By Strange Ways: Theologians and Their Paths to the Catholic Church
Edited by Jonathan Fuqua and Daniel Strudwick.
Ignatius Press, 2022.
Paperback, 300 pages, $19.95.

Reviewed by Thomas Griffin.

Conversion, the redirecting of one’s life towards God and truth, is the entire mission of the Christian life. Too often, however, religion becomes perfunctory as we live our faith superficially rather than plumbing the depths of God’s majesty. To break out of the rut, we need a reboot—a refreshing of our perspective on what being a disciple is all about. Hearing the adventures that others have had in converting from other religions (even atheism) and ways of life to the Catholic faith can reignite love for God in our hearts. When these converts end up as leading theologians, an added mystique attaches to their tales. 

By Strange Ways: Theologians and Their Paths to the Catholic Church can provide that spark. Edited by Jonathan Fuqua and Daniel Strudwick, this work contains ten essays of current Catholic theologians who narrate their sometimes straight, sometimes circuitous, paths to the faith. 

The lives of these theologians are about study and getting to know the person of Jesus Christ more intimately. Yet their stories speak more of the action of grace than of the intellectual pursuit of theology. The source of their conversion is the One whom they want to know deeply, so they choose to devote their lives to learning and speaking about Him. 

A continuous vein among these evocative journeys is a personal and often vulnerable openness to seeking God in multiple ways. It is this willingness to seek and be open to the truth that is always a prerequisite for conversion. Christ does not impose—he proposes and allows each person to choose him or reject him. The lives of these theologians personify this fact. 

A collection of true stories like this ignites a spark inside of the everyday Catholic because it is a reminder of just how beautiful and even life altering the faith is meant to be. For a nonbeliever it can show that the Catholic faith is not meant to be merely passed down from one generation to the next but is one to be experienced, as if a man were courting in the most powerful love story ever told. For the believer in need of deeper conversion it can serve as a reminder of who we follow.

A person’s true experience of God is a mystery that makes him tremble and remain in awe, writes Scott Hahn, whose experience of God’s true power dramatically changed his life. Hahn, likely the most well-known contributor to this volume, highlights that his desire to devour books and knowledge was ultimately about his thirst for the One who inspired him to know that he was being called to more. 

Jeffrey Morrow was an agnostic Jew who saw that Christians had much more evidence for their beliefs than atheists. He was willing to hear from others, especially the inspirational Christians who took time to form lasting relationships with him. Then he could see the truth. “Each conversion is really a love story, a story of how God was able to break through and rescue us, his beloved, from dungeons of sin and despair.” 

Lawrence Feingold was fascinated by art and beauty, and how truth and goodness always go together. He knew that the deterioration of modern art’s depiction of truth aligns with a culture that rejects God and denies the intrinsic worth and depth of the human person. Feingold mentions that he aligned himself with the thought of Blaise Pascal, who argued that “the most effective arguments for convincing people of the existence of God and the truths of religion are reasons of the heart, rather than rigorous and abstract philosophical, or apologetical demonstrations.” He saw that his wife deserved to be loved in a greater way than he or any other human person possibly could love. Feingold’s journey is a profound example of how, contrary to the popular mindset, the way to the Church is one of love.  

In this same vein, Paige Hochschild explains how she had a similar experience to Saint Augustine. She describes how the conversion of intelligent people has a lot to do with the submission of one’s pride. Placing oneself under Christ can bring about a true and deeply transformative change of heart, one that is everlasting and that leads to the eternal One.

Matthew Thomas found that reading the primary texts of the early Church Fathers revealed that, of all Christian denominations, Catholics were closest to the first followers of Jesus and to what his teachings proclaimed. Because of this, Thomas realized that to be close to Christ, to be a disciple in the truest sense of the word, was to be faithfully Catholic. 

Barney Aspray’s story is one of revelation. He became more aware of the fact that the Catholic Church is trustworthy and necessary in order to guarantee the authenticity of our knowledge of Christ. The Church’s beliefs are all rationally defensible, which is a huge benefit for our twenty-first-century minds that crave evidence. At the end of the day Aspray simply experienced, in his mind and within his heart, that he could not maintain his spiritual health unless he became Catholic.  

Similarly, Joshua Lim attributes his conversion to his realization that the only way to understand Sacred Scripture is to have a storehouse of knowledge that precedes one’s reading. This storehouse was the Church, which serves as the guiding light that we sometimes do not even realize that we need. Once the Church is discovered, it becomes the lighthouse of one’s soul.

The beauty of truth captivated Melanie Susan Barett, and she powerfully explains how the existential answers the Catholic Church provides relate fully to human experience. Love, truth, and beauty are revealed in Christ and the depth of his person reverberates inside of the human heart in ways that are life changing. Barett’s explanation of her road to Rome exemplifies the beauty of By Strange Ways because these writers’ experiences of God can validate our own. 

In sharing their beautiful journeys towards becoming Catholic, these theologians teach us that conversion is not a “process” in the manner of producing a machine. Rather, choosing to embrace the Lord is the climactic moment of a love story that features God as the lover and us as the beloved. This love is not merely one of ebullient emotion; it is grounded in the truth of God who, as the creator of all reality, is the way, the truth, and the life. Investigating the power of that truth can remind us of the wonder of what it means to be Catholic in the first place. 

Thomas Griffin teaches apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island. He is the editor of the Empty Tomb Project.

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