- Philosophy, Grace, and ReconciliationReflections of a Catholic Revert*
On April 28, 2007, I was received back into the Catholic Church. My reversion caused quite a stir,1 since it occurred while I was serving as president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), an academic association of Protestant biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers, historians, and ministers that in 2007 had a membership over 4,300. On that evening I wrote the other members of the ETS executive committee, telling them of my reversion. Although I assured them that I could remain as ETS president since there was nothing in the society’s doctrinal basis with which a Catholic could not agree,2 it was naïve for me to believe that this was possible. Within a week I resigned, realizing that I could not remain as ETS president without causing a scandal. Several days later I resigned my membership as well.
Although I have published a memoir,3 as well as contributed to the book Journeys of Faith,4 in this article I want to offer some additional reflections on what I have learned and continue to learn about my journey. My focus will be on the role that philosophy played in helping me to be more receptive to the Church’s understanding of grace, and how that understanding has been instrumental in deepening my spiritual life. [End Page 66]
I had left the Catholic Church in the early 1970s as a young teenager, having been drawn to Evangelicalism as a consequence of a variety of factors. As a young Catholic who had a penchant for theological inquiry and a desire to follow Jesus, the Evangelicals that I had encountered, both in person and in print, seemed to be far more serious and authentic in their faith than what I had known as a Catholic. Like most Catholics of my generation, I was poorly catechized, despite the fact that I attended parochial schools from first to twelfth grade.
After my high school years, in which I became less interested in my faith, though I still attended Catholic Mass with my parents, I found myself again gravitating back to Evangelical ministries that I had first begun exploring a few years earlier. As my college days commenced, I no longer considered myself Catholic. I became involved with several college ministries including Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. It was in those groups that I became acquainted with many Evangelical authors who shaped the trajectory of my spiritual and intellectual development. These authors included popular speakers and writers such as Walter R. Martin, J. Vernon McGee, and Charles Swindoll to more academically oriented authors such as Norman Geisler, Ronald H. Nash, Clark Pinnock, Alvin Plantinga, R. C. Sproul, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and John Warwick Montgomery. I was also influenced by some thinkers outside the Evangelical orbit, including Peter Kreeft and Mortimer Adler.
In college I switched my major to philosophy, largely because of my growing interest in Christian apologetics. I had been advised by several people that it was the major that would best prepare me for advanced work in apologetics if I chose to pursue it. Interestingly enough, the two Evangelical philosophers who had the biggest influence on me were Norm Geisler and Ron Nash, an Aristotelian Thomist and a Platonic Augustinian, respectively. I had no idea at the time that these were not widely held schools of thought in [End Page 67] the Evangelical world. Both thinkers saw nothing untoward in the positive use of philosophy in the formation of doctrine including philosophical theology and the nature of the human person. This too was highly unusual in the Evangelical world, but I did not realize it at the time. It was only years later that I came in contact with the writings of Evangelical theologians who didn’t have many nice things to say about the role of philosophy in theological development. Colin Brown, for example, offers an analysis typically held by his Evangelical peers: “The first [side effect of Aquinas’s thought] is that, where a theology is based partly upon Christian revelation and partly upon alien philosophical ideas, the result is often a misguided...