What’s a Good Intro to the Faith?

What’s a Good Intro to the Faith? February 1, 2012

A reader writes:

I am a recent convert (within the past year) from Evangelical Protestantism and am married to a man who is nominally Christian. We were recently discussing issues of sexuality and the various moral issues that arise around that subject and my husband, of his own accord, decided to look up “Christian” sexuality. Of course, he got a very wide spectrum of opinion on the subject. When I attempted to explain to him the Catholic position on these issues I had a hard time convincing him that there is sound basis for believing what the Church says is true and that I don’t just accept it because an old guy in a funny hat says so.

I found a good book on Catholic sexuality that’s very accessible and he’s happy to read it with me. But I am concerned that even after understanding the logical reasons behind the teachings on the subject he still thinks it’s all just the arbitrary judgment of a group of old guys in robes and funny hats.

So… I have been trying to find a good resource on Catholicism for absolute beginners so that he has a place to start in understanding why we believe and do as we do. I spent two years researching Catholicism before I even set foot in a Catholic Mass and I spent many years prior to that researching Christianity in general in addition to being raised in a church-going environment so I was already familiar with the basics of Catholicism and Christianity in general when I started my faith journey into the Church.

My problem is that my husband comes from a non-religious upbringing and his conversion consisted of being baptized at a Baptist retreat at the age of 15 and going to church sporadically for about a year afterwards. He is not hostile to the faith. He is actually very supportive of my Christianity and professes belief in Christ as Savior himself. But in all honesty he’s never taken it seriously outside of expressing his desire for us to raise out children as Christians and his pleasure and approval of my doing so. And he has just about zero in the way of foundation. He knows very little about the Scriptures outside of the Ten Commandments- and nothing else of the Old Testament- and the general story of Jesus’ life. He has almost no churching at all. So when I try and explain even small things, it quickly gets complicated because the basics just aren’t there for him. And I’m scared that my explanations do more harm than good because of his lack of foundation. He is, for the first time, expressing genuine interest in why I believe as I do and why I converted and I am terrified that my own explanations- that are so often predicated on understanding the basics that he’s just doesn’t have- are going to turn him off.

So, now that I’ve written you a small dissertation (sorry!!) my question is if you could recommend a book or some other resource that is a good place to start him out. I know about Catholic Answers, which is a good resource, but I have no idea where to even start him out on the site. I love your book By What Authority, but I doubt he has enough grounding in the basics for the information in there to click with him. Any ideas?

Here are some good overviews written for folks with no appreciable background in the Christian faith

Fundamentals of the Faith by Peter Kreeft
A Father Who Keeps his Promises by Scott Hahn
Making Senses Out of Scripture by Yr. Obdt. Svt.
Catholic and Christian by Alan Schreck

Also, if he wants to attempt the challenge, I recommend Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, which is one of the most brillian defenses of the Apostle’s creed ever written. Also, C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity is a fine basic intro to the basics of the Christian faith, though as an Anglican he avoid ecclesiology.

As far as the matter of sexuality and the Catholic take on it, here is something I wrote a few years ago giving my own account of how it came into focus for me. I hope it helps.

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  • If watching TV is cool with him, I would also highly recommend the new Catholicism series by Fr. Robert Barron and Word on Fire (www.catholicismseries.com). There are a number of parishes who now have the DVDs and have been showing them, so that might be an option (10 episodes in total). There is also a book out by the same name and author that has received great reviews, though I haven’t read it myself.

    For helping someone read Scripture more fully, I also have to recommend “Making Senses Out of Scripture” by He Who Must Not Be Named. 😉

  • Ben

    With a big and important topic like sexuality, I like to start with the “big-picture”. G.K. Chesterton once said that thinking means connecting things. We did a post about this in November:

  • Paul


    The mind will follow where the heart leads.

    It has been my experience that a hunger for divine intimacy is what leads most converts to the Catholic Church. From the sound of things, I am not sure that your husband is all that hungry yet. If I were to recommend a book, it would be one that stimulates his appetite for God. Once he develops the hunger to know God that hunger should naturally lead him toward Rome.

    My suggestions would be C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and The Great Divorce. By corollary, books by Peter Kreeft, an avid Lewis devotee, would also be good.

  • SDG

    I second Fr. Darryl’s recommendation of Fr. Barron’s excellent Catholicism.

    That said, we need a new book, about Catholicism generally, written specifically for non-Catholic Christians.

    Fundamentals of the Faith is mostly ecumenical Christian writing with a bit of Catholic stuff.

    Making Senses Out of Scripture is of course an excellent and useful book, as is By What Authority: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition, but both neither is general enough to be the book I want. Same with A Father Who Keeps His Promises (from what I’ve seen of it).

    Catholic and Christian is the right kind of book generally, but my memory is it’s kind of dated. Oh hm, I see there’s a new edition. I guess I should check it out.

  • Reality Check

    Church teaching on sexuality, eh? That’s like asking a sufferer of anorexia about cooking food.

    • Not really, RC. Studies show that happily married couples have the best sex lives. That shouldn’t be surprising either.

      • Reality Check

        Face it, your church has had some major hang-ups about sex since the days of Saul of Tarsus who said it’s better to be a virgin for life.

        • Who has the hang-up over something? Someone who puts that thing in proper balance with other aspects of life, or someone to whom that thing is the end-all and be-all of existence?

          • Reality Check

            Do you agree with Saul of Tarsus that it’s better for someone to be a lifelong virgin than be married?

            Do you agree with Augustine of Hippo that even marital sex should only be done with “regret”?

            • I agree with Paul’s statement that it’s better to be unmarried insofar as it allows your focus to be more single-minded on God.

              I would have to see the Augustine quote in context, but as you stated it, I would not agree with him. Though Augustine was possibly the most important theologian in Church history, it doesn’t mean he can’t be wrong about some things.

  • Greg Popcak

    I apologize for whoring my own work in the combox, but if you’re looking at an accessible, practical, no-nonsense guide to Catholic sexuality that actually directly addresses the “old guys in pointy hats” objections, I would suggest “Holy Sex! The Catholic Guide to Mind Blowing, Toe-Curling, Infallible Loving.” Think of it as a kind of Theology of the Body applied to marriage for beginners. I hope it can be helpful.

  • By the way, RC, here is actual Church teaching on sexuality in a nutshell, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    2361 “Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.”
    2362 “The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.” Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:

    The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.

  • Claire

    If your husband is like mine (very intelligent, but reads only for information) and you need something short, I’d recommend Dr. Janet Smith’s talk “Contraception: Why Not?” Just Google and you’ll find a transcript. It’s extremely convincing.

  • The Reader in Question

    Dr. Popcak,

    Your book is actually the one we’re going through together right now. It’s excellent for understanding the teachings, but like I told Mark, even though he understands the logic, to him it’s not the Truth. To him it’s just the opinion of a man in a funny hat. He’s happy to adhere to my beliefs in this area, because he knows it’s important to me. And to be fair, he does agree with a lot of the teachings. Probably the vast majority of them, actually. He just doesn’t understand the importance of Tradition and the Authority of the Church and doesn’t really have the foundation of belief needed to build up to that understanding. Yet anyway. He asks a lot of questions and hasn’t been at all hostile so I’m praying and hoping.

    Thanks to Mark and all the commenters for the suggestions!

  • Sr. Susannah Kelly

    I will weigh into this discussion:)) The best presentation on Catholic teaching regarding love and human sexuality is the Theology of the Body by Pope JPII.
    One of the best writers to break this down in a simple concrete way is Christopher West. You can google the name to find many video segments on line. An excellent book for an absolute beginner would be Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West. There is also his book Good News About Sex and Marriage, but best in this case to start with the 1st book I mentioned. His material is very accessible even to non believers. You might consider watching one of his video series together, I would propse Created and Redeemed. All of his books, videos etc. are available through Ascension Press, there are many other excellent speakers on the subject. Hope this helps.

    sr Susannah

  • Roberto

    I agree with Paul (the poster above) that if the desire is not there, it is difficult to see Catholic teaching as anything more than the opinion of an old man in a funny hat. I am going through a similar process with my wife (about faith in general) and we are bringing the issue to its root. If one does not see who God is and does not have a minimum personal relation with him (ah yes, that old catholic idea seconded by evangelicals!) it is difficult to understand why any teaching of the Church would be true. Not that they are not, but what does “true” even mean without a solid conception of God?
    I suggest prayer, from all of us.

  • Best place to start is a series of four books written down by four guys named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You can branch out from there, but that’s the best place to start.

  • Charlotte

    I wouldn’t go to Catholic Answers but for anything but a basic explanation. If you hang out there long enough, you will become scrupulous and fear-filled. Stick to books written by people who have thought things through, can write, have taken “audience” into consideration, and generally have credentials.

  • Sharon

    My recommendation for your husband is : Catholic Truths For Our Children, A Guide For Parents by Patti Maguire Armstrong. This book provides an explanation of the Catholic Faith for adults so that they can catechise their children. Topics include: The Trinity, Why a Church, Church Authority, The Pope, The Eucharist, Confession etc .

    Your husband could read all of the books recommended here and still not believe. Pray for him that he opens his heart to the gift of faith “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.” and to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

    Charlotte, I have been a member of the Catholic Answers Forums since 1974 and am neither scrupulous nor fear-filled. Scrupulosity is on the obsessive compulsive spectrum and can be treated medically as well as spiritually.