Swimming the Tiber["Swimming the Tiber" has become shorthand for ex-Protestants who convert to Roman Catholicism. The Tiber River is near Rome and so this is the origin of the idiom.]
Update (September 23, 2012): This post was removed from the blog because Tyler removed his announcement regarding his conversion to Catholicism in early August. In private correspondence he claimed to have re-converted (backslid?) to being a non-Reformed Baptist after his conversation with James White. I emailed White and he stated that after speaking with Tyler for an hour and twelve minutes (he is precise), by the end of the conversation he had no hope that Tyler had changed his mind. This seemed odd considering Tyler's claim. In fact, Tyler deleted his entire blog and after a week or so began a new one in which has made no bones about it--Tyler has "swum the Tiber". He recently posted an article recommending some books for those who want to follow in his wake. Conspicuous by its absence is the Bible.
Mike Gendron also recently contacted Tyler and spoke with him for around 40 minutes. Mike reports that Tyler has embraced the apostate doctrines of Roman Catholicism and is squarely in their camp.
The greatest irony in this whole situation is that Tyler is presently writing a Master's thesis for a Southern Baptist theological seminary. Presumably in order to graduate he will have to affirm his doctrinal agreement with that seminary; an evangelical Protestant school. Is Southeastern Seminary willing to be intellectually and ethically consistent and remove Tyler from their school? They should. If they do not they will have their seal of approval on a man who will probably at least attempt to become the next ex-Protestant Roman Catholic apologist. He does not need that kind, or any kind, of credibility. Considering the flagrant lies that Tyler has stated flatly regarding the timing of his conversion to Rome, he does not have an ounce of credibility. He is apostate, and sad as that is, it's even sorrier when those who know better (Southeastern) countenance his apostasy with a degree.
Yesterday a dear friend of mine, Tyler McNabb, announced that he is converting to Roman Catholicism. I have spoken with Tyler at a few conferences, moderated a debate he did with a Muslim, and at one point, was planning on working with him to establish our church plant's evangelism mentoring program, The Log College. I had hoped that he would essentially run the program while I ran the church plant. He would teach apologetics and his wife, Priscilla, would act as secretary for the school. He house-sat for us in Texas, we enjoyed good fellowship, and he helped us pick the name for our church. We fought a battle side by side against a professing believer who misrepresented sound doctrine.
Tyler's announcement came as a shock to many yesterday, but for me, the shock was not as intense. In fact, many of us who know Tyler well knew that he has been playing with fire for the last year or so. Over the last 24 hours, I've been thinking about Tyler's apostasy from the faith and I think that there are several lessons that we can glean from this.
1. It is dangerous to promote promising youth to positions of leadership or give them de facto leadership. Tyler was in a leadership position with a very solid evangelism ministry, almost became part of the leadership and core team in our ministry, and spoke at several conferences. In one of those conferences, a prominent teacher in apologetics declared Tyler to be the next generation of apologist and asked for men to go forward and lay hands on him and pray over him, essentially declaring his superior abilities or calling. It was a spur of the moment type thing. Even though we were planning on working together I chose not to participate. It didn't seem right and it wasn't right. At that moment, in the eyes of all who attended the conference, Tyler was declared a de facto leader. Problem? This gentleman did not have the experience with Tyler to make such a statement. In hindsight, none of us did.
Tyler served in a church plant in San Antonio when he was a teenager, and my understanding is that he served there as an elder. He wanted very much to serve as an elder at our church plant. I had made my own position known that I believe that the term "elder" actually means something in the Scriptures and that older men ought to serve in those positions. We went back and forth on that and eventually, to my shame, I caved a bit and I went over the qualifications with him one day. While he was not declared an elder in any way, shape or form, it seemed that he might actually meet the qualifications. The key word is "seemed". A man cannot be evaluated for this position without being observed over a period of time, serving in the local church. It is not a check list to go over with people who you have not seen serve or don't know well. Which leads us to....
2. Lip service to the local church is not the same thing as serving the local church. It has become popular in street evangelist circles to claim allegiance and accountability to the local church. Some of us have been writing and speaking on this subject. I suspect many, in an effort to be "approved unto each other" (a thought from my friend, Tony Miano), have embraced this in their talk and in some of their efforts. However, many of these same people bolt when the pastor or leadership are not as fired up about evangelism as they are, don't agree about a particular point of evangelism, or disagree over a minor point of doctrine. In short, people know what to say, but they don't know how to live it.
Tyler was a classic example of this. He claimed his love for the local church and the people of God, but when it came to living this commitment, it was not there. I spoke with one of his pastors and he warned me about Tyler's lack of commitment. He could not be depended on. I corresponded with another pastor and his doctrinal stability and submission to leadership was questionable in his mind. Tyler later became a Presbyterian, had his daughter baptized, and he even preached there (at least) one Sunday. But in April or May of this year, Tyler went to the elders there and told them he no longer believed in paedo-baptism (or he was supposed to have done so). At one point, when he was attempting admission at Southern Seminary, he tried to get me to speak to our pastor about bringing him on as a member even though he had no intention of actually participating as one just so he could have the membership issue settled. Consistent submission to the local church was not a part of Tyler's life. He could convince you that it was, but it was not the reality. This is not only a spiritual discipline issue, it is an integrity issue.
3. Knowledge puffs up. Tyler loves knowledge. He loves to learn. It appears that he likes to be thought of as intelligent and he is. The Scriptures consistently warn us of: 1) youth, 2) the danger of intellectualism over familiarity with the Word of God, and 3) pride in youth. Many of us were taken in with Tyler's passion for truth. It turns out his passion is not for truth, but for intellectualism, and that is not the same thing by a long shot.
Worse, Tyler would have us believe that he has superior intelligence. A cursory glance at his Facebook over the last year reveal status updates about how much he loves various obscure philosophical arguments, listing the writers as if they are best selling authors we would all know and the argument as if it is as common as the menu at McDonald's. Of course, no one ever said, "What are you talking about?" because no one would want to look stupid. Mission accomplished. As a result, when Tyler announced his conversion to Rome, the response was predictable. "How could such a smart guy do such a thing?" has been the response to this more than once in the last day or so.
In academia, intelligence is measured not by the ability to win friends and influence people. It is measured by two criteria: 1) GPA and 2) what you publish. We have not heard much of Tyler's GPA. His publishing record consists of one self published book on presuppositional apologetics that he probably couldn't countenance now based on his recent conversion to Catholicism. In other words, the jury is still out on whether or not Tyler is an academic. So far, all he has is an undergraduate degree from a small Bible college and his PR.
Few people know that before Tyler professed faith in Christ he was involved in Liberation Theology. He went to a school which taught it, and did eventually leave it. He has been all over the map theologically speaking. I guess we all have, but taken together with his recent foray into Rome, I can't help but wonder, "What's next?"
4. The Sovereignty of God can save us from ourselves. In spite of some warning signs at that time, we were planning on moving to Syracuse with the McNabbs in the fall of 2010. We listed our house with Tyler's dad, who was a real estate agent in Dallas at the time. We hoped for a quick sale with an excellent realtor for a great rate. Nothing happened. Tyler searched for jobs in Syracuse. Nothing turned up. In December Tyler and Priscilla met with Kim and I to tell us of his decision to attend Southeastern. We were disappointed but supportive. Perhaps Tyler could come to Syracuse later. Later he suspected that the reason the house hadn't sold was "because of me" (meaning himself). This was God's will and if he had joined us in Syracuse at that time it would have been a mistake. I now agree wholeheartedly with that assessment.
The Progression of Apostasy
Once he got to school he began to delve into some diverse teachings. He embraced Federal Vision theology, became a paedo-baptist while enrolled in a Southern Baptist institution, and believed that Roman Catholics are saved because their baptism is Trinitarian (part of the Federal Vision doctrine). His public postings on Facebook and some of his blog articles all revealed these changes and his closest friends began to be concerned. A year ago I confronted him regarding his Federal Vision theology. It was apparent as early as a year ago that Tyler's view of the sufficiency of Scripture was deficient. His reasoning was not guided by Scripture but by his own reasoning and some presuppositions that were inferred but not stated in the Bible. I warned him using the example of a friend who is extremely intelligent (carried the 4.0 GPA to prove it) and was once a doctoral candidate for Semitic languages in a prestigious university. When this friend apostatized the issue there was his lack of faith in the Scriptures. He became Russian Orthodox. Tyler affirmed Sola Scriptura and assured me that I was over reacting. I told him of my concern that he was trying to find truth through the writings of men and not the Word of God in context. This was the beginning of his downfall.
In the fall of 2011 Tyler had made some statements that were somewhat pro-Catholic, or at the very least, sympathetic. We spent some time together at a conference in New Jersey one evening and cleared the air. It seemed that Tyler was not as far off as I might have thought, and he was eager to assist with The Log College as a guest lecturer. Tyler is charming and convincing. We thought about doing some Skype lectures in apologetics, but something in my spirit would not allow me to pursue it. We ended up skipping apologetics altogether that semester rather than push forward with Tyler. Now it's clear that this was the best thing.
In the winter of 2012 Tyler made some pointed Federal Vision-inspired statements about the genuineness of the Roman Catholic faith and some more radical statements about their views on justification. I challenged him on these statements and we ended up having a lengthy telephone conversation about the issue. I studied his claims, did some research in Vatican-approved catechisms and other documents on justification, and responded with lengthy emails disproving his statements to which I never received a response. At that point I determined to let him follow his own course.
A few months later I got a call from Tyler stating that he had repented of his Federal Vision theology and of his views regarding Catholicism. I was very grateful, we had a good conversation, and we prayed together. I remember weeping with joy after the conversation. In late June\early July he went on a ministry trip with a Reformed evangelism team to Scotland. They raised funds for his trip. One of the requirements to participate in that trip is agreement with their doctrinal statement. He took their gracious gift, participated, and a few weeks after he returned announced that he had attended his first Mass "months ago" when he declared this past weekend that he is going to convert to Catholicism.
The question is if Tyler knew he was going to convert to Catholicism, why did he receive money from donors who thought they were supporting a Reformed missionary to share the gospel with many Catholics in Scotland, the land of the Reformation? Why did he claim agreement to the ministry's doctrinal statement? Tyler knew of this requirement because he helped instate it as that ministry's leadership development head. Tyler's presence on that trip was disingenuous at best and an outright lie at worst.
Tyler has apostatized from the faith. In his announcement he denies Sola Scriptura, he tries to craftily redefine justification by faith (following the example of some Catholic apologists), and he declares the legitimacy of the pope. He attacks the Reformation. Meanwhile, he invites all who know him to engage him in private conversation and dialogue about these points. False teachers love dialogue. When it's a friend, the relationship can be used to manipulate and finesse false doctrine into your thinking. It becomes more important to separate Biblically at that point than when you only know the false teacher as a talking head on TBN.
The Lord saved our ministry from a wolf in sheep's clothing. Some will say that this judgment is made too quickly. Bear in mind that this has happened over the course of a year and that several men, men who are better equipped than I, have been warning Tyler all along the way. His pride, his idolatry of intelligence, and in some cases, his lack of integrity all point to apostasy and possible false conversion.
Tyler McNabb was fortunately never a formal participant in our church plant or its mentoring program, The Log College. This is only by the Sovereignty of God. I love Tyler and always wanted to believe the best. I still do. Unfortunately, the worst case scenario has played out in front of us and for that we must grieve. We must also grieve that his wife, who was baptized Catholic, is being led back into that deception by her own husband.
I am separating from Tyler McNabb with great grief in my heart. My prayer is that he will repent and spend some time (years) submitting himself to a Biblical local church before ever trying to enter into ministry again. I hope this is a lesson to young, restless, Reformed men of the dangers of a seminary education which is not grounded in the supremacy and sufficiency of the Word of God. Some want the theology of the Puritans without their holiness. I hope this is a lesson to Southern Baptist educators that the philosophies of men are vain and they are teaching the foolishness of men as being superior to the wisdom of God. I hope this is a lesson to street evangelists that it is not enough to pay lip service to sound doctrine. You must believe it yourself and its source must be the Word of God. I hope we finally learn that apostasy and false conversion is an epidemic in our own circles. This is not just an issue for seeker sensitive churches. It is in our own camp.