In Chris' BC interview, I am mentioned in several places including the interviewer's introduction.
For this reason, I would like to respond to a few points made in the interview. One series of questions and answers reads:
It seems that many evangelicals are heading "back to Rome," headlined by Frank Beckwith. How significant is this trend?
Frank Beckwith has become a friend. When we cooperated in Wheaton College's Penner Forum on September 3, folks lined up to say hello and give us the privilege of signing our respective books for them. It was hilarious. Frank and I were standing directly beside one another when Catholics on his line testified to how God had led them "home to the Church," while just six inches away people explained to me how God had "saved them from their Catholic background." Based on the size of Frank's line, I'd say that the movement is significant, although I don't think it's nearly as large as the migration that's going in the opposite direction.
Why do you think this is happening, and what lessons do you think we evangelicals should be taking from it?
I see four reasons why Protestants swim the Tiber, that is, move toward the Catholic Church: a deeper expression of reverence, perceived unanimity in regard to authority, a traditionally rooted liturgy, and a more robust moral theology. There are of course entire books written on how evangelicals should learn from Catholics in each of these areas. I would agree that there are some important lessons for us to learn.
I do not dispute that these reasons are often integral to one's conversion to Catholicism. But I'm not sure that anyone who becomes Catholic consciously lists his or her reasons for becoming Catholic, as if he or she were weighing the pros and cons before purchasing a new home or an expensive sports car or choosing a college for one's children. There are, to be sure, reasons for conversion. And, as I share in Return to Rome, reasons were indeed instrumental in moving me to a moment of decision. But these reason are, as it was in my case, often embedded in something far more grand and compelling than a collection of arguments with a variety of strengths on assorted theological questions. For me, once I had become convinced that Catholicism, and the Catholic doctrines that Protestants often reject (e.g., apostolic succession, infusion of grace, Eucharistic realism, and so forth), were legitimate understandings widely and uncontroversially held in the Christian world until the time of the Reformation, Catholicism became to me, for the first time since I was a youngster, a "live option," as William James would have put it. But not only that, it was an option that I could not ignore, for it was both forced and momentous (to employ James' terms yet again). That is, I had to make a decision--Protestantism or Catholicism--and I could not not choose. And whichever I chose, the decision would change the trajectory of my life. Thus, it was momentous. I had to either walk into, or away from, the Confessional. There was not, and could not be, a third option. Thus, it was never a matter of me rationally choosing smells, bells, priests, and popes over worship-teams and altarless altar calls because the former brought me inner comfort, ecclessial stability, and/or clear moral direction. For the whole idea that theology is mine to choose--like a pair of slacks that I can have tailored for my own specifications--was precisely the problem. As long as "Church" was something that was under me rather than me under it, I was doomed to a life of ecclesiastical promiscuity despite my best efforts to practice safe sects.