It was during this time of doubt that I came across a few Catholic theologians at a conference on Protestant and Catholic theology. These were not the first Catholics that I had met; prior to this encounter, I had dialogued with a rather intelligent Catholic (though he knew very little about Reformed Protestantism–which, at the time, enabled me to ignore his arguments) at a nearby coffee shop over a span of about two years. Moreover, there were constant online debates with Catholics on different blogs that I participated in. Yet, perhaps because of my realization of the shortcomings of Reformed theology, it was at this point that I tried to really understand Catholic theology from a Catholic perspective — as much as this was possible for someone who was raised to distrust Catholicism. . . .
During the several months following this conversation, I kept in touch with these theologians and they provided answers to my numerous questions. For the next five months or so, I buried myself in books, Catholic and Protestant. I carefully read Peter Martyr Vermigli’s work on predestination and justification; Vermigli was an Augustinian friar prior to his conversion to the Protestant movement, and so his book represented something of a final vestige of hope. To my surprise, I came away from the book even more convinced of the truth of Catholicism. I read Heiko Oberman’s work on the medieval nominalism of Gabriel Biel and its immense influence on Luther’s theology. Through my study, I realized that much of my doubt and skepticism stemmed from certain philosophical assumptions that I had unwittingly adopted regarding knowledge of God and reality through Luther’s theologia crucis–and much of the philosophical issues that I had stemmed from my understanding of theology’s relation to philosophy. The inextricable link between philosophy and theology became evident to me. One cannot have a ‘pure theology,’ just as one cannot simply believe the Bible without simultaneously interpreting it; philosophy will always be there whether one acknowledges it or not–and those who claim to have no philosophy in distinction from their theology must necessarily elicit a certain sense of suspicion, much like the suspicion aroused by fundamentalists who claim simply to be reading the Bible.
The reason for looking at Lim’s conversion narrative owed to the distinctly different picture of Roman Catholic theologians that Reno gives:
There they go again. The usual gang of Catholic theology professors has signed a manifesto, “On all of our shoulders: A Catholic Call to Protect the Endangered Common Good.” It claims to warn us of the grave danger posed by Congressman Paul Ryan. The future of America is at stake! The integrity of Catholicism hangs in the balance!
. . . Serious people don’t pass off cheap, partisan rhetoric as substantive analysis. Why, then, would past presidents of the Catholic Theological Society of America hurry to support a manifesto that is largely an emotive exercise in partisan rhetoric?
The answer, at least in part, can be found in the changing character of the American Catholic Church. In the years after the Second Vatican Council, liberals thought that the future was theirs. They saw the way in which the hierarchy acquiesced to dissent in the aftermath of Humane Vitae. Their way of thinking seemed natural, inevitable. But it wasn’t so. During the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, the Church slowly solidified around a vision more traditional than trendy. Liberals went from being presumptive heirs to embattled outcasts.
One sees as much in the episcopacy and priesthood. There are no more Hunthausens and Weaklands. The priests under fifty today see their ministry as counter-cultural, and the culture they are countering is the one ministered to by liberalism.
As a result, the academic Catholic establishment, which invested so heavily in liberalism, is now very much on the margins of the Church. Can anyone imagine one of the twenty or so past presidents of the Catholic Theological Society of America serving as trusted advisors for bishops today? Hardly. They’ve reorganized the CTSA into a trade union for dissent.
If Lim had run into the theologians who were Reno’s colleagues in the CTSA when he taught at Creighton University, would the former Westminster student have remained a Protestant or simply abandoned the faith altogether? And if Called to Communion were ever called to give an account of the state of Roman Catholic theology — despite the efforts of infallible and authoritative pontiffs to reign U.S. theologians in — their call might look more like a pipe dream.