Friday, June 20, 2014

On Evangelicals Who Become Catholic

Clearly Evangelicalism and Catholicism is a theme of this blog (and my life). I stumbled upon a new article this morning and couldn't help passing it on. In this article, "I hated the Idea of Becoming Catholic", a Southern Baptist seminarian describes why he suddenly decided to become Catholic. He did so about a year after I became Catholic. I never really operated fully within the Southern Baptist "world", but think I had and have some sense of it. (In my amateur attempt to understand and explain it, the various spheres within evangelicalism all flow into and intermesh with other spheres but not every sphere overlaps with every other one. I was sometimes in spheres that overlapped with various Southern Baptist spheres.)

I guess I want to comment on this guy's story because it showcases a trend that I would like to think I am part of. As I've noted before, Catholics in the USA are still more likely to become Evangelical Protestants than vice versa. But there is a paradigm in which serious and committed Evangelical Protestants become Catholic because they see this as a natural and necessary development or outflow of the commitments they have already made.

Related to this story is this open letter to evangelicals written by Brantley Millegan, who had just started blogging about becoming Catholic right around when I was deciding I also needed to move in that direction. You can read more about Brantley's conversion story here.  I couldn't agree with his letter more, and would encourage everyone to read it. In short, it says: "we need you!"

In my view, Catholics have moved between two extremes in how they interact with Protestants. One more traditional view might be termed "triumphalist". In it, the glories of the Catholic Church are showcased together with condescension or disdain for everything else. The other extreme might be termed "indifferentism".  This relativistic approach thrives most when Catholics no longer retain a living faith. In indifferentism the religious truth claims of all Christians, and all people, in general are treated as if their truth or falsehood did not matter at all under the presumption that this allows us to all get along together. There is certainly nothing wrong with getting along together, but it is hard to sincerely hold this position for long if you really believe that religious truths are...true.

Brantley's letter shows an approach that avoids both of these pitfalls. In it, he writes as a Catholic who can affirm our Church's teachings with complete sincerity. At the same time, the emphasis is on humility, and on what Evangelical Protestants have to contribute to the upbuilding of the Church. The nature of the Church did not change in the 16th century, but the Catholic Church has been missing something ever since then. A triumphalist never admits that division causes pain and insists that the Church is as strong as ever even after amputation. (I think of Monty Python and "tis only a flesh wound!"). Stretching that analogy, an indifferentist would politely smile and nod at the suggestion that perhaps the brain or heart of Christ's body could better function as a foot and vice versa.

The Spirit has allowed many charisms and gifts to find expression, even outside the full, visible unity of the Catholic Church. I sincerely believe, though, that all of these incredible gifts would function most efficaciously if they could all be expressed within the full, visible unity of the Catholic Church, with its Sacraments, its links back to the apostles, and its bonds of love, communion, and visible cooperation throughout the world. Perhaps more than anything, evangelicals may not realize how life-giving it can be to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.

Anyways, I encourage anyone interested to read the Open Letter to Evangelicals. Peace.

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