A friend of mine alerted me to this book from Ignatius Press called Evangelical Exodus. It gives the account of nine students and faculty of Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) who have converted to Catholicism or Orthodoxy. The seminary was co-founded by Norman Geisler which adds a bit of irony to these stories. While the number may not sound like a lot consider that “when one considers that SES typically graduated only a few dozen students per year, the numbers (which may be higher than this, given that over half of SES’ students do not attend the school in person) become more relevant.” (p. 18n.9) All of these conversions took place between the years of 2004 and 2014. And the editor is certainly correct that the number may be higher as he later writes, “At the time of this writing there are already enough converts from Evangelicalism to Catholicism from Southern Evangelical Seminary to publish at least two more similar books of the same size!” (p. 209n.1)
One of the most ironic testimonies comes from Joshua Betancourt who co-authored a book with Geisler entitled Is Rome the True Church? (Crossway, 2008, now out of print). Joshua says that he was initially intrigued by why some Evangelicals were converting to Catholicism and wanted to write his master’s thesis on the topic. Geisler was president of the seminary at the time and Joshua approached him with the idea. He says “[h]e shot the idea down” and said he should write on the topic of papal infallibility. That thesis forms the basis of the Crossway book. Months after the publication of that book Joshua converted to Catholicism. He writes that he was “becoming more and more convinced that apostolic succession and the authority of the Church (especially the papacy) was indeed present in the second and third centuries.” (p. 57) He concludes, “I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be a Catholic, especially in the light of the fact that I had dedicated my master’s thesis to undermining the truth claims of the Church.” (p. 69) In answer to the question “Is Rome the True Church?” his reply would be “Rome is the true Church, and God desires everyone to come home to it.” (p. 69)
What accounts for all these conversions? As I read through the essays I think Frank Beckwith was exactly right when he wrote this in the Forward:
“As is well known in the Evangelical world, SES founder Norman Geisler is a self-described Evangelical Thomist, a follower of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), perhaps the most important Catholic thinker of the second millennium. . . .What those students discovered is that Aquinas’ Catholicism was not some time-bound product of the medieval Church, but a wealth of theological insights in perfect continuity with his predecessors, such as Saint Augustine (354-430), and with his successors, such as those at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). What they also discovered is that one cannot easily isolate the ‘Evangelical-friendly Aquinas’ from the ‘Dominican friar Saint Thomas.’ There was no ‘historic Thomas’ with ‘Catholic barnacles’. There was just Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic priest.” (p. 13-14)
It is a fascinating read and will spark some lively discussions around the evangelical water cooler. Evangelical Exodus is a paperback with 286 pages and sells for $17.95.