Tuesday, October 18, 2011

TrueStory: "Because I've never been invited," says Wheaton College professor

Billy Graham Center, home of Wheaton
College's Bible & Theology Dept
"Because I've never been invited."

The Wheaton College professor went on to explain that he was raised protestant and had simply always been protestant, and honestly did not have a good reason he wasn't Catholic.

During my Junior and Senior years at Wheaton College, I felt inspired to meet with professors or other evangelical Christian leaders who I thought would have an informed answer and ask them the question: "Why are you not Catholic?" I related another such story in my post TrueStory: Undercover Catholic.

I wanted to ask this particular professor my question because I had heard about a recent happening in one of his classes that had caught my attention: apparently, in a recent theology course he was teaching, a person asked a question wondering on what authority those who subscribe to sola scriptura have accepted their biblical canon, and he responded: "Did everyone hear that? He just pulled the whole rug out from under us." Unfortunately, it was at the end of class, and there wasn't time for further discussion.

I was struck by three things in his response to my question: that he didn't have a reason why he wasn't Catholic, the humility in his honest response, and his indictment of Catholics: he had never been invited to be Catholic.

As our conversation continued, the question of Church authority came up, and he explained that he accepted the early Church councils, such as Nicaea, and that he wanted to believe that they actually had authority, that they actually settled something.

"So if you accept Nicaea, why not Trent?" I asked.

He paused for a moment. "Good question. I don't really have a good reason. If I accept Nicaea, why don't I accept Trent?"

I was stunned, in the very least by his utter transparency to a student on these foundational issues. Now, he certainly was not just about to join the Catholic Church. But here was a Bible/Theology professor at the Harvard of evangelical schools, a place that does not allow Catholics on staff, admitting that his beliefs regarding the early Church councils seem to imply he should accept all of the Church's councils, including one that condemned basic Protestant doctrines.

Since he had said that he accepted Nicaea and other early councils, I asked what he made of the line in the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed: "I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church". He said that the word 'catholic' wasn't used as a proper name in the early church. I told him that actually it was and directed him on his computer to Augustine's Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, in which Augustine clearly speaks of the Catholic Church as a specific Church separate from other groups of people who call themselves Christians (see ch 4). He said he had never seen that before.

We shook hands and concluded our conversation.


  1. In my Christian Thought class at Wheaton, I asked that question and got that exact same response -- verbatim.

    I also approached the professor after class and had a similar discussion. We talked about the need for authority within Apostolic Succession.

    He was very transparent. In fact, I can say that after our exchange I walked out of class and said to myself, "I'm going to be Catholic" for the first time.
    -Nick O

    1. I sure do miss you Nick-O.

    2. I miss you too -- Wait who is this?
      -Nick O

    3. Just an old friend. How's life?

    4. Answer me, you buffoon!

  2. I've often wanted to ask people that question but have been too scared of offending them. Thanks for giving me hope that I can ask it and get civil answers! :)

  3. Hi Brantley, what's the point of this post? Are you discrediting Catholics for not inviting non-Catholics 'back home' or are you aghast at this professor for having Catholic views but staying Evangelical?

  4. Hey Vuyo,
    I just thought it was an interesting encounter, with many aspects that make it interesting, including the fact that he said he had never been invited to be Catholic, as well as the views this particular evangelical professor holds, or at least would say when pressed. I don't particularly have an agenda with this post

  5. Brantly,

    Yes (and to Vuyo), Catholics need to do a better job of asking their separated brothers if they want to come Home. Catholic theology that has developed the concept of "brother" (regarding those in ecclesial communities), has done so to the diminishment of the word "separated". Not purposefully but just the way it has been popularly and practically interpreted. The noun (brother) gives us cause to overcome the adjective (separated).

  6. This article might be pertinent to your post --
    "The argument is not about “sole” authority but “final” authority.


  7. Hey Josh,

    Interesting piece. I think the person misunderstands what 'Tradition' is, but that's for another discussion.

    Sola Scriptura means that the Word of God is passed down only through the Scriptures and that there is no authoritative interpretive body. The Catholic position is that the Word of God is passed down through Scripture and Tradition (meaning that there are propositions of the Word of God in Tradition that are not in Scripture), and that the Magisterium is the divinely appointed and divinely aided interpretive authority (by virtue of apostolic authority passed down in succession from Jesus himself).

    The professor was saying that he wanted to believe that the Council of Nicaea actually had *interpretive authority* to definitively say what was the correct interpretation of the Word of God (however it's passed down), which would be a rejection of sola scriptura. My point to him was that if Nicaea has interpretive authority, why doesn't a council like Trent also have authority, which he acknowledged was a good point.

  8. Do you know if the professor ever became Catholic?

  9. Hey naturegesetz,

    Great question. This was only a year and a half ago, and no, he hasn't become Catholic.