I’ve taken a long excerpt from the original article, and also changed the title of my post. This is as valid for those turning to Orthodoxy, or Anglicanism (a story for another day). In short, Evangelicals are still searching for the shards of their faith that the extended Reformation has scattered to the wind. They are missing continuity with our collective past, and the sense of stability that embracing an Augustine, or Aquinas can bring. The things that we search for are most often what we believe we once had, and lost. We are seeking homeostasis, a sense of completeness, balance.
Vlach references an interesting article by Scot McKnight called, “From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals Become Roman Catholic.” I’m not becoming Catholic, but I am interested in understanding and connecting with the wisdom of past. I just want to be careful to separate cultural glitter from spiritual diamonds.
I can say that my own journey toward orthodoxy, small o, is really a search for transcendence within the faith once given as defined here, and has stemmed in part from each of the four reasons mentioned here by Vlach / McKnight. So, for me, this resonates loudly. I think that this is about being in the historical, authentic, living, and authoritative church. Something that we desperately need today. But that church has always been a spiritual temple, not made by man. So, why do Evangelicals convert to Roman Catholicism, or Eastern Orthodoxy?
Why Are Evangelicals Converting to Roman Catholicism?By Michael J. Vlach
this is only a portion of the original article.
“This article was the result of McKnight’s research in which he surveyed the accounts of thirty Evangelicals who had converted to Roman Catholicism (McKnight calls these converts ERC’s—Evangelicals who converted to Roman Catholicism).
McKnight’s purpose is mostly that of observation, not critique. Thus, he is not evaluating the validity of the ERC conversions. Instead, he is pointing out trends and patterns among those who have converted from Evangelicalism to Catholicism. His findings, though, are interesting.In addition to recommending McKnight’s article, which treats this subject in more depth, I’d like to summarize McKnight’s findings, while offering a few insights of my own.
McKnight points out that the typical ERC goes through an “institutional transition” or a “switching of denominations.” ERC’s usually do not view themselves as converting to faith in Christ when they become Catholic; rather, they see themselves as transitioning to the fullness of the Christian faith. According to McKnight, “In nearly every case, the convert believes that he or she has ‘come home’ or ‘entered the fullness of the faith’ or has experienced conversion to the ‘truth of the Catholic faith.'” This was true for the ERC David Currie who declared, “I see my decision [to convert to RC] as a natural outgrowth of my Evangelical commitment.”
In addition, ERC’s are often led to Catholicism because of certain “crises.” These crises may include mystical experiences, the need for healing, family tragedy, or dissatisfaction with life. The most common crisis for ERC’s, however, is what McKnight calls “a desire for transcendence.” This desire for transcendence usually takes four forms:
(1) a desire for certainty; (2) a desire for history; (3) a desire for unity; and (4) a desire for authority.
First, the desire for certainty and a full knowledge of truth spurs many ERC’s to reject what they consider to be the “doctrinal mayhem” and “choose-your-own-church syndrome” of Protestantism. ERC’s often have a desire for certain knowledge, something they believe is possible within Catholicism but not within Protestantism. For example, on The Journey Home program, former Episcopalian, David Mills, told of an encounter he had with eleven evangelical scholars concerning the issue of marriage and divorce. According to Mills, these eleven evangelical scholars came up with nine different views on this important topic. Mills contrasted this uncertainty of the evangelical scholars with the alleged certainty that can be found within Roman Catholicism. For Mills and ERC’s, when Rome speaks on an issue, that’s it. There is absolute certainty.
Second, McKnight observes that ERC’s often feel a “historical disenfranchisement” with Protestantism. They have a desire to be connected to the entire history of the Christian church and not just the period since the Reformation. In addition, ERC’s often see the early church Fathers as “the aristocrats of the Church, the elite thinkers, and the inner circle who knew best.” This desire to be connected with church history leads many ERC’s to Rome.
Third, ERC’s emphasize unity and are disturbed by the divisions and countless denominations within Protestantism. McKnight quotes Peter Cram who describes Protestantism as “one long, continuous line of protesters protesting against their fellow protesters, generating thousands of denominations, para-churches, and ‘free churches,’ which are simply one-church denominations.” ERC’s try to transcend this disunity by seeking refuge in the perceived unity of the Roman Catholic Church.
Fourth, McKnight points out that many ERC’s reject the “interpretive diversity” found within Protestantism, opting for the authority of the Catholic Church. Instead of trying to sort through the numerous interpretations of Protestant pastors and theologians, ERC’s believe they have found their authority in the Catholic Church’s Magisterium. For them, as McKnight puts it, “The [doctrinal] issues are now settled: the Church can tell us what to believe. And it does so infallibly.”