Skip to comments.[ECUMENICAL] Evangelicals ‘Crossing the Tiber’ to Catholicism
Posted on 08/02/2010 3:13:20 AM PDT by markomalley
In the fall of 1999, I was a freshman at Gordon College, an evangelical liberal arts school in Massachusetts. There, fifteen years earlier, a professor named Thomas Howard resigned from the English department when he felt his beliefs were no longer in line with the colleges statement of faith. Despite all those intervening years, during my time at Gordon the specter of Thomas Howard loomed large on campus. The story of his resignation captured my imagination; it came about, ultimately, because he converted to Roman Catholicism.
Though his reasons for converting were unclear and perhaps unimaginable to me at the time (they are actually well-documented in his book Evangelical is Not Enough which, back then, I had not yet read), his reasons seemed less important than the knowledge that it could happen. I had never heard of such a thing.
I grew up outside of Boston in what could be described as an Irish-Catholic family, except for one minor detail: my parents had left the Church six years before I was born when they were swept up in the so-called Jesus Movement of the 1970s. So Catholicism was all around me, but it was not mine. I went to mass with my grandparents, grew up around the symbolism of rosary beads and Virgin Mary statues, attended a Catholic high school, and was present at baptisms, first communions, and confirmations for each of my Catholic family members and friends.
All throughout this time my parents never spoke ill of the Catholic Church; though the pastors and congregants of our non-denominational, charismatic church-that-met-in-a-warehouse, often did. Despite my firsthand experience with the Church, between the legend of my parents conversion (anything that happens in a childs life before he is born is the stuff of legends) and the portrait of the Catholic Church as an oppressive institution that took all the fun out of being saved, I understood Catholicism as a religion that a person leaves when she becomes serious about her faith.
And yet, Thomas Howard is only the tip of the iceberg of a hastening trend of evangelicals converting to Catholicism. North Park University professor of religious studies Scot McKnight documented some of the reasons behind this trend in his important 2002 essay entitled From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals become Roman Catholic. The essay was originally published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, and was later included in a collection of conversion stories he co-edited with Hauna Ondrey entitled Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy.
Thomas Howard comes in at number five on McKnights list of significant conversions, behind former Presbyterian pastor and author of Rome Sweet Home, Scott Hahn, and Marcus Grodi founder of The Coming Home Network International, an organization that provides fellowship, encouragement and support for Protestant pastors and laymen who are somewhere along the journey or have already been received into the Catholic Church, according to their Web site. Other featured converts include singer-songwriter John Michael Talbot and Patrick Madrid, editor of the Surprised by Truth books, which showcase conversion stories.
Would Saint Augustine Go to a Southern Baptist Church in Houston?
McKnight first identified these converts eight years ago, and the trend has continued to grow in the intervening years. It shows up in a variety of places, in the musings of the late Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) about his wifes conversion and his decision not to follow, as well as at the Evangelical Theological Society where the former President and Baylor University professor Francis J. Beckwith made a well-documented return to Rome. Additionally, the conversion trend is once again picking up steam as the Millennial generation, the first to be born and raised in the contemporary brand of evangelicalism, comes of age. Though perhaps an unlikely setting, The Kings College, an evangelical Christian college in New York City, provides an excellent case study for the way this phenomenon is manifesting itself among young evangelicals.
The Kings College campus is comprised of two floors in the Empire State Building and some office space in a neighboring building on Fifth Avenue. The approximately 300 students who attend Kings are thoughtful, considerate and serious. They are also intellectually curious. This combination of traits, it turns out, makes the college a ripe breeding ground for interest in Roman Catholicism. Among the traits of the Catholic Church that attract TKC studentsand indeed many young evangelicals at largeare its history, emphasis on liturgy, and tradition of intellectualism.
Lucas Croslow was one such student to whom these and other attributes of Catholicism appealed. This past spring, graduating from The Kings College was not the only major change in Croslows life, he was also confirmed into the Catholic Church.
Croslows interest in Catholicism began over six years ago when he was a sophomore in high school. At the time, Croslows Midwestern evangelical church experienced a crisis that is all too common among evangelical churches: what he describes as a crisis of spiritual authority. As a result of experiencing disappointment in his pastor, Croslow began to question everything he had learned from him. This questioning led him to study the historical origins of scripture and then of the Christian church itself. Eventually he concluded that Catholicism in its current form is the closest iteration of the early church fathers intentions. He asks, If Saint Augustine showed up today, could we seriously think that hed attend a Southern Baptist church in Houston? The answer, to Croslow, is a resounding No.
Croslows belief that the Catholic Church most accurately reflects the intentions of the early church fathers is echoed throughout the movement as other evangelicals seek a church whose roots run deeper than the Reformation. Further, due to the number of non-denominational churches that have proliferated since the Jesus Movement, many evangelicals knowledge of their history runs only as far back as the 1970s. These are the young believers who are attracted to a Church that sees itself as the direct descendent of the religion founded by Saint Peter and the apostles.
Another recent convert and current Kings sophomore, Nick Dunn, agrees with Croslow about the need for a historically grounded Christianity, however he emphasizes the liturgical aspects of Roman Catholicism as a motivation for converting. When he moved to New York City to attend The Kings College he had a difficult time finding a church that was similar to his home church in San Diego. The churches that he attended in New York, even the evangelical ones, often were a bit more structured and incorporated some liturgical elements into their services. In time, Dunn realized that these liturgical practices, which had been all but absent from his church life to that point, were quite rich.
When he asked his parents why their church didnt have a benediction or a call to worship, they answered as many evangelicals would, saying that they dont like these ritualistic or religious kinds of things. Eventually, after attending mass at St. Francis of Assisi in midtown Manhattan, Dunn became interested in learning more about Catholicism. It was living like a Catholic, Dunn says, that finally made him to decide to convert.
In much the same way that many evangelical churches have discarded Church history, so the liturgical structure of worship was left by the wayside as these churches made claims to the freedom that comes from forsaking the bounds of the Catholic Church and even mainline Protestant denominations. But for many young evangelicals and former evangelicals like Dunn, this move to be free of liturgical strictures came at the expense of religious practices that have been a part of Christianity for two millennia, and to these believers, the loss is too great. This is precisely why many evangelical churches have, as Dunn witnessed, made an effort to reintroduce those once forsaken elements into worship services.
Chris White, a 2009 Kings graduate, shares the concerns of Croslow and Dunn, while adding another of the main reasons why many evangelicals are converting to Catholicism: intellectual hunger.
White describes himself as a victim of Church history classes that start in 1517, the year Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses. That is, until he took a course entitled Foundations of Judeo-Christian Thought at TKC. It raised certain questions within me, he says of the course. White cites Boston College philosophy professor and TKC visiting faculty member Peter Kreefts Catholic Christianity as a factor in his conversion, but he also points to a number of other courses that he took at Kings that led him to the point of conversion. He says of the colleges curriculum that it is not a great books curriculum but it draws heavily on the liberal arts tradition. He adds, You cant study the liberal arts without confronting the rich history of Catholicism.
Indeed The Kings College is a microcosm of the larger community of young believers whose frustration with the lack of authority, structure, and intellectualism in many evangelical churches is leading them in great numbers to the Roman Catholic Church. This trend of Crossing the Tiber (a phrase that also served as the title of Stephen K. Rays 1997 book on the phenomenon), has been growing steadily for decades, but with the help of a solid foundation of literature, exemplar converts from previous generations, burgeoning traditional and new media outlets, and the coming of age of Millennial evangelicals, it is seeing its pace quicken dramatically.
Back in 1985, when many of the most recent converts were still singing Sunday School songs in evangelical churches, Thomas Howard wrote in the postscript to Evangelical is Not Enough that after completing the text in 1984, he formally converted to Catholicism at the Easter Vigil in 1985. Ultimately, Howard concluded that the question that matters most is What is the Church? His answer, like that of Hahn, Grodi and Talbot, and now of Croslow, Dunn, and White, is that the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic churchthe historical, traditional Churchcan only be the Roman Catholic Church.
I am just curious about the basic premise of the article: are evangelicals crossing the Tiber when they become more educated about church history?
My question for evangelicals is this: Were these people listed in the article legitimate evangelical scholars? Or were they squishy people who you are better rid of in the first place?
My question for Catholics is this: have you observed in your parishes a trend of evangelicals coming in through RCIA? Of course, we all know the high profile types that we see on EWTN and read about, but are you seeing this first hand?
Please note that this is an [ECUMENICAL] thread so let's keep it clean and above-board. I won't hesitate to ask the management to lock the thread if it goes down into the gutter...
‘His answer, like that of Hahn, Grodi and Talbot, and now of Croslow, Dunn, and White, is that the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic churchthe historical, traditional Churchcan only be the Roman Catholic Church.’
May we agree to characterize this entity as the ‘Roman Catholic Church,’ on this thread, in light of the usage by the author?
Just because someone was baptized, made a faith profession, walked an isle or attends church every Sunday and Wed. does not mean they are saved. It means in many cases the Catholic church .
Personally I would rather see them go and take their false doctrine (in the case of preachers) than to have them stay and poison the flock.
Were they legitimate scholars ??? Well scripture says the natural man can not understand scripture.. so if they are unsaved they may know a lot of scripture, but be unable to rightly divide it. So they may have a kind of self made scholarship ...but not genuine scholarship .
Just because i sleep in the garage, go beep beep and have an auto manual does not make me a car.. :)
I personally wouldn't (just a IMHO here). I would think that it would include all particular churches that teach the apostolic faith and have valid apostolic succession.
An example of this would have to include the Eastern Orthodox churces. They are a historically significant part of the Church Catholic. They are absolutely legitimate churches as they maintain apostolic succession and they teach the orthodox (small "O") Faith as passed down from the apostles.
I would like to see who is publishing the numbers supporting this claim of an increased “trend of evangelicals” converting to Catholicism...is there a religious “Nielsons” rating service?
Any TRUE CHURCH OF PETER would be evangelical in nature, based on Peter’s own dream(sent by God) that the gospel should be preached to all nations, gentiles included. Christ’s great Comission was a call to world evangelism. So I think a clarification as to what a true evangelical is versus how they are often defined in loose vernacular tomes is also in order. Is the term “evangelical” a loose term for protestants said to be “returning to or acknowledging Roman Cathocism as their true “church”(but avoiding the term “protestant”, for fear of backlash)?
I found your contribution very interesting. I cannot speculate whether or not the the people in the article are “legitimate evangelical scholars”. Certainly, in North Park University, Wheaton College and to some degree, Baylor, you have a good representation of evangelical institutions.
I have a good friend with whom I have lunch frequently, motivated by business, friendship and a common interest in spiritual things. When we first came to know each other it was in an evangelical setting, but more and more he has identified with the Reform “movement”, and has since joined a Reformed church.
At our last lunch it seemed to me that he was becoming what I called “Catholic lite” on a previous thread. He cited his study of the early church fathers and the liturgy, in particular.
Cannot blame you. I am getting tired of the flame wars in the religion section of FR.
That is why I am very careful not to you the word “orthodox” until the Eastern Christian churches come home in full to the Roman Catholic Church.
1)My Brother-in-law (Fatheroffive) began to confront me on various anti-Catholic statements I was making on a regular basis. He would not accept satements that began with; "Well the Catholic Church does ....." With out supporting evidence.
I was forced to do historical research
2) Dr. Dennis Castillo at Christ the King Seminary. He taught all the Church History Classes and prsented the truth warts and all and we were forced to confront what people actually said in their own words.
3) My wifes constant petitions to St. Monica the Mother of St. Augustine.
In the area I live (Cantral Virginia) we are seeing a steady stream of Converts to the Catholic faith and our RCIA program is very rigorous.
I have attended several of the other churches here with friends and you hear the occasional anti-Catholic comments, but most of the people are very pleasent to have faith discussions with.
I can well understand the term "Crossing the Rubicon" as denoting taking an irrevocable step, as Caesar did when he came home to seize power.
I can understand "Crossing the Delaware" as a significant and symbolic step in reversing the fortunes of war, as Washington did in the unpleasantness between the Crown and its American colonies.
And "Crossing the Rhine" was what happened in the Volkerwanderung of the German tribes into the Roman provinces and was a significant step in the Allied conquest of Germany in WWII.
We can come up with lots of allusions to crossing rivers.
But the only context I had for the Tiber was that it was a bridge on that river that Horatius defended in his famous stand against the Etruscan invasion of Rome, celebrated in the epic poem "Horatius at the Bridge" by Thomas Babington Macaulay.
Perhaps it is simply that the Tiber is no longer a river on the approaches to Rome but instead flows through Rome and divides the Vatican from Rome's "city centre". So "crossing the Tiber" is simply a symbolic description of the process of returning to Holy Mother Church.
But I don't think that one "crosses the Tiber" by becoming more educated about the Church. Religious conversion, in any direction, is not an intellectual exercise; albeit the intellectual exercise may, for many, have been a condition precedent for a true conversion.
How about Catholic?
While your point regarding “evangelical” is well taken, in the context of this thread, and certainly in my post, I would think evangelical would be taken as Protestant and in many cases, though not all, Fundamentalist.
But we converts to Holy Orthodoxy swam the Bosporus. When I heard that a Bishop in the OCA (Dmetri - Orthodox Church in America) had been raised a Baptist, I had to take a serious look. Then I found out about Peter Gillquist and his cohorts.
As long as it's not violating the Ecumenical rule - I will throw out that Fundamentalists that I was aware of (20 years ago) scorned Evangelicals almost as much as they scorned the Catholic/Orthodox.
Just wanted to make sure the “code words” for this discussion were properly “decoded”, that’s all.
don-o: Understood. It was several decades ago that I chose evangelical to identify myself...as a subtle distinction from “fundy”. ;)
That is a very revealing statement. Thank you.
But one question? If somebody abandons your (Presbyterian?) confession to join the Catholic Church, do you write them off immediately or do you pray for them?
That's the reason I'm asking the question. I see the claim made and, frankly, if both sides' claims were factual, I would imagine that 100% of Catholics would belong to something else within 10 years and 100% of non-Catholics would be Catholic within 10 years. So I was asking for actual reports from the ground rather than relying upon a magazine article.
Well, actual education may tend to remove a few preconceived notions. And those preconceived notions may make it far more difficult to perceive and respond to the calling of the Holy Spirit (again, an IMHO)
Some Catholics lump evangelical and fundamentalists together under the broad term of Protestant. Most fundamentalists would call themselves evangelical in terms of their agreement with Christ’s command that Christians go out tinto the byways of the world and “evangelize” which some would also call prosletize(if one were casting aspersions).
So that is why I called for more clarification of definitions. I’ve read of a lot of Episcopalians joining the Catholic church with the terms both protestant and or evangelical being applied to them. I have not read of a lot of Assembly of God members leaving and joining the Catholic Church(in deed they are experiencing member growth supposedly documented by the same “neilsen” service that documents Catholic conversions, who ever documents these things). Yet Assembly of God members would call themselves evangelical and fundamentalist Bible believing orthodox Christians. So who has the authority to actually define what an evangelical is?
If one were to stay true to the socialized accepted meaning of the term “fundamentalist”; Roman Catholic believers believing that the Vatican is the only Christian authority on Earth and shunning all else who believe differently, might be described as “fundamentalist” in their view of their church and its practises!