"Catholic" thinking Protestants?


I recently ran across some interesting books:
Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers by Christopher Hall

Mary For Evangelicals by Tim Perry

Tradition, Scripture, and Interpretation by D H Williams

They all sound very much like they could have been written by Roman Catholics or Orthodox believers but all were written by Evangelical Protestants. A friend of mine said a recent issue of “Christianity Today” has a focus on how more and more Protestants are seeking out the church fathers. This is, I think, an interesting trend of Evangelicals seeking their “roots” as it were. I’m sure some of you have noticed similar examples. (I would, by the way, highly recommend any one of those books to Protestant friends.) I am a strong believer in something I read that Karl Keating had said - “The most dangerous men in Christianity were the Fathers of the Church.”

What are your thoughts on this trend?


Interesting too - (and bump) - that popular Evangelical magazine, “Christianity Today,” has a feature this month on this trend:
See Christianity Today (Feb 2008)


I thought this was awesome and that it helps many Protestants discover some common ground with Catholics.

Here’s hoping. :highprayer:


Many conversion stories (including mine) I have heard started with an exploration of the Fathers. Some of the things I’ve read from these folks makes me wonder how they can remain Protestant. I wonder if this could be the beginning of a greater number of conversions as well.


In my opinion, it really just goes to show that the Catholic Church was right in the first place…


This is the perspective I have been trying to represent and defend on this forum for some years now. I’m glad that you are realizing that it’s not just one crazy guy!

One of the main articles in the CT issue to which you referred is written by a good friend of mine, Chris Armstrong (he introduced me to my wife, and my wife and I are godparents to several of his children). I don’t know Chris Hall personally (I met him once for about five seconds), but he is an Episcopalian (Chris Armstrong attended an Episcopal church for a while, and his wife was confirmed, but he never officially became an Anglican) and his theological perspective is very similar to my own.

My wife and I (well, mostly her but I’m going to contribute some ideas!) are going to be writing an article for CT about the two clauses of the Nicene Creed that some evangelicals have questions about (baptism for the remission of sins and one holy Catholic Church). So stay tuned!



Edwin - please post here when the CT article is going to come out. I do not subscribe or follow it very closely but I want to read the article you mentioned coming up soon.

I have been leading a discussion group at our parish on the Fathers - it is a topic very close to my heart as well. We have a core group of people that are very interested and are really digging into the homework I assign them so we have some great discussions. You are far from alone.


I prefer to think of it as “Protestant” thinking Catholics. Perhaps our separated brothers in the Catholic Church are ready to cross the Rhone…What? …Don’t look at me like that…

Aside from that, the point I’d like to make more seriously is that much of Protestant thought is based on the Fathers insofar as they agreed with Scripture, rather than in Scripture wholly divorced from context. From what I’ve been reading I have the suspicion that the Fathers weren’t particularly Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant - the theological distinctions simply hadn’t developed yet. Statements they made can be selected so as to fit into a later theological scheme, when instead they should be taken at the contemporary level of theological development. This really complicates an already overly complex historical-theological picture. Augustine, in particular, was very Catholic concerning ecclesiology and the sacraments, yet it can be said that Calvin’s writings are a simplified reprise of Augustine, with some minor modifications. The Catholic Church is only partly Augustinian, yet I have read of Augustine being considered the father of Catholic theology.

I don’t think a widespread rediscovery of the Fathers would cause a massive flood of conversions into the Catholic Church. I would expect instead a deepening of Protestant theology.


The move toward liturgy in evangelical churches is something that is on the rise and is not surprising, I think the reason many evangelicals are turning to the Catholic and Episcopal churches are more complicated than many evangelicals imagine. I believe it is found in one area:A longing for the Eucharist.


I’m not sure how one could read Ignatius of Antioch or Justin Martyr and think that they did not believe in the real presence and in the authority of bishops due to apostolic succession - two core differences between virtually all Protestants and Catholic/Orthodox. And, I’m not sure how reading them one could conclude that they were not basing their beliefs greatly on the “scriptures.” And, I quote “scriptures” because, at the time the canon was not settled and they had to rely on the writings of the apostles as part of the sacred tradition handed down to them. And both these teachers were long before Augustine. I think anyone with an honest reading will have to conclude that the doctrines of the early church had far more in common with Catholic/Orthodox than with the vast majority of Protestant beliefs - save those that are very close to Catholic in their ecclesiology.


I appluad the authors and hope this is an enduring trend.

What it all comes down to, I think, is the doomed nature of post-modern thinking, which we can see has some of its roots in the Reformation, although unintenionally.

For quite sime time now there has been this cultural understanding in Enlightenment societies that has often thought of progress in opposition to the past. This is the “revolution” mentality. We are always casting off the past like chains to embrace our future. But I think a kind of thinking emerged in the modern society that we have no need to orient our selves in our past in order to get a proper sense of where we’re going.

Today this lack of concrete ties to our own history, the lack of continuity, the “novel” nature of post- modern society which needs no centre, no orientation, has left many feeling alienated.

Personally, for Protestant Christians I think trying to re-situate Christianity in its historic context will contribute to a more sustainable and healthy identity.

If that makes any sense to anyone.


Nail on the head. Thanks for that. I think it is indeed something we can all (no matter the persuasion) learn from. I love the quote often cited from CS Lewis’ Screwtape letters where the older demon is instructing the younger to be sure and cut his charge off from previous generations in order that he cannot learn from the deposit of knowledge already handed down to him. It is why we keep seeing the same cults under different names over and over again too.



I was raised as a non-denominational/Southern Baptist evangelical. No one EVER spoke of Christ’s presence in the Sacrament. To most evangelicals, it’s no more than a symbolic memorial… which raises an interesting question: why even bother celebrating “communion” in their churches?


I think the reason that evangelical Protestants are reading the Church Fathers is that their churches are falling apart.

I was born and raised evangelical Protestant (Coference Baptist), and up until 2001, my husband and I were active members of various evangelical churches. Our list of ministries was extensive; we specialized in working with children and youth. I wrote music, chaired VBS and Pioneer Clubs, etc., etc. etc. etc. You would be exhausted hearing my typical “church” week schedule.

In the early 1990s, we started questioning a lot of the trends in evangelical Protestant churches. At one point, I wrote a little essay called “17 problems I have with evangelicalism” that sparked quite a discussion on a Protestant online group.

E.g., “band wagons.” Any evangelical will know what I mean, but for those of you who don’t, some Christians follow after the latest teacher, singer, author, etc. and jump on the “bandwagon.” Then when it fizzles, they jump off and wait for the next bandwagon to drive by.

This was one of my “17 problems.” (BTW, I see a little of this in the Catholic Church, but so far, nothing as alarming as what we saw in the Protestant organizations.)

A lot of evangelical churches are literally closing their doors, as the megachurches move into town and suck all the members out.

So it’s no wonder that confused evangelicals are searching for roots, for something solid to hand onto. I remember reading a story in a Catholic reader about two little boys who were rowing a boat and got caught in a storm. They prayed for help and they caught sight of a red lamp, which turned out to be a Catholic man’s “saving light” that he kept in the window during storms to help boaters find their way to safety.

THAT’S what the evangelicals are looking for–the “saving light” in the midst of their church storms.


But have you ever heard of a knowledgable Catholic, who knew his faith and loved it, but was compelled to join one of the Protestant Churches because he became convinced through reading the Church Fathers that it (and not the Catholic Church) was the true Church established by Christ?


I was converted to the Catholic Church because I read the Church Fathers, and I was like “You mean these people taught this? How can this be? There are the same teachings the Roman Catholic Church believe today. Where is Sola-Scriptural? Where is the rejected of the papacy…?”

After studying the Church Fathers I decided to join the Catholic Church. It is the only Church that best represent the teachings of the Bible and the first centuries of the Church.

I also was influence with Protestant Historian/Scholar J.N.D Kelly’s Book “Early Christian Doctrines”. He admit that the fathers believed in Baptismal regeneration, Infant Baptism, the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist “really” and “truly” being the Body and Blood of Christ, among other things.

Really for a Protestant to admit many Catholic teachings as being what “they” [early Christians] taught its profound to say the least.


I have not. No one can read the Fathers of the Church and say “wow the Early Church was Protestant”. Anybody will be convince that the Catholic Church is the only Church that can trace their roots backed to the Apostles by reading the Church Fathers.

The Church Fathers believed:

  1. The Papacy
  2. The Eucharist being the Body and Blood of Christ
  3. Baptismal regeneration
  4. The Sacraments
  5. The Deutrocanoical books as being Scriptures
  6. Sacred Scriptures plus the Traditions of the Church.
  7. Intercession of the Saints/Mary
  8. The Marian Doctrines
    …and many more!

Renowed Protestant Historian/Scholar J.N.D Kelly admit that the Fathers believe many things that Catholics believed today [look at my above post].

If a Catholic join the Protestant Church it is because He wants to and not because the Fathers of the Church convince Him too. Many Protestant conversions all began at studying the Fathers.


17 problems…sounds like your own 95 theses. :wink:


I watch “The Journey Home” every week, and reading the Fathers seems to be one of the main reasons why Protestant clergy convert to the Catholic Church.

If it really is true that the Fathers weren’t particularly Catholic, and that you can selectively fit their statements into later theological schemes (either Protestant or Catholic), why don’t we find equal numbers of Catholics reading the Fathers and converting to Protestantism?

They sure seem Catholic to me too. Of course, we must remember Catholics and Protestants still share quite a few of the same beliefs. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the Fathers share a lot with Protestants as well.

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