Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Francis Beckwith Begins to Give His Reasons (#2)
06/05/2007 - James WhiteAs I noted a few days ago, Frank Beckwith has begun elucidating his reasons for going back to the Roman communion. In an article in the National Catholic Register, Beckwith answers various questions about his reversion. I continue reviewing his comments.
For instance, because Protestant evangelicals accept much of the Great Tradition that Catholics take for granted such as the Catholic creeds and the inspiration of Scripture but without recourse to the Churchs authority, they have produced important and significant works in systematic theology and philosophical theology.
The inspiration of Scripture, pre-existing the time of Christ, of course, is hardly dependent upon any post-NT "tradition" of whatever nature one might theorize. But I find it ironic that while especially Reformed Protestants have stood for the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, producing scholarly tomes in its defense (think of Warfield's work on the topic, for example), Rome's schools are filled with priests and academics who no more believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible than they actually believe Mary was Bodily Assumed into heaven. When one thinks of those who believe in and defend inerrancy, you do not think of Rome.
And as to having recourse to the (Roman) Church's authority, is that the same authority that cannot give final and clear answers to such issues as the nature of God's act of predestination, but can give clear answers to such obscure and obtuse things as whether Mary was bodily assumed into heaven or immaculately conceived? We have recourse to the church established by Christ, with elders/bishops and deacons, not the monstrosity that has developed over the centuries with Popes and cardinals and every sort of unbiblical, non-apostolic invention that could possibly be created for the self-aggrandizement of the Vatican and the prideful men who have sat upon the cathedra Petri.
Next Beckwith is asked about the "hostility" he has had to endure regarding his reversion. I wonder, will anyone ask him about the hostility Rome has shown toward gospel believing men and women down through the centuries, and the hostility implicit in his own renunciation of his former confession of faith in such things as sola scriptura and sola fide? For folks who are so often talking about history, it is very odd that we do not hear very much at all about Rome's own history of hostility toward other religious groups, especially those nasty "heretics" with which she was so busy from 1100 up to the time of the Reformation. Strange, no?
Of course, a repeated statement now by Dr. Beckwith is that this "hostility" is based upon ignorance of the "real" Rome. We read,
Some of the hostility was not surprising, for some of it came from well-meaning Protestants who simply do not have a good grounding in Christian history or the Catholic Catechism. Many of these well-meaning folks, unfortunately, have sat under the teachings of less-than-careful Bible-church preachers and pastors who approach Catholicism with a cluster of flawed categories that make even a charitable reading of the Catechism almost impossible.
Given that Beckwith had launched a strike against John MacArthur on the subject of Lent just a few weeks before his reversion, it is not difficult to figure out who the "less-than-careful Bible-church preachers" are. But I wonder what kind of "charitable" reading of Rome's teachings today allow Beckwith to insist he is still an "evangelical"? Does charity change history? Does it remove the contexts that give meaning to words found in ancient documents? Is this how modern Roman Catholics get around the impossible contradictions in their own history, holding together their modern inclusivism with their historical statements, such as this one?
It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart "into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels" [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church. (Denzinger 714).
All the charity in the world will not change the meaning of those words as they were penned originally. The olympic efforts put forth since then to change that meaning, alter it and neuter it, are only monuments to how far men and women will go to maintain a religious system. As Dr. Beckwith has made reference to a possible book, it will be interesting to see just how consistently you can create a "charitable" framework in which to hold together Rome's many historical, biblical, and theological contradictions.
I actually think there are different circles of evangelicals that overlap each other. There are those who interact with Catholics, and those who dont. I have been with the group that has interacted for quite a while because of my discipline of philosophy and because the cultural issues that I write on are the ones around which evangelicals and Catholics have been aligned.
I noted when the news of this situation first broke that Beckwith's work on "cultural issues" with Roman Catholics was clearly important in his decision. Well over a decade ago, in response to the initial ECT document, I wrote the following, that remains relevant today:
ECT was born out of the common alliance between Roman Catholics and Protestants in our land against such travesties as abortion, pornography, and the general decline in moral values that is readily seen on all sides. Until one recognizes the power that such an alliance can bring to bear upon a person, one will not be in a position to criticize the authors. Many will have nothing but a knee-jerk reaction to this document, rejecting it out of hand without learning from it a very important lesson. We do not live in vacuum; our theological beliefs are impacted by the world around us, and by our interaction with it. When we feel very strongly about an issue, we can allow that perspective to influence many other aspects of our lives.
As an example, a few years ago I became involved in protesting the murder of unborn children. I believe to this day that abortion is murder, plain and simple, and that those who engage in this activity will answer to God, either now, or in the judgment to come. Indeed, abortion may well be one of the many aspects of God's judgment that is already coming upon one of the most wicked societies the world has ever known. Be that as it may, I became involved with Operation Rescue on a local level in the Phoenix area, even debating abortion rights advocates on local radio stations, and appearing as a representative in the media. It is vital for everyone to understand how strongly one can feel about this kind of issue, and how that strong feeling can overshadow every other consideration.
It was not long, however, before I became aware of a real problem. It was not, in my situation, stated in writing, but it was understood by all that everyone involved in the work was to be considered a Christian if indeed they claimed to be one. On the practical level, this meant that if I were to find myself in a jail cell with a Roman Catholic it was my duty and obligation to join hands with this person as a fellow believer in Christ, no questions asked. I could not address the issues that separated us. I could not contrast the finished work of Christ, and His free grace, with the Roman concept of the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice, and the idea of merit. I could not, if convinced of its necessity, share the gospel of grace with this Roman Catholic, for this would amount to a "division in the ranks" so to speak, and would detract from the focus of the work. This reality quickly drove me from the organization, and helped me to see the very error that has now been enshrined in Evangelicals and Catholics Together.
The tragedy of ECT is to be seen in the fact that while seeking to accomplish something that seems good, it abandons the one thing that can, in reality, bring about the very good it seeks. This was the lesson I learned when fighting against the murder of unborn children. While I may wish to bring an immediate stop to this hellish activity, I had to realize that there is only one true long-term solution, only one means by which I as a Christian can overcome the powers of evil that seek to destroy and kill and maim. It's not like I had forgotten the truth; it just got buried under strong emotions. The truth is rather simple: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16)." It is a verse almost every Christian knows, and yet its truth is so often forgotten. If I want to stop abortion, I must seek to change the hearts of those who would kill little children. How can I change hearts? I can't, but God does, and that by one means, and one means only: the gospel. The gospel of Christ. The gospel of grace. The gospel that speaks of God's holiness, His wrath, and His love demonstrated in the cross of Christ. The gospel preached by the Reformers, the gospel of Paul preached wit h such power by men like Edwards and Spurgeon. That is how I can see hearts changed. "But that takes time!" we are told, "and we don't have that kind of time!" Such is not, however, a statement of faith, but of disbelief. God saves, in His time, in His way. I have to accept His will in these matters, if I am faithful to the Scriptural witness.
ECT seeks to provide a basis for a common front against the evils of our age, but in the process, it does away with the single means by which those goals can be obtained: the gospel. The simple fact is that Roman Catholics and Protestants, if they are honest, are far apart on the issues of the gospel. There is no unity with reference to the message we preach to the world, and it is pure make-believe to say otherwise. ECT is a lie: it lies to the world when it speaks of a unity that does not exist, and it lies to Christians when it does not properly represent the positions it attempts to make compatible. We may sympathize with the motivations of the authors, recognizing the power of the emotions evoked by abortion and other such evils; but if we wish to honor and love God, we cannot allow our sentiments to overthrow Biblical truth. Instead, Protestants such as Charles Colson should use their positions to powerfully and clearly proclaim the great truths that shook the world four centuries ago, sola gratia, solus Christus, sola fide, sola scriptura. Such would not be politically correct, but it would be Divinely Correct, and such should be the aim of the believer.
Returning to Beckwith:
I knew there were differences and that they were important ones, and that there would be those who would not be entirely happy with my becoming Catholic, but I didn't think there would be those who thought I was becoming apostate as some of my commentators have indicated online.
It is hard for me to believe Beckwith was unaware of the fact that many would see his act as one of apostasy. This would indicate a very limited exposure to theological writings not only of the period of the Reformation but even today.
I didn't fully realize it until the beginning of 2007 that I had assimilated much of a Catholic understanding of faith and reason, the nature of the human person, as well as the progress of dogma.This process would be interesting to examine, if for no other reason than to illustrate the depth to which paralyzing error has moved into the very heart of conservative post-evangelicalism, but without more details, such an examination would be more speculative than useful. Surely a future book by Beckwith would fill in the gaps. For now, I truly wonder: given his background and education, was it a matter of assimilating this after a knowing, purposeful rejection of Rome, or did such a break with Rome's fundamental views of man and grace and knowledge ever actually take place at all? Is Beckwith a revert, or a life-long Catholic who took a hiatus in post-evangelicalism for a while? One has to wonder in light of the following:
Looking back, the beginning of my return to the Church, though I didn't realize it at the time, probably occurred at a conference on John Paul II and Philosophy at Boston College in February 2006.
Several months earlier I had published a small essay in the magazine Touchstone: Vatican Bible School: What John Paul II Can Teach Evangelicals. I incorporated portions of that essay in my BC paper in which I made a case for why anti-creedal Protestants hold to an incoherent point of view on faith, reason, and the nature of the Christian university.
The first question from the audience came from Laura Garcia, a BC philosophy professor, who is a Catholic and former evangelical Protestant.
She asked, Why aren't you a Catholic?
The question took me by surprise.
Such a question would never, ever, ever take me by surprise, and not only because of who I am and what I do. I can't imagine any elder in a Reformed Baptist Church, for example, who would so much as hesitate at this question, let alone experience surprise. Surely I realize that a large portion of post-evangelicalism would stutter at such a question, in any context, and sadly, most would only give an answer that boils down to taste, or their own traditions, not a knowing conviction based upon serious consideration of the facts. That is why post-evangelicalism is such a wonderfully easy field for the gleaning of Catholic converts...and Mormon converts, Jehovah's Witness converts, even Muslim converts. Given the truth of the statement, "What you win them with is what you win them too," the bubble-gum level gospel found in so many venues today is hardly going to ground believers so that they will not be blown about by every wind of doctrine.
I gave her an answer if I remember correctly that appealed to the doctrines of the Reformation as making all the difference to me. I also tried to account for the church's continuity as being connected to the reformers and their progeny as well as their predecessors in the Catholic Church. In this way, I could defend the creeds as Spirit-directed without conceding the present authority of Rome on these matters.
I wonder what "doctrines of the Reformation" Beckwith is referring to? Would he stand with Luther against Erasmus? I have a feeling he would not have done so then, and surely would not do so now. I am likewise fascinated by the insistence by so many to elevate the early creeds to some quasi-inspired status (this is an impetus that is exceptionally wide-spread). How anyone can read the history of the church, the politics and chicanery that accompanied the later councils that produced these creeds, and read the accompanying canons and decrees, and yet somehow seek to elevate them beyond the point that their main symbol's consistency with Scripture could rightly provide them, is beyond me. But even here, Beckwith has bought into the "Rome is the church of the councils" argument that is simply not tenable in any meaningful manner. Even with the rise of Roman primacy in the West, there are still far too many problems with the Papal theory related to its own history over the following centuries (does the phrase "Babylonian Captivity of the Church" ring any bells?) to allow for such ease in accepting Rome's claims. I do not expect Roman Catholic reporters to ask tough questions, but I wonder if Beckwith is even aware of these issues? I have seen little evidence that he is.