A Deeper Look at the Many Evangelicals Turning Catholic
BY Matthew Warner
| Posted 8/5/10 at 2:26 AM
Is there a growing trend of Evangelicals converting to Catholicism? Many think so, including this recent article:
[There is a large] 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. Ray’s 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.
The article gives the example of many such notable Evangelical converts from our generation, such as Scott Hahn, Marcus Grodi, Thomas Howard, Francis Beckwith and others. (It also mentions Patrick Madrid, but he is actually not a convert, from what I understand.)
The common threads that seem to be drawing many of these Evangelicals into the Catholic Church are its history, the Liturgy and its tradition of intellectualism.
So is this trend significant? Or is it dwarfed by what seems to be many more Catholics who seem to lose their faith or become complacent with it?
According to a 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, four people leave the Catholic Church for every one person that joins it. Keep in mind that this stat doesn’t count those born into Catholicism as “joining” it. However, it’s still a sad statistic. But we shouldn’t be misled by it.
There are also studies that show Catholicism has a higher rate of retention than all other religious groups. In other words, when people convert to Catholicism, they don’t do so because they didn’t like where they were and just wanted to try something new. Their conversion is deliberate and intentional and they generally stick with it. On the other hand, when people leave the Church, they generally drift around a bit from one denomination to another. This says a lot. The Catholic convert is actually experiencing real, lasting conversion. Those leaving the Church seem to be lost and searching souls that most likely had no idea what they were leaving in the first place.
I’ve long noticed, as have many others, a kind of trend as well. It’s not so much from “Evangelicals” converting to Catholicism necessarily. It’s that of intellectuals converting to Catholicism. And that’s not to say these intellectuals were strictly intellectual. But I mean it to say that they took their reasons for believing very seriously. We only have to look back a few generations to find Chesterton, Merton, Newman, etc. as part of the same trend.
In my own experience, I’ve seen that more people who convert to Catholicism do so on account of their reason. Whereas those that leave the Church do so based on some emotion or negative experience associated with the Church.
When I ask an evangelical why they left the Church. The answer is almost always an emotion. Something made them feel a certain way. Or they just didn’t like the way something was done in Catholicism. Or it didn’t suit their lifestyle. Or some other experience made them feel nice.
There is a long list of protestant (and other) leaders and scholars who have converted to Catholicism. The list for those going the other direction is devastatingly short.
This is why I think we are seeing, and will continue to see even more, protestant thinkers converting to Catholicism. Protestantism is running its course. All the protest is getting tired. And they are running out of places to find answers that don’t lead them deep into Church history, back to the ancient liturgy, and into the intellectual tradition that ultimately leads to one place: Rome.
Protestantism has drifted far enough away from orthodox Christianity that it can now look back at the trees and recognize the forest. And if you’re not entirely in the Catholic Church, that just might be the next best place to be…
“There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote. It is, however, a relief to turn from that topic to another story that I never wrote. Like every book I never wrote, it is by far the best book I have ever written. It is only too probable that I shall never write it, so I will use it symbolically here; for it was a symbol of the same truth. I conceived it as a romance of those vast valleys with sloping sides, like those along which the ancient White Horses of Wessex are scrawled along the flanks of the hills. It concerned some boy whose farm or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own farm and kitchen-garden, shining flat on the hill-side like the colours and quarterings of a shield, were but parts of some such gigantic figure, on which he had always lived, but which was too large and too close to be seen. That, I think, is a true picture of the progress of any really independent intelligence today; and that is the point of this book.
The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it. ” – G. K. Chesterton (Everlasting Man)
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