Why are Young Evangelicals Getting High?

via The Christian Pundit (click for link)

via The Christian Pundit (click for link)

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.

via Hyperdox Herman (click through for link)

via Hyperdox Herman (click through for link)

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.)

via Hyperdox Herman (click through for link)

via Hyperdox Herman (click through for link)

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.

via Hyperdox Herman (click through for link)

via Hyperdox Herman (click through for link)


8 responses to “Why are Young Evangelicals Getting High?

  1. I was toying with the idea of blogging about that very same article (it’s also been doing the rounds in my corner of the internet)! However, my (very) limited experience of Protestant churches just made me swallow the Pundit’s article whole, whereas you’ve made me think of it differently, with your convert’s experience. Really interesting to hear the other side of the story – thanks for sharing!

  2. Yeah, well… There is an assumption among a lot of Protestants that those who leave their Protestant churches for Rome must be doing so because they are just looking for the next thing that scratches some itch they can’t really articulate; that they are tired of the trends they are in and are looking for the new trend – trading in the baggy jeans of their parents church for the skinny jeans of another church, or whatever. Certainly it’s just an opinion piece, since there are no studies cited, and the conclusions are more intuitive than based on fact, but still I’m sure many are switching churches for rather (apparently) lightweight reasons. And yet, I too find it rather funny that a common response from Protestants is that those who switch must be doing so for merely surface reasons; that those who actually have a solid grounding in Protestant theology and history would never consider such a move. I say “funny” because I too have had a solid ground in Protestant theology, have tended to avoid Protestant fashion trends, and then discovered the more I learned about Protestant theology and history in light of the bigger picture of historical Christianity the more Rome made sense. In other words, “robust, historic Protestant theology” pushed me to Rome. I wonder how different the conclusions of the article would be if the author had sought out ten people who made the switch from low-church Protestantism to high-church whatever and actually asked them why they switched? My guess is the author would be surprised and, rather than writing that article would have instead said, “tell me more.”

    • I couldn’t agree more! 🙂 Talking to people rather than past them is one of the illuminating – and unsettling – things we can do!

  3. The vast majority of people who convert out are highly disgruntled with the church they grew up in, marry out and then go to their religion of their spouse. That’s how Americans in the main move between Catholic and Protestant.

    We also know the main reasons that evangelicals leave evangelical Christianity. The “niceness” issues / political issues. They view evangelicalism as: anti-gay, judgmental, hypocritical…. They leave for Catholicism for much the same reason that other evangelicals leave for mainline Protestantism it is just their spouse happens to be Catholic.

    Once you get beyond that population you are into statistical anomaly. Conservative Presbyterians make up 1/90th of Conservative Protestants. Flows noticeable to the Conservative Presbyterian community that doesn’t drastically reshape that community are a statistical blip.

    In truth religious communities of a conservative bent always degrade their apostates by assuming they were / are ignorant and wicked. The idea that someone who is well informed, understands the issues and has good motivations could reject their brand and choose the other is far more challenging to acknowledge than to just degrade their apostates. There is no easy way for Conservative Reformed to fix the fact that Calvin is a morass of philosophical contradictions anymore than their is an easy way for Catholicism to fix that fact that its historical claims are contradicted by the evidence. Ultimately acknowledging this is to in a serious and meaningful way question the five solas.

    • an easy way for Catholicism to fix that fact that its historical claims are contradicted by the evidence.
      I would be very interested in seeing the contradictions. Serious question.

      • One of the regularly reoccurring topics in apologetic debate is the idea that Jesus founded an earthly church that is contiguous with today’s Catholic Church. The historical evidence we have almost completely contradicts any possibility of this theory being true and it worth assembling a short list of sample that demonstrates this. In general it is important to understand the arguments below are evidence. Each in isolation does not absolutely disprove the possibility of Jesus having established a material church in Palestine. But each does make it unlikely and since they are often quite independent of one another in the aggregate they do make it at the very least statistically impossible.


        1) Synoptic structure
        2) Internal structure of John
        3) Linguistic diversity of the pastoral epistles from the rest of the Pauline corpus
        4) Structure of the individual books: Redaction on 1st, 2nd and 3rd (non-canonical) Corinthians. Ephesians and Colossians.

        The first piece of evidence is the bible itself. Starting with the synoptic gospels. In Catholic lore Mark was a secretary for Peter, the first Bishop of Rome. Matthew was an apostle who composed his gospel independently. Luke was a late companion of Paul who wrote Luke/Acts shortly before Paul’s death independently of either Mark or Matthew. As soon as literary analysis was performed it was concluded that there was clear dependency. Luke and Matthew were dependent on Mark and some other not independently existing source text. Mark itself uses literary forms not common in Catholic writing but very common in Jewish and Gnostic writings, moreover forms totally unlike those found in the Petrine corpus which makes the Petrine Catholic authorship unlikely.

        If the Catholic church wrote the synoptic corpus then how come they don’t know how these books were authored.

        Similarly Catholic theology was that an apostle of Jesus named John wrote the Gospel of John, internally literally analysis indicates that Canonical John is a heavy redaction of a smaller work whose order has been scrambled. Which demonstrates that the Catholic church is either ignorant of the origins of the gospels, dishonest about the origins of the gospels or both. If they are ignorant than as an institution they didn’t write them. If dishonest then what are they covering up?

        Similarly 1st and 2nd Corinthians demonstrate this sort of redacted structure indicating multiple authors. Colossians has a decided non-Catholic theology of Jesus as the greatest among the aions. There is some literary dependence between Colossians and Ephesians. The internal structure of Romans is a morass of layers between groups with different theologies. The pastoral epistles have language bearing almost no resemblance to the rest of the Pauline corpus. On the other hand they bear striking resemblance to later Catholic works. Indicating they likely were written after the primary Pauline corpus was regularly used. Incidentally the Catholic Church used to attribute Hebrews which has both entirely different literary structure and theology to Paul.

        Under Catholic theology all of these books were written by the same 1st century Apostle who was influential in the church from early on. If the Catholic Church wrote these books how come they don’t know how they were authored?

        Let’s move beyond the bible’s structure to the core theological debates. During the writing of the bible we see the Paul character as well as other epistles like Hebrews and John making an appeal to scripture to justify their theological point. They see their opponents as peers. These authors seem completely unaware they are living in an monarchical episcopate run by Peter in Rome. How could they be unaware of this? How could later church writers like Justin Martyr be similarly unaware in their arguments?

        Then let’s move to the bible’s history. Peter is the central figure in 1st century Roman Catholic theology, the first Bishop of Rome. Yet even Catholic history has Bishop Serapion (Antioch) has a congregation in Rhossus which is using the Gospel of Peter. Other churches in the area believe Gospel of Peter is Marcionic and complain. Serapion contacts a Rhossus Docetic church to get a timeline, believing they predate Marcion. Evidently the Catholics and the docetic church are on friendly terms even though Serapion is not docetic. He gets from the entire Petrine corpus and kicks it up the chain of command. How could the Catholic church not have had the Petrine corpus until almost the 3rd century if it were founded by Peter? Why would the status of Peter’s writings not be known? Why does Bishop Serapion need to go to docetic Christians to get the history of Catholic church’s founders?

        Non-Catholics claim that Marcion invented the concept of a New Testament and brought the Pauline corpus to the attention of the wider Christian community including Catholics. The early church fathers are ignorant of Paul. Clement (1Clement 47:1) seems to believe there is only a single epistle a form of 1Corinthians. Ignatius (Ephesians 12:2) believed that Paul was exclusively associated with Ephesus. Polycarp (Philippians 3:2) has Paul writing to them. How is that level of ignorance possible for early Catholics if Paul is a central founder of Catholicism? Given that the earliest commentaries we have are from Basilides and Hereacleon isn’t it more likely that Paul and early Paulism has no association with Catholicism at all during his life? That the Catholic story of his central role is pure fabrication?

        Then there is the evidence from the Gnostics, both Jewish and Christian. With the recent archeology men like John Turner and Birger Pearson have been able to reconstruct timelines for Gnostic sects and regions. And they have shown quite decisively that Christian Gnosticism developed from Jewish Gnosticism not Catholic Christianity. If Catholicism was around during the early 2nd century why doesn’t it know how Christian Gnosticism developed? Why did it present over and over a theory of an origin from Catholicism?

        Finally there is the issue of the breathtaking ignorance of Judaism one finds in Catholic literature. The Catholic theory is that the Catholic church emerged directly from Judaism. Yet early Catholic writers makes statements about Judaism which are simply so far from realities of first or second century Judaism that they must have emerged from groups who had no or little contact with the Jewish religion. Which is precisely what couldn’t have happened if Catholicism had emerged directly. Christian Gnosticism, as an aside, might quite often despise Judaism and the Jewish God but it shows extensive knowledge of the religion. The difference between an x-wife and someone pretending to know a man she’s never met.

        I could keep going. Almost every piece of evidence we have is consistent with Christianity having emerged organically from 1st century Judaism primarily Jewish Gnosticism and later developing towards Logos Christianity and Encratite forms of Christianity. The evidence is clear that Catholicism evolved came from these sects not from a foundation in the Palestine of the 30s.

  4. I am glad I found this. I have not seen the article; however, I believe you are right.
    I grew up Southern Baptist. But as I became serious about my beliefs, I found more and more inconsistencies.
    As odd as it may seem, one of the major factors toward my conversion to Rome was the book “How should we then live?” by Schaeffer. As anti-Catholic as Schaeffer may have been, he stressed historical consistency and the need to act out the fact of Jesus as Lord of your life. Or to put it another way, ‘faith without works is dead’.
    From there the questions continued. Where do we draw the line and say we will accept these Catholic Council teachings as authority, but we will not accept these. Which leads to the most basic question of who decides/ where are the final authority/ the final decider? I looked and saw that in most churches it was the pastor who decided the truth. Which if reasoned through would in essence make him the one thing we all despised…the Pope/Magisterium.
    I look at those who are still in the protestant church as someone who has taken jewels from glorious settings. They have the treasures but not the context in which to place them.

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