David Howard, a past president of ETS and an executive board member, has written in response to Francis Beckwith’s return to the faith of his childhood. Interestingly, the article affirms the propriety of Beckwith’s resignation and seems to make it clear that the ETS’s statement of faith, as interpreted by the executive board, does, in fact, hold to sola scriptura. Both of these issues were part of my initial post regarding Beckwith’s reversion. For some reason, I was attacked and ridiculed for affirming these positions. Even a short period of time has vindicated my observations. Note his words:
The phrase “the Bible alone” in the ETS context refers to the 66 books in the Old and New Testaments of the Protestant canon and thus rules out Mr. Beckwith’s continued membership, given that the Roman Catholic Church accepts additional books in the canon, commonly referred to as deuterocanonical or apocryphal books. Mr. Beckwith maintains that he can still sign the ETS statement with full integrity because it does not enumerate the 66 books, but he voluntarily withdrew his membership in the interests of avoiding a rancorous debate in the society.
These comments are all very interesting and very relevant, to be sure. My readers will note that in my initial comments on the reversion of Beckwith I did not go into the key issues of the gospel simply because Beckwith had yet to reveal the form of Roman Catholicism he is promoting today. Anyone who does not recognize the spectrum of beliefs in modern Roman Catholicism is living in denial of reality. I have yet to delve fully into even the few comments he has, in fact, made, for they are still quite preliminary.
The reason I wrote about Beckwith’s reversion was simple: the gospel. The issue will always be: the gospel. And when someone like Beckwith goes back to the Roman system, we see just how central the gospel is to many who call themselves “evangelicals” today. You see, I am in no way surprised when men return to Rome. Rome’s religion is very attractive. Indeed, unless a soul is convicted of its utter sinfulness and inability, and its utter guiltiness before God, and its utter dependence upon grace, and grace alone, it will always find comfort in man’s religions, in pomp and circumstance, in religious pageantry and show–anything that makes God’s grace subject to man’s will, to man’s control.
Many of those who do not bow the knee to Rome do so not out of a faith-affirming, soul-grounding conviction of the utter necessity of the gospel of grace, but simply out of their own traditions. The number of non-Catholics who are so out of knowledgeable conviction is small indeed. But I will likewise say, it is those who are thusly convinced who stand with the greatest clarity and firmness against Rome’s denial of the gospel of grace, and Rome’s enchantments find no place in their minds. Most in academia today purposefully distinguish themselves from such as these, so when one of them, or a group of them, decide to try out the far bank of the Tiber, it is hardly surprising.
Howard notes that “A small number of evangelicals have reacted as if he [Beckwith] committed an act of betrayal.” If by this he refers to a betrayal of Beckwith’s own heart-felt commitment to the gospel of grace, I could not possibly comment, since this would require me to know his heart and whether he had, in fact, ever been thusly committed. One cannot betray a gospel to which one is not pledged heart and soul. If I were to bow the knee to the Pope and pray to Mary, I would be betraying the gospel, knowingly, purposefully, and to my soul’s destruction, without doubt.
There was a day, not too long ago, when the term “evangelical” referred to a person who actually believed the gospel defined the Christian faith—that the message of the cross was not a negotiable item, a secondary, if important, issue, upon which compromise could be allowed. But that day has passed. For many reasons I will not delve into at the moment, confidence in the gospel has vanished, and while many will still profess it to be “vital” or “important,” in reality, most confess that it is just too difficult a subject, and “too many good men have disagreed” on the matter, so that the real conclusion is that we just can’t really know the gospel with enough clarity to allow it to function in a definitional sense. The result of this is seen in the willingness to extend the faith to the “big tent,” and refer to our “Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.” The movement is on (seen in the willingness of some to pray with Mormon apologists and scholars) to extend the big tent even further, so that even Trinitarian heresy is not “enough” to exclude fellowship (witness T.D. Jakes, PC&D, etc.). And so the downgrade progresses, ever farther away from a biblical standard.
Among many more, including us on the executive committee, the response has been one of cordial disagreement on some critical matters, accompanied by an acknowledgment that we nevertheless have much in common as fellow Christians…For myself, I can say that I have lost a valued colleague in the ETS, but I remain his brother in Christ and wish him well in his new spiritual home.
One might well call for the renaming of the organization to the “Post-Evangelical Theological Society” if, in fact, this is the case. Again, I am not at all surprised by these things, but many who are not familiar with the “theology rot” inside Christian academia might be. The “E” of “ETS” is no longer defined by the “e” of “euangelion,” the “gospel.” I have no idea what it is in fact defined by, but if returning to the church of infallible Popes, Mary Immaculate and Assumed (the object of incessant prayer), the imperfect sacrifice of the Mass, the sacerdotal priesthood, and purgatorial sufferings, is to be likened to just another “spiritual home,” the definitional standard is radically different than the one once held that long-vanished breed known as “Evangelicals.”