Is converting to Rome Cool?

Jul 30th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

In light of the recent conversions and announcements of impending conversions of Reformed pastors and seminarians to the Catholic Church, some Reformed blog authors have suggested that these folks are merely doing what is now the trendy and “cool” thing by converting.

By explaining away conversions to Catholicism as merely a band-wagon type phenomenon, some Reformed bloggers may hope to discourage other Reformed people from seriously looking into the real reason for these conversions.  Of course in their own testimonies, these men and women never suggest that they would become cooler, gain friends, or garner a more successful career.  Yet, this is what some Reformed writers have suggested on more than one occasion.  The irony of this tactic needs comment.

Many Catholic converts throughout history and certainly the recent converts I have met, including many of the authors of Called to Communion, were willing to suffer the loss of friends, career uncertainty, strained marriages, and even ridicule in circles where they were once respected.  For the majority of converts, the prospect of conversion had only one appeal; Truth.  When I first read the story of Scott Hahn, a well known Catholic Apologist and author, I was still thoroughly Reformed.  Nonetheless, I found myself amazed that he would willingly sacrifice everything to follow Christ, even if, at the time I disagreed where it took him.  For many, conversion to Catholicism will mean the loss of a career, money, health benefits, friends, and reputation.  I think of John Henry Newman who, before his conversion, held a position of high respect in many Anglican circles at Oxford.  His conversion meant isolation and a future of uncertainty.

When Christians move from one tradition and into another believers should hear them out and not ascribe to them uncharitable motives.  Many within the Reformed community, including the Reformed pastors I know personally, already do this well.  During my own conversion their thoughtfulness and respect were most appreciated.

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  1. Great insight.

  2. For such a scholarly group, I’d expect a better conclusion from the Reformed folks of the blogosphere. “Cool?” Not it.

  3. Those of our our separated brothers and sisters in Christ who do not believe that Catholics are Christians will often try to come up with any and every reason, as to why conscious Protestants become Catholic. As Jeremy writes above, the answer is, simply, the discovery of more objective Truth in Christ. Why would we *not* want to pursue and submit to more Christian Truth?

    The problem, of course, is that these particular Protestants (who don’t believe that Catholics are Christians) have no paradigm in which “more Christian truth” could even possibly exist in the Catholic Church (more so than in conservative Protestant communities). This is very important for us to realize and remember as Catholics. For years, I did not have such a paradigm myself. I urgently spoke of the need for “Catholics to know the true Gospel.” Of course, now, I know that the Catholic Church was teaching and spreading the Gospel for 1, 500 years before the Reformation. I know that the Catholic view on justification, the Catholic understanding of the sacraments, the Catholic love for Mary, and so on, are not “historical accretions” that gradually “disfigured the true Gospel” in
    the Catholic Church. Rather, these “Catholic” views are apostolic views which were believed by the Christians of the early Church. Hence, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church! These views have only come to seen as accretions and distractions to “the Gospel” since the Reformation.

    Now, in today’s context, for most modern Protestants, these “Catholic” things aren’t even seriously considered. If they are considered, they are rejected as simply being self-evidently untrue, according to “Scriptural teaching” (i.e. what these brothers and sisters are gleaning from their own interpretation(s) of the Bible, and what they are being taught by their local, chosen pastors).

    I know, from my own experience as a Protestant, the distaste with which many serious, conscious Protestants think of the “teachings of Rome.” I also know, from my own experience, that much of this distaste is based on misunderstanding, mistaken perceptions, and (not least) fear. When one has been told for years, and one sincerely believes, that “Rome’s Gospel is not the Biblical Gospel,” one does not want to even begin to seriously, objectively consider the claims of “Rome”– the claims of the Catholic Church. The fear of falling into heresy is deep and real. Our serious, committed Protestant brothers and sisters have much to overcome in even beginning to objectively consider Catholicism.

    Sometimes, in reading debates between Catholic converts and Protestants, I fear that some of us have forgotten how hard it was for us to even conceive that Catholics could be *Christians*, let alone that the Catholic Church might actually be what she claims to be. May we remember to have charity, even as we explain and defend the objectively true claims of the Catholic Church. (I should say that the former and the latter almost always co-exist well here at CTC. Just a note to myself and to anyone else who needs it.)

  4. Mea culpa for the typos. It’s very late here. :-)

  5. If converting to Catholicism is so “cool”, what about conversion in countries like mine, in Albania where they are rare and even very few? apart of what was mentioned here about the great cost in relation to the family most of all and to friends, to the job and other things, is the desert of not having precedents, a culture not used with converts and you break the ground!

  6. I think the dynamic is like this. These are smart,thoughtful people converting. Some Protestants think a smart, thoughtful person could never convert to the CC. Cognitive dissonance is thereby created, and then is resolved by assigning some pyschological, non-rational motivation to the convert.

  7. BK,

    I think you make a good point. The Reformed conception of forensic justification is so identified with the gospel itself that rejection of Reformed soteriology is understood a rejection of the gospel, and even Christ himself. Some reformed people then want to make the argument that the convert never understood Reformed theology in the first place or (even worse) that the convert has turned away from Christ. Both of these assertions reflect on unwillingness, on the part of some Reformed Christians, to listen with open ears to the actual reasons behind conversion.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  8. As a Convert myself ( former Reformed Baptist pastor for nearly 9 years , I entered the Church this past December 21st ) I can say that it was for Truth that I converted for. It certainly has not been cool to be seen as a traitor , hypocrite , pagan , hell bound papist by my friends and family members . I have endured the pain of loss , and of not knowing what to now do with my life since all I have ever done is preach and my education is all theological in nature . I have gained no tangible financial benefit by converting. I have not been offered book contracts, radio interviews , news coverage , fame or the respect of my peers. But, I have gained Christ and His Church in all its fullness. I can say that I feel the robber when I consider what I have gained compared to what I have lost . No, at least for me, I did not do it because it was cool , I did it because it is True and the prospect of living a life without it would be worse than any thing I could ever imagine.

  9. New things are cool. But like all feelings, coolness fades.
    So to attribute the motive of wanting to be cool to a convert is to say they are dumb enough to just fall for a fad, or are just carried by the winds of “cool” wherever it takes them, truth be damned. How awful to think that of anyone.
    What these Reformed accusers might be noticing is the results of conversion. Perhaps they notice people like me get excited about all the newfound wealth of being in the true Church? In their defense I won’t deny that there was/is a honeymoon period after my conversion, particularly with Our Lady. There is so much to explore in the Church that for me it was like walking into Disneyworld as a kid. Everywhere you look your eyes get wide and you get excited. So much to explore, so much to see.
    But Disneyworld was/is after I had decided on conversion. Initially my memory is of being literally sick to my stomach when my mindset moved from “Rome is not even on the radar as a possibility”, to “Perhaps I should seriously examine Rome’s claims”. Even that slight shift was devastating to me, and caused me, my immediate and extended family, and my church family much heartache. Not “cool” at all. To use the modern word opposite of cool, I would say it really “sucked”. And the only reason I would do something that felt very uncomfortable like that was for the sake of the truth. It was anything but cool.
    What is ironic, is years ago when I “converted” from Evangelical to Reformed, some evangelicals accused me of doing it because it was “cool” or to look smart, but Reformed people praised me for following my conscience(of course their tune has changed now that I am Catholic). I remember clearly at the time my motive being the truth, and I didn’t feel sick about it at all. In fact, because I was going somewhere where I agreed with every jot and tittle of doctrine (the PCA), I felt on top of the world as I made the move.
    Not so with Catholicism. Instead of the “finding what I was looking for” feeling of becoming Reformed, Converting to Catholicism was like St. Mathew “finding” Jesus, by which I mean he didn’t set out to find him at all – Jesus found him. It is the difference between grasping at truth and kneeling before it. The Catholic Church cannot be grasped at like a “cool” trinket. You bow before it and submit, and that necessarily brings a fair amount of humility and pain. The motivation for me to submit to the Church was a lot of things, but being “cool” was not on the list. Anyone who says that was my motive is just being uncharitable. And if they are really concerned about my soul as they often claim to be, they should be ashamed to dismiss me in such a belittling way.

    -David Meyer

  10. Hi Jeff,

    Great to hear about your confirmation this past December! I love your honesty and I think other converts who read CtC will be able to relate. When I was Reformed, the only names I knew of Reformed people who had gone Catholic (Kenneth Howell, Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft) were big name guys so I can understand why a Reformed person might assume that conversion comes with some earthly coolness or perks, whatever you want to call it. Most converts though have a story similar to yours; none of the lesser goods (interviews, books, ect), only the greatest good, Christ in the Eucharist and the gift of the sacraments. Praise God for your boldness in coming into the Church.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  11. David,

    I think you’ve nailed it,

    It is the difference between grasping at truth and kneeling before it.

    The process of becoming Catholic is a powerfully humbling experience (especially for people like us who spent years bashing the Catholic Church) and I have no doubt that the experience of conversion itself, the experience of being stripped of friendships, respect, and sometimes money and careers, often brings a person into greater dependence on God than they’d ever previously experienced.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  12. I so clearly remember the horror when, on 22 September, 1993, I finished, pretty nearly simultaneously:

    – Newman’s Apologia
    – Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine
    – Scott Hahn’s conversion tape

    and wrote to Mark Shea, saying that I had an idea he was a Catholic – and that, if so, I needed to talk to him, because I was in big trouble. I had suddenly realised that I had for the first time had seriously to consider the claims of the Catholic Church.

    It was the evening of 29 July, 1994, when I flew home to Auckland from Wellington, was met by my wife, that she looked at me, and said, “You’ve decided, haven’t you?” “Yes.” “You’re going to do it, aren’t you?” “Yes.”

    Both of us burst into tears.

    We were received into the Church 24 December, 1995. It was pretty uncool – but it was, and is, so wonderful to be home.

    jj

  13. JJ,

    My wife looked like she was about to shed some tears of her own reading that. It’s great knowing how much your love for Christ and the Church has grown since your confirmation in 95′. Christmas Eve seems like a pretty amazing time to come into the Church as well. Thanks for sharing.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  14. My wife didn’t make her own decision until sometime in February, 1995. I think she was terrified lest she just be following me – rather than following God. And that was a wonderful thing. The fact is that her own later decision was freeing for her. I can be a rather overwhelming (if not overbearing) person.

    For any who might be interested, you can read about our own experience (up to 1998) here.

    jj

  15. This post brought to mind the following paragraph from Evelyn Waugh’s Life of St. Edmund Campion:

    There was another young Oxford man who attracted their particular attention, a Fellow of Christ’s Church named Tobie Matthew. He was younger than Campion, barely twenty years old, and had had no part in the debates in the schools. It was not until Elizabeth’s last day in Oxford that he was presented to her, when he made a farewell oration which attracted her so much that she nominated him her scholar. Cecil looked after him well; a splendid career lay before him. He became Canon of Christ Church four years later; in 1572, at the unusually early age of twenty-six, he was made President of St. John’s, where he set himself to release the college from its obligation to receive poor scholars elected from the Merchant Taylors; four years later he was Dean of Christ Church, later Vice-Chancellor; from there he turned to the greater world, became successively Dean and Bishop of Durham, and, finally, Archbishop of York. He was a talkative little man, always eager to please, always ready with a neat, parsonic witticism; the best of good fellows, everywhere, except in his own family. When, on the Council of the North, he was most busy hunting down recusants, was full of little jokes to beguile his colleagues. He was a great preacher. At first he kept no count of his sermons, but later, realizing their importance, he scored them punctually in a book; between his elevation to the Deanery of Durham and his death he preached 1,992 times. In James’s reign he saw the trend of the times, and, alone among the bishops, voted in favor of conference with the lower House. He married admirably, a widow of stout Protestant principles and unique place in the new clerical caste, which had sprung naturally from the system of married clergy; Frances Barlow, widow of Matthew Parker, Junior; she was notable in her generation as having a bishop for her father, an archbishop for her father-in-law, an archbishop for her husband, and four bishops for her brothers. Tobie Matthew died full of honours in 1628. There, but for the Grace of God, went Edmund Campion.

  16. Paul,

    Wow. It took me until the last sentence to understand where you were going with the quote. Wow. It’s sobering to think about. I’d never heard of Tobie Matthew before, but comparing his life of honours and recognition to the life and horrific martyrdom of St. Edmund really puts into perspective what it means to abide in Christ as a member of His body. It’s crazy to think that St. Edmund could have had the life of Tobie Matthew, but instead choose the way of the cross. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  17. Jeremy,

    Glad you enjoyed it. Here’s another gem from the same book, this time about Campion’s decision to pursue Orders:

    What he wished was to be left in peace to pursue his own studies, to discharge the duties which soon fell on him as proctor and public orator, to do his best for his pupils. But he was born into the wrong age for these gentle ambitions; he must be either much more, or much less.

    St. Edmund Campion, pray for us!

  18. Jeremy (re:#16) and everyone,

    In this vein (and I am certainly no Saint, nor even a person of particularly great courage), when I returned to the Catholic Church, I did so after years in (respectively, at different times) two different Protestant ecclesial communities in which I had so many very wonderful friends. These congregations loved me and helped me (a 30-something man with a physical disability, unable to drive and without a paying job, living below the poverty line) in deeply sacrificial ways that still move me to this day, when I think of them. I had close male friends to whom I could confide my deepest struggles. I had good, kind, warm female friends too.

    In the latter of these two congregations, in New Mexico, I was being trained, by their on-staff Biblical Counselor (another close friend of mine) to become such a counselor myself. I had long had a desire, and sensed a calling, to become a Christian counselor and, given my strongly Calvinist beliefs, Biblical Counseling was the natural choice. Due largely to my disability and my inability to drive a car, I had struggled in my career life for years. It can be difficult to find and keep a job when one uses a wheelchair, can’t drive, and lives in an area which often has snow during the winter. (Snow not being easy on wheelchairs.) In this context, Biblical Counseling was one of the fields in which there was somewhat of chance that I might actually be able to support myself, as driving didn’t necessarily have to be involved, and I had had a passion for this counseling for some time anyway, apart from my career struggles.

    The thought that I might actually be able to do something that glorified God *and* support myself and get off of government disability benefits– well, I can’t even describe how happy I was at the thought. Long-term unemployment is not easy on anyone, and it’s especially hard on an adult man who longs to be married, and it’s yet still more difficult for a man with a disability who struggles with transportation issues, which contribute to his being much more socially isolated than he would like to be. (I’m certainly not suited, temperamentally, to the monastic life, but in some ways, due to my disability, I live much more in that way than I would if I had my own choice.)

    I was liked and, even more, trusted, by the elders. I say this, not to brag, but simply to describe my former standing as a Protestant in my ecclesial home, which, to say the least, radically changed when I returned to the Church. In my last year and a half as a Protestant, I had been entrusted with various responsibilities as a volunteer at my church, including being actively involved in our evangelistic ministry (in one case, trying to “evangelize” a lapsed Catholic fully out of the Church and into Protestantism) and being on a team which discussed and debated methods and strategies for world missions. As mentioned before, I was also doing the Biblical Counseling training. I was “settled,” theologically, and in terms of having a community of Protestant (almost all Calvinistic) friends– who, at that time, comprised most of my friends, period.

    However, during the Biblical Counseling training, very suddenly, very unexpectedly (even to me), I began to have questions about the very church to which I *never, ever* had wanted to return– the Catholic Church. I will refrain from making this a treatise and simply say that after a several-months-long period of frequent, lengthy (many hours each day) and intense study, and equally intense meetings with my Biblical counseling mentor and friend, I had to tell him that I had come to the point of knowing that I had to return to the Catholic Church in order to be obedient to God. In a short period of time, this man and the other elders (and most of my other friends at this church), began a process of church discipline regarding my decision. They sent me repeated letters, even long after after I returned to the catholic Church, and after I moved out of the area, warning me of my “apostasy” and pleading with me to return to the Church. (Which I can completely understand, given their beliefs about the Church and what she teaches). Eventually, I lost almost all of them as friends– at least, that is, as friends who make an effort to have an active presence in my life– including my roommate at the time.

    Due to housing and financial difficulties, I finally moved back to the D.C. area. There, I had to face the fact that I had also lost most of my friends from the *first* Calvinist community of which I had been a member years ago– a congregation which had actually financially helped me to move to New Mexico in the first place. Coming back to the area, in many ways, was humbling and painful, as I had almost no friends to truly welcome me back. (I am now in a strong, warm Catholic parish and am making good friends, thanks be to God!!) I am still without a paying job, still dealing with transportation difficulties (even with the buses and subway, these are still issues), still living below the poverty line, and still more socially isolated than I would wish. All of this might well have turned out differently if I had found some way to remain Protestant (there was no honest way for me to do so though), remained in my Calvinist community in New Mexico, and become a Biblical Counselor. However, to do those things, for me, would have meant putting the earthly comforts of man above the command of Christ for me to pick up my cross and follow Him– back to the Catholic Church.

    Does the sinful part of me (for lack of a better term), the part which simply wishes for more earthly comfort and convenience, sometimes wish that I had never even begun to ask those “Catholic questions” as a Protestant? Honestly, yes. However, the part of me which wants to obey God, which, thanks be to God, won out, during my “Catholic questioning” process,” cannot, and will not, return to Protestantism. I might be able to “regain” some earthly things there (friends, career, some degree of respect), but (as a Catholic who believes the Church’s claims about herself to be true), in the process, I would be betraying the God whom I love and worship, and I would then lose both Him and my soul. Nothing on earth– *nothing*– is worth those eternal losses.

  19. P.S. In case of any confusion, the “snow issues,” which I mentioned in the comment above, which cause me difficulty with transportation, are here, back in the D.C. area, not in my previous home of New Mexico. In NM, the transportation issues, for me, were that certain buses didn’t run nearly as often as I needed them to, for travel to and from certain jobs, and some routes did not even go to certain destinations in the city, period. (I did actually try driving a car, using hand controls, and I even got my license at one point. However, out on the road, it did not go well, to put it lightly, and I finally made what I still believe to be the wise choice and got rid of the car and gave up my license. Aspects of my particular *manifestation* of my physical disability just make driving too dangerous, for me, for it to be worth the risk.)

  20. One last thing, re: my typos above (sigh), my Protestant friends were obviously not “pleading with me to return to the Church” (the Catholic Church) but rather, to the “Reformed Gospel” and to an, in their view, “Biblical” (i.e. non-Catholic, non-Orthodox) church. I had better leave now, before I notice any more typos that I’ve missed! :-) Hope everyone has a blessed day!

  21. “The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” — G.K. Chesterton

    I think conversion to the Church is, among many other things, a revolt against the very idea of “coolness.”

  22. Hi Christopher,

    Thanks for sharing. Your unique situation required more sacrifice on your part than most will ever have to experience. I commend you for your boldness and courage.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  23. Jeremy,

    Thank you, brother. You already know this, but I want to say, especially for any non-Catholics reading here that any boldness and courage that I had to exercise, in returning to the Catholic Church, came from God. If returning to the Church had just been some whim of my own, some restless yearning for something illegitimate (as certain people might say), then not only *would* I not have “reverted,” I actually *could* not have done so. The move from Protestantism back to Catholicism just involved too much sacrifice and pain and, more importantly, it showed me too much of *God Himself* (largely in Scripture, and also in Tradition/Church history) for it not to be of Him. It was God Himself who brought me to the point of seeing the truth of, and the objective need for, the Catholic Church. Once I saw those two realities, there was no choice but to return.

  24. This article is very true.

    The Lutheran theologian Michael Root came into the Catholic Church in 2010, and a quick browse through a few blogs was enough to show the minor martyrdom he had to go through. I recall one post noting that he had been a closest Thomist all his career, so his “betrayal” was no surprise.

    Poor Frank Beckwith, former President of the ETS, was given a hard time on radio. He co-authored a book with a man (I forget his name), and hearing him question Beckwith was like hearing a wife asking a husband why he cheated on her.

    On and on we could go…

    I’m astounded by all the wonderful converts who are coming into the Catholic Church, who are relinquishing so much to embrace the Church.

    It’s wonderful though to look at the caliber of Catholics we have are in theology (Michael Root, Douglas Farrah, etc), apologetics (Hahn, Akin, Armstrong, Staples, Ray, etc), literature (Thomas Howard etc), philosophy (Kreeft, Beckwith), Church history etc.

    I read a wonderful article about Lutherans converting to the Catholic Church: Paul Quist (2005), Richard Ballard (2006), Paul Abbe (2006), Thomas McMichael, Mickey Mattox, David Fagerberg, Bruce Marshall, Reinhard Hutter, Philip Max Johnson, Dr. Michael Root (2010).

    Lutherans Robert Wilken and Reinhard Hutter are two distinguished members at the St Paul Centre for Biblical Theology, and the late Richard John Neuhaus seems to be the first to swim the Tiber.

    It’s kind of incredible when you see how the Catholic Church is caricatured in the media. Yet there’s so much hope on the surface.

    Fr Benedict Gorschel said it: 100 years from now there may be no other institution left standing except for the Catholic Church.

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