Before I joined the Church, I asked a Protestant theology professor why he wasn't Catholic - and his humble response was a sobering indictment against Catholics.
During my Junior and Senior years at the evangelical school Wheaton College, I felt inspired to meet with professors or other evangelical Christian leaders and ask them the question: "Why are you not Catholic?" When I asked an evangelical theology professor the question, I received a startling response: "Because I've never been invited."
He explained that he was raised Protestant and had simply always been Protestant, and that he honestly did not have a good reason he wasn't Catholic.
I wanted to ask this particular professor my question because I had heard from a friend that a student in one of his theology classes had asked on what authority those who subscribe to sola scriptura have accepted their biblical canon, and he responded: "Did everyone hear that? He just pulled the whole rug out from under us." But apparently it was at the end of class and there wasn't time for further discussion.
I was struck by three things in his response to my question: first, that he didn't have a reason why he wasn't Catholic; second, the humility in his honest response; and third, his indictment of Catholics: he had never been invited to the Church.
As our conversation continued, the question of Church authority came up, and he explained that he accepted the early Church councils, such as the Council of Nicaea, and that he wanted to believe that they actually had authority, that they actually settled something.
"But if you accept Nicaea, why not Trent?" I asked.
He paused for a moment. "Good question. I don't really have a good reason. If I accept Nicaea, why don't I accept Trent?"
I was stunned, in the very least by his utter transparency to a student on these foundational issues. Now, he certainly was not just about to join the Catholic Church. But here was a Bible/Theology professor at what TIME magazine called “the Harvard of evangelical schools”, a place that does not allow Catholics on staff, admitting that his beliefs regarding the early Church councils seem to imply he should accept all of the Church's councils, including one that condemned basic Protestant doctrines.
Since he had said that he accepted the Council of Nicaea and other early councils, I asked him what he made of the line in the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed: "I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church". He said that the word 'catholic' wasn't used as a proper name in the early Church. I told him that actually it was and directed him on his computer to Augustine's Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, in which Augustine clearly speaks of the Catholic Church as a specific Church separate from other groups of people who call themselves Christians (see chapter 4). He said he had never seen that before.
We shook hands and concluded our conversation.