Perhaps the most interesting question of the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference last week was also the last. At the end of the joint panel question and answer session, someone, reacting to a comment one of the speakers had made earlier about the number of Reformed evangelicals converting to Orthodoxy or Catholicism, asked all of the speakers to comment on why they thought this might be the case, and, in the spirit of Christ's injunction to "remove the log from your own eye first" to suggest what might be wrong with the way the Reformed church was doing things.
All of the speakers took some time to answer the question, and some made some very helpful observations--one speaker, in particular, addressed the sense that there is a genuine divine presence in their worship services that often seems lacking in ours. But overall, I was disappointed to find that these theologians did not, in general, take the opportunity for real self-examination, but managed, paradoxically, to turn into an opportunity for self-congratulation.
The general consensus, which one of the last of the speakers summed up nicely, was that evangelicals turned to Catholicism, or, more often, Orthodoxy, because of 1) the vapidity and lack of substance in the worship and life of their churches, which made them vulnerable to the depth that the Orthodox and Catholic churches seem to possess; 2) the rootlessness of their own and their church's backgrounds, which made them crave the long historical roots of Rome and the East; and 3) widespread theological ignorance and lack of teaching, which left many evangelicals unequipped to see the errors in these older churches. This being the case, it was suggested, the problem was not with the Reformed church, but that so many churches weren't being good Reformed churches. If these people only went to good Reformed churches that provided some meat, that were well-rooted and had strong congregations, and that taught their people Reformed doctrines, then they would never be tempted to convert.
Naturally, I found this very frustrating. In my experience, everyone I've known who has converted to Orthodoxy or Catholicism, or has been tempted to, came from some of the best that the Reformed world had to offer--churches with depth, substance, and solid worship, churches that had a very strong identity and a vibrant congregational life that provided identity to their members, and churches that were steeped in good doctrine. The individuals concerned were very well rooted in their communities, and very well-learned in their doctrines. Yet despite this (or was it, because of this) they converted, or were tempted to. That's the question I want answered. No, it's not just all the unlearned wanderers who are tempted away from the Reformed faith, but some of its smartest and well-equipped young followers. Now, will the panel please explain that?