- On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg, initiating the Protestant Reformation.
- On October 31st, 2007, I was induced by a friend of a relative to “accept Christ,” thus marking the beginning of my eleven year journey into Evangelical Protestantism (you can read all about that story here)
- And now, on October 31st 2018, that journey has reached its end. Today, I am announcing that I am returning to my original childhood faith, which is Catholicism.
All right, now that that’s out, I’m sure many of you reading this right now are surprised. If you met me anytime during the last eleven years, you would know me as someone with a knack for doing Christian apologetics, since I’ve written many articles, given many presentations, and even participated in three Christian-Muslim debates. You would know then that I am someone who is very keen on and proficient at presenting rational justifications for why I believe what I believe, as well as not at all easily persuaded by the arguments of proponents of other theological views (Christian or otherwise).
At the same time, you would have also known me as a stalwart proponent of Reformed (Calvinistic) theology. Funny enough, my introduction to Reformed theology came from learning about debates between Protestants and Catholics. I steeped myself in the writings and polemics of Luther, Calvin, Turretin, and the Puritans, as well as contemporary Protestant apologists such as William Webster, James White, and Tony Costa. In fact, I’ve listened to every single one of White’s debates against Catholic apologists (some of them more than once), and for a while I was being taught in apologetics by Costa (primarily in the area of Muslim apologetics, but I absorbed some anti-Catholic polemics from him as well). I learned how to do apologetics against a variety of religious views, and while Catholicism wasn’t at the top of my list of religious targets, I certainly had my fair share of debates on that topic. I knew my way around the arguments, and as far as most people saw it, I was more or less “Rome-proof.”
There were a lot of factors that have gone into this decision. For brevity’s sake, I will just mention the most pertinent ones.
One of the things that has always struck me about the sorts of people who cross from one side of the Tiber to the other. Of course, conversions can happen in either direction, but there is a marked difference in quality between those who convert from Catholicism to Protestantism, and those who make the journey in the opposite direction. In my experience, those who convert from Catholicism to Protestantism are usually either nominal Catholics, or those who have received substandard catechesis. Most of them didn’t really know their faith all that well, and when they finally receive a substantial education in theology and the Bible, they get it in a Protestant context. To quote the prophet Hosea: “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)
By contrast, Protestant converts to Catholicism tend to come from the best and the brightest–pastors, professional theologians, and graduates from top Protestant seminaries such as Westminster Theological Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary, Geneva College, and (in my case) Wycliffe College (check out this line-up and this one to see what I mean). A perusal of some of their testimonies should give you an idea of what normally drives most of these converts–dissatisfaction with the subjectivity that comes with Sola Scriptura (which results in some of the Reformed to propose alternate final authorities), inability to account for foundational theological presuppositions (e.g. the Canon of Scripture), the superior biblical exegesis of Catholic apologists and theologians and the witness of pre-Reformation church history (the practice of reading the early church fathers has a notorious track record for causing Protestants to convert to Catholicism, so much so that some Protestants discourage reading them altogether). Furthermore, you never hear of WTS or RTS graduates converting to Atheism, or Mormonism, or Islam. Only Catholicism has had such success in winning over the best and brightest of the Reformed world.
However, this phenomenon of educated Protestants crossing the Tiber didn’t really hit home until two years ago, while was doing my MTS at Wycliffe College. Between late 2016 and early 2018, a number of my friends and acquaintances had crossed the Tiber. Alarmed by this trend, I started a Reformation apologetics study group and put out several articles vindicating Protestant theology from Catholic criticisms (the group has since been closed down, and many of the articles removed). I tried to muster my best apologetics resources in this endeavour, yet despite this, the conversions continued to happen, and the doubts of my colleagues were not being assuaged.
At the same time, I was also actively engaged in a Catholics and Reformed discussion group (which has been responsible for more than a few Tiber crossings). I threw all of my best arguments into the ring, and found that all of them were met and defeated there. For every objection to Catholicism that I could muster up, there was a ready response. For every scriptural or patristic quote that I raised, the Catholic exegesis of said quotes consistently showed themselves to be superior. Eventually, I came to accept that their way of reading Scripture and Church History was the only way that actually did justice to their overall context.
Thus, through a series of clashes, crises, and conversions, my carefully constructed catena of cavils against Catholicism collapsed. Although I mentally resisted the idea for a long time, the apologist in me dictates that I should follow the truth wherever it leads. And in this case, it lead right back to where I started–in the one true Church of Christ.
I don’t know why things turned out the way they have. I don’t know how all of this will affect my future direction. I know that everything is by God’s providence, and that He is accomplishing His plans, even in the things that seemed to have gone wrong (Genesis 50:20, Isaiah 46:9-10). Some of you may still be in shock that “the next James White” (yes, some people have actually called me that) would cross the Tiber. Some people might even call into question whether to consider me a Christian anymore, which is highly ironic, because at this point I have a closer relationship to Christ than I ever had before. And that is the reason why I am writing this–out of a desire to see my old friends and colleagues to have that closer relationship to our Lord as well.
This isn’t to say that I don’t still consider my Protestant friends to be Christian brothers and sisters. After all, Lumen Gentium refers to them as “separated brethren,” and acknowledges that they possess “many elements of sanctification and of truth” (§ 8). I do not want to minimize in any way the truths that we hold in common–truths such as the death and resurrection of Christ, the Trinity, the inerrancy of the Bible, and the reality of the human condition and its need for grace–which in many ways far outweighs our differences. One need only look at the ever increasing threat of Secularism, Islam, and other rivals to Christianity on the global stage to recognize this fact. In fact, my intention from here on out is to continue to focus my efforts on combating and converting the adherents of these non-Christian ideologies and religions. There are plenty of Catholic apologists who are willing to debate the merits of Catholicism vs. Protestantism, and I have no intention of adding myself to that list.
Nevertheless, since this is a major development both for myself and my close colleagues, I do feel the need to say my piece. So here is my final challenge to everyone who is reading this: Seek the Lord in prayer about whether the religious views you are currently taking for granted are actually true. Don’t take your presuppositions for granted, but actually test them to see if they can properly account for the nature of reality as it is. Listen to the debates and the testimonies of converts. Check out the articles on this website, as well as this series of conference talks. It is my hope and prayer that you would all come to an informed decision on what authentic biblical and historic Christianity actually is.
NOTE: I’ve since written a sequel to this post, titled Looking Back at the Reformed Tradition: One Year Later, where I expand on the thoughts I wrote on this post. I suggest the interested reader to check it out as well.