Why Are So Many Evangelicals Turning to the Catholic Church?

Some of Southern Evangelical Seminary's Students Are Becoming Catholic—and Here's Why

St. Peter's Square and Basilica in Rome.
St. Peter's Square and Basilica in Rome. (photo: Photo credit: Alberto Luccaroni, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Douglas Beaumont was a pretty solid Evangelical Christian, by his own admission. For twenty years, he lived in that tradition—studying at an Evangelical seminary, then teaching at the same institution, and helping the seminary founder and president with his study of systematic theology. Beaumont authored several books which were published by Evangelical publishers, and he was pretty well known around the country.

So what caused Doug—along with dozens of students, alumni and professors from a conservative, Evangelical seminary—to leave behind the Evangelical tradition which had been their spiritual home, and to enter into communion with Rome?

Why were so many students from Southern Evangelical Seminary willing to risk losing their jobs, ministries, and even family and friends to embrace a religion they once rejected as false or even heretical?

Douglas Beaumont has brought together ten compelling conversion stories in a new book, Evangelical Exodus: Evangelical Seminarians and Their Paths to Rome, published by Ignatius Press. Included among the Catholic converts who contributed to this book are Francis Beckwith, professor of philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University; Joshua Betancourt, a lay Catholic hospital chaplain who has worked with St. Joseph Communications and Lighthouse Catholic Media; Andrew Preslar, a founding member of Called to Communion who had studied for the Anglican priesthood before being received into the Byzantine Rite; and seven others, all of whom have at least a Master's degree. Although ten SES students and faculty contributed to this book, Dr. Beaumont reported that there were two or three times as many converts whose conversion stories are not included in this collection.

Of course, their reasons varied. The contributing writers arrived at their Catholic faith from different perspectives, and were motivated by different concerns: the nature of the biblical canon, the identification of Christian orthodoxy, and the problems with the Protestant doctrines of sola scriptura (“scripture alone”) and sola fide (“faith alone”). Many were attracted by the Catholic Church's great beauty—its music, art, great cathedrals. It's important to note that many of the writers had never shared their thoughts with the others before the book was published.

Doug talked with the Register about his own conversion, and about the factors which led him to swim the Tiber and enter into full communion with Rome. “Several things got me thinking about the ancient church,” he explained. “Even though I had studied the Scriptures, I wanted to know more about the formation of the biblical canon. I was interested in what 'counts' as orthodoxy among all Christians, not just those in my tiny little group.” And as he studied and talked with other Christians, in both large and small denominations, the same problems kept popping up; there was always one more step to go.

Beaumont asked himself a hard question:  If I trust the church for the Bible that I have, at what point does it become acceptable to not trust the church any longer? 

In his own studies and in his work as assistant to the seminary's founder and then-president, Dr. Norman Geisler, Beaumont found more questions than answers—especially with regard to church history. As he helped Dr. Geisler with Volumes 2 and 4 of his text on systematic theology, it was Beaumont's task to read through the Early Church Fathers and to identify passages which supported Geisler's writings on the nature of salvation, the church, and the last things. “It was a nightmare,”  Beaumont confessed. “The discrepancies between what Dr. Geisler taught and what the historic church had taught jumped out at me.”

Dr. Beaumont and his co-authors remembered John Henry Cardinal Newman's quote, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” Indeed, he confirmed, there was no long-term perspective at Southern Evangelical Seminary, where a student could earn a Master's degree in any subject they offer, without taking a single course in church history.

The contributors to Evangelical Exodus were influenced by diverse factors, notably the biblical canon, Christian orthodoxy, and the two concerns most frequently cited by Protestants: sola scriptura (all truth can be found in the Scriptures) and sola fide (man is saved by faith alone). Doug also named Beauty as one of the factors which led him and his fellow seminarians to a new appreciation for the Catholic Church. “In Protestantism,” Doug said, “there's a tendency to dismiss any reason other than the intellectual. But as human beings, we're both physical and spiritual creatures. In the Catholic Church, he found, intellect and reason are respected; but the Catholic Church is also more beautiful and more historical. There is an attractive package which draws the spirit, combining art and music and beauty, a long history, and tradition, with solid intellectual arguments.”

The personal stories of converts who had gone before him were also an inspiration to Beaumont. Doug remembered the testimonies of Thomas Howard, Scott and Kimberly Hahn, and others who had struggled with the same issues, and had discovered the same answers. From among the contributors to Evangelical Exodus, Doug named two writers whose stories which might be particularly useful to those seeking greater understanding of the Faith: 

  • Brandon Dahm, whose investigation of Catholic theology began under noted professor J. Budziszewski and in a campus discussion group called “Truth Bucket”; and
  • John Betancourt, whose journey toward Catholicism included an introduction to what he called “the A Team”—Aquinas,  Anselm, and Augustine—and a study of the Early Church Fathers. Betancourt, according to Doug Beaumont, worked with Dr. Norm Geisler and could have co-authored a book on Catholicism titled “Is Rome the True Church?” Instead, just a month after the anti-Catholic book was published, Betancourt entered the Catholic Church.

More than a compilation of individual faith stories, Evangelical Exodus contains extensive footnotes and appendices, documenting the careful analysis which guided its writers' search for truth.