Friday, January 06, 2006

Krehbiel's badly needed bucket of cold-water-realism

In the January 2006 issue of Crisis magazine, Greg Krehbiel, who writes the Crowhill Weblog, has a guest column entitled, somewhat doubtfully, "Why I'm Still Catholic" (p. 61). I have a great deal of respect for Krehbiel, who is a friend of mine, and a fellow Catholic convert. I first encountered Krehbiel when he was still a Presbyterian working through the theological claims of the Catholic Church. He was a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church which has the largest number of Ph.D.'s per capita of any denomination in the world and is affiliated with Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. It will come as no surprise, then, that his Christianity had a bit of an intellectual cast. Like other converts from the Presbyterian or Reformed tradition, he was meticulous in the way he went about researching Catholicism. Some of his work I actually found helpful in my own pilgrimage into Church. The quality of his analysis can be seen in his review of Protestant apologist, Keith Mathison's book, The Shape of Sola Scriptura (LINK). Still, Krehbiel took his good time coming into the Church. To some of us, he seemed to drag his feet. I presume he was only covering his bases, leaving no stone unturned, taking his meticulous time. The story of his journey to Catholicism - Krehbiel came to Catholicism by way of Lutheranism - can be found on the Catholic Answers website: "A 'Convert Me' Sign on My Head."

One thing I've always appreciated about Krehbiel is that, like Louis Bouyer and Tom Howard, he continues to appreciate his Protestant roots even after having moved beyond them. He exhibits none of the ebullient triumphalism or reactionary knee-jerk negativity towards his erstwhile Protestant brethren. Krehbiel even goes a bit farther than Bouyer and Howard: after being invited aboard the Ark of Salvation, he has little hesitation in expressing his disgust at how bad things smell onboard. And thus he begins this article, "Why I'm Still Catholic," with a scathing laundry list of things he detests about now being a Catholic:
I'm not one of those cheerleading Catholic converts. On the contrary, I often feel like a man who has spent many years on a difficult quest to join the Arthurian round table only to find a bunch of sissies I velvet playing Chutes and Ladders.
Comments like that, he admits, encourage Protestant friends to invite him back. Indeed, he further concedes, the appeal has its merits. "I have a lot of respect for Protestantism," he says:
I miss the reverence and beauty of the Lutheran liturgy, the hymns, kneeling at the communion rail. I miss the sense of fellowship and community -- even simple things like hanging up your coat as if you intend to stay a while. I miss Sunday school after worship and the biblical literacy of most Protestants. Moreover, I'm just not terribly pleased with Catholicism. The mediocrity of the bishops is almost proverbial. The Bible "translation" read at Mass is atrocious. Typical Catholic music sounds like something from Barney and Friends. The Eucharist can seem like a fast-food assembly line, and the traditional style of a Catholic homily doesn't appeal to me, even when it's done well.
Well, then, one's curiosity does begin to rise: why is Krehbiel still Catholic? Despite all these grievances, he says, he can't see himself leaving the Catholic Church for a number of reasons, which he presents in his article in classic top-ten style. Some key excerpts:
10. My spiritual journey has had a certain logic to it ... like a climb up the church ladder. To go back wouldn't make any sense.

9. Becoming a Protestant would throw me back into that self-selective church thing. Which communion would I choose? ... When you're Catholic you're just Catholic. It's peaceful.

8. As a Protestant I was always having to explain things to friends and acquaintances. Some lunatic Presbyterian denomination would ordain a gay sea lion and somebody at the office would ask, "You're a Presbyterian, aren't you?" ... Not that Catholics don't do and say weird things, but there's an understanding that the Catholic Church is so big and so old and so full of both saints and sinners that individual Catholics aren't held accountable.

7. When I first became Catholic, I had this extraordinary feeling of continuity with the Church through the ages. I realized that I was in the church of St. Patrick and St. Thomas. Protestant groups broke away, and the tie has been severed to some extent.

6. There's an amazing amount of freedom in the Catholic Church. As a Protestant you self-identify with a narrow theological and cultural group. As a Catholic you might be an albino assassin or a "we are the church" fanatic, or just the guy who gets dragged to Mass by his mother-in-law....

5. Catholics have fewer bizarre hang-ups -- about Holloween or beer or evolution. Protestants talk about "Christian liberty," but Catholics live it.

4. With the cetainty of faith, I can say that we'll never have priestesses in the Roman Catholic Church.

3. The sacrament of penance is a wonderful thing.

2. While God is free to extend His grace beyond His promises, when I receive the Catholic Eucharist I know it's valid.

1. The Roman Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded. Period.
[For Krehbiel's complete unedited article, pick up the latest copy of Crisis magazine (January 2006) and find it on p. 61, or, hopefully, the editors will post it online in the near future at]

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