There are several Catholic converts from Southern Evangelical Seminary that did not, for one reason or another, have their stories included in Evangelical Exodus. Some were for personal reasons, but most were simply unavailable at the time, or had not yet begun or completed their journeys across the Tiber. Some of these converts have reached out to me since the book’s publication, and I have asked any interested to contribute to this blog in the same spirit as that of the book. I hope you enjoy the continuing stories of this Evangelical Exodus.
Questions About the Faith
When I started to attend the church in the Summer of 1999, it was disturbing to see how many believers seemed out of touch with the average person’s questions about the faith, especially given that for most of my life I was all too familiar with the secular world. So I started to pursue answers to many questions. Did God exist? What about other religions? One of my pastors recommended a few books, and I started to read them. My life started to change with ever increasing conviction and understanding.
Because Southern Evangelical Seminary had developed a graduate program in apologetics, I moved to Charlotte, NC in 2001.
The only problem was that my research was leading me to conclusions that were more in line with the Catholic Church. Following my conscience, I left the seminary within two semesters, entering the Church during the Easter Vigil of 2002.
Let me list a few of the theological reasons why I could not remain a Protestant.
First, the doctrine of “Scripture alone” did not square with the Scriptures. The New Testament writers were not trying to make a religious text, but were trying to address specific problems with certain audiences in mind. Moreover, the biblical authors often referred to information that exceeded their writings. So how was I supposed to access that untold information? Was that information essential to the life of faith? The biblical texts push the reader to go somewhere else to find out.
Second was the problem of biblical interpretation. How was I supposed to know the correct meaning of the Scriptures? And who had the God-given right to decide what Biblical truth was necessary and applicable for believers living today? Laypersons are not the only ones who disagree about the correct meaning of Scripture–so do Protestant scholars. Who has the final say on what counts as inspired Scripture? Protestants disagree with one another about the answers to these questions too.
Third, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was not biblically self-evident. What is evident is that Jesus, Paul, and the others could be interpreted in several plausible ways. The divisions within Evangelicalism confirm the point. My interpretation of the biblical doctrine of justification was consistent with the Catholic view. Strangely, many Biblical scholars in the Evangelical tradition often agreed with my interpretation.
Next are the liturgical practices of Eucharist and water baptism. In the New Testament both of these practices are central to the life of faith and performed with high esteem. After carefully reading the New Testament, who can honestly deny that? Who can deny the central role that Eucharist and baptism have played throughout the life of the historic Church? Once again, many contemporary Evangelicals did not afford these practices with the respect that they deserved. In most Evangelical versions of Christianity, these practices were merely decorative and dispensable. This was out-of-sync with other plausible readings of Scripture and the history of Eucharistic practice and devotion.
Obviously more could be said.
Today, fourteen years later, I remain a convinced Catholic. Grateful to God for giving me another opportunity to attend graduate school, I now serve as assistant professor of theology at a small Catholic college (Notre Dame College), just outside of Cleveland, OH. Though life as a Catholic is not always “peaches and cream,” I do not live with an unhealthy frustration about the teachings of the Church. No matter the talents of the Church’s ministers, God is doing something in and through us when we receive the sacraments. We can also be confident that the Risen Jesus has preserved his teachings in the Church. The challenge has much more to do with living out those teachings, not with determining my own theology (as if Christian theology were nothing but a fun game to be played).
My conversion to the Catholic faith has not ended. It remains a continuous endeavor. And many small gifts have been given to me along the way. I never could have anticipated these gifts and new understandings when I originally entered the Church.
Glenn B. Siniscalchi (PhD, Duquesne University) is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Notre Dame College, South Euclid, Ohio. His first book is an excellent, scholarly primer on modern apologetics: Retrieving Apologetics.