Friday, April 8, 2011

Trueman on Reasons people go Romeward

As a former Romanist myself, I am curious when protestants convert to Popery. Carl Trueman gives his excellent observations in a recent post. I particularly appreciate his final comments, which I will highlight.

Here is Trueman's post:

In response to my post last week on conversions to Roman Catholicism, a number have asked me what I consider to be the reasons for such. I can only give my own limited take on this matter but here, in no particular order, are some of the reasons I have noted which converts have cited:

1. A sense of awe and liturgical tradition in much (not all) Roman Catholic worship that is lacking in evangelical Protestantism. This is an aesthetic point and not a new one when it comes to the attraction of Rome for some Protestants. It bears comparison with the trends one can see in the Tractarians. It also has affinities with the neo-Gothic movement of Pugin in the nineteenth century, with its romanticized medievalism. I doubt that it is a coincidence that Newman was a great admirer of Sir Walter Scott, or that leading Tractarians, such as JHN and John Keble, were also poets.

2. A disillusion with the lack of ecclesiology in much of evangelicalism. Emergent Christianity was one reaction to this lack; Federal Vision another; conversions to Rome yet a third. All three correctly highlight a weakness in evangelicalism, whether one agrees with the proposed solutions or not.

3. A lack of confidence among evangelicals in the traditional Reformation formulations of justification by grace through faith, specifically in terms of imputation. The impact in evangelical Protestantism of the New Perspective on Paul, and the failure of churches to deal decisively with the challenge of Federal Vision theology both witness to this weakness. Yet Protestantism is built on justification by grace through faith and the necessary reconstruction of ecclesiology which it brings with it. Using P T Forsyth's two generation rule, it will be interesting to see where Federal Vision churches are in forty years’ time; indeed, it will be interesting to see whether some its advocates in this generation ultimately receive Final Unction.

4. The attraction of Apostolic Succession. In an age which lacks historical rootedness and clear authority, those seeking such things find an answer in the kind of ecclesiology which its defenders at least would claim to find in the writings of Apostolic Fathers such as Ignatius of Antioch.

5. A lack of confidence in the clarity or perspicuity of scripture. If justification by faith is one side of the Reformation coin, clarity of scripture is the other. The hermeneutical mess that literary and linguistic theory has left in its wake is obviously a problem to those Protestants who finds its claims compelling. Rome appears to offer an answer, though I am not sure that replacing the clarity of scripture with the clarity of church tradition necessarily solves the critical problem.

6. A perception that evangelical Protestantism has failed on pro-life and moral issues. At least one person I know who move to Rome did so because of what he perceived to be the problematic position of allowing for contraception. He saw this as fatally weakening the church's response to matters of sexuality and reproduction.

7. Priests give the best tips on seven horse accumulators. I still remember growing up as a child in Gloucestershire where there was always the annual invasion of Father Ted style priests for Cheltenham Gold Cup Week. They knew their horses and had an almost miraculous ability to calculate complicated odds in their head.

One thing I would offer by way of general criticism of conversions to Rome is the way in which the excesses of Rome in terms of what appear to be folk religious practices - from devotion to Anthony's tongue to Padre Pio - do seem to be ignored by those who are generally very perceptive when it comes to the corruptions of evangelical Protestantism. As I have mentioned before, if the OPC, for all its manifold faults, found out that a majority of its membership prayed to Machen rather than to Jesus, we would do something about it. Not to do so would be to dishonour the name of Christ. Yet when a similar poll in Italy revealed that Jesus did not even make the top three, the RCC seems to have been unconcerned.

That is a huge problem. Not as priest abuse is a problem - every church will have its scoundrels and its scum, at least if it has any members at all, that is - but at a deeper theological level. America might seem a long way from Italy; but Rome places great emphasis upon her unity which does rather abolish the luxury of distance. You cannot boast about the unity of the Church and at the same distance yourself from officially encouraged folk religion, however far away. Rome is Rome, whether you are in Padua or New York. That is, after all, meant to be one of the advantages.

A comprehensive response to Catholicism would need to address each of these areas. In addition, it would face two further difficulties, connected but separate. First, Catholicism is very diverse, as diverse in many ways as Protestantism. In fact, the point that I find least intimidating about Roman Catholic criticism of Protestantism is the one that refers to the diversity of Protestant opinion, liberal, fundamentalist and all points in between. Physician, heal thyself is the phrase that comes to mind.

Yet a book must have a narrow focus and that requires the establishment of some level of coherence in the object of study. Given that most people I know convert from conservative Protestantism of some variety to conservative Roman Catholicism, a focus on the Catholic Catechism would seem a reasonable way of approach.

Second, that Rome remains unified institutionally despite the doctrinal diversity is an indication that dogma in Roman Catholicism does not function in quite the same way as doctrine in much of conservative Protestantism. Ecclesiology and liturgy are crucial. Thus, a book which simply addressed points of dogma and doctrine without addressing this wider historical, ecclesiological and liturgical context is likely to miss the mark.


Woody Woodward said...

Wow, this dude seems brilliant, and way out of my league! Sounded most articulate in his exposition, although sounding brilliant doesn’t make one so, nor does one’s deep probing thoughts justify us before our Lord. Look at our president. For the past 20 years, it seems to me that the church has failed miserably, turning many a blind eye against so many critical issues of injustice, and the Roman Catholic church is right up there in their turning huge blind eyes against the atrocities of priests, abusing the innocence of children, those they have been entrusted to protect. But I must add, the Catholic Church has and continues to lead the way in their non-compromising stand against their relentless fight for the rights of the unborn and protecting the sanctity of life. The one issue Trueman kept emphasizing that I have never heard of before is the term, “Federal Vision theology”. Can someone explain to this transplanted Okie what this means?

Raymon said...

One other glaring problem is RCCs Mariolatry. There is no way around it - wasnt it a Pope (JPII) that even tried to name Mary a "co-Redemptrix" with Christ? Not sure how those Protestants who "swim across the Tiber" get over this clearly sinful and heretical teaching and practice.

Woody, the Federal Vision stuff was huge in PCA Sessions, just a couple of years ago. Many books have now been written in response. So I am unclear what other response Prof. Trueman thinks is needed.

Reepicheep said...


I think Prof. Trueman probably means that no FV proponents have been disciplined out of the PCA. In that way, he might think, it hasn't been fully dealt with. Just a guess.

Raymon said...

Thanks Reep

Your speculation on what Prof. T might mean (absence of discipline) also highlights what may be a "perceived weakness" of Protestantism vs. Romancatholicism: The FV proponents could easily start their own denomination before any discipline could be imposed on them by their own. Not possible under Roman ecclessiology.

Reepicheep said...

Raymon, yep, but to one of the points Trueman makes, there's LOTS of diversity under the banner of Rome. If you get a Jesuit, Benedictine, Franciscan, and Nancy Pelosi in a room, you get 7 different opinions...but all are Roman Catholic in good standing.

Woody Woodward said...

So will someone tell me what
“Federal Vision theology” is?

Raymon said...

Woody, if you havent found it yet, Wikipedia has a fairly extensive discussion of Federal Vision. (Even the article is controversial).

There are many books about it, if you want to get deep in the weeds. For an amateur like me, the Guy Waters book was fairly accessible. I am assuming you attend a PCA church. So you might be interested to note that the PCA issued a report concluding that FV is inconsistent with some very important aspects of the Westminster standards. I think it's fair to say that most PCA Presbyteries are now on guard against admitting FV proponents into their jurisdictions.