Waking Up Catholic and No Labels Evangelicalism

I want to be more serious about my Catholic faith. Any book recommendations?

Waking up Catholic

Chad Torgerson’s new book, Waking Up Catholic, is a great place to start. A convert from evangelicalism, Chad’s book Waking Up Catholic is written with an eye towards those who are being introduced or reintroduced to the Catholic faith. Chad writes in a non-threatening, conversational tone and avoids unnecessary jargon without compromising catechesis. Similar to Matthew Kelley’s Rediscovering Catholicism, I’ve already recommended this book to one friend and plan on recommending it to both seekers and those who are Catholic but want to do more than attend weekly Mass occasionally and shrug when asked tough questions about Catholicism.

My two favorite parts of Waking Up Catholic are near the beginning and end of the book. Togerson discusses the importance of understanding the authority question–what gives the Church the right to tell me what to do?–which was so fundamental to my conversion from evangelicalism and a question many cradle Catholics don’t adequately articulate. Near the end, Torgerson also discusses the importance of Catholics sharing their faith with others in a non-intimidating section with questions like, “Who should evangelize?” “Why should we evangelize?” and “How should we evangelize?”

I’ll close with one of my favorite passages from the book, where Chad addresses the problem of “labels” during the period of his life when he was new to evangelical Protestantism, years before his conversion to Catholicism. This passage certainly does not encapsulate the book, but I like his way of articulating the problems with “post-denominational” evangelicalism.

Have you ever been in a relationship without a label on it? Until you can call each other boyfriend, girlfriend, fiance, husband, or wife, it is not really official. Somehow, without a label, it is just not real to us. So as a new Christian, the first question people asked me was, “What denomination are you?” To which I replied, “None. I’m just Christian.” Just Christian? In my mind, I did not want to be bound by thought of some group of old men and women deciding what I should believe or not believe. Belief, for me, was a personal choice, and the Bible was a matter of personal interpretation. I didn’t need anyone to tell me anything different, and that was that.

Even though I tried to avoid it, labels still followed me. Explaining my theological beliefs to people over and over again grew tiresome. In time, I began to tell people that I was non-denominational, but in the truest sense of the word, of course. While most non-denominational Christians begin to fall into this blurry line between what is and isn’t a denomination (do 40,000 people at a single Church become a denomination?), my beliefs, from my perspective, were purer than that. There was not a church or denomination on this entire planet that I “followed.” I may have attended certain churches, but I never followed. Looking back, I was kidding myself. While I thought that I was a Christian rebel, I believed in the same mainstream Christian philosophies as everyone else.

Read more of Chad’s story by checking out his book here 

Why I Handle Doubt Differently After Converting to Catholicism

Doubt is a humbling admission, a sign of weakness. We want our leaders to display unwavering confidence. Imagine if Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, said at his next rollout,, “This is the best iPad yet. At least I think so. Honestly, sometimes I wake up late at night and envy Jeff Bezos, wonder if I shouldn’t buy a Kindle Fire and retire.” The headlines would not be favorable.

There were times as an evangelical Protestant when I did not have any doubt. My ten weeks serving as a evangelical missionary in the Catholic country of Poland were one of those times, but also exposed ignorance. My conviction discouraged an intellectual curiosity and humility to take seriously the claims of Catholicism, rather than simply propose counter arguments which, in the end, were lightweight.

Though I am firmly Catholic, there are still days when I wonder whether I’m doing Christianity “right.

Do you know why ?I haven’t read everything, don’t know everything. When an Eastern Orthodox man refers me to ancient documents asserting the Roman Catholic Church broke off from them, or a Protestant apologist declares Mary’s high place among the Catholics comes from ancient Roman practices, I don’t always have an answer. I read voraciously before becoming Catholic, and continue to use sites like Catholic Answers, but I haven’t yet consumed many tomes of Christianity, each encyclical and historical controversy.

Yet I am more comforted by my ignorance and doubt as a Catholic than as a Protestant. Without the conviction of apostolic succession, each Protestant, especially evangelical Protestants, must become a Martin Luther and carefully construct their own systematic theology, deciding whether their beliefs line up with the Bible. Most evangelicals would nod and say this is a good thing but, for many, it is exhausting. Marcus Grodi, as do many other converts to the faith, describe wondering as they preached on Sunday how they could be so sure of their interpretation of a core topic like baptism and their Baptist friend down the street could be so wrong.

Catholics, on the other hand, more fully embrace the men and women who have lived before us and, most importantly, Christ’s promise to guide his Church through the apostles and their successors. Anyone who affirms this can more easily say, “I don’t have all of the answers, but wiser men and women than me have gone before me and are kept by the promises of Christ.” This does not negate the importance of apologetics, but I do believe it is a more humble approach and, also, the right approach.

As I delve deeper into Catholicism, answering every question and doubt  has become less urgent. I am more interested in learning about St Teresa of Avila and leccio divina than in scouring Catholic Answers for refutations against Mormonism or the Crusades. My sentiment is the same one St. Peter expressed to the Christ: “Lord, to whom shall we go?”(John 6:68). I love Jesus and I believe he is the Way the Truth and the Life, found most fully in the Roman Catholic Church, and will submit my journey to Him.

Thanks for reading,

-Anthony

Anthony Baratta is a former evangelical youth pastor who left seminary to become Catholic in February of 2012. Anthony is happily married to his wife, Jackie, and actively involved in his local parish.

Working on a new website, John Piper Sermon Jam

I’m dabbling with basic web design in hopes of helping improve/make suggestions on my parish’s website. I’m considering transferring my blog from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, which takes some time. If I’m not blogging much over the next few days, that’s what I’m working on.

Until then, I’d like to share my favorite John Piper video. This is a sermon jam, made by a fan mixing music with clips from the sermon. Pastor John exhorts Christians to live radically for Christ and to exalt him in everthing we do. In college, when I was taking a break from studying, I would put this on my headphones and listen to it several times. I still really like it.

Catholic Weekend, Canning Tomatoes, and Egypt

This week Angela Sealana sent me an e-mail with an offer to appear on SQPN’s Catholic Weekend. I accidentally replied to myself, leaving Angela thinking I wasn’t coming on the show. Fail. We eventually got things straightened out and I spoke with Angela and Billy Newton for an hour on Saturday morning. Jackie listened a few feet away during the recording, and afterwards I reluctantly agreed to peruse garage sales, one of her favorite things to do.

Ironically I found two nice shirts and a pair of shorts for less than two dollars, grumbling the whole way. Jackie, the enthusiastic scavenger, didn’t find anything. On Saturday evening we canned tomatoes and today we had our priest over for dinner after I cantored in the morning.

Our pleasant weekend serves in strong contrast with what thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ are enduring in Egypt. Dead bodies. Burned churches. Weeping mothers. Explosions. Chaos. Pope Francis sent out a convicting tweet on Saturday that drove the point home.

When God blesses me with abundance, I want to always keep in mind those who are suffering, struggling, despairing. It’s where Pope Francis has directed our attention, it’s where Jesus directs our attention. May God show mercy to all people in Egypt.

What made me leave seminary? Ash Wednesday

8/16/13 1:53pm. Happy to see how many new people are stopping by. Feel free to “like” my page on Facebook , subscribe on the right side of the page, or connect on Twitter. Also, as a note to my evangelical brothers and sisters–I still have a deep love for Southern Baptist Theological, as I do my evangelical upbringing. I regularly read Albert Mohler’s blog, think Russell Moore is fantastic at ERLC, and have not lost any evangelical friendships. Thanks!

8/18/13 1:06pm Welcome to all Big Puplit readers!

I woke up around four this morning and haven’t been able to sleep. After reading Waking Up Catholic for a bit, a book I was supposed to review on this blog a month ago, I started to reflect more on my last week at seminary in 2012, the high drama and turmoil within me and how little I’ve written down. The following is what I hope will be several posts on the subject. For other snapshots of my journey, read my original conversion story and one year update. 

What was the last straw before leaving seminary? Ash Wednesday. I’m pretty sure it was Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2012. I didn’t even last two months.

Midway through college I had become enamored with my faith in Jesus and decided to become a pastor. I spoke with Mars Hill Church Downtown about an internship for the summer of 2010, but in December of 2009  John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life convinced me to devote my life to frontier missions. After a summer of missionary work (rerouted from central Asia to Poland, a funny excursion for another post) confirmed my calling, I turned to the idea of whether to fund raise a salary and leave quickly, or go to seminary first. Though I was a typical young evangelical and not loyal to a denomination, I was impressed with the Southern Baptist missionary program. Rather than have missionaries fund raise the rest of their lives, the International Mission Board paid for missionary families’ needs and encouraged them to attend seminary at a discounted rate. So I became a Southern Baptist.

After two farewell cakes and many kind gifts and hugs a year later, I pulled up to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in early January 2012 and began a three week, day-long course on Biblical Hermeneutics. I loved it. The past fall I had struggled for hours and hours over reconciling church history with Protestantism, likely spurred by my dad’s reversion to the Catholic Church and my deeper studies of the Bible, and in this classroom I found community, certainty, relief. My roommate was right–I knew the temptation to cross the Tiber would ease once I was surrounded by Truth at seminary.

As you know, the story doesn’t end there. During my Spiritual Disciplines class I read a long biography of Martin Luther, hopeful to be comforted but instead repulsed. Uncharitable comments made toward Catholicism by those around me, the cognitive dissonance I had between reading Church History I assignments and examining the disarray of Protestantism, Jefferson Bethke’s “Why I hate religion but love Jesus” video, the unconvincing nature of the evangelical systematic theology books/ Chris Castaldo’s (a Catholic convert to evangelicalism) book, and thousands of other factors led me to leave.

But please don’t think I thought this was inevitable. I was bargaining to the last moment. I submitted a sermon for a competition days before withdrawing. I was memorizing Psalm 119 to convince myself of sola scriptura. I set up meetings with professors. Near the end I regularly ran through scenarios like, “Maybe I can spend my life as a missionary, retire, and THEN become Catholic.” It wasn’t about the money. It wasn’t about career. I loved Jesus and telling people about Him, and I had been led to believe that  was irreconcilable with Roman Catholicism.  Because of this, and perhaps other issues related to identity, I cannot stress how much I hated the idea of becoming Catholic.

Ash Wednesday, though, was simply too much. There are many high church Protestants who practice Ash Wednesday but,  for me, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the “paradigm shift” described by Christian Smith in “How to go from being a good evangelical to a committed Catholic in 95 difficult steps.” Like many evangelicals, I grew up not observing the  Church calendar apart from Christmas, Easter, and maybe Good Friday. There is, though, a renewed interest in these ancient traditions for many of the same reasons that are leading others to become Catholic. A hip, Southern Baptist in Louisville held a morning Ash Wednesday service and many Southern Baptist students showed up to classes with ashes on their forehead. At chapel that afternoon a professor, who is renowned for his apologetic efforts against Catholicism, expounded upon the beauty of a thousand year old tradition called “Ash Wednesday.”

Afterwards I asked a seminary friend why contemplating one’s death and God’s mercy each year could possibly be a bad thing. He responded quickly with something about Pharisees and “man-made traditions.”

I shook my head. “I can’t do this anymore.”

Anthony Baratta is a former evangelical youth pastor who left seminary to become Catholic in February of 2012. Anthony is happily married to his wife, Jackie, and actively involved in his local parish.