Converts and Cradles Together?

Part of the trouble that Protestants have in trying to make sense of Roman Catholicism is the bi-polar character of Rome (in the U.S. at least) and its appeal to evangelicals. Damon Linker explains the attraction that Roman Catholicism once had for him:

I became a Catholic (from secular Judaism) in the midst of a personal crisis. I longed to find an absolute moral Truth and craved a sense of belonging with others who recognized and ordered their lives according to that Truth. Catholicism is perfect for people with such yearnings. It tells them that the Roman Catholic Church is the church of Jesus Christ most fully and rightly ordered through time. Its magisterial authority can be traced back to St. Peter and the rest of Christ’s original apostles. It publishes a 900-page Catechism filled with elaborate, absolute rules laying out in minute detail how God wants us to live. It governs itself according to an intricate code of Canon Law that first began to be formulated nearly two millennia ago.

For someone who feels troubled by a culture in a constant state of instability and change, the Catholic Church can feel like a rock in a stormy, windswept sea. Finally, something is steady, permanent, unchangeable, fixed, immobile. The church’s very stability can end up looking like the strongest sign and confirmation of its divinity. Everything changes! But not God and his church.

For someone drawn to Catholicism by the promise of order and stability, any sign of change in the church will be unwelcome, threatening. The fact that social and cultural mores shift and develop around it is an argument for retrenchment and improved outreach to a world tempted by sin in new ways. It certainly isn’t a sign that the church should adjust its teachings on faith and morals, accommodating them to the latest trends. Any such adjustment would risk diluting the Truth, and (perhaps just as bad) serve as a potentially fatal concession that the church’s teachings can be fallible. Once that door has been opened, there may be no way to close it. Remove even a single brick from the foundation, and the whole edifice could come crashing down.

What then does a convert do when she understands that the people who grew up with Rome’s promise of order and stability don’t want to perpetuate that reliability but actually desire change? John Zmirak describes where such desires come from and such aspirations must seem odd to Bryan and the Jasons:

When a large group of highly educated people who have dedicated themselves to an organization with firm doctrines, strict rules, and stern demands — such as the Catholic Church — lose their faith in those doctrines, rules and demands, what do they do with themselves instead? Shrug and join the Unitarians? Leave their rectories or convents and go find apartments, maybe jobs as high school guidance counselors?

What do families like the Pelosis, the Kennedys or the Bidens — and millions of non-famous Irish and Italian-American clans with strong ethnic and historical connections to the Church — do with themselves when they reject its teaching authority?

The history of the Catholic left gives us the answer: Such people focused on the parts of the Church’s mission that still appealed to them, such as looking out for the poor and rebuking unjust discrimination. And of course the Church has an almost 2,000 year tradition of offering the needy education, health care, and a voice in the face of genuine oppression. Many Catholics had joined the Civil Rights movement and marched for integration.

In the 1960s, there were fresh, exciting causes available for Catholics to join which modeled themselves on the Civil Rights movement’s tactics and rhetoric, whose agendas were not so compatible with traditional Christian teaching as the noble fight against institutionalized racism had been. Feminists, homosexuals, and anti-war activists began to throng the streets and demand radical changes in American law and policy, and many Catholics with left-wing sympathies and deep roots in the Democratic Party began to exert their energies on behalf of these new movements — assuring themselves that they were acting as Jesus had when he denounced the scribes and Pharisees.

Many grandchildren of Catholic immigrants to our overwhelmingly Protestant country still clung to the pretense that they were outsiders — excluded and marginalized victims of the existing American establishment. So they felt bound to make common cause with every other “outside” group, regardless of the justice of its claims. This outsider illusion made it easy for them to be right about Civil Rights … and then poisonously wrong about feminism, gay liberation, and socialist economics.

It would be like an avid reader of John Calvin (other than Marilyn Robinson) joining the PCUSA with the expectation that mainline Presbyterians actually care about perpetuating Reformed Protestantism.

While Bryan and the Jasons want Protestants to join the ecumenical discussion, shouldn’t they be having that conversation first with the folks in their own communion?

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18 thoughts on “Converts and Cradles Together?

  1. Hey, the tools in that blog photo are all the unique ones that belong to a bike shop!! Didn’t know you cared about us bikers, DGH!

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  2. It remains an interesting question to me why one would leave a confessionally Reformed denomination who is interested in passing on the faith for Rome’s big tent where doctrinal path is rampant. It’s hard for me to think of even one RC I’ve known personally who actually thinks Rome is the only church Jesus founded, and I grew up in an area with a large Roman Catholic population and have known many, many RCs over my lifetime.

    You could blame it on catechesis, but the priests I’ve known don’t believe it either. And Francis sure doesn’t think it’s worth it to press any claim of exclusivity about anything except some vague, undefined notion of mercy.

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  3. Robert,

    I’m not sure that the situation is all that different in Reformed churches. I’d suggest that there’s a substantial degree of theological overlap between members of PCA churches and members of PCUSA churches. In PCA churches, by my experience, about 80% of people are more liberal than the leadership. With the PCUSA it’s flipped: about 80% of people are more conservative than the leadership. The main difference is where one is comfortable falling with respect to the church’s leadership.

    I attended a PCA church when I lived in DC. In my small group of about 18 people, not a single person believed in inerrancy or in restricting leadership positions to men. All but one couple was unopposed to civil same-sex marriage, and about half of the people were fine with the church taking committed same-sex couples into membership.

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  4. I attended a PCA church when I lived in DC. In my small group of about 18 people, not a single person believed in inerrancy or in restricting leadership positions to men. All but one couple was unopposed to civil same-sex marriage, and about half of the people were fine with the church taking committed same-sex couples into membership.

    You have made up claims about PCUSA churches disciplining members over infant baptism – a denomination whose highest profile minister was a baptist!, told outlandish tales about deep heart to heart convos with pastors after the service at churches you were *visiting*, asserted views if marriage commin among puritans and finding representation in the westminster standards are a Freudian supportd pornographic novelty, and made up stories about widespread protests at Wheaton when Clinton was elected. Your connection with reality is tenuous at best. Your latest about PCA members is, let’s say, less than compelling.

    I’ve been a PCA member in the Midwest, Southwest, East Coast, & deep south and your anecdotes are wholly disconnected from anything I’ve seen. I’m no PCA fan boy and could probably never be an officer, but the idea that the membership is to the left of the leadership? If only…

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  5. sdb,

    Needless to say, we’re probably selecting different PCA churches to attend than you are. And my small group consisted entirely of large-firm attorneys or spouses of large-firm attorneys. That’s not exactly a crowd that leans in a conservative direction. Also, about half os us went to the same law school, were on law review together, and attended the same PCUSA church. So, we knew each other’s political and theological views fairly well.

    My point is that this whole schtick that you guys perpetuate about the alleged perfection of the PCA, OPC, RPCNA, etc. relative to the RCC just gets a bit old. Most evangelical Reformed churches are fairly diverse. Generally, people with mainline-ish views just don’t speak up, and just hold their nose through all the “biblical manhood” stuff. You guys aren’t as pure and perfect as you think you are.

    And, it’s a patently true fact that the New England Puritans generally held to a contractual view of marriage, and permitted divorce on terms analogous to our current no-fault divorce laws. And, yes, the view of marriage that’s widely taught in evangelical Reformed churches owes far more to Freudian social theory than to St. Paul. Peter Leithart makes that point well in his piece, “Intrusive Third Parties.”

    I know several evangelicals who have converted to catholicism. None converted because they were looking for some kind of certainty. In fact, all converted because they were looking for a church that was orthodox and that wasn’t overcome with the kind of pettiness that one sees on display here. It’s somewhat sad when Tom Van Dyke is the voice of reason and balance.

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  6. “That’s not exactly a crowd that leans in a conservative direction.” Much further to the left than your typical academic I’m sure.

    “You guys aren’t as pure and perfect as you think you are.”
    Given the rather low view of the state of the PCA around here, that’s saying something.

    ” And, yes, the view of marriage that’s widely taught in evangelical Reformed churches owes far more to Freudian social theory than to St. Paul. Peter Leithart makes that point well in his piece, “Intrusive Third Parties.””
    Leithart’s piece was terrible. You find that convincing? Curious.

    I know several evangelicals who have converted to catholicism. None converted because they were looking for some kind of certainty. In fact, all converted because they were looking for a church that was orthodox and that wasn’t overcome with the kind of pettiness that one sees on display here.

    Yeah, the whole certainty shtick from ctc is weird. The few I know of following this route are no longer believers. I find Dreher to be a good warning to those who overintellectualize their faith. In my less charitable moments I’ve wondered whether the conversions I know might also be tied professional concerns. The perception among many associates was that it much less difficult to advance as a Catholic intellectual than as an evangelical one. I get it. The ev label comes with a lot of baggage and pointing out that not all of us in the pca buy into yec or manlyman nonsense is tiresome. It was certainly a draw for me in.my grad school days.

    As far as overcome with pettiness, what can I say. I’ve noticed in your comments that you cannot seem to help making stuff up to bolster your point. If pointing that out makes me petty, I guess I am. Alas.

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  7. evan, in case you haven’t noticed, we don’t have websites called “Called to Calvin.” Read histories of the OPC (by me) and see how perfect the Only Pure Church is. Meanwhile, read Damon Linker and Bryan Cross and tell me converts to Rome aren’t looking for certainty.

    And yes, those Puritans were progressives just like you and vd, t:

    Lev. 20. 19. and 18, 20. Dut. 22. 23, 24.)
    If any person committeth Adultery with a maried or espoused wife, the Adulterer and Adulteresse shall surely be put to death.

    At least you don’t think Mermaid and Susan are reasonable.

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  8. “I know several evangelicals who have converted to catholicism. None converted because…”

    LOL. Please read a little of the conversion literature.

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  9. Evan,

    I’m not sure that the situation is all that different in Reformed churches. I’d suggest that there’s a substantial degree of theological overlap between members of PCA churches and members of PCUSA churches.

    That may well have been true, though I suspect it is less so since the last PCUSA split when a lot of congregations went into the EPC or formed their own more conservative denomination.

    In PCA churches, by my experience, about 80% of people are more liberal than the leadership. With the PCUSA it’s flipped: about 80% of people are more conservative than the leadership. The main difference is where one is comfortable falling with respect to the church’s leadership.

    For all of the faults of the PCA, that hasn’t been my experience. And the presbytery I’m in isn’t the most conservative of presbyteries in the PCA.

    I attended a PCA church when I lived in DC. In my small group of about 18 people, not a single person believed in inerrancy or in restricting leadership positions to men. All but one couple was unopposed to civil same-sex marriage, and about half of the people were fine with the church taking committed same-sex couples into membership.

    But you are kind of proving the point—I’m assuming none of those 18 people were in leadership, and probably couldn’t be. Then there is Rome…

    But Darryl’s point has never been that the PCA or the OPC is perfect. The point is to show forth the problems with the call from CTC, which reflect sheer dishonesty at worst and extreme naivety at best. The Pope is intentionally ambiguous on marriage, for example. Whether you agree with Darryl’s assessment of TKNY and the presbyterians associated with TGC or not, at least he is pointing out that there is a broad range of opinions on some important theological and practical matters in the PCA. Where does Bryan Cross ever do that?

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  10. Robert:
    But Darryl’s point has never been that the PCA or the OPC is perfect. The point is to show forth the problems with the call from CTC, which reflect sheer dishonesty at worst and extreme naivety at best.>>>>>

    Now, Robert I like you. However, if you guys want to call others naive or liars you need to be honest yourselves.

    You separate out what you consider to be the best of Christianity – Protestantism. From there you narrow your preferences down to the Reformed wing. Then from there you separate from other Reformed groups, self-identifying as Calvinists, specifically Presbyterians. Then from that narrower group, you separate out to what you consider to be the best of Presbyterianism. Then you argue from that standpoint – from a tiny little enclave of a tiny movement that very few around the world even know exists.

    You consider your groups to be the most pure, though imperfect. I am happy for you if you are happy, but seriously? It is beneath you for you to call others liars and stupid – which is what you are doing. I know it’s an election year and all, but you are better than this. As your sister in Christ, I wish to point out the fallacious and unflattering way you are presenting your argument and call you to repentance.

    You are not naive. You know what you are doing. What shall I call it, then? I prefer to call what you are doing in labeling your opponents as naive or dishonest “careless.”

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  11. Mermaid, what makes Protestants better than Roman Catholics is that we have mechanisms for sorting out differences. You don’t. I remember the good old days when vd, t would regularly inform me that folks at America or Commonweal or National Catholic Reporter aren’t “real” Roman Catholics. Really?

    Sure, confessional Reformed Protestants think they are better than other Christians. Why bother being a certain version of Christian if you didn’t think it was superior? But you have no mechanism — not even the papacy — anymore for sorting out good from bad Christians. But you and your apologists insist that you do have such mechanisms. Remember the epistemology seminar that featured papal infallibility?

    So Robert’s point stands. Either you are in denial or your doing a lot of truth (not gender) bending. If neither of those, you’re not THINKing, despite all the claims about the GREAT Roman Catholic intellectual tradition. Let’s see some of it from you, cheerleader.

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  12. Webfoot,

    I mean you no disrespect, but if you left Protestantism for Romanism, you aren’t my sister in Christ.

    But to the matter at hand, I didn’t say you were dishonest or naive, I said the CTC folk are. Never do they once acknowledge the theological and moral diversity that exists within the wall of the RCC denomination with the full approval of the Vatican. Never. They appoint themselves the infallible interpreters of the papacy and the Roman tradition.

    Meanwhile, over here, there is consistent presentation of the faults of at least certain presbyterians to live up to Presbyterianism. Where is Bryan’s article criticizing the pope for the vague letter on marriage? Where is Bryan’s acknowledgment that you are as likely to find a priest recommending you take birth control as you are to find one who follows the encyclical on birth control? Where is the acknowledgment that V2 decided Protestants weren’t heretics anymore and thus overturned Trent? Where is the acknowledgment that your abortion and homosexuality RC positions obviously reflect valid RC positions since they’ve been pushing things for year with ne’er a threat of excommunication. Nope. It’s come to Rome and your Protestant problems will be solved.

    At best that is naive, at worst it is dishonest. But when your goal is to justify your own conversion by converting as many others as you can, you have to put the best face on it. That’s all we see from active RCC apologists.

    An honest call to conversion would be, “Rome is the one true church, but right now there is theological anarchy and the vast majority of professed RCs don’t follow the most literal reading of church dogma. It’s honestly hard to be RCC, because you have to deal with rampant theological apostasy and liberalism that is tolerated by the Vatican. We are hoping and praying for a good pope and Magisterium, and our traditional theology says we’ll get one one day. But to be honest, if you are converting for a Magisterium that is clear and willing to define and defend orthodoxy, this is not a good time. You are better staying off in a denomination that doesn’t give confusing messages about homosexuality, the exclusivity of Christ, and other subjects.”

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  13. Robert, that disclaimer would be fine if not for the history of the church saying no salvation outside the church. But that raises just one more layer of candor. Is salvation possible outside the church? If so, why convert to Rome? Because you need the latest upgrade of Christianity? But that won’t work because it’s actually Roman Catholicism 2.0 (Trent) that offers a product without bugs compared to the recent updated 4.0 version (Vatican II). What’s a Christianity user to do?

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  14. Right, so the epistemological blends into the ontological:

    If we grant for the sake of discussion that the teaching of the Catholic church is infallible, then how do we identify which is the teaching of the Catholic church?

    Is it Trent, which anathematizes adherents to sola fide on its face? Or is it Vat II, which says that Trent wasn’t really talking about sola fide per se? Or is it the Baltimore Catechism, which says that it is nearly impossible that Protestants can be saved? Or is it the CCC, which speaks vaguely on the matter and calls us separated brothers?

    It is possible to thread the needle in various ways. Obviously, Susan and CVD have done so to their own satisfaction. But that’s the trick: threading the needle places oneself at the mercy of being one’s own interpretive authority, submitting to the authority that just so happens to agree with you — Francis, not SSPX, say; or Francis and not Constantinople.

    And that was the problem that Tiber-swimmers were trying to avoid in the first place!

    If a sometime ontologically infallible magisterium speaks, was he really speaking infallibly this time?

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  15. Darryl,

    I’m just trying to be charitable and not beg the question. Don’t have the stylish hat yet, though.

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  16. Darryl,

    “But that raises just one more layer of candor. Is salvation possible outside the church?”

    No. EENS is dogma.

    “If so, why convert to Rome? Because you need the latest upgrade of Christianity?”

    Why do the Reformed write apologetic material against and to persuade Lutherans, Arminians (except when they co-opt Arminian hymns), and other Protestant traditions they consider Christian but in error?

    “what makes Protestants better than Roman Catholics is that we have mechanisms for sorting out differences.”

    Hmm. If we tweak a statement from the other thread, “Do such teachers come with a disclaimer — what you are about to hear is just one person’s opinion? If advertised that way, what church members would come” to
    “Do such churches come with a disclaimer – what you are about to hear is just one church’s opinion? If advertised that way, what church members would come or bother to listen to that church’s judgment and sorting out decision”, how does the mechanism work?

    “Sure, confessional Reformed Protestants think they are better than other Christians. Why bother being a certain version of Christian if you didn’t think it was superior?”

    What happened to the anti-triumphalism?

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  17. Clete,

    EENS is dogma.

    Sure it is. Of course, now one has to figure out why if there is no such thing as the invisible church, as so many Romanists have claimed, particularly at CtC, how a Muslim can be saved while still being a Muslim and not visibly united to the church.

    Maybe a consistent theology of EENS and a stress on the visibility of the church would make it that only official, visible members of the RCC are saved. But then there was V2.

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