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Ten theologians describe their paths to the Catholic Church

“These are varied stories that don’t just involve a movement of the mind, but rather the whole person. … In other words, God led them by strange ways.”

(Image: delfi de la Rua/Unplash.com)

There is something about a good conversion story. There are a number of well-known and popular conversion memoirs that have been published over the years, as well as collections of shorter-form conversion stories. These have in turn influenced the conversion journey of untold numbers of people, who have since found their way home to the Catholic Church.

The conversion stories of ten theologians are collected in By Strange Ways: Theologians and Their Paths to the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, 2022), edited by Dr. Jonathan Fuqua and Dr. Daniel Strudwick. The volume includes the conversion stories of such luminaries as Scott Hahn, Lawrence Feingold, Petroc Willey, Jeff Morrow, and more. The theologians featured here come from a variety of backgrounds: agnosticism, secularism, New Age thought, punk rock, and various stripes of Christianity.

Drs. Fuqua and Strudwick recently spoke with Catholic World Report about their recent book, and the evangelizing power of conversion stories.

CWR: How did the book come about?

Jonathan Fuqua and Daniel Strudwick: After the success of Jonathan’s first book on philosopher converts (Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism [Ignatius Press, 2019]), we began reflecting on how there was no book that dealt exclusively with theologian converts. We thought it would be good to provide a space for theologians to explain why they chose to become Catholic.

We also thought that many Catholics might find it interesting to follow these accounts and encounter the issues that they had to wrestle with as they made their journey.

Finally, we thought that intellectually minded folks who take religion and theology seriously might find the conversion accounts of theologians especially worth considering.

CWR: Why are conversion stories so appealing and intriguing to people?

Fuqua and Strudwick: Conversion stories are appealing and intriguing for three principal reasons.

First, we are, by nature, story-telling people; we are intrigued by the stories of others.  The Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntrye argues that our very understanding of ourselves as individuals is as characters in a story.  So, we tend to love hearing and telling stories.

Second, we are rational creatures who are also moved by reasons and reason-giving, and these conversion narratives provide a reasoned account of why one would become Catholic.  Conversion accounts often combine story and reason-giving and so tend to be very interesting.

Lastly, for one to convert, one must be able to see oneself in the Church. Through these stories, one can imagine how one might enter the Catholic Church oneself after seeing the path of others.

CWR: What is unique about these theologians’ paths to the Catholic Church? And how is it different from the paths of philosophers recounted in Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism?

Fuqua and Strudwick: The questions asked by philosophers in the Faith and Reason volume were more philosophically foundational, whereas the questions dealt with by the theologian converts tend to be more properly theological by nature.

For example, the philosophers were often drawn to the Church by encountering its profound development of philosophical issues relating to the nature and existence of God.

Theologians, by virtue or their prior Christian commitment, begin with revelation as a starting point. How revelation is understood is the content with which theologians wrestle. It should also be said that both are intertwined and thus that the differences between the two are more a matter of degree and not of kind.

CWR: Is there something inherent to the theological pursuit that leads to the Catholic Church? Put another way: given enough time, will every theologian honestly seeking the Truth eventually become Catholic?

Fuqua and Strudwick: If each thinker were able to approach these questions unimpeded by prejudices and biases, we would hope that all would eventually find their way into the Church. There are also various practical concerns that often make conversion very difficult for those who are deeply invested in a non-Catholic ministry or denomination.

Further, people can also be emotionally attached to their non-Catholic co-religionists, and thus converting to Catholicism would potentially lead to a rupture in important relationships.

Finally, contemporary academia tends to be highly specialized, and theologians are not exempt from this. So, some theologians might spend their entire careers teaching and writing about topics that are not central to Catholic-Protestant or Catholic-Orthodox issues.

CWR: In collecting and editing the contributions in this book, what did you learn?

Fuqua and Strudwick: Our title says something to this question. These are varied stories that don’t just involve a movement of the mind, but rather the whole person. The accounts do not follow a single pattern and are stories of men and women who found themselves surprised by the direction of their journey. In other words, God led them by strange ways.

The diverse features of Catholicism (aesthetics, morality, logical rigor, philosophical tradition, authority, liturgical life, etc.) were unique to each story in the sense that different converts tended to be drawn by different facets of the multi-faceted gem that is Catholicism.

The lesson is that there isn’t just one path into the Church and so we Catholics need to highlight the goodness, truth, and beauty of the Catholic tradition.

CWR: What do you hope people will get from the book?

Fuqua and Strudwick: We hope readers will see the Catholic harmony of faith and reason and the intellectual plausibility of Catholicism. We also hope that they will see how each of these contributors deeply appreciated their past and saw Catholicism as fulfilling and not denying truths that formed them on their road to the Catholic Church.

CWR: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Fuqua and Strudwick: We think this book would be especially helpful to intellectually serious non-Catholic Christians who would like to discover the reasons that compelled professional theologians to enter the Church. The book also offers cradle Catholics a reasoned account of why Catholicism is attractive to those from the outside.


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About Paul Senz 114 Articles
Paul Senz has an undergraduate degree from the University of Portland in music and theology and earned a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from the same university. He has contributed to Catholic World Report, Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, The Priest Magazine, National Catholic Register, Catholic Herald, and other outlets. Paul lives in Elk City, OK, with his wife and their four children.

6 Comments

    • Dear Yasir Abdallah Adam:

      God bless you. It has been my experience that Muslims leaving Islam are some of the best Christians.

      Prayer, the word of God and talking with people will help a person in their decision. They should be where they feel most comfortable, nourished in God’s word, with a deep sense of communion beside the Lord and where we might be of the greatest service to others.

      Proverbs 3:1-35 My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favour and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. …

      John 15:1-27 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. …

      John 4:34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.

      Joshua 24:15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

      If our paths cross, from time to time on CWR it would be my honour to help you as I can.

      Yours in Christ,

      Brian Young

  1. “Drawn to the multi-faceted gem that is Catholicism” (Fuqua and Strudwick). Why this exceptional difference of Catholicism to other religions is Christ?
    Within Catholicism, it’s the living fullness of the Father present through faith in Christ, and all that the sacraments signify materially by his presence, and realized spiritually. A simple, though when experienced, motivated by the Holy Spirit to explore the great spectrum of truth, the fullness of the reality of God’s creation, the ordering of all to perfection in himself. The intellect challenged to learn and assimilate, immeasurably enriched.

    • Dear Fr Peter:

      You know how much God’s word means to yours truly. Allow me to add God’s declaration to your experienced remarks. We know the believer in Christ can never go amiss by accepting His guidance!

      Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

      Romans 3:22-26 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

      Ephesians 2:5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

      Romans 4:16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,

      James 1:16-18 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.

      John 1:12-13 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

      Romans 10:9-10 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

      Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

      Acts 16:31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

      God’s continued blessings as you serve Him in spirit and truth.

      With appreciation,

      Brian

  2. Much earlier than the authors’ books on convert philosophers and now theologians—and possibly rounding out a readers’ trilogy—there’s also Fr. John A. O’Brien (ed.) and his classic “The Road to Damascus: the Spiritual Pilgrimage of Fifteen Converts to Catholicism” (Doubleday & Co., 1949; Image 1955).

    Contributors included the literary Evelyn Waugh, Fulton Oursler (“The Greatest Story Ever Told”), the traveler/novelist Francis Parkinson Keyes, biographer (of saints)/historian Theodore Maynard, journalist/playwright and Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce, and others.

    Even more relevant today than when published—and applying equally to the new works of Fuqua and Strudwick—is this from editor O’Brien’s brief Introduction: “The experiences of the men and women who have made their pilgrimage over the road to Damascus [with St. Paul] to find the answer to their restless questing constitute a much needed antidote for the uncertainty and confusion of today.”

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