A Critical Evaluation
When a Reformed Christian turns back to Rome, his local church family no doubt mourns the loss of a loved one. But when that Christian first earns a Master of Divinity, and then converts to Rome, the whole Reformed world stands still – wondering in amazement. How could this possibly happen? Did he stumble upon some important truth, some irrefutable argument that we’ve never heard? What was it exactly that convinced this man to leave the Reformation?
More often than not, these unlikely converts are itching to tell us. After all, they usually believe that such an event qualifies for what we call “personal testimony.” This is precisely the case with Jeremy de Haan, graduate of Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, in Hamilton Ontario. As a new convert to Catholicism, de Haan spends over 5000 words narrating the entire process of his conversion – found here. Unfortunately, after all is said and done the average Reformed reader will walk away wondering if his questions were really ever answered; I would argue they were not. In fact as we will see, these fundamental questions were not only left unanswered – they were altogether avoided. Ironic perhaps, but not accidental.
In the introductory section of his article de Haan makes an important disclaimer.
While I won’t go into detail here about every doctrinal question, for the sake of space, I will give you the shape of my overall thinking over the last year.
In other words, the 5000 words that you are about to read will say very little (if anything) about doctrine.
But why? You would think that for a seminary graduate, trained in biblical, systematic, and historical theology, doctrine might have played a decisive role in his conversion, right? Apparently not. According to de Haan, the shape of his overall thinking was not grounded in the details of doctrinal questions.
In this installment therefore, I would like to give my own assessment of de Haan’s conversion. As a former Catholic now Reformed, I want to interact with his story and from a distinctly Reformed perspective, begin to show where this man failed to understand the Faith he once confessed.
Formerly or Formally?
As he moves into the body of his article, de Haan paints the picture that forms the background of his story.
At the close of the summer of 2015 I’d just finished a preaching practicum in Fergus, Ontario. I was looking forward to my fourth and final year at seminary and to the ministry beyond it.
But according to de Haan, long before the summer of 2015, his personal views about the Catholic Church had changed. What he confessed as a Reformed Christian was only the “official” view of his mind, because in a real way “those prejudices had been challenged as the years went by.”
At this point in the story de Haan has unwittingly jeopardized his own credibility. Anyone reading his testimony with even a fraction of discernment knows that such an admission is a major red flag. The potential disconnect between what’s real and what’s official can be as wide as the ocean is deep. Who can tell where de Haan really stood at any given point in the story? Who’s to know the real disposition of his heart at the end of his third, or at the beginning of his first year in seminary? These questions are admittedly inconclusive. Nevertheless they are important to keep at the forefront of our minds, especially considering that this man is seeking to lead others away from the truth and progress of the Reformation.
But what was it exactly that led to the change in de Haan’s thinking? Since he says that this was a change that took place over the years, maybe we should ask – What were the things that led to his rejection of the Reformed Faith? According to de Haan, one thing that contributed to the change in his thinking was that many of his favorite authors were Roman Catholic. Then, in a moment of illuminating thought, de Haan begins to reason that John Calvin somehow must have been wrong.
In every encounter I had with the Catholic Church, whether through her writers, her music, her philosophy, her prayers, or her actual members, my prejudices were being challenged… if John Calvin was right to point to the “corruptions by which Satan, in the papacy, has polluted everything God had appointed for our salvation,” then how could men who had bought into that satanic pollution have anything worthwhile to say about the Christian faith, and how to understand the world through the lens of that faith?
In other words, if Calvin was right then why are my favorite writers Roman Catholic? Why do I find so much value in Roman Catholic philosophy? Why do I gravitate toward Roman Catholic people, and have such an admiration for their prayers?
Needless to say, this reasoning is fallacious. There is no necessary connection between truth and preference. A man’s appetites cannot furnish him with objective truth. They can only manifest what he is in himself. A married man might prefer another woman over his wife. He might look upon that woman with more interest, attraction, and desire. Yet this does not make the fact of his marriage any less true, nor does it disprove the biblical nature of holy matrimony. Unfortunately, de Haan has confused his feelings for the facts.
Uninformed Means Unreformed
In addition to being attracted to Catholicism, de Haan admits that he was also uncertain about the teachings of the Reformation.
I did have questions, too, about the Reformed faith. I didn’t see how some Reformed doctrines fully squared with the data of Scripture, and there were non-Reformed doctrines that seemed to equally satisfy the evidence.
In other words, de Haan was Reformed, but he didn’t believe in Reformed doctrine.
There were questions of Church authority and confessional authority. But none of these posed any real challenge to my thinking, and I never called into question the validity of the Reformation as a whole.
The problem here is that de Haan assumes that the Reformation was something other than a reformation of doctrine. It really wasn’t. Besides, validating the whole after invalidating the parts doesn’t really work. You can’t keep the Reformation and reject what it actually reformed. To affirm such an incoherent series of statements is to once again confirm two sad realities. First, de Haan didn’t understand the Reformation. Second, he can’t say that he was Reformed. Such is the only possible conclusion if we take his own words seriously.
In defining what it meant for him to be Reformed, de Haan writes,
Being Reformed was about much more than answering every intellectual question, anyways. I loved the Reformed Church. I loved her history, I loved her teachings, and I loved above all her emphasis on Scripture.
In other words, de Haan was “reformed” for all the wrong reasons. With matters of truth and concrete doctrine aside, he compiles for us a glittering list of meaningless abstractions. Institutions, histories, teachings, and emphases mean absolutely nothing to us when they are separated from their contents and definitions. What about Reformation history did this man love so much? Was it the fact that some group of men stood up for some idea that they believed in? Or was it the fact that Guido de Bres was executed for his authorship of the Belgic Confession of Faith? A Confession of Faith (by the way) which declares that Jesus Christ is “the only universal Bishop and the only Head of the Church” (Art. 31)! Which history did de Haan really love? As we might expect, he doesn’t tell us.
All of this brings us to the beginning of de Haan’s fourth year in seminary. While he should have been seeking answers to the doctrinal questions he had, or perhaps attempting to gain a better understanding of Reformation Church history, de Haan was moving in a different direction.
And so I began fourth year. But only a couple weeks into the first semester I came across the philosopher Peter Kreeft’s conversion story on YouTube… Here was a man who seemed trustworthy and thorough in his thinking, who grew up very similar to me, yet who had looked seriously at the Catholic faith and was compelled by what he found to leave the Reformed faith.
In another moment of spectacular reasoning de Haan asked himself,
If Rome was so shot through with false teachings, then how could anyone find the truth there?
In other words, if the Reformed Faith was true, then why did Peter Kreeft convert to Rome?
But this statement is more than a slip in logic. It is a demonstration of a Catholic presupposition. Notice that de Haan presupposed that Peter Kreeft “found truth” in the teachings of Rome. How did he prove, or even conclude that what Kreeft found was true? The same way a born again Christian concludes that the Bible is the Word of God; he presupposed it. Somewhere along the line de Haan adopted a new axiom, a new starting point from which all his thoughts would henceforth proceed.
It’s more than doubtful that this man ever received the divine axiom – i.e. the incorruptible presupposition which the Holy Spirit plants in the heart of every born again Christian. Namely that the Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the infallible Word of God written. The reason I say this is because the Christian axiom is permanent, and can never be destroyed or replaced (1 Pet. 1:23-25; Jas. 1:18, 21). So to say that de Haan replaced it is to say that he never had it.
(to be continued)