For many, conversion is a frightening experience. Certainly was for me.
I was 22 when I came to faith in Christ. I immediately buried myself in the Bible and in the writings of men like C.S. Lewis and other great Christian apologists and thinkers. Imagining I was headed for a career as a professor at a Christian college or seminary, I took my undergraduate degree in Bible and theology, my graduate degree in biblical studies from Fuller Theological Seminary and was enrolled in a doctoral program as well.
I wound up ordained and in the Protestant ministry for a little over eleven years. And when I discovered about eight years into those eleven that an old friend from seminary days had become Catholic, it was jarring.
But I need to back up a bit. During my first year in seminary I met a young man named Scott Hahn. Scott was thinking about doing doctoral studies at Fuller and had come out to California to visit the campus and meet with professors and what not. Because I was Teaching Assistant to the professor Scott was considering working with, I was assigned the task of showing him around. When I think about that time, what I mostly remember is (surprise!) non-stop conversation about scholars and books and issues of biblical interpretation. We became friends.
In the end, Scott decided not to come west. I continue in southern California, land of palm trees and sunny skies; Scott returned to the polar ice caves of Pennsylvania. We kept in touch for a couple years but over time our communication faded away.
It had been about eight years since I’d spoken to Scott. A member of my congregation comes to me on a Sunday night. He tells he’s been in correspondence with an organization called “Catholic Answers”, and says, “They’ve sent me a set of tapes by some guy names Scott Hahn called ‘Answering Common Objections Against the Catholic Faith.'”
My response was immediate and something along the lines of…
“Where are those tapes,” I asked.
“Oh, they’re at home. I’ll bring them next week if you want to listen to them.”
“No,” I said. “Where do you live? I’m following you home.”
I was thinking there was no way on earth that it was the same Scott Hahn. But alas, it was the very same. I can remember so clearly sitting in the corner of my family room that night, wearing headphones so that my wife Tina wouldn’t know what I was listening to, and popping in that take: “Protestant Minister Becomes Catholic.”
The next morning I drove to the church and after bolting the door to my office, tracked Scott down at Franciscan University. We began to talk.
If it had been somebody else, I might have just blown it off. But Scott was one of the brightest guys I’d ever met. Because of this, I was curious. Curious as to how someone so smart could do something so unthinkable to an evangelical Protestant. Curious as to how I could have learned as much as I’d learned and not know more about the case that can be made for the Catholic faith. Curious that I didn’t have immediate answers to some of the issues he raise.
It’s a long story from here. But the point I want to make is this: from the very beginning, conversion was a frightening experience.
I understood that in my situation becoming Catholic would involve conflict with virtually every Christian I knew. It would involve a loss of identity and vocation as a Protestant minister and teacher. It would involve a loss of occupation and income. I was the pastor of a church filled with wonderful sincere friends, many of whom I knew would be confused and hurt by what I was going to do. And I knew enough to understand that if I became Catholic I would lose my career and my income as well.
Tina loved our church and the situation we were in. She had no interest in “exploring” Catholicism and when her Baptist pastor husband started coming home, his arms piled high with books sporting titles such as The Documents of Vatican II, The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, The Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma and (here’s a good one) Evangelical Is Not Enough, she couldn’t believe what was happening.
And then there was my dad. He used to come and listen to me preach. I’d look down from the pulpit and see him sitting there with tears of pride filling his eyes. And I knew that as a fundamentalist Baptist he didn’t even think Catholics were Christians. The prospect of having to tell him I was becoming Catholic filled me with dread.
Yeah, conversion for me was frightening. I needed inspiration. And during those years nothing was more inspiring to me than reading and listening to the stories of others who’d made the journey before me.
I personally liked books because I wanted to hear in detail the reasons people had for converting. I wanted to weigh their arguments for the truth of the Catholic faith. Along these lines, one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read is the defense John Henry Newman wrote of his decision to become Catholic, titled Apologia Pro Vita Sua. The only downside is that he was an Englishman writing in the 19th century and every sentence contains 75 dependent clauses and more semi-colons than the average modern American uses in a lifetime. But the book is amazing!
And there are so many great conversion stories available now. Books. Recorded talks. Full-length interviews. I’ve tried to bring together here some of the best. If you need inspiration, I encourage you to check them out.