An article has been floating around my little corner of the interwebs of late: Young Evangelicals are Getting High.In it, the Christian Pundit reports that “young Christians are going over to Catholicism and high Anglicanism/Lutheranism in droves, despite growing up in low Protestant churches that told them about Jesus.”
As a Catholic revert, that’s obviously going to catch my attention.
Why would you trade your jeans, fair-trade coffee, a Bible and some Getty songs for formal “church clothes”, fasting, a Bible and a priest? It makes no sense to want to kneel on a stone floor instead of sit in a comfy chair. And if you’re hearing about Jesus anyway, why does it really matter?
But as he points out, the answer is quite simple. Evangelical churches can be so good at relating to the world that they forgot to be different from the world.
For young Evangelicals,
The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology; membership in a group that transcends time, place and race; a historic rootedness; something greater than themselves; ordained men who will be spiritual leaders and not merely listeners and buddies and story-tellers. What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them – a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.
As a Catholic who was a self-identified Evangelical for many years, I should totally get this right?
Except I really don’t.
I was an Evangelical but an Evangelical in a very low church, conservative Anglican church. Yep, I’m messing with all the categories here. Comfy seats and even comfier theology? Um, we had hard, wooden pews and even harder sermons. Getty songs and buddy, story-telling pastors? Yeah… not so much. We had theologically dense, re-worked indie hymns and ordained men who were definitely leaders.
But that’s cool, right? Maybe the Christian Pundit just isn’t talking about the sort of Evangelical Christian church I was a part of. Because although it totally should be, not everything is about me.
Except this article is about the kind of church I went to. He goes on,
But not all kids who grew up in American evangelicalism are jumping off into high church rite and sacrament: congregations that carefully teach robust, historic Protestant theology to their children are notably not losing them to the Vatican, or even Lambeth. Protestant churches that recognize their own ecclesiastical and theological heritage, training their children to value and continue it in a 21st century setting, usually retain their youth. These kids have the tools they need to think biblically through the deep and difficult issues of the day and articulate their position without having a crisis of faith. They know the headlines, church history, theology and their Bibles, and so are equipped to engage culture in a winsome, accessible way. They have a relationship with God that is not based on their feelings or commitments but on the enduring promises of the Word and so they can ride out the trends of the American church, knowing that they will pass regardless of mass defections to Rome.
Um, slight problem there. My old Protestant church does teach “robust, historic Protestant theology” and it does “recognise [its] own ecclesiastical and theological heritage”, and look what happened to me! I wasn’t even content to go High Anglican, I went Catholic!
Maybe I’m the exception to the rule. It happens right?
Except again, I don’t think so. I don’t think I’m the exception but rather a part of another stream of Protestants going over to Rome. I’m thinking of former Protestants like Scott Hahn, Jason Stellman and the Called to Communion guys. (Obviously, they are waaaaaaay more knowledgeable and awesome than I am! They were also a gazillion trillion times more Calvinist than I ever was, the poor dears.)
We are the Catholics who were taught robust, historic Protestant theology. We were familiar with Calvin, Luther, Cramner and Knox. We knew our Bibles, we knew the arguments for Protestantism, and we knew we belonged to something bigger than ourselves that transcended time and history.
But actually, that can be our undoing. Teaching Protestants the history of the Reformation might give this sense of rootedness and belonging, but it also might raise some pretty hard questions. Questions like…
Where was that same sense of belonging at the Reformation when Protestants ripped Western Christendom in two?
Did the Protestant reformers recognise their own ecclesiastical and theological heritage when they rubbished the last 1,000 years of Christian history?
Were they equipped, to riff on the Pundit here, to “ride out the trends of the [late Medieval] church, knowing that they will pass regardless of [abuses and corruption]?
And is a sense of rootedness enough or do we actually need to be rooted in the Church of the ages, treasuring the insights of our fathers and conscious that heretics have always twisted Scripture to their own advantage?
If anything, being taught a “robust, historic Protestant theology”, rooted in the Word, which was both intellectually and spiritually challenging only made me more able and more willing to leave the comfort of Protestantism. I didn’t return to the Catholic Church in spite of a thorough grounding in Protestant theology, I returned because of it.
Because if being a Protestant taught me something (and it has taught me many), it taught me to ask the hard questions because Christ is worth every sacrifice.
Yes, even becoming Catholic.
* And yes, I’m well aware of the irony of using images of Orthodox liturgy to make a point about Catholic/Protestant relations. What can I say? I’m a postmodern and I’m all about the pastiche. Deal with it.