Pentecostal Turned Catholic Ulf Ekman Illustrates in His Conversion the Role Of Authority
by Christopher Cone
– In a Christianity Today article entitled, “Sweden’s Pentecostal Megapastor Converts to Catholicism,” Ruth Moon provides several recent quotes from pastor Ulf Ekman as he informed the 3,300 members of Word of Life Church in Uppsala, Sweden, that he had converted to Catholicism. Ekman’s announcement included one particularly insightful comment, that is worth noting here:
“We have seen a great love for Jesus and a sound theology, founded on the Bible and classic dogma. We have experienced the richness of sacramental life. We have seen the logic in having a solid structure for priesthood, that keeps the faith of the church and passes it on from one generation to the next. We have met an ethical and moral strength and consistency that dare to face up to the general opinion, and a kindness towards the poor and the weak. And, last but not least, we have come in contact with representatives for millions of charismatic Catholics and we have seen their living faith…” [emphasis mine]
Notice the bases of authority for Ekman’s newly preferred “sound” theology. He acknowledges two: (1) the Bible, and (2) classic dogma (i.e., the historical teaching of the Catholic church). Here Ekman is alluding to the Catholic doctrine that the Bible is to be understood through the lens of the historical understanding of the church. In other words, (Catholic) historical theology is the proper grid for understanding the Bible. Consequently, classic dogma, not the Bible is the final authority. But classic dogma has two other interesting partners in Ekman’s decision:
The first is evident in his statement that, “We have experienced the richness of sacramental life.” Experience is an important arbiter of truth, in this instance. The sacramental life prescribed by classic dogma is confirmed to be rich by Ekman’s experience, and therefore is worthy of turning to.
The second is underscored by the statement, “We have seen the logic in having a solid structure for priesthood…” Logic or reason is the authoritative basis here. The “solid structure for the priesthood” is not a Biblical conception, but is derived of classical dogma. Since it passes the logic test for Ekman, it is the worthy alternative.
I find Ekman’s transparency both fascinating and helpful. First, it is fascinating to see how he strategically dismisses the Bible as sole and final authority, relying on classic dogma as his final authoritative mechanism for assessment. Once the Bible is pushed aside, what are the means whereby the decision can be tested? Experience and reason. In finding Catholicism to be experientially and rationally appealing, Ekman concludes it is the better choice, even going so far as to say that, “it was actually Jesus who led us to unite with the Catholic Church.” Ekman dismisses the Bible, preferring experience and reason, and concludes the result was Jesus’ leading. Fascinating.
Finally, I find Ekman’s transparency helpful in that it underscores the role of epistemological authority in our everyday decisions. We may either consider the Bible as the final arbiter of truth, or we rely on our experience and reason – but one of these has to be the ultimate arbiter of truth when there is apparent conflict between them. In this case, Ekman relies on experience and reason as supreme, and interprets the Bible as a secondary authority through those two subjective devices. Objectivity is lost in favor of the subjective. Ekman’s process is illustrative of the processes we all deal with every day, and the authority questions we must answer with each step. What is the ultimate arbiter of truth? Is it reason, as it was for Descartes? Is it experience, as it was for Hume? Or is it the Way the Truth, and the Life – Jesus, Himself – as revealed in the Bible alone? When these three are in conflict, how will you settle the debate?
As Ekman moves from heavily experiential Pentecostalism to the historical theology of Catholicism, I pray for his clarity regarding the bases of authority in his life, because those bases of authority have much to do with whether our choices are good ones or not. Those bases are dispositive factors in the trajectory of our journey.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. – 2 Tim 3:16-17
 Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1995), Prologue III:11; Part 1, Article 2:III:92; and especially Part 1, Article 3:III:113