A theologian reflects on his conversion to the Faith

Every convert’s path to the Catholic faith is unique, and some come to the Church through more winding paths than others. Jeffrey L. Morrow, currently a professor of theology at Seton Hall University’s Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology (ICSST), recently spoke about his journey from Judaism to Christianity to Catholicism and what he’s observed in his time teaching at a Catholic seminary. He is the author of several books including “A Catholic Guide to the Old Testament,” “Murmuring Against Moses” and “Modern Biblical Criticism as a Tool of Statecraft.”

Charlie Camosy: Can you tell us a bit about your conversion story?

Jeffrey Morrow: For anyone interested, my story is told in more detail on an EWTN interview I did with Marcus Grodi for his series, “The Journey Home,” and in an essay I contributed to the 2022 book, “By Strange Ways: Theologians and Their Paths to the Catholic Church.”

I was raised in a fairly non-religious household, but began to identify with my father’s Jewish family when I was in middle school, and I attended Hebrew school, after my day-school, which culminated in my bar mitzvah.

When I entered college, I considered myself a Jewish agnostic, although I did not believe in God, so I really leaned in an atheist direction. I had the good fortune of attending Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and it was there that I met a number of intelligent evangelicals involved with Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru). At the time, Miami’s Cru boasted the largest weekly parachurch meeting at any college campus in the world, with over 1,000 members in attendance.

Two of these members challenged me to consider the claims of Christianity. I began to investigate the historical background of the Bible, philosophical arguments for a Creator God, and the historical events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection.

Eventually, I became convinced that God must exist, the Bible is incredibly historically reliable, and that Jesus’ resurrection was the best explanation for the historical events. I then became an evangelical Protestant by default. In learning about the wide diversity of Christian traditions, communities, and denominations, I set out to see if there was a way to determine what sort of Christian I should be, how I should live out my newfound Christian faith.

I read the Bible, studied the early Church Fathers, Protestant Reformers, and contemporary Catholic and Protestant theologians and writers. I was especially drawn to the papal encyclicals of Pope St. John Paul II. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is the Church Jesus founded.

Camosy: How does that conversion story connect to your 2017 book on the Resurrection and your new online course with the Emmaus Academy?

Morrow: My recent online course, “The Resurrection,” through the Emmaus Academy, grew out of my 2017 book, “Jesus’ Resurrection: A Jewish Convert Examines the Evidence.” Both of them are intimately bound up with my personal conversion. The question of whether or not Jesus rose from the dead was a central part of my conversion process, and, in fact, my wrestling with that question was the pivotal moment of the first part of my conversion to Christianity, prior to entering the Catholic Church. What the online course and the book do is walk through the historical evidence that helped me recognize the Resurrection as the most likely event, and only theory adequately explaining the historical facts.

Camosy: You are in the process of moving to Ohio to start a new position at Franciscan University. What brings you to this new institution?

Morrow: I am excited to begin this new phase in my career at Franciscan University of Steubenville. They have perhaps the undergraduate theology program with the largest number of majors at a Catholic institution, and I am excited to join such a wonderful faculty. In addition, they are opening up a new theology doctoral program, which I am excited to assist in its earliest years as it gets off the ground.

From my past experience working with faculty members at Franciscan University, I know that it will be an academic environment well suited to professors with my beliefs and commitments, as we strive to teach the Catholic faith from the heart of the Church. Another draw for me is the work of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, which works closely with the university and which I will be working with, as I have been for a number of years now. It will be much easier for me to collaborate with my colleagues at the St. Paul Center than it has been in the past since I will be working there on site.

Camosy: Before the move to Franciscan you spent many years teaching at the seminary associated with Seton Hall in New Jersey. Do you think Catholic seminaries could pick up the slack for so many Catholic colleges and universities abandoning, closing and often — in a related story — refusing to embrace the particularity of a Catholic mission and identity?

Morrow: Yes, I have spent 15 years teaching at Seton Hall University’s Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology (ICSST), which will always have a fond place in my heart. I grew in so many ways while teaching at ICSST and am forever grateful for my time there. I do think that Catholic seminaries have the opportunity to help in regard to Catholic mission and identity, and I know that ICSST has been an integral part of Seton Hall University’s own Catholic mission and identity.

Some Catholic seminaries are certainly poised to pick up the slack for so many Catholic colleges and universities abandoning and closing and refusing to embrace the particularity of a Catholic mission and identity. This is a very complicated question, though, and each institution has its own specific challenges.

Some Catholic seminaries have closed, much as some Catholic colleges. Most seminaries remain unattached to universities, unlike ICSST which is both on campus at Seton Hall University and is an affiliated school serving Seton Hall as its School of Theology. Seminaries with a robust and highly skilled faculty, like ICSST, are well positioned to fill this need since they have something like 13 full-time faculty members who are of exceptional quality. The key factor for many such institutions is enrollment — the same challenge faced by non-Catholic institutions.

This post A theologian reflects on his conversion to the Faith appeared on Our Sunday Visitor.

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