This page chronicles my journey in the Christian faith after my conversion from atheism to Evangelical Protestantism.
I had just been baptized in the Spring of my senior year in college and was growing tremendously in my faith. I was involved in Bible studies, went to a young men’s fellowship group made up of my Christian friends, and also began helping out in an outreach program where members of my Central Baptist church spent time playing with elementary school children after school before their parents came to pick them up.
I also began memorizing Scripture verses after attending a retreat with my friends which included a session taught by a man who had memorized thousands of verses of the Bible.
I had one Summer and one Fall semester left before graduating from Texas A&M. Most of my friends left town for the summer and went back home to work, often in youth ministry, or had an internship. However, one of my friends, Matt, was staying in town to take classes, so he and I roomed together for the Summer.
Matt and I continued to go to church together regularly, attend Sunday school classes, and always we would talk about our Christian faith, both the teachings and the practice of it. He was a very logical thinker and a good debater, so we could delve into matters deeply and have discussions without taking things personally if we disagreed.
Then it happened one day: I began to wonder and become uneasy about why we as Christians were so divided in our teachings and in our worship. Our Southern Baptist teachings differed, in big and in small matters, from those of other denominations, and we certainly didn’t worship with them: They had their church, and we had ours.
One funny thing was that our very large Baptist church was a short distance away from a large Presbyterian one, which really brought home to me the problem of our Christian divisions.
“What do they believe at that Presbyterian church?” I asked Matt. He didn’t really know.
“Why are we going to church at Central Baptist and not to that church?” I continued.
This began a long series of discussions that we had together about the lack of Christian unity and whether it was a problem. It got me thinking about what I believed and, more importantly, why I believed it.
I had only been a believer for a year and had only been baptized for a few months, but already I more or less subscribed to the Southern Baptist teachings and had rejected, for example, many of the Catholic Church’s teachings. How had I, a newly minted Christian, come so quickly to the conclusions about which denomination taught the fullest and most accurate truth?
I realized then that I had been influenced strongly when becoming a Christian by my Evangelical friends. As an atheist, I “knew” on some level that there were many different kinds of Christians and vaguely understood that they differed in some beliefs, but to me at that time, they were all about the same.
So when I was beginning to believe in God, my Evangelical friends in particular were very interested and one of them saw that I was reading an Old King James version of the Bible, which was difficult to say the least, and he promptly bought me a large, well-annotated, plain English Bible, New International Version (NIV).
As I mentioned in my conversion from atheism account, I read this Bible from cover to cover and read it again. When I didn’t understand something, which was often, I would look down and see if there was an explanatory note about it, and usually there was; it was very helpful.
Also, when I had questions about the faith, I would ask my Evangelical friends, and they would answer me according to what they believed was true. Similarly, I went to the church they went to, Central Baptist, and so I listened to the pastor there expound upon the Bible and explain what the true Christian teachings were as he understood them.
These are not bad things; they are the normal way that God made us and account for why children of Muslims usually become Muslim, children of Christians become Christian, and so on.
However, I realized that I had chosen the Evangelical Protestant understanding of the Christian faith without deliberately giving other denominations a chance: Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican, Pentecostal, Church of Christ, Presbyterian, etc.
And so I returned to the discussions with Matt about which denomination’s teachings are “closest” to the truth that God has revealed, praying that Jesus would guide me because I wanted to be as close to Him, who is Truth, as possible.
The Bible was the sure basis for all of our beliefs because we believed it was the inerrant word of God. That sounded good, but there were two problems:
- Other denominations claimed the same thing, and yet we were divided from them, too, in matters big and small.
- The Catholic Church claimed there were 7 more books inspired by God that should be in the Bible.
The first problem led to the inevitable conclusion that it was possible for Christians who all claimed were being led by the Holy Spirit to veer off in different, often mutually exclusive directions with regard to the interpretation of the Bible.
They believed differently and so broke off from one another to form their own, new denominations, which seemed to me to violate Christ’s prayer and command for us Christians to be one, to be in unity (cf. John 17).
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and would never lead people to believe something untrue, so that meant that people who thought they were listening accurately to the Spirit’s promptings, in reality were not.
The second problem was of a different sort because it struck at the root of the tree: We believed in the “Bible alone” as the rule of our faith, yet that meant we had to know with confidence which books made up the Bible! Here we had the Catholic Church claiming that my Bible was missing 7 books that God inspired and therefore desired to be included in the Bible.
Suddenly I realized that I had accepted without question the Bible given to me by my good Evangelical friend, believing it and only it, nothing more, nothing less, to be the inspired word of God. How did I know that the Protestants got it right?
More broadly, what authority determined which books should be in the Bible, and when did they do so, and why should I believe them?
And if I trusted this authority to decide the canon of Scripture, as it is called, why don’t I trust them with the other decisions they made about what was true and what was false in matters of the faith?
So I realized at that point that one of two things must be true:
- The Holy Spirit tried to guide Christians to know the canon of Scripture and how to interpret it accurately, but because we are so full of faults and don’t always listen, we may have gotten some of the books wrong, leaving some that were inspired out and/or including ones that were not inspired.
- The Holy Spirit tried to guide Christians to know the canon of Scripture and how to interpret it accurately and by God’s power miraculously succeeded, overcoming the myriad individual and institutional faults that all humans are prey to, such that our Bible was made up of the exact books that God himself inspired.
In other words, God either preserved his Church from errors corrupting her teachings, or he did not, leaving us in a state where we can only be somewhat confident that most of what we believe is probably true, though for any given matter, who knows whether it was true or corrupted in some way.
If God did preserve his Church from errors in her teachings, which denomination had the boldness to claim that they were that Church who held the fullness of the truth?
The only “denomination” that made the claim and that I found credible historically and theologically was the Catholic Church.
I couldn’t believe it. The Catholic Church taught stuff about Mary, Purgatory, the saints, the sacraments, and priests that I disagreed with.
But I realized that my disagreements stemmed from my Protestant bias that had formed so quickly in my brief year as a Christian; I had to put these disagreements on hold to more objectively examine the Catholic Church’s claims and teachings.
With a sense of dread that I may have to one day soon tell my Evangelical friends that I was becoming, of all things, a Catholic, I began learning about the Catholic Church in earnest, looking and hoping for something that would let me off the hook and return to peace in Protestantism.
Alas, I failed to find it. I challenged my Evangelical friends to prove these ideas wrong and explain where I was going off course. They tried to do so but could not disprove them. We had debates and discussions over so many matters of our faith, but I returned again and again to the canon of Scripture and the authority by which it was formed.
The ax was at the root of the tree, but for most of them, who had grown up assuming as a given the 66 books of the Bible, posing these questions was something that they almost couldn’t fathom: Was I claiming the Bible was made up and not inspired? Why was I challenging the very Bible that they had derived so much wisdom and truth from?
I read books, read internet discussions and apologetics, read stories of faithful and intelligent Protestants converting to the Catholic faith (Scott Hahn, Mark Shea, David Currie, and others).
In the end, I joined RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) the Fall semester of my senior year and was received into the Catholic Church on Easter of 2001. Two of my Evangelical friends, including Matt, came to the 4-hour long vigil Mass, which I greatly respect them for.
My Evangelical friends were instrumental in my conversion to Christianity and in my subsequent growth as a Christian. They love Christ and courageously proclaim Him in the way they live their lives, and I would not be the man I am today without them.
And so, though I believe that God wants us all to be united as one and not divided, I am grateful that he worked in the lives of my Evangelical friends to bring me into the faith in Jesus Christ that has been the greatest blessing in my life.
“Seek, and you shall find,” Jesus assures us. May God be glorified in all people and things, and may He bless you in your search for truth!
“When we were lost and could not find the way to You,
You loved us more than ever.” –Eucharistic Prayer of Reconciliation
Once I entered into full communion with the Catholic Church, I found even more evidence that confirmed my decision, which you can read about here. For deeper exploration of the central issue of the authority that Christ gave His Church and how Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons differ in their beliefs, read on here.