I knew that sooner or later Southern Evangelical Seminary would respond to Evangelical Exodus. While disagreement and perhaps even opposition was expected (albeit unnecessary), SES’s reaction was disappointing in numerous ways. I had hoped that a school claiming to be committed to teaching people to “think clearly, critically, and rationally while engaging people in meaningful dialogue” would have done so in their response to the book. However, rather than carefully and considerately interacting with its content (or even getting its two-word title correct), SES’s response amounted to little more than a couple links to general articles on Catholicism and to a course that was recorded before the book was even written.
Worse, however, were the few items that actually related directly to the book. Instead of engaging the arguments made in the book, SES responded with misleading implications, red herrings, and personal attacks that border on libel. My requests to remove these latter statements were rebuffed, but in an attempt to take the high road, I remained silent for some time. Later, however, I discovered that the same misrepresentations were being repeated elsewhere (example, example, example), and I have concluded that a personal counter-response is necessary.
The opening lines in SES’s “response to the book” concerned the use of email to communicate its publication to other SES students and alumni. SES wisely avoided an actual charge of wrongdoing (as none was committed), but the implication that some sort of nefarious deed was committed comes through fairly clearly. That SES did not “authorize” such communication is true; however, the implication that such authorization was in any way required is false. SES students and alumni have every right to communicate with one other without being granted special permission from the school – and since all of the contributors to the book are SES alumni, it is not the case that it was done by “outside groups or individuals.”
The “Subject” of the Book
Next, instead of challenging the content of the book, SES presented a strange red herring. “Concerning the subject of the book,” SES claimed that, “there is no connection between Thomistic metaphysics, which we teach, and Roman Catholic theology, which we reject.” This disclaimer is confusing in two ways:
First, such an idea was not the subject of the book, nor was such an idea stated anywhere in the book.
Second, the idea that there is no connection between Thomistic metaphysics and Catholic theology is glaringly false. Aquinas’s theology (which can very nearly be equated with Roman Catholic theology) is heavily influenced by his metaphysics – and indeed some Catholic theology would not even be possible without it (e.g., the doctrine of Transubstantiation).
Perhaps, the statement was made in response to the idea that Thomistic metaphysics somehow entails Catholic theology. But this idea is also never expressed or implied in the book. In fact, such an idea would actually be opposed to Catholic teaching. One’s metaphysical position may or may not support one’s theology (e.g., of God, man, or creation), but sacred theology (e.g., the Trinity, Jesus’ Incarnation, Baptism, or the Eucharist) is not discoverable by the natural intellect (as are the truths of metaphysics). Thus, the idea that Catholic theology is entailed by or derived from metaphysics is both false and non-Catholic.
Thus, I am not sure why SES thought it was important to include this disclaimer, much less present it as a response to the book.
Resources on “The Theory”
I am not sure what “the Theory of Evangelicals turning to Rome” is, but only one of the four links in this awkwardly-titled resource section is an actual response to the book.
One link is to the recordings of a course taught by Dr. Geisler before the book ever came out (ironically, one of the textbooks was co-authored by Evangelical Exodus contributor Joshua Betancourt), and two are to articles that were produced before the book was even written (“America’s Changing Religious Landscape” was another ironic choice given that SES-related ministries often point to the huge number of Evangelicals leaving the church as why they exist, the fact that Evangelicalism is declining close to the same rate as are liberal mainline Protestants, and the fact that Catholicism is growing faster than the world’s population.)
Thus, rather than deal with what we had to say in the book, SES simply repeated the same things they have always taught about Catholicism (in a similar move, Dr. Geisler tagged all of his personal articles on Catholicism “Evangelical Exodus”). Given the success of this strategy before the book, I am not sure how helpful it will be now.
The only link that actually interacts with the book is titled “A Review of Evangelical Exodus” (they got the title right this time!). As it turns out, though, this “review” was mostly a personal opinion piece on the book’s ability to convince others to become Catholic (which was also not the purpose of the book). Sadly, it only briefly engaged with one of the numerous stated reasons why so many SES students and alumni are becoming Catholic (about two dozen that I know of from the last decade or so).
The author of the “review” is Dr. J. T. Bridges (SES’s Academic Dean and my former colleague). Dr. Bridges often speaks dismissively beneath his irenic tone (e.g., “The intellectual journeys of these young men are interesting and apparently sincere”), and rather than taking seriously the claims of the contributors, he often simply repeats the same SES falsehoods that formed part of the justification for writing the book in the first place. A good example of this latter practice appears in one of the review’s more troubling sections:
“. . . many of these testimonies are not independent instances but are linked by the influence of two former SES instructors who converted to Roman Catholicism, Jason Reed and Doug Beaumont. When asked repeatedly by the school’s administration whether they were considering such a conversion, they denied it, only to turn around and become officially Roman Catholic some months later.”
This statement is both false and misleading. The implied notion that these “young men” converted due to the influence of Dr. Reed or myself would be clearly dispelled by reading the book. Most of the contributors did not have either of us as teachers, and many never discussed Catholicism with us before their own conversions. Moreover, the direction of the alleged influence was sometimes the opposite of what is being supposed (I personally spent quite a bit of time trying to dissuade some of the contributors to this book from becoming Catholic!). It is sad that a school allegedly committed to the truth continues to foster this mythical influence theory which – although it makes it easier for them to dismiss those who have discovered the truth on their own and at great personal expense – is not only misleading, but disrespectful as well.
Moreover, I was not “asked repeatedly by the school’s administration whether [I was] considering such a conversion.” The closest thing to such an inquiry was a single meeting wherein I was asked about an unrelated doctrinal concern raised by some of my students. During the conversation that followed, I added that I had been looking into non-Evangelical Christian traditions recently (I was, in fact, investigating Anglicanism at the time – and was attending the same Anglican church as the then-current SES Dean!), and that the source of the students’ confusion was likely that they did could not tell the difference between historic Christianity and Evangelicalism. That ended my inquiry.
Dr. Bridges made a similar character defamation in a podcast when he alleged that we “sort of illicitly peddled their proto-Roman Catholic theology under the guise of their teaching position” (34:00). If this is the case, apparently the SES administration did not notice – for both Dr. Reed and I left SES in good standing and with future courses offered. Frankly, I am not sure how to take this allegation of “pedaling proto-Roman Catholic theology” seriously given that SES regularly teaches from texts written by Catholic authors such as Thomas Aquinas, Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, or Eleonore Stump, and has a longstanding practice of inviting Catholics such as Peter Kreeft, Francis Beckwith, Dinesh D’Souza, Robert George, and others to their conferences. Whatever “proto-Catholic” theology was taught, it was likely learned at SES (and from far better teachers than us)!
Finally, I am not sure what “comments” are being updated here. This last piece was added some time after the page’s initial launch, and Dr. Detzler had said nothing on it before. He seems to be indirectly referencing his endorsement of the book, but his endorsement does not imply the misunderstanding he is addressing. The book did mention the contributor’s gratitude to Dr. Detzler for his honest presentations of Church history, but if doing so led some of us to consider Catholicism, that should not be charged to him any more than the influence of Dr. Geisler’s theology or logic classes should. In any case, I respect Dr. Detzler’s opinion and remain grateful for his teachings at SES (as do the other contributors).
I am not going to get into an endless back-and-forth “dialogue” with Southern Evangelical Seminary along this vein. If anyone wishes to know the truth about our conversions, we have a 289 page book detailing them – but if someone insists on trusting secondary commentators over primary sources (one of the methodological flaws addressed in the book), nothing we say can help them. Besides the Evangelical Exodus contributors, other SES converts who came along before, during, or after us are beginning to tell their stories as well (examples).
Finally, while I am disappointed with SES for responding to Evangelical Exodus in this way, I strongly encourage readers to take full advantage of the materials they are offering. Many of them helpfully underscore several points made in the book, and will likely be as helpful for those looking into Catholicism as they were for many SES alumni who are now in full communion with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.