert from Classical Protestantism say that they were overwhelmed by the Catholic doctrine of justification and synergistic soteriology (Scott Hahn doesn't count as he was a FV/NPP/Neonomian). Interestingly enough, in every account, justification is either stated as not mattering anymore, or the ludicrous claim is made that because of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the Reformation is over. In NO way did the JDDJ solve any Reformation issue, but it did mark the Lutherans' willingness to sell their heritage and doctrine in order to fulfill some high-minded ecumenical pipe-dream.

Anyway. I just think it's funny that no biblical exegetes and Classical Protestants are converting to Catholicism, but certainly, alot of intellectuals shopping for moral philosophy and epistemological certainty arrive there. Similarly, Evangelicals who never understood Confessional Protestantism in the first place and likewise threw away their birth right like Esau, without knowledge of what they were doing end up here.

In the end, perhaps Cardinal Avery Dulles was right when he noted that Catholics don't primarily care about Justification, and prefer discussing the sacramentology and the liturgy, to the issue, let alone worry about it. This seems to be the real conversion these Protestants had, no longer carrying about that doctrine which their spiritual ancestors once called "the article on which the church stands or falls".

(Those are just my observations as a Roman Catholic, looking back on)


  1. Interesting post. I've rarely read collections of stories by converts. Pure speculation would be that these collections look to build on the return to culture among evangelicals (heralded by Francis Schaeffer) AND to promote a certain intellectualism among Catholics. Is there a theme that these new converts are 'renewing' the Catholic Church? My impression of RCIA (secondhand from my wife Karen) is that the reasons for coming into the Catholic Church are much broader than that. Intellectual reasons are not enough, and if the conversion remains only intellectual, then we may never see the new man, the new creation.

    I was also provoked by the charge that many Catholics don't care about justification. You're probably right, and I would imagine that many Protestants don't either. The threat of going to Hell when I die is less existential than it once was (many reasons: increase of leisure & distractions, longer lifespan, distancing from death in the industrial world). As for me, I care about redemption in a broader way — who will redeem my fruitless hours at work, my misspent time with my family, every idle moment? Who will free me now, wherever I am? What do I say to Christ if I don't die at this moment?

  2. Evangelicals who never understood Confessional Protestantism in the first place and likewise threw away their birth right like Esau, without knowledge of what they were doing end up here.

    Esau had knowledge, which is what made his selling his birthright so heinous. He demonstrated that he was ruled by his belly, so to speak, rather than by faith in the promise of God (Phil. 3:19).

    A nominal Protestant who converts to Rome without really understanding his Confessional heritage is a different thing.