From Evangelical to Catholic in 95 Difficult Steps

I am pleased to announce the publication of a new book by Notre Dame sociologist, Christian Smith.  Professor Smith, a life-long Evangelical, was recently received into the Catholic Church. In How to Go From Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps (Cascade Books, 2011) Professor Smith takes the reader through just the sort of reasoning and reflection that resulted in his own reception into the Church. Here’s how the publisher describes the book:

American evangelicalism has recently experienced a new openness to Roman Catholicism, and many evangelicals, both famous and ordinary, have joined the Catholic Church or are considering the possibility. This book helps evangelicals who are exploring Roman Catholicism to sort out the kinds of concerns that typically come up in discerning whether to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church. In simple language, it explains many theological misunderstandings that evangelicals often have about Roman Catholicism, and suggests the kind of practical steps many take to enter the Catholic Church. The book frames evangelicals becoming Roman Catholic as a kind of “paradigm shift” involving the buildup of anomalies about evangelicalism, a crisis of the evangelical paradigm, a paradigm revolution, and the consolidation of the new Roman Catholic paradigm. It will be useful for both evangelicals interested in pursuing and understanding Roman Catholicism and Catholic pastoral workers seeking to help evangelical seekers who come to them.

Over a year ago Professor Smith sent me the manuscript version of the book. I was so impressed by its clarity, readability, and deep understanding of both Evangelicalism and Catholicism that I read large portions of it out loud to my wife at the dinner table the very evening that I had received it. It may be the best Evangelical-to-Catholic book in print. I would not hesitate to recommend it to either Evangelicals who have questions about Catholicism or Catholics who want to better understand their own faith as well as the cultural and theological paradigm under which American Evangelicals operate. Here’s my endorsement as it appears on the back of the book:

“While showing appreciation and respect for his evangelical patrimony, Christian Smith offers a careful, clear, and thoughtful path to the Catholic Church for those evangelicals who are entertaining Catholicism as they seek to walk more authentically in Christ. This is a truly unique contribution to the growing literature authored by former evangelicals who have found their way to St. Peter’s barque.”
-Francis J. Beckwith
author of Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic

The book is also endorsed by two other professors, both of whom are far more accomplished than me, Mark Noll and Thomas Howard:

“Christian Smith is correct in describing why it usually takes a ‘paradigm revolution’ for an evangelical to become a Catholic. The ‘anomalies’ he describes for evangelical life are mostly accurate and his presentation of Catholicism is attractive. But this intriguing book would have been even better if it had paused to reflect on why there are so many paradigm shifts in the other direction—of people born Catholic who become evangelical. Anyone—Catholic, evangelical, or a convert in either direction—who responds thoughtfully to the arguments of this book will be a better Christian for having made the effort.”
-Mark Noll
author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

“I expect that this book may turn out to be the definitive text (short of the Fathers only!) for evangelicals who are prepared to address themselves courageously to the ecclesiological question. Smith’s writing is brisk, starkly clear, challenging, and exhaustive (not exhausting!); he leaves no stone unturned. This is the best book I’ve seen on the topic.”
-Thomas Howard
author of On Being Catholic

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The paper I gave in Rome published in NCBQ: “On Making the Case for Life: On St. Peter’s Counsel to Always Be Ready”
  • Bill Ferrell

    I look forward to reading this book. I am a former Catholic who now attends church with my Baptist wife. The abuse situation sent me away a few years ago. The Catholic Church seems determined to make itself look as bad as possible lately and the bishops seem to have little regard for the victims of sex abuse. I, however, have begun to attend weekday mass. I love the liturgy and realize there are a lot of good priests. Maybe reading this book will help. By the way, I like this blog. And Bob Dylan.

  • Ron Ratliff

    I have found in the short time I’ve been a Catholic that books like this work well for evangelicals who are curious about the Catholic faith. Going nose-to-nose over doctrine can be less than pleasant but most everyone is willing to read the story of one’s journey. This one looks especially good.

  • russ rentler, md

    I just heard about this book today in an e mail from Dr. Smith.
    I look forward to reading it, and perhaps passing it on to some friends and family who have gone the other way(as I did long ago).

  • Dave N.

    Speaking from experience, such conversions do not constitute a “paradigm revolution” at all–it’s more like moving from a poorly supported fundamentalism to a somewhat more logical and better historically supported fundamentalism. (By “fundamentalism” here I mean a religious system that’s broadly incapable of self-critique.) I think the real revolution is moving away from both forms of fundamentalism.

  • Dan S

    One does wonder in all these heartwarming stories and books and television shows about Protestant Christians returning “home” to the Catholic faith, why it is that there is a fairly substantial exodus to Fundamentalism of “cradle” Catholics happening as well.

    The answer to me lies in the poor Christian formation that goes on in the Catholic Church. Too many Catholics including clergy and religious view the faith as a hereditary bequeathal rather than a philosophy of faith which must be understood and embraced and lived.

    Meanwhile, earnest Christians who are much more studied in the Bible tell story after story of discovering the errors in their own creeds and how they discovered the fullness of Christ in Rome. The only parts where there is more or less consensus among Catholic and Protestant is in the writings of the early Church Fathers, and in case after case, questing Protestants find the early church is reflected contemporarily not in their sects but in the Catholic Church. It is there own Fundamentalist desire for truth and authority which leads them back to the inexorable and sometimes painful realization that what they thought for all their lives was the “Whore of Babylon” was actually Christ’s Church here on Earth.

    The Protestant “reverts” then become the true soldiers of Christ in the Catholic Church because they came by their faith not by inheritance but by hard fought battle. Unfortunately the average cradle Catholic does not possess the sincerity or knowledge to see what they have had all along and leave in droves out of sheer apathy. Poll any 5 acquaintances who have left the Church and you will find 3 of them leave for ridiculously shallow reasons borne out of their shaky foundation in their own heritage, one of them left because of the priestly scandal, and the other out of sheer boredom.

    There is an “anti Reformation” of sorts occurring as the apostates come back to Mother Church. Hopefully there will be some actual Catholics around to welcome them back.

  • Ruth Ann

    I have been purchasing books, including From Evangelical to Catholic, because I have cousins who left the Catholic faith decades ago and are now Evangelicals. I need to understand the mindset of Evangelicals before I can respond to their questions or misunderstandings of the Catholic faith. This book and others have been very helpful for me.

    As an adult Catholic I concern myself with daily prayer, participating in the Mass, lectio divina, as well as doing good works for God’s honor and glory. I am also a Lay Carmelite and apply Carmelite spirituality to everything I do.

    I do not spend large chunks of time going over Catholic teachings. However, I did that when I was a child, adolescent, university student, and grad student in theology. So I’m well-versed in Catholic teachings, and I take them for granted in how I live without thinking of them too much. A favorite prayer of mine is The Act of Faith. I especially like the words, “I believe these, and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because thou hast revealed them, who canst neither deceive nor be deceived.” Perhaps there is a teaching or two that I don’t know, but I believe it anyway!

  • Joe

    Hate to be the naysayer here, but having just finished the book, I found its overly academic tone (self-consciously enamored of Kuhn and paradigms), and its relentless and clinical dissection of PRotestant deficiencies very off-putting. Smith may show “appreciation” and a stiff “respect” for his evangelical patrimony, but I sensed zero real affection. Much in contrast to your own book, Hahn’s, and so many other converts. This thing was much more of the Madrid ilk, with a passive mean streak. Noll mentions Smith’s denial of anyone traveling in the other direction away from Rome, and that is a telling muted criticism: from Smith’s tone you wonder how any intelligent person of integrity could ever make such a journey–it would have to be only the rubes ignorant of theology but fed up with their priests. I mean, no one could really fall in love with the beauties of Reformed theology, right, especially over the encyclicals of JPII of who he gushes as “simply incredible.” I like JPII myself, but the hyperbole in the context of dismissive criticisms of Evangelicals. Equally galling was his reiteration go Noll’s “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” given when that was written and how much has changed. Right, InterVarsity Press is sure a lightweight!

    I write all this as a convert. Sorry if my own tone here is harsh, but cannot imagine this book doing anything but helping the already convinced shore up their own freshly-minted triumphalism. Evangelical Catholics don’t need this sort of stuff. They ought to go to Avery Dulles, Neuhaus, Howard, even the tapes of Hahn, that don’t exude the superior attitude evidenced here. His analogy of “Um, the party’s over, go home!” falls flat. He would do well in fairness to excerpt Leithart’s 15 year old piece, still prescient:

  • What Does It Mean To Be Fully Catholic

    You’ve got great insights about how to be catholic, being catholic, to be catholic, the catholic faith, the catholic church, keep up the good work!

  • Brian K

    Bill Ferrell — Don’t look for the perfect church, look for the true one.

  • Greg Metzger

    THanks for publicizing this. I can’t wait to read it as one who has walked these steps. Thanks.

  • Greg Metzger

    Joe, thanks for what you wrote here as well, especially as an evangelical turned Catholic who used to work at IVP and is put off by Catholic triumphalism as well. I took note of Noll’s criticism as well. Should be an interesting read.

  • Paul Rodden

    I’ve just read this brilliant book.

    His conversion doesn’t seem to have been reported, his book not reviewed, nor has he been interviewed by Carl Olson, Mark Shea, or any of that crowd – as far as I can tell – which seems to be a strange omission.

    Anybody know why?

    Particularly as he’s probably the most significant Sociologist of Religion in the past few years, and very well known, being often quoted by Michael Horton, et al, in relation to coining the term, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.