A new friend recently lent me Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholocism, by Scott and Kimberly Hahn. This is one of those great books, easy to read, inspiring, relatable and tangible, that sticks with you for days, even after you put it down! I’ve been pondering all sorts of things that came up in this book, at the strangest times!
The book chronicles the story of a married couple on their conversion to Catholocism. Scott, a teenage rebel-turned evangelical minister, attended seminary where he met an married Kimberly, the daughter of an evangelical minister whose desire was to marry a man of God and serve her life alongside him in ministry, as a pastor’s wife.
Right out of the gate, I can really relate to both of these people. Their marriage mirrors my own in so many ways! They begin their life together with such zeal and enthusiasm– such a desire to lead, volunteer, minister! The impending spiritual crisis they encounter, when Scott begins to discover that not only is Catholicism biblical, but his particular brand of Protestantism is not, closely mirrors a spiritual crisis The Auditor and I encountered during a brief flirtation with Protestant churches.
The book opens with the following quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen:
“There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Roman Catholic Church; there are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Roman Catholic Church.”
The main focus of the book, as noted by Scott and Kimberly in the preface, is to demonstrate how the Holy Spirit used Scripture to clear up their own misconceptions of the Catholic Church. I wish I could address every point in the text, but that would require a lot of quoting, which is probably some kind of copyright infringement, and since I cant afford to be sued (not that they’d get much out of me– insert snickering here!), I’ll try to cover the main points that touched or mirrored my personal life instead.
The first, and perhaps most crucial theological mistep tackled by the Hahn’s, while still Protestant, is one which leaves the souls of literally millions of people hanging in the balance: the concept of Sola Fide, or, salvation by faith alone. This particular tenent of Protestantism is very VERY dear to my heart, as many of the people I love best in the world subscribe to what I personally see as a very dangerous concept– the belief in a singular, saving moment, at which time a person accepts Jesus into their heart as their personal savior, and is thus automatically granted salvation no matter what sins they commit on earth during the remainder of their life.
Why is this so troubling for me? Well, simply put, because it enables one to engage in unintentional (or perhaps intentional!) spiritual sloth, which I have witnessed firsthand (and have myself been guilty of!). It allows people to believe, albeit falsely, that their actions on earth matter not, because Jesus died to save them, and now that they know it, they are automatically saved. Sola Fide does not allow for the potential loss of Salvation! The concept ALONE does not encourage Christians to consistently reconcile themselve’s God’s will, thereby, long periods of unrepentant sin may occur simply because there is no encouragement to form the habit of doing so. (Where as, of course, the Catholic church teaches that there are varying degrees of sin, some of which compromise a sinner’s salvation, and as such the sinner must CONTINUALLY reconcile himself to God’s will).
The conept of a “saving moment” and thus unchangeable salvation, which stems from the teaching of Sola Fide, really scares the living daylights out of me! To my very sincere delight, Scott Hahn came to believe that faith alone will not guarantee salvation, and thankfully provides Scriptural support for his change in position on this issue.
“In James 2:24, the BIble teaches that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Besides, Saint Paul said in I Corinthians 13:2, “…if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” This was a traumatic transformation for me to say that I now thought Luther was fundamentally wrong. For seven years, Luther had been my main source of inspiration and powerful proclamation of the Word. And this doctrine had been the rationale behind the whole Protestant Reformation.”
Hahn’s conclusion? Saint Paul never taught the concept of Sole Fide. Nowhere, in the entire New Testament, does Saint Paul teach that we are justified by faith alone. What Paul actually does teach is that we are justified through GRACE alone– only God’s grace affords us entry to heaven! Faith does not equal grace. This is demonstrated in the book of Matthew 7: 21-23:
21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Simply knowing that Jesus is Lord, and having faith that He sacrified Himself to save us, is not enough. Clearly Matthew is telling us there is much more to it than knowing, and than telling people what you know. Personally, I am very much concerned for friends and loved ones who believe this! The Bible clearly tells us in Matthew (see above) that not all Christians are going to be saved. Now personally, I do not think it is appropriate to limit God by saying He will only save XYZ denomination. I believe we shall all one day be judged individually. That being said, I have concern for those people in my life who take their salvation for granted! As much concern as I have for my own soul! But back to the book– this is supposed to be a review after all!
This particular revelation (that the idea of Sole Fide is UNScriptural) paved the way for Scott to discover the next important tenent of Catholocism– that the New Testament was a FULFILLMENT of the Old Testament, rather than a replacement for it. Scott spent many years exploring the concept of a “covenant”– and as the reader probably is aware, the Bible is FILLED with covenants between God and His people!
Many Protestant ideas are based in the presupposition that Jesus’ coming essentially discarded the ideas of the Old Testament. This basis is the reason for Protestant de-emphasis (or elimination!) of sacramental and liturgical elements, which were very central to ancient Jewish worship. Scott’s newfound interest centered around the sacramental references he found in Gospel of John. His exploration of John really helped me to solidify some questions that I personally have had regarding my own faith. Definately worth the read!
The most valuable section of this entire book, for me, centered around a Truth over which The Auditor and I have had many arguments: the concept that Sola Scriptura is primarily UNbiblical (see my previous blog post for more info!). While currently in “marital harmony” on this issue, we had many the argument over the importance of the Apostolic tradition, and it’s EQUAL importance to that of Scripture. (It is probably not difficult to guess which of us put more store in the Bible, and which more store in the Tradition. We take comfort in the knowledge that we were both equally wrong, as both are equally important :) If you’re gonna be wrong, be as wrong as the person you love the most!)
Scott takes the time to point out Scriptural evidence that NEGATES Sola Scriptura— evidence I am very happy to have acquired for my Apologetic Arsenal!
2 Thessalonians 2:15– “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traiditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth, or by letter”.
Paul is telling the Thesselonians to hold to the traditions of the church– the church that existed BEFORE the canonization of Scripture. And oh, by the way, the church that CANONIZED the Scripture in the first place!
Scott Hahn has armed me with perhaps the most poignant and powerful weapon of all in this entire book– a point so intregal to his conversion that he repeats it several times and in several places.
“I asked another theologian, ‘What for you is the pillar and foundation of truth?’. He responded, ‘The Bible, of course!’.
‘Then why does the Bible say in 1Timothy 3:15 that the Church is the pillar and foundation of Truth?” (Hahn, 53).
(Interesting commentary from me coming– pay attention!)
All too frequently, people assume that the
Apostolic Tradition = Catholic Church
Actually, the equation reads more like this:
Bible + Apostolic Tradition = Catholic Church.
So when Timothy says the Church is the foundation and pillar of Truth, he is saying this:
Bible + Tradition = Catholic Church = Truth.
So, generally speaking, you can see where this journey is heading for Scott Hahn. He is well on his way to swimming the Tiber by this point in the book!
Let’s turn to Kimberly, in which I see so vividly my own marriage and marital struggles. Kimberly, bless her soul, didnt want to be a Catholic! She was raised a Presbyterian. Her father was a minister. Her brother was a minister. She married a minister and desired to work alongside him in ministry. Convicted stronly in her faith, Kimberly took Scott’s conversion journey rather personally. It created strife and discord in their marriage.
And here, dear readers, is where I can so sincerely sympathize! The Auditor and I have not always been so sympatico, religiously speaking. He has had, in the past, some pretty strong Protestant leanings that frankly were tantamount to heresy in my opinion. (Albeit I am a fairly emotional person, and tend to see heresy where it is probably not intended! :))
Lest you find me intimidating in my rightness, I shall tell you that I, too, fall short of perfection! There was a time when I too struggled with certain Catholic tenents– particularly the need for sacramental Reconcilliation with God. I very stubbornly closed my heart and mind to God, dug in my heels, and refused to believe such a sacrament was necessary. It was only after much internal turmoil, and a years over due confession, that I decided I was NOT smarter than a 2000 year old Church. I vowed to God that I would submit to His Church in all matters going forward.
While the Auditor personally has not struggled with the concept of Confession, he did have a major issue with submission to the Church in all matters. We spent literally YEARS arguing about submission. His arguement always hinged on “What if the church tells you to go out and abort babies? are you going to submit to it THEN?”
The ludicrousness of this argment is INFURIATING. In fact, as I type this, I am angry just remembering these discussions, ha! Now granted, my beloved husband was shooting for an extreme example so as to prove a point, but through these arguments we never really ARRIVED at the point! Our hearts and minds were closed to God’s will, closed to each other, and focused solely on being “right” and winning the argument. Scott and Kimberly Hahn discuss greatly in their book the negative effects of these types of arguments on a marriage.
And yet…if you’re married to someone, and you’re having children with someone, it helps if you agree theologically, does it not? So frankly, you must suck it up, don protective head-gear, and battle through it. If you, reader, should find yourself in such a battle with someone you love enough to worry for their salvation, try to remember what we, ourselves, forgot– Trying to outswim a riptide with only drown you. You need to swim parallel to the shore until you find a place of less resistance, and then make your way back to solid ground. (insert analogy about the futility of yelling into the wind if you prefer!)
Scott and Kimberly Hahn both address devotion to Mary in their text. They both entered into adulthood believing that Catholics substituted love, devotion and even worship of Mary that of Jesus. Naturally, if you are a Catholic yourself, you know that is definately NOT the place of Mary in our lives! As Scott becomes yet more convicted in his Catholic faith, and begins praying the Rosary, a horrified Kimberly harbors a jealousy of the blessed mother.
I can SO UNDERSTAND HER JEALOUSY! I struggle with my own jealousy of the Scripture. (Silly, no?!) I am extremely jealous that my husband takes such comfort and spiritual nourishment from reading something that I myself struggle to understand. This jealousy often causes me to close down my heart, lay aside my Bible, and turn elsewhere. This is, of course, RIDICULOUS and frankly not very mature. I have always maintained that faith and prayer are more important than Scripture, and yet, have started to get over myself a bit and put more focus on knowing exactly what God commands us– from the horse’s mouth so to speak!
Frankly, I could probably go on all night long about what a great book this is. If you dream of one day becoming a Catholic Apologist (as I would really like to do!), this is a great tool to have in your arsenal! Scott and Kimberly Hahn and extremely sincere and relatable, and reading their personal testimony regarding their conversion to Catholicism was so thought provoking that I’ve spent that last hour or so of my very limited free time, composing this review! This book was the last thing I thought about before I fell asleep last night and the first thing I thought of when I awoke this morning. (I have no life though, so this might not be saying all that much :))
Bottom line– go buy the book. You won’t be sorry!