The issue of Evangelicals converting to Roman Catholicism is currently a hot topic that has recently been addressed in books and online lectures. I myself have several friends from my own Evangelical background who have converted (or are considering converting) to/from Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and even Armenian Orthodoxy.
While second hand explanations for these conversions range from the ridiculous to the realistic, I was taught not to criticize someone’s view until I could state it to the satisfaction of the one holding to that view, and to that end I have had numerous discussions with the friends mentioned above about what led them this way or that. In addition, I try to engage authoritative members of any traditions under investigation in both formal and informal settings whenever I can. To drive this point home I require my World Religions students to leave the classroom to visit representative institutions when they study groups outside their own faith traditions (this always ends up being a favorite part of the course for the students – a fact which I, perhaps misguidedly, take as a compliment!).
I also try to read as many books on personal conversions and related theological issues as as I am able. In response to some requests for my reading list, I have included a summary of it here. I believe this to be a fairly manageable list, ordered not only by subject, but (somewhat) by level of difficulty. Thus, not every book must be read in a given section to become familiar with the issues, but for those who wish to go to greater depth, I have tried to include some of the more important books on the topics in addition to more popular-level titles. It should be noted that the list is skewed toward those books that converts often refer to when explaining their own conversions, whether said books are written from an Evangelical perspective or not. Note, too, that while responses to many of these issues from an Evangelical perspective deal almost exclusively with Roman Catholicism, I have tried to include titles which deal with the others as well.
The questions one asks often determine the sorts of answers one will receive (or accept), and the questions converts ask during their journeys are often not the same as those of an Evangelical who is simply looking for a new church to attend. It is important, therefore, that when trying to understand a potential convert’s reasoning, one must begin with the questions they are asking. Once these questions are more clear, the answers these authors find should - whether one agrees with them or not – at least make more sense.
To that end, my list begins with books on some basic theological issues that often form the backdrop to conversion interest. Next are personal conversion stories to and from various traditions. After this come more detailed treatments of particular theological issues which were probably raised during the conversion stories. Then I have included basic, authoritative, theological resources from each of the major traditions for reference use. Finally, I provide a list of resources dealing with these traditions and Evangelicalism in particular.
Please understand that this is just my reading list. I do not claim that it is exhaustive, nor that it is the best list imaginable (I only have so much time and money!). It will probably be updated occasionally as suggestions come in and as I have time to read them. (In order to keep the list manageable, I will not necessarily add more titles, but some may be replaced). All links are to the title’s Amazon.com page for more information and reviews.
First – if you’re only going to read one book on Evangelical conversion . . .
Just in case the following list is too daunting for now, the best single book I have found on the conversion issue is Christian Smith’s book, How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps. It’s a goofy title, but the content is clear, accessible, and systematic. Further, it is one of the only books I have seen that lays out what others only hint at through their narratives: that conversion is a paradigm shift. Failure to see conversion through this perspective (pun intended) is often at the root of confusion over conversion.
Now, on to my “Top 30″ . . .
Basic Theological Issues
1. Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church – D. H. Williams: EV perspective on the traditional Church/Orthodox relationship.
2. A High View of Scripture? The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament Canon – Craig Allert: EV perspective on the traditional Church/Canon relationship.
3. The Shape of Sola Scriptura – Keith Mathison: Reformed Protestant writer’s critique of a misunderstood Sola Scriptura.
4. The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism – Louis Bouyer: RC philosophical-theological evaluation of the positive and negative aspects of Protestantism.
5. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism – George Marsden: Historical summary of Fundamentalist / Evangelical movements.
Personal Conversion Stories
6. Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism – Various (Counterpoints Series): Eight authors discuss various conversions.
7. Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells – Matthew Galatin: EO convert from Evangelicalism with fair, moderate criticisms.
8. Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion – Frank Schaeffer: Francis Schaeffer’s son’s conversion from EV to EO. Somewhat bitter, if accurate, criticism of his upbringing.
9. Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith – Peter E. Gilquist: The story of the 1970’s conversion of Campus Crusade leaders to EO and the result for America.
10. Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism – Scott and Kimberly Hahn: The most popular EV – RC conversion book.
11. Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic – David B. Currie: RC convert from EV with fair, moderate criticisms.
12. Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic – Francis Beckwith: EV to RC conversion testimony. Half personal / half polemic.
13. Apologia pro Vita Sua – John Henry Newman: The classic Anglican – RC conversion story.
Particular Theological Issues
14. Not by Faith Alone: A Biblical Study of the Catholic Doctrine of Justification – Robert A. Sungenis: A collection of RC articles contrasting the RC with the Prot view of the Doctrine of Justification.
15. Not by Scripture Alone: A Catholic Critique of the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura – Robert A. Sungenis: A collection of RC articles contrasting the RC with the Prot view of the authority of Scripture.
16. Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism – Counterpoints: Several perspectives on whether EV and EO can play together nicely.
17. Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries – John Zizioulas: EO book on the early Church’s Ecclesiology.
18. An Essay On Development Of Christian Doctrine – John Henry Newman: Classic RC perspective on doctrinal development.
19. The Infallibility of the Church – George Salmon: The definitive criticism of RC infallibility . (NOTE: The Church and Infallibility – Basil Christopher Butler is the RC response to Salmon’s book.)
20. The Bible Made Impossible – Christian Smith: RC argument that the popular EV view of biblical interpretation cannot be made to work.
21. The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church – John Meyendorff: EO perspectives on Papal primacy in RC.
Authoritative Theological Resources
22. The Orthodox Church – Timothy Ware: The classic go-to book for EO theology.
23. The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture – John Anthony McGuckin: The current go-to book for EO theology.
24. Catechism of the Catholic Church: Authoritative source for RC doctrine.
25. The Book of Common Prayer: Authoritative source for Anglican doctrine.
Comparative Evangelical Resources
26. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences - Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie: EV evaluation of RC faith and practices.
27. Is Rome the True Church?: A Consideration of the Roman Catholic Claim – Norman Geisler and Joshua Betancourt: EV evaluation of RC faith and practices. (Of historical interest since Betancourt – already a convert from Evangelicalism to Anglicanism – converted to Roman Catholicism shortly after the book was published).
28. Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics – Ron Rhodes: EV critique of RC faith and practices from scriptural standpoint.
29. Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective – Daniel B. Clendenin: EV evaluation of EO.
30. Anglican Evangelical Identity: Yesterday and Today – J. I. Packer and N. T. Wright: Top Anglican scholars discuss Anglicanism’s relation to Evangelicalism.