The Bridge Over Troubled Theology: From Evangelicalism to Catholicism

Francis J. Beckwith, a wonderful Christian apologist and former President of The Evangelical Theological Society, has taken his stand with the Roman Catholic Church.  I have just a few comments.

Dr. Beckwith is an outstanding Christian scholar, and from what I know about him, quite a gentleman.  Consequently, my comments are not intended to be an attack upon the man, but rather his decision and concerns I have with the ETS and Baylor University.

I first read that Dr. Beckwith had left evangelicalism to unite with the Church of Rome; however, it is more accurate to say that he returned to the Catholic Church.  He actually used to be a practicing catholic. He says, “For me, because I had received the sacraments of Baptism, Communion, and Confirmation all before the age of 14, I need only go to confession, request forgiveness for my sins, ask to be received back into the Church, and receive absolution.” 

Also, he took his sixteen year old nephew’s, Dean, desire for him to sponsor Dean when he received the sacrament of confirmation as a word from the Lord on how to handle his transition back into the Church of Rome since sponsoring him would require Dr. Beckwith to be in full communion with the Church of Rome.

Further, Dr. Beckwith received his PhD at Fordham University, a Jesuit school, and says of his writings, “As you probably know, my work in philosophy, ethics, and theology has always been Catholic friendly.” Consequently, it does seem that he never fully left the Catholic Church.  The old Catholic saying, “Give us the child until he is twelve, and we care not what you do with the man” seems to be found to be true once again.  

Baylor University removed Dr. Beckwith from his position of associate director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, and denied him tenure—which was later granted—because of his association with The Discovery Institute, which promotes Intelligent Design.  I wonder if his Catholic conversion will cause our once Baptist University to deny him…or will only his belief that evolution’s explanatory power is insufficient be enough to merit branding him as a traitor.  Of course my expectations in regard to this matter are rather low because when Baylor was challenged about having a Mormon professor, they did not see the problem. 

I believe that ETS is a wonderful organization with some of the most brilliant evangelical scholars in the world in her membership; however, the previous difficulty in deciding whether men like Clark Pinnock’s disavowal of inerrancy, and later embracement of Open Theism merited removal from ETS coupled now with a man moving directly from president of ETS to Catholicism, while entertaining the idea of remaining in the ETS, makes me wonder what it means to be an Evangelical.

If someone who denies the basic attributes of God—Clark Pinnock—and a man who unreservedly now embraces Catholicism—Dr. Beckwith—can feel comfortable there, and be welcomed by some, what would it take to be removed?  Although Beckwith did resign, he contemplated, and according to his words, was counseled by some to wait awhile. 

The doctrinal irreconcilability between the Catholic Church and teaching of the Scripture, which ignited the Reformation, is as irreconcilable today as it was in Luther’s day, and will remain so until the Catholic Church recants the declarations of the Council of Trent. 

Moreover, the differences between the reformers and Catholicism are not as considerable and unbridgeable as between Baptists and Catholics.  Remember the Anabaptist said that the Church of Rome was unreformable; therefore, reformation, as good as it was, was not enough.  They maintained that the church needed restitution—restoration to the original New Testament church—not merely reformation.
 
Maybe we need to follow the advice of Malcolm Yarnell III, assistant dean for theological studies and director of the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, “The best way for Southern Baptists to respond to “the debacle of a Baylor professor and president of ETS converting to Rome is threefold: our pastors must return to preaching the Bible alone, our people must renew their appreciation for their Baptist heritage, and our theologians must maintain a healthy distance between biblically-based Baptist beliefs and the unbiblical traditions and philosophies of other evangelicals, especially those that pervert our Lord’s commands by baptizing babies.”

The bridge from Evangelicalism to Catholicism is a bridge over troubled theology regardless our esteem of the man who traverses it.