In this series on our book, Finding Faith, Losing Faith, we have a chp on why Evangelicals become Catholics. Michael Spencer (iMonk) wrote one response. I also asked Art Boulet, who blogs at his excellent blog, and he has this response. Art is a young theologian; sharp as a tack; and I appreciate his commitment and his insights. I cannot pass up this comment: with young leaders like this, I am encouraged.
The fourth chapter of Finding Faith, Losing Faith focuses on the conversion of Evangelicals to Catholicism. The major focus of the chapter is on the crisis that serves as the catalyst of a spiritual journey from evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism. This crisis is described as a ?desire for transcendence? and is defined as ?a crisis about the limitations of the human condition and a desire to go beyond the ordinary human experience? (201). There are four manifestations that the desire for transcendence takes (201-02):
1) The desire to transcend the human limits of knowledge to find certainty
2) The desire to transcend the human limits of temporality to find connection to the entire history of the church
3) The desire to transcend the human limits of division among churches to find unity and universality
4) The desire to transcend the human limits of interpretive diversity to find interpretive authority
As an evangelical who is very aware of the shortcomings of evangelicalism, each of these manifestations of the desire for transcendence resonate with me.
?There are questions revolving around how I might know, for certain, the theology that I hold to is, in fact, the truth. How can I be sure that my theology is not simply my opinion or what I feel comfortable believing?
?There is the desire within me to be connected to the history of the church and not only with Augustine and a few other early church fathers that my theological persuasion deems acceptable. Why do we participate in a ?buffet style? reading of the early Church fathers, only picking and choosing what seems right for us or what can serve our own ends?
?There are questions concerning the constant splintering of churches and denominations in the evangelical world. Is this really what Christ had in mind when he prayed in the Garden (John 17)?
?There are questions about the many different theological paradigms that find their home under the umbrella of evangelicalism. How do I navigate the rough theological waters of evangelicalism to arrive at the truth?
These are valid questions that people are asking and evangelicalism, like the author points out, needs to ?get a firmer grip on authority, unity, history, liturgy, and a reasonable form of certainty on interpretation? (226). This chapter, much like the recent book UnChristian, points out some weak areas within evangelicalism that need to be strengthened.
With that said, I do not think that to ask these questions is to begin a spiritual journey that will inevitably lead to that ?seven-hilled city.? Many find themselves crossing the Tiber after asking these questions because, quite frankly, they are getting better answers from Catholics then from evangelicals. But that does not need to be the case and, in some areas, evangelicals are waking up.
For instance, there has been a recent move within evangelicalism to reconnect with the ancient Church. From commentaries that focus only on the interpretation of the early Church fathers, to books documenting the spiritual disciplines of the early Church and how they can be used in today?s context, to a recent (and excellent) series of books entitled ?Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church’s Future.? These examples are steps in the right direction, one that serves to reconnect evangelicalism with the history of the church. Hopefully evangelicals will produce literature that focuses on the other manifestations of the desire for transcendence in the near future.
It is important to point out that I, like the author of the chapter, do not believe that someone who has taken the spiritual journey from evangelicalism to Catholicism has lost their faith, even though that journey will take us farther away from theological agreement. But I do think that taking that journey from evangelicalism to Rome is an invalid answer to very valid questions. It is on us, as evangelicals, to works towards a more robust understanding of what it means to follow Christ and to articulate that in such a way that people who begin the crisis of the ?desire for transcendence? can be comforted, informed, and strengthened by the answers she or he receives from evangelicals.