Called To Communion welcomes Jason Stellman

Oct 2nd, 2013 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Called To Communion is glad to welcome Jason Stellman to our team of contributors. Jason needs no introduction to regular readers of CTC.


Jason Stellman

He was born and raised in Orange County, CA, and served as a missionary with Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa in Uganda (’91-’92) and in Hungary (’94-’00). After becoming Reformed and being subsequently “dismissed” from ministry with Calvary, he went to Westminster Seminary California where he received an M.Div. in 2004. After graduation he was ordained by the Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America and called to plant Exile Presbyterian Church in the Seattle area, where he served from 2004 until resigning in the Spring of 2012. He is the author of Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet (Reformation Trust, 2009), and The Destiny of the Species (Wipf & Stock, 2013). In 2011 he served as the prosecutor in the trial of Peter Leithart in the Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the PCA. He currently resides in the Seattle area with his wife and three children. He was received into full communion with the Catholic Church on September 23, 2012. He traces the narrative of his journey to the Catholic Church in “I Fought the Church, and the Church Won,” and in an audio interview titled “How the Church Won: An Interview with Jason Stellman. His personal blog is titled “Creed Code Cult.”

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  1. Welcome Jason! When I first started reading Called to Communion I recall eagerly reading your comments. I was already Catholic, but your comments were some of the most compelling I found from the Protestant paradigm. I even introduced other Protestants to your comments as thoughtful answers to thoughtful Catholics. Just today I was commenting about one of them And while I was elated to hear of your journey toward full communion, I want you to know that I really respected your charity, clarity, and strength as a Protestant.

    I look forward to reading your upcoming contributions here.

    Others, for a walk down memory lane, I highly recommend the following Google search: site:calledtocommunion.com JJS.

  2. Good news. I enjoy and benefit from Jason’s writing quite a bit.

  3. Thanks, Eva and Brian!

  4. Welcome, Jason! From your Reformed days until now, I’ve read your blog, and your comments here, and I greatly respect your thoughtfulness and integrity. I never doubted the sincerity of your commitment to Reformed theology, and I equally respected your willingness to thoughtfully engage in the CTC comboxes. I know that, in retrospect, some Reformed people are questioning whether you ever were “truly Reformed,” but it’s interesting that, to my knowledge, no one ever did that *while* you were still in the PCA! :-) Similarly, no one ever questioned my commitment to understanding the Bible when I was a “Reformed Baptist” either, but when I began to raise serious questions about whether the Bible actually teaches Sola Fide, and whether Sola Scriptura is actually a truly Biblical paradigm, I was, apparently, not thinking clearly and rightly…

    Thanks for being willing to fearlessly follow your honest questions all the way to the Catholic Church. I know that that was not an easy road for you to travel. It wasn’t easy for me or for many of us here. I’m glad that you’re here– and I’m not just saying that because you’re now Catholic. I was always glad that you were here!

  5. I too am glad you will be writing articles here at Called to Communion. I very much enjoy your writing, and your humor!

    @Christopher,
    You are such a great encourager. God bless you.

    ~Susan

  6. If it would be appropriate at some point, I’d enjoy a few recommendations of charitable Protestants who skip the usual straw men in favor of authentic interaction with Catholic theology. Back when I was working through theological and paradigmatic concerns with my Evangelical upbringing in contrast to the increasingly convincing Catholic alternative, I was always on the lookout for thoughtful Protestants to help hold me back from the temptations of Rome. I’m curious if I were going through that journey today who I would look to for insight. I’m turned off by the uncharitable polemics that can all too often creep into theological discussions (from all sides). Are there some names that stand out to you as Protestants you especially respect for their faithful, knowledgable and charitable approach to topics that still divide us?

  7. Susan,

    Thank you, sister, and God bless you too. You encourage me often, with your witness through your comments on Facebook and on blogs!

    Eva Marie,

    Have you read the book “Is the Reformation Over?” by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom? If not, I think you would find it to be greatly helpful. It is *exactly* what you seem to be wanting– a charitable examination of Catholicism, from a Protestant perspective, and also an examination of the progress made in the last 50-plus years in dialogue between Catholics and Protestants . The authors are both committed Protestants, yet they are not hostile to Catholicism. Noll actually teaches at Notre Dame!

    Also, if you haven’t read “The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism,” that might be helpful too. The author, Louis Bouyer, is a former Reformed minister who became Catholic, but he actually wrote the book (before Vatican II) for both Catholics and Protestants. He wrote it for Catholics, so that they would hopefully be helped by the book to understand Protestants better, and thus, to learn to speak and think in terms beyond Counter-Reformation-era polemics. He wrote it for Protestants, so that they would hopefully be helped to understand Catholics better, and to see the many similarities that Catholics and Protestants share in Christ. In full disclosure, the book does also contain a critique of what Bouyer came to see as inherent theological and ecclesiological problems in Protestantism, problems that he believed could only be resolved in the Catholic Church– but the book is far from a polemic which insults and demeans Protestants. On the contrary, Catholics and Protestants have testified, over the years, that the book has, indeed, helped them to understand each others’ similarities *and* differences much more.

  8. Excellent!

  9. Welcome to C2C Jason, I always look forward to reading your insightful posts. I ditto all the comments above.

  10. Hi Eva,

    In answer to your question about thoughtful Protestants, I would want to include Joel Garver, who teaches philosophy at La Salle and blogs at Sacra Doctrina.

    Here is a sample of his response on facebook to some of the media-led misunderstanding of Pope Francis and the announcement of the World Youth Day indulgence earlier this year:

    “First of all, in no place in the official teaching of the church is an “indulgence” defined as “time off purgatory” (and despite the way the title is written, that’s not a quote from anyone in the Vatican).

    An “indulgence” is a recognition that holiness (devotion, acts of charity and piety, all stemming from genuine faith in the context of the confession of sins and receiving the eucharist and prayer) can function to mitigate and undo the “temporal punishments” that sinful wrongdoing, both acts and desires, can cause.

    “Temporal punishments”, in Catholic teaching, are not something imposed extrinsically by God as a kind of vengeance on wrongdoing. Rather they they are natural effects and consequences of sin. That’s to say, doing wrong and disordered desires have a ripple effect in our lives and in the world that is detrimental to and diminishes and damages the person doing the wrong as well as those around him or her.

    On Catholic teaching, because of the overflowing grace of God in Jesus Christ, all those who are united to Christ by faith will find that even their imperfect attempts to live holy lives are taken up by the Spirit to begin to mitigate and undo the effects of wrongdoing in ways that extend beyond the effects of sin. And since we are all united to one another in the Body of Christ, in the same way my sin can negatively affect others, so also the holiness of others can repair and transform the negative effects of my sin.

    (Think, for instance, of how two estranged people forgiving one another and being reconciled can have a beneficial effect that overflows and extends beyond the original hurt and estrangement, transforming the situation and bringing benefit to others.)

    An “indulgence” then is a way that the Catholic church advertises – underlines and celebrates – that a particular event or devotion or time of holiness and prayer is, in its judgment, a place where, if engaged in with the right intentions, the consequences of sin can be healed and rolled back, brokenness can be restored.

    So, World Youth Day, says the Vatican, is one of those events, assuming that people participate in it with the appropriate devotion, and within a larger context of confession of sin, sacramental reconciliation, participation in the eucharist, prayer, and so on.

    Moreover, the Vatican adds, for those who, for legitimate reasons, are unable to travel to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, the spiritual benefits and “desired fruits of sanctification” that flow from participation in it can still be enjoyed through the use of social media (including, but not limited to, Twitter). This assumes that the person follows the entire event online (and not just via Twitter), with proper devotion, participating as much as possible in the proceedings (e.g., praying along with the prayers, singing along with the songs), always again in a context of appropriate devotion, and so on.

    (And, surely, we don’t want to say that technology is, in itself, intrinsically, a barrier to the possibility of grace.)

    One might still reject the notion of purgatory, the way Catholicism conceives of “temporal punishment”, or the church’s ability to quantify and dispense how holiness will undo the consequences of sin.

    But what the Vatican actually stated isn’t just patently absurd in the way that the newspaper story makes it sound.”

    That, it seems to me, is about as thoughtful an interaction with the topic as one could hope for on the part of a separated brother.

    Pax Christi,
    Jeff H.

  11. Wow Jeff. That was incredible. Looking up to read more from him now…

  12. This is great. Welcome Jason.

  13. Former PCA (now pope lovin’ Catholic) props, and former so-cal (Encinitas) props. I look forward to more from you. Men like you give courage to us small fry Reformed pew-sitters to make the big move to Rome. Keep it simple and keep it up bro. And be prepared for your cross. Now that you are playing with the big boys, it is coming.

    -David Meyer

  14. Thanks, Mateo and David!

  15. Jason, during your sabbatical, was there any particular Protestant you found that made an especially compelling case to remain in your protest? You’ve shared snippets of conversations here and there, but I’m curious if there was a point during your journey toward Rome that led you to seriously question your “temptation” Romeward?

    If I recall correctly, you shared how your conversation with Dr. White concerning the point in time where tradition stopped and sola scriptura began, and how the lack of evidence of this transition, let alone the authority problem to establish this new paradigm was especially telling concerning the weakness of the Protestant position. But was there an opposite case? Where the Catholic position was most challenged in favor of your Reformed paradigm? And if there was such a point, can you elaborate on how you thought through this challenge?

  16. Eva Marie,

    Jason, during your sabbatical, was there any particular Protestant you found that made an especially compelling case to remain in your protest? You’ve shared snippets of conversations here and there, but I’m curious if there was a point during your journey toward Rome that led you to seriously question your “temptation” Romeward?

    I would say my discussions with Michael Horton were the most challenging (I flew down to SoCal twice during my sabbatical and spent a total of around 5 hours with him). Part of the whole thing was that I really, really like Old School Presbyterianism—it suits my personality perfectly. So I resonated with a lot of what he was saying, especially when it comes to adducing historical discrepancies that call into question Rome’s “overly-simplistic and tidy” view of history. From the Protestant perspective, if you can sow seeds of doubt by poking holes in Rome’s historical claims, you’ve pretty much made the case for Protestantism by default. So listening to someone do just that for several hours is certainly enough to heighten the sense of trepidation that I was already feeling.

    I have since come to identify this Protestant tactic as “Divide and Dismiss”:

    http://www.creedcodecult.com/divide-and-dismiss/

    If I recall correctly, you shared how your conversation with Dr. White concerning the point in time where tradition stopped and sola scriptura began, and how the lack of evidence of this transition, let alone the authority problem to establish this new paradigm was especially telling concerning the weakness of the Protestant position. But was there an opposite case? Where the Catholic position was most challenged in favor of your Reformed paradigm? And if there was such a point, can you elaborate on how you thought through this challenge?

    James’s retort was basically that if there was no infallible Magisterium or defined canon during Old Testament times, and yet if Jesus held his own contemporaries responsible for failing to distinguish between the commands of God and traditions of men, then there is no reason why we should need those things in order to do the same under the New Covenant.

    Concerning the “shift” from oral and written apostolic authority to Sola Scriptura, his argument was that under the OC it took a few centuries after the prophetic ministry of Malachi before people realized that he was indeed the final OT prophet and that the prophetic witness had ceased. Likewise, it’s perfectly understandable for the NT church to take a similar amount of time to come to the realization that oral apostolic authority had ceased its unique role and that we are now governed solely by a written canon that testifies to that authority.

    As far as my responses at the time to these arguments, they struck me as echoing an under-realized eschatology, in that if the OC revelation was not yet complete, but if under the NC God has spoken finally in Christ, then it makes sense NOT to expect an infallible Magisterium and definitive canon until the apostolic testimony had been given in toto. Moreover, if the NC is superior to the Old, then simply looking to what was normative for Israel under Moses for our pattern today is to treat the NC not as better, but simply as more recent (which, as I said, betrays an under-realized eschatology).

    Hope that makes sense!

  17. Jason,

    I am a Reformed Protestant, a member (and until recently a ruling elder) in the OPC. I have been following the story of your conversion with great interest since the article a few weeks ago announcing that you had joined the group here at Called to Communion. I’ve listened to three recordings of you telling your conversion story in different venues, as well as a couple of your lectures on “Gospel Paradigms.”

    I have a great desire to talk about all kinds of subjects, but I have one question in particular now that I would like to ask you. I’m wondering how your views on the “five points of Calvinism”–predestination, efficacious grace, etc.–have changed in relation to your conversion. What do you think now that you were right about as a Calvinist on these matters, and what do you think you were wrong about? Perhaps you’ve dealt with this somewhere, but I haven’t heard you mention it in anything I’ve seen so far, so I thought I’d ask. One of the reasons I’m interested is because I’m trying to get a better grasp myself on Rome’s teachings on these subjects, and I’m sure that your experience will be enlightening here.

    Thanks!

    Mark

  18. Hi Mark,

    I have a great desire to talk about all kinds of subjects, but I have one question in particular now that I would like to ask you. I’m wondering how your views on the “five points of Calvinism”–predestination, efficacious grace, etc.–have changed in relation to your conversion. What do you think now that you were right about as a Calvinist on these matters, and what do you think you were wrong about? Perhaps you’ve dealt with this somewhere, but I haven’t heard you mention it in anything I’ve seen so far, so I thought I’d ask. One of the reasons I’m interested is because I’m trying to get a better grasp myself on Rome’s teachings on these subjects, and I’m sure that your experience will be enlightening here.

    This article may be helpful, it’s by Jimmy Akin, addressing how a Catholic looks at the five points:

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/TULIP.htm

    As for me, I have found again and again that relocating from Geneva to Rome is less about jettisoning beliefs and more about adorning them. In other words, while there is sometimes a wholesale rejection of this or that doctrine, it’s often the case that a prior-held belief is modified, developed, and added to.

    So when it comes to salvation and the five points, the paradigm shift from penal substitution to pleasing sacrifice played a big role. Once that shift occurs, limited atonement becomes sort of meaningless. With total depravity, I think a Catholic can affirm the substance of the idea while maintaining man’s free will. Unconditional election isn’t a problem, although Catholics are free to disagree. Irresistible grace can be affirmed, with some qualifications, but perseverance of the saints is untrue from a Catholic POV (since all who are baptized are regenerated, but not all the regenerated are elect to salvation).

    But like I said, it’s not really about having been wrong about individual doctrines. It’s more about having a broader perspective and more comprehensive paradigm, such that you can look at one of the five points and say, “Well, yeah, I guess I can still affirm that idea in that language, but why would I want to?”

  19. Thanks, Jason! The article was very helpful. He sums things up very concisely but thoroughly.

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