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.