Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chris Castaldo interview in Books and Culture

Evangelical Pastor and ex-Catholic, Chris Castaldo, was recently interviewed by Stan Guthrie in Christianity Today's Books & Culture. Chris is a friend, who graciously moderated the public dialogue I had with Timothy George at Wheaton College last September.

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.


Marco said...

Here's hoping that your Wheaton friend, through the intercession of the Virgin Mother, finds his way back to Catholicism. Our dearest Mary is more precious and powerful than the wooden Ark of the Covenant, and is more deserving of a throne than the one King Solomon prepared for his mother.

monk68 said...

"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."

What a quote - that is classic!

Constantine said...

How very confusing:

For me, once I had become convinced …That is, I had to make a decision…
For the whole idea that theology is mine to choose…was precisely the problem.


First, you had to be “convinced”, then you had to “decide” but the whole idea of your choosing is “precisely the problem”??? What kind of epistemological gobblety gook is that?

So which one is it?? You had to make a decision or is making the decision the problem? And since you did make the decision, apparently the Church of Rome is “under you” just as any other, is it not? How was your decision not part of the problem you describe?

R. C. Sproul notes the Catholic Church’s “long history of using studied ambiguity in order to win over opponents.” But apparently the tradition has evolved now to “non-studied contradiction.” The fact that nobody calls you on the fact that you did choose, while deriding the process of choosing is stunning.

It’s the theology of Alice in Wonderland – “I don't believe there's an atom of meaning in it.”

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Constantine. It's not confusing at all. When I decide to marry, I don't "choose" marriage, it chooses me. For marriage is not the sort of thing you create and then choose to enter, like a pair of tailored slacks. It is an institution of a particular nature that requires you to abandon your autonomy.

If I choose to obey the law, I am not picking and choosing what I like about the law and then claiming a follow the law. If you did the the latter it would be much like saying you are under the Nicene Creed while conveniently carving out by reinterpretation "baptism for the remission of sins," "communion of the saints," and "one holy, catholic and apostolic church."

R. C. Sproul seems to believe that because he does not understand something that it is not understandable. That is the consequence of just the sort of habit of mind that I was drawing attention to in my blog post: it places the believer, rather than Christ, at the center of theological universe. A doctrine may only be believed when the individual believer (in this case, Sproul) finds it pleasing to his intellectual project.

I had 46 years of me in charge of me. I thought it was time for a change. Better to be a Roman Catholic than a romin' catholic.

Marco said...

As a Catholic convert of many years, allow me to shout out a surprising cheer of praise for R.C. Sproul! His introductory essay about Thomas Aquinas is the best thing I've ever read on the saint. It is superb, and appears in this 1985 book:
"Chosen vessels: portraits of ten outstanding Christian men" edited by Charles Turner.
I hope that Professor Beckwith will consider including the essay in one of his future books! Among other things, Sproul takes the late Francis Schaeffer to task for misinterpreting the Angelic Doctor.

Peter said...

What a great blog - variety, truth, amusing, lively etc. Well done. Fr Peter Dwyer