Recent Converts to the Catholic Church

St. Peter's Basilica; photo from MJ at

I recently watched this week’s episode of “The Journey Home” on EWTN. The guest was Dr. Robert Koons, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas and author of Realism Regained: An Exact Theory of Causation, Teleology, and the Mind (Oxford 2000) — I love that subtitle. I enjoyed the episode; it is always interesting to hear someone of high intellect articulate the basic reasons for his becoming Catholic, from Lutheranism in Dr. Koons’ case. The number of converts in academia to the Catholic Church has been one of the more intriguing phenomenons of late. Here are some of them:

Bruce D. Marshall, Professor of Historical Theology at Southern Methodist University. His works include Christology in Conflict: The Identity of a Saviour in Rahner and Barth (Blackwell 1987) and, most importantly, Trinity and Truth (Cambridge 2000). Former Lutheran.

Douglas B. Farrow, Associate Professor of Christian Thought at McGill University. His works include the important contribution to dogmatics, Ascension and Ecclesia: On the Significance of the Doctrine of the Ascension (Eerdmans 1999), and most recently, Nation of Bastards: Essays on the End of Marriage (BPS 2007). Former Anglican.

Reinhard Hütter, Professor of Christian Theology at Duke Divinity School. His works include Suffering Divine Things: Theology as Church Practice (Eerdmans 1999) and Bound to Be Free: Evangelical-Catholic Engagements in Ecclesiology, Ethics, and Ecumenism (Eerdmans 2004). Former Lutheran.

Mickey L. Mattox, Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Marquette University. Mattox is a Reformation scholar, specializing in Martin Luther. His latest work is The Substance of Faith: Luther’s Doctrinal Theology for Today (Fortress 2008), co-written with Paul Hinlicky. Former Lutheran.

R. R. Reno, Associate Professor of Theology at Creighton University. His works include Redemptive Change: Atonement and the Christian Cure of the Soul (Trinity Press Int’l 2002) and Heroism and the Christian Life: Reclaiming Excellence (Westminster John Knox 2000), co-written with Brian S. Hook. Former Episcopalian.

J. Budziszewski, Professor of Government and Philosophy at the University of Texas. His works include The Nearest Coast of Darkness: A Vindication of the Politics of Virtue (Cornell 1988), Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (InterVarsity 1997), and The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man (Spence 2004). Former Episcopalian.

Robert Louis Wilken, Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia. Wilken is one of the leading early church scholars in the world. His works include The Myth of Christian Beginnings (Doubleday 1972) and the greatly influential work, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (Yale 1984, 2003). His latest work is the highly acclaimed, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (Yale 2005). Former Lutheran.

All of the above are more recent converts (Wilken converted in the ’90’s but everyone else converted within the last few years). I could, of course, add some more past converts who are still alive, notably Alasdair MacIntyre and Avery Cardinal Dulles. It is interesting to note the number of philosophers and theologians who convert but scarcely an exegete. Regardless, the claims of the Roman Catholic Church are to be taken seriously, and the witness of converts is a further testimony to that. For those who want a high quality account of the Petrine claims of the Catholic Church, I recommend The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church (Ignatius 1986) by Hans Urs von Balthasar. I got it for Christmas and have been reading it here and there this semester — it’s truly great (and now I am convinced to stay away from all internet apologetics with their hyper-evidentialist claims and lack of theological sophistication).



  1. Kevin,

    Thanks for adding me to your friends list.

    I’ve heard of both Dr. Koons and Dr. Budziszewski, and I’ve read a few of their articles online. Budziszewski, as I understand, was a nihilist at one point but eventually overcame that despair.

    Another recent convert from Protestantism to mention is Dr. Francis Beckwith, Professor of Philosophy & Church-Studies at Baylor University. His books include Do the Right Thing: Readings in Applied Ethics and Social Philosophy, (Wadsworth, 2002), Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Baker, 1998), and most recently, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007).

  2. Hey Eric,

    Thanks for the Beckwith info. I probably would have included him, but he has already been a guest on “The Journey Home.” Plus, Beckwith was technically a “revert,” not a convert. And, his reversion back to the Catholic Church was not very involved intellectually (he only needed to spend a few weeks with the early fathers) the way it surely was for Marshall, Hütter, etc. — theologians with some commitment to the Reformation.

    Yes, Budziszewski was an atheist for a time, including his early career as an academic, but then he became a Christian, joining an Episcopal church, but he didn’t remain Anglican for long (thanks, in part, to the fall of TEC/ECUSA from catholic and evangelical Christianity).

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