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If Someone Had Told Me That I Would Become Catholic (I Would Have Told Them They Were Crazy)

My story starts in law school in 1995. At that time, I was a fervent Reformed Presbyterian (Calvinist), having spent time in seminary and still actively teaching apologetics and philosophy in the church. If someone had told me that in ten years I would be Catholic (and that I would truly love the Church), I would have told them they were absolutely crazy.

While I was at Cumberland, I got to know Pastor Scott Houser, a very orthodox PCA Presbyterian theologian. He was also an FSU alum, so we became fast friends. I attended a bible study at his house throughout law school, and that study continued when I went to Montgomery to work at the Supreme Court (he traveled to Montgomery once a week to lead a lunch study there). By that time, he had become Fr. Scott Houser, as he had been ordained in a branch of the Anglican Church. I thought that calling him “Father” was weird, as were other aspects of the Anglican Church (various liturgical practices and traditions, like crossing oneself and such).

In 2000, Donna and I started dating. She was a leader in her campus ministry at Troy, and quite devout. She began Cumberland that year, and I got her connected with Fr. Houser. I knew that Donna would like the meaty studies.

During our weekly studies in Montgomery (which covered the same topics as Fr. Houser was teaching with his Birmingham study group), we began to study the writings of the Church Fathers – the leaders of the early Church, several of whom actually walked with and learned from the Apostles themselves. I really enjoyed that, as we good Presbyterians loved to quote from the Fathers in our various discussions (not paying attention to the fact that they were all Catholics). We discussed not only their particular theological positions – which seemed very rich and deep – but also their views about the Church. I was struck by how different their experience was, and how Catholic it sounded. We talked quite a bit about the question “What is the Church?” Incredibly, that was simply not discussed in seminary or in any of my discussions in my very solid and scholarly PCA church. The most we discussed then was that there were certain forms of church government, but that it was not really important.

We then moved into a study of the Council of Nicea, where in 325 the early Church had to answer what was perhaps its greatest controversy ever: the question of the Divinity of Christ. I would have thought that a very clear answer from Scripture – of course Christ was divine, of course the Trinity was a reality, of course Jesus was the second person of the Trinity. But this was a major battle in the Church. A priest named Arius and many of Eastern bishops believed that Jesus was not equal with God, and they had numerous Scripture passages and logical arguments that seem to strongly support that notion. Jesus Himself said many things that seemed to make it clear that he was lesser than the Father: the Father knew things that he did not, He did the will of the Father, Jesus prayed to the Father (was he talking to Himself?), etc. Also, logic seems to fight against the Trinitarian view: the eternal God of the universe was born as a baby, grew in knowledge, worked, obeyed his parents, went to the bathroom, got hungry and tired and so forth?

It took a long time, but I very slowly and reluctantly came to realize that what I knew to be the orthodox Christian positions (like the Trinitarian view) were not self-evident. In other words, while a strong argument for the Divinity of Christ could be made from Scripture, I could not pretend that it was the only possible interpretation. Indeed, Arius was not a monster; he was a generally well-liked priest that was genuinely concerned that the Church not misconstrue Jesus and His work. (The Jehovah’s Witnesses say the same thing today – using Scripture). The question is simply one of what I call “anchor passages” – passages by which other passages are to be interpreted. We would point to John 1 (“The Word was God”) as clear evidence of the Divinity of Christ, but others would say that that is a heavily spiritual passage, and, given the clear indications from other verses that seem to show that Jesus is lesser than God, perhaps John 1 should be understood as meaning that The Word – this man who was born as a person – was “one with God” in some way. It all depends on which verses are considered “anchors.” If John 1 is an “anchor passage” (and I have interpreted it correctly), then the “Jesus as lesser being” passages should be interpreted as consistent with the “anchored” view that Jesus is God (i.e., is equal with the Father). But the reverse is also true – perhaps the “Jesus as lesser being” passages are the “anchors.” This raises the question: who gets to authoritatively decide which passages are the “anchor passages,” and what those passages mean in the first place?

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