Review of Evangelical Exodus: Evangelical Seminarians and Their Paths to Rome, by Douglas M. Beaumont

August 01, 2016

by Scott Oliphint

Evangelical Exodus is a compilation of the “conversion” stories of nine evangelicals, all of whom were connected to Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES), and who decided to become Roman Catholics. The essays are irenic in their various explanations of “conversions.” There is no vitriol or substantial invective against SES. All of the authors respect their former seminary and the teaching they received there.

When I first heard of this book, my interest was piqued, in part, because of my own background. I was raised in the Roman Catholic church, and then was converted in the context of evangelicalism. Because of this background, I was curious how someone could justify moving out of evangelicalism to Rome. Overall, there were three significant aspects to this movement from SES to Rome that struck me.

First, there is a unifying theme in each of these essays that almost every author recounts. It is explained in the introduction this way:

You may be thinking: How is it possible that such an august group of Catholic converts can arise from one small Evangelical seminary in one geographical region of the United States over only a few short years? One of the reasons, and certainly a very important one, was the type of theological formation that drew many of them to SES. As is well known in the Evangelical world, SES founder Norman Geisler is a self-described Evangelical Thomist, a follower of Saint Thomas Aquinas . . . perhaps the most important Catholic thinker of the second millennium. What Geisler found in Saint Thomas was a theologian whose view on God, faith and reason, natural theology, epistemology, metaphysics and anthropology were congenial to his Evangelical faith. (pp. 13–14)

The emphasis on Thomistic studies at SES led these students and faculty to pursue Thomas beyond the selective bounds of the SES curriculum. “What [these students] discovered is that one cannot easily isolate the ‘Evangelical-friendly Aquinas’ from the ‘Dominican friar Saint Thomas.’ There was no ‘historic Thomas’ with ‘Catholic barnacles.’ There was just Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic priest” (p. 14). The book is dedicated to “The Dumb Ox” himself.

This testimony is echoed in virtually every contributor in the book. One author says that “for all intents and purposes, Saint Thomas Aquinas was the seminary’s ‘patron saint.’ Another author admits that “the first thing that brought me to Catholicism was the Thomism at SES” (p. 167). The notion that one could take only a part of Thomas’s teaching and leave the rest was suspicious to these evangelicals (p. 114; see also pp. 139, 156–57, 194).

The second theme that was not as prominent in each author but nevertheless contributed to their “paradigm shift” (p. 19) from evangelicalism to Rome was an almost total lack of church history in the SES curriculum (pp. 27, 98). This lack explains the contrast that one author saw between the individualism of evangelicalism, and the community offered by Holy Mother Church (p. 66). Without an adequate knowledge of church history, one might think that these are the only two options available. For example, the appearance of bishops, presbyters and deacons in early church documents was interpreted by at least one author as a defense of apostolic succession (pp. 55–56). A couple of authors quote John Henry Newman approvingly, “to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant” (pp. 80, 204). Another author notes that his interest in moving from Dispensationalism to a more “communal” view brought him to church history (p. 171). But his movement to a study of church history was viewed in the context of the church as an authority alongside Scripture.

. . . continue reading at Themelios.


Scott Oliphint

Dr. Oliphint (PhD, Westminster) is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at WTS.

Next Post...

Calvin and the Unity of the Biblical Covenants

August 01, 2016

by Peter Lillback