Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tragic misapprehensions

Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn

This is the story of Scott and Kimberly Hahn's conversion to Roman Catholicism. They came out of evangelical Protestantism, and both studied at Grove City College and Gordon–Conwell Theological Seminary.

It's an intriguing story, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Scott became a Catholic a few years before Kimberly, and they relate the struggles they had in a "mixed marriage". Secondly, one can detect in this book a trajectory from intellectual conviction (believing that the Roman Catholic Church is the True Church) to emotional connection (feeling at home in the Catholic Church).

However, both of these reasons are built on flimsy foundations. Firstly, the Hahns completely misunderstand key Protestant doctrines such as Sola Scriptura. Now, Rome Sweet Home is more than twenty years old, and it is quite likely that the Hahns have refined their understanding as they have engaged in Catholic apologetics, but they think that Sola Scriptura means the Bible is the "Christian's only authority" (p. 53). As Keith Mathison demonstrates in The Shape of Sola Scriptura, that is most emphatically what it does not mean. Rather, it means the Bible is the only ultimate authority. It is a shame that both these people could study at an evangelical seminary and not know this.

Secondly, their emotional connection to the Catholic Church is also a flimsy foundation for conversion. Kimberly says regarding the rosary, "I really felt the Lord was giving his approval and ministering to me through it" (p. 160). It is, of course, impossible to argue with such feelings. But it is significant that the Hahns need to retreat into such mysticism in order to justify their conversion.

The Hahns make much of 1 Timothy 3:15, where it says that that the Church is the "pillar and foundation of the truth". They rightly point out that this might go against the evangelical instinct of regarding the Bible as the pillar and foundation of the truth. But quite apart from the fact that both could be true, there is still no reason to believe that Paul is talking here about the Church of Rome.

This is therefore a rather sad book. The education that the Hahns received and the conversations they had with evangelical friends were not sufficient to keep them from converting to Rome. But they did so on the basis of some tragic misapprehensions concerning Protestant doctrine and spirituality.

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