Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Book Review: A Protestant Looks at Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn
by Scott and Kimberly Hahn
Ignatius Press, 1993
Reviewed by Pilgrimsarbour
Coming more than a decade late to this book is, I hope, understandable to many. For years the words Catholic apologetics seemed an oxymoron to me. For so long I had spoken to Catholics and had been utterly unimpressed with their apparent lack of knowledge about their own faith. My own Catholic background was sufficiently nominal to pave the way for a drifting off into Evangelical Protestantism in my teen years, but it was only as I moved into adulthood and the Reformed faith that I began to understand that I did not know what I had left. I discovered that I was at least as ignorant about Catholicism as many Catholics seemed to be. Scott and Kimberly Hahn have woven an engaging narrative, charting their spiritual journey's course for us, bringing the reader inside the hearts and minds of two of Catholicism's most ardent and recognised apologists. Both were raised in Protestant homes, Scott's nominal Protestant upbringing paving the way for a deep, personal experience of commitment to Christ in his teen years. Kimberly's upbringing was more fervent from the start, both parents being devoted Presbyterians, and her father being a minister. Having met in college, both ministered for Christ passionately in various capacities and organizations while they worked toward degrees in theology and philosophy. After college was marriage, seminary, and eventually family. Scott relates that it was in seminary that he began to develop his new thoughts about the meaning of covenant in the Scriptures, in terms of family, rather than contract. At this point the pace of the story picks up considerably as both Scott and Kimberly relate the struggles and joys of coming to terms with their changing beliefs as they moved farther away from Protestantism and closer to Rome. There is a great deal of insight to be gained here for the Protestant reader, especially if he desires to discuss matters of faith and practice with Catholic friends. Not only do we learn about the passion of the new Catholic apologists, but it's obvious from the very beginning that this book is truly the template, the holy grail, as it were, for the experiences of the Catholic bloggers. In fact, so identifiable are the experiences of the Hahns for the Catholic convert/revert of the blogosphere, that uncanny seems a poor word indeed. If you spend any time reading the Catholic blogs, you will find, over and over, themes and ideas coming up that are clearly, if not thoroughly, discussed in the book: the covenant as the family of God, the authority of Peter and the Keys of the Kingdom, the authority of Scripture and the Church, the failure of the Reformation solas, the Communion of the Saints, and Mariology. But the theme given the most page time is undoubtedly the true meaning of the Lord's Supper and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This concept, coupled with the covenant idea, are the two connecting theological themes holding the book together as it moves to its conclusion. The overall effect of reading the book, for me, was mostly positive in that it was well-written and meaningful. Each of us, whether we fully realise it or not, is on a spiritual journey, and I could relate to many of the experiences and ideas expressed in the book. And many of us can identify with a teenager yearning to become proficient on the guitar (or piano!) and carrying that into young adulthood and playing in a band. If you want insight into the mind and heart of the Catholic convert/revert of the blogosphere, this is the book. However, there are a few bumps along the road of this otherwise pleasant journey. Aside from some important differences in doctrine, which are to be expected, Protestants will struggle with the use of the term anti-Catholic. This loaded term with its accompanying connotations appears often throughout the book, and is applied liberally to both Protestants who express negative personal feelings toward Catholics, and Protestants who merely disagree about doctrine, without qualification or distinction. Even Peter Kreeft, on the first page of his introduction to the book says, "I would hate to be an anti-Catholic in debate against these two!" A similar phenomenon can be readily seen in the general culture today, especially in the political realm. For example, conservatives who disagree with the current pending immigration legislation (McCain-Kennedy) which provides amnesty for millions of illegal aliens are told, even by the President, that they are "anti-immigration bigots who hate Mexicans." The purpose of this kind of language in the culture is to shut down dialogue with those who hold opposing viewpoints by making them feel ashamed of their choices and attitudes. There is never a discussion on the merits of their arguments. The word racist has become meaningless since all whites are to be considered racist, without regard to personal attitudes and behaviours. The problem for Catholics is that there are real anti-Catholics online and out there in the world, just as there are real racists. But painting all Protestants with such a broad brush renders the term anti-Catholic as meaningless as the word racist. It's not until the conclusion of the book that the Hahns adopt the neutral term non-Catholics, so it can be done. But it's difficult to understand why such obviously intelligent people would choose language guaranteed to alienate the Protestant reader. Additionally, there is no equivalent use of the term anti-Protestant in apologetics or in the blogs, although that attitude can frequently be found. In any case, the Catholic bloggers have taken hold of this term with a vengeance and are on the precipice of making it meaningless for the purposes of constructive dialogue. The new Catholic apologists are a force to be reckoned with. But if Catholics want to persuade Protestants of the beauty of the Catholic Church, they would do well to drop this "persecuted victim" approach in favour of something much more neutral, if not positively conciliatory.