Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on July 6, 2016 and has been revised.
Evangelical Exodus: Evangelical Seminarians and Their Paths To Rome
Edited by Douglas Beaumont
Ignatius Press, 2016, 286 pages
I returned to the Lord in 2014 after a two-decade prodigal “hiatus.” One of my first priorities was to find an evangelical, Gospel-preaching fellowship, but I wanted to avoid the kind of legalism we encountered at the independent fundamental Baptist church we had attended way back in the 1980s. I found a Southern Baptist church in our area that we liked a lot initially. It was a small church and the members were warm and welcoming. Our first Sunday was also the first Sunday for the new pastor; a young guy in his early-thirties, fresh out of seminary. His sermons were more about God’s grace and mercy than about shame, guilt, and accusations of not measuring up to God’s Holiness, which was what I had been used to. It was a balm to my soul.
But there was also a troubling aspect to this pastor. He wasn’t just “interested” in Roman Catholic writers and theologians, he was completely enamored with them. Over the course of the year we heard about his admiration for such Catholic figures as Thomas Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, G. K. Chesterton, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Peter Kreeft. I pointed out to him that all of those people supported a religious system which taught salvation was through the Catholic sacraments and obedience to the Ten Commandments and church rules. He off-handedly dismissed my objections as one would who has been steeped in institutional education and must condescend to the level of the “unlearned.” Because of that issue and a few others we decided to leave the church in June 2015.
I was eager to read “Evangelical Exodus” after my experiences with that young pastor. What exactly are they teaching in evangelical seminaries these days? Editor Doug Beaumont recounts his story and the stories of eight other young men who attended Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, North Carolina. The seminarians allegedly all began as “evangelicals,” but ended up as members of the Roman Catholic church. How does that work? The founder of the seminary, evangelical theologian, Norman Geisler (d. 2019), is an unabashed admirer of Thomas Aquinas. Because of Geisler and his like-minded professors, the curriculum at SES was heavy on Thomist philosophy and theology. Some students naturally conjectured, “If Aquinas is so commendable for his non-Catholic-specific teachings, let’s check out his Catholic-specific teaching as well.” And one thing led to another. As I pointed out earlier in a review of one his books (see here), Geisler defies rationality. On the one hand, he fully supports the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, and also acknowledges that Catholicism teaches a skewed gospel of salvation by sacramental pseudo-grace and merit. Yet he also dichotomously embraces Catholicism as a Christian, albeit misguided, entity. It’s clear from “Evangelical Exodus” that Geisler’s schizophrenic infatuation with Aquinas has led many astray.
What about the nine ex-seminarians who contributed to this book? They all claim to have been blood-bought, born-again believers prior to converting to Catholicism, but how could a sinner saved by grace and a child of God take upon themselves the chains of spiritual slavery and try to once again earn their own salvation through the “beggarly elements”? It’s clear that the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone had only been intellectual head knowledge for these nine men. There was no genuine saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
“But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” – Galatians 4:9
Each ex-seminarian presents the Roman Catholic church’s long (and checkered) history, sacraments and liturgies, and claims to apostolic authority as arguments in favor of Catholicism. All of these points have been critiqued by knowledgeable evangelicals and shown to be deficient. See my list of books here which compare Catholicism with God’s Word. The ex-seminarians liberally quote the “church fathers” to support their viewpoint, but honest Catholic scholars will admit that the “fathers” present as many challenges to current Catholic dogma as they do affirmations.
Our former, Aquinas-loving pastor studied at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Southern Baptist), which is located in Wake Forest, North Carolina, just three hours from SES. I surmise Geisler’s obsession with Thomism also made its way up Route 85 to SEBTS.
Doug Beaumont and Ignatius Press demonstrate a lot of wishful thinking by titling this book, “Evangelical Exodus,” but as thousands of near-empty Catholic churches attest, the overwhelming exodus between Catholics and evangelicals has been the journey of millions of ex-Catholics out of religious legalism and ritualism to the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
This book was extremely hard for me to read. My heart breaks for Roman Catholics who are attempting the impossible task of trying to merit their way to Heaven. The Catholic church proclaims Christ is the “Savior,” but then teaches its members that they must merit their salvation by participating in the sacraments and obeying the Ten Commandments perfectly (impossible!). I couldn’t obey the Ten Commandments for a single day and neither can anyone else. A Catholic can never say they are “saved” (that would be the “sin of presumption”) because their salvation depends on if they can remain obedient and faithful to their church’s teachings right up until the moment of their death.
“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” – Galatians 2:21
Catholic friend, accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone and ask the Lord to lead you to an evangelical church in your area that preaches the genuine Gospel without compromise. Find your salvation and rest from religious strivings in Jesus Christ.
Note from 2021: Many evangelicals misguidedly view Roman Catholics as “brothers in Christ” and view outreach to Catholics and debates with Catholic apologists as unnecessary and “divisive.” Yet, as exemplified by this book, Catholic apologists have no problem denigrating evangelicalism and the genuine Gospel.