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.

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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. 

 

Going to Steubenville, Daring to take the Jason Stellman Test

Steubenville diptic

Last weekend Jackie and I went to the Steubenville “Defending the Faith” conference with another couple from my home parish. We were both high school chaperones at a Steubenville high school conference last summer, and singing evangelical worship songs as the Eucharist processes through the gymnasium holds a special place in each of our hearts. It was a pleasure getting to hear Teresa Tomeo, Brandon Vogt, Peter Kreeft, Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid, and many others teach. But do you know what my favorite part of the weekend was? Sunday morning, listening to Jason Stellman tell his conversion story (listen to other versions of his story here).

Interestingly enough, Jason Stellman began publicly exploring Catholicism about the same time I left seminary  (and caused a stir in evangelical circles)for that reason I feel connected to his journey. Jason went from investigating another Presbyterian pastor for sounding suspiciously Catholic to becoming Catholic himself. He left his full-time pastor job to take this plunge and, sadly, his wife and family have thus far not followed suit.

JasonStellmanSMThe most striking part of Jason’s talk was when he related the story of his decision to try and read the New Testament through a Catholic lens, something I’ll call the Jason Stellman Test. This is difficult for any Protestant, including me–many of these verses and stories have been interpreted in one particular way since Vacation Bible School. But here was his striking conclusion: Although his theology as a Calvinist Protestant could explain away all of the troublesome verses, if the Gospel writers were truly of his same theology then they never would have said those things in the first place!

Think about it. What is Matthew 25 doing in the Bible if Jesus believed in “faith alone?” Why must you “do the will of my Father” to go to heaven? (Matthew 7:21). Why all the troublesome verses about baptism in Romans 6, 1 Peter 3? Why does no author ever say “faith alone” except to say that we’re not saved by faith alone? Again, I’m not arguing that Protestants have no answers to these problems because I know many of them. The question, though, is why were the troublesome verses written in the first place?

Let me know your thoughts and if you find the Jason Stellman Test credible.

A Terrifying Book

By October I was starting to realize early church history looked more Catholic than I thought. I was terrified when this book title popped up on Amazon. I knew I had a lot of work to do in Protestant apologetics before I could read it and not feel threatened. The day I decided to leave seminary I purchased the Kindle version and shook my head in amazement as former evangelical Devin Rose poignantly explained all of the contradictions of Protestantism that were slowly becoming evident.

If Protestantism is true, then God gave the Church authority to make binding decisions about what is truth and what is heresy for over 700 years, and all Christians accepted these decisions as authoritative. But then, inexplicably, God disallowed the Church to hold any further authoritative councils. The Church that Christ built was thus left in a state where she could not make binding declarations on truth and heresy, and she remains so to this day.

Devin Rose, If Protestantism is True, p 30

My problem for so many years. . .

My problem for so many years was being entirely without authority… How could I decide between several views in which I saw merit, each of which reasonable people seemed to support? I ended up resigning myself to a kind of doctrinal agnosticism — arguing that since God seemed to accept Christians of all different doctrines, it must not matter at all.
-Joseph Richardson, former evangelical