Evangelical Trend of Converting to the Catholic Church

  • (A)theologies
  • July 28, 2010
  • Evangelicals ‘Crossing the Tiber’ to Catholicism
  • Under the radar of most observers a trend is emerging of evangelicals converting to Catholicism.
  • By Jonathan D. Fitzgerald
  • From the cover of Thomas Howard’s Evangelical Is Not Enough.
  • Jonathan D. FitzgeraldJonathan D. Fitzgerald is managing editor of Patrolmag.com and has written for several periodicals including the Wall Street Journal and American Public Radio’s Speaking of Faith: Observed. He and his wife Stephanie live across the Hudson from New York in Jersey City. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jfitz81.
  • 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 college’s 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 child’s 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.

One Response

  1. Dear bfhu,

    Dear bfhu,

    I tried to comment on a post you made recently at another location, which was not there when I attempted to do so. I am copying and pasting it here and leaving a comment. I hope that this is acceptable.

    Your post is below my comment.

    My comment is four-fold.

    We have many early translations in various languages, and if we compare and contrast them we do find a number of differences. They can number into the thousands. However, those differences do not obscure the the intended meaning. We can take the worst of the lot of them and still prove the doctrines of the Christian faith with great accuracy if we diligently study. I can even prove the doctrines of the faith using the Jehovah’s Witnesses “Bible” (which is hardly a translation at all) if I must. Therefore, the claimed errors or differences you allude to must be examined in order to determine whether they actually change the intended meaning of the text, and/or if we can still determine the intended meaning by the context. The context certainly helps us to understand the meaning. We must know what these alleged differences are in order to determine whether your claims bear any weight. It is also entirely possible that these claims are just bogus.

    Next, Latin is a language hardly used today in its ancient form. The Greek of today is not the same as the Greek of the First Century, therefore, the reasons you gave for the Roman church conducting their “services” in Latin is not legitimate. If the early church wanted to use a language that would not change, why would they want that? What difference would that make if no one spoke the language any longer?

    We can claim that any language of the past is a language that hasn’t changed as long as we count the various modified forms as individual variations or distinct dialects of that language. We can then use the form of that language from that time as a distinct language and say it hasn’t changed. All of the variations are then different languages. That would be essentially the same as what you are claiming about the Latin and biblical Greek. But that makes no difference. If no one speaks that language any longer, it is pointless to use that language. That is the important thing. If we do not speak the English of the King James Version, we must diligently study in order to understand it. If it were written in Latin or First Century Greek, I would have to study much more in order to understand that. Either way, I must diligently seek God. Either way, I can understand the Scriptures by diligent study. Nevertheless, it is far better if I can attain a translation that I understand. There must be an interpretation for me to be edified.

    Read 1 Corinthians 14. Paul speaks of the conduct of the church in their assemblies, and tells them that if they speak in a language that none of them know or understand, it is pointless. They might edify themselves (they were using miraculous gifts of speaking in other languages which may lift them up) but not the rest of the church. He said, unless the unknown language IS INTERPRETED so that the church may understand and be edified they are to remain silent. They should not speak at all, even if the unknown language is Latin or First Century Greek. Not unless it is interpreted or TRANSLATED. We are certainly in agreement that it should be an accurate translation.

    Paul said that he would rather speak a mere five words to the church that she may understand than ten thousand words in a language that she cannot understand. The practice of the Roman Catholic Church of reading the Scriptures to the masses in Latin when they did not speak Latin was a direct contradiction and disobedience to this passage of Scripture. They did this because they did not want the people to understand and know the Scriptures, not because this practice made it easier for them to understand as you seem to insinuate.

    Third, as long as we have numerous translations into other languages that were counted as good translations in the early church who knew those languages and the Scriptures (Some in the early church had the miraculous gift of speaking in and interpreting other languages), we can be confident that we know what the original Scriptures actually said. Surely, they could make good translations into other languages of their day.

    Even if you reject the notion of the miraculous, we today have plenty of evidence and knowledge of those ancient languages to translate the early manuscripts accurately. You seem to admit freely that we do indeed know and understand those ancient languages. Therefore, we can certainly manage to translate accurately.

    They had much less to work with in cracking the “code” of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. We have an extreme abundance of good and early evidence in various languages that help us to be certain of what the original Bible writers wrote. There is virtually no ambiguity about that. The worlds scholarship can certainly examine the modern translations and tell if they are good or not. None are absolutely perfect, but some are very good. Nevertheless, even most of the bad ones may still be used to prove the doctrines of the Christian faith with diligent study.

    Lastly, I would ask, are their translations so bad that 1 Tim 3: 1-2,

    ” 1This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
    2A bishop then MUST BE blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;”

    should actually read,

    ” 1This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
    2A bishop then must NOT be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;”

    Or perhaps,

    ” 1This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
    2A bishop then must be blameless, BUT MUST NOT BE the husband of one wife, AND MUST BE vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;” ???

    What say you??

    This in response to the following BFHU post:

    Reblogged from ProtestantErrors.com

    The translations and interpretations of the Scriptures have been violated by the Protestant reformers:

    It is one thing for the Protestant reformers to dare cut off entire books, chapters, sentences and words from Scripture, but even more, the books that they chose not to cut off they have corrupted and violated by their translations. ….

    … It is common knowledge that only one word can change the meaning of an entire sentence. We note here that Hieronymus Emser, a literary opponent of Luther, points out 1400 inaccuracies in Luther’s translation of Scripture, while Bunsen, a Protestant scholar, points out 3000.

    If Luther, Calvin and other reformers’ translations of a verse in Scripture differ from the original AND from each other, which one is the word of God? Or are (all translations) still the word of God, though their translation may make their meaning completely different from the next? How can so many brains which are so different make so many translations without overthrowing the sincerity of Scripture?

    It has always been a practice of the early Church to limit the Scriptures to universal languages such as Greek and Latin since they are not only universal but also not subject to changes like other languages. Most other languages change town to town in accents, phrases, and words (i.e. slang), and vary season to season and age to age and therefore it has never been recommended by the early Christian Church to translate the Bible to other languages that are not fixed languages. Doing so has much more danger than profit as we can see from our example above. Though we note here also that the early Christian Church has never disallowed translation of the Scriptures to non-fixed languages, though She has always insisted that public services of the Church use a fixed language translation to avoid possibly misleading the faithful with verses of possibly incorrect translation and meaning.

    In summary, the Protestant reformers not only made major changes to Scripture by poor translations, but also translated Scripture to all the local non-fixed languages of the people where they started their churches, and they use those faulty translations in their church services. Is it not evident why there are so many Protestant interpretations of Scripture all in conflict with one another?

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