Sunday, May 6, 2007

Dr. Francis Beckwith's Return to Rome [SK]

...is, without question, the biggest weekend news in the theology/apologetics world.

Beckwith, who until May 5 was President of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), resigned his position after disclosing his return to the Roman Catholic Church.

Frank describes his transition as follows:

During the last week of March 2007, after much prayer, counsel and consideration, my wife and I decided to seek full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. My wife, a baptized Presbyterian, is going through the process of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). This will culminate with her receiving the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation. 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.
Although the ETS board had yet to ask Frank to step down, he concluded it was in the best interest of the organization to resign his post now rather than wait for his term to expire.

Let me be clear that the LTI site is not a theological blog (we deal primarily with bioethics), so I will limit my thoughts to these three points:

(1) Frank remains my friend and colleague and I look forward to our continued work fighting to protect innocent human life. Though I am not clear on the theological reasons for his move (he's yet to fully explain them), his contribution to the arena of Christian worldview and apologetics is enormous and I don't expect that to change. No one, for example, has done more to put the pro-life view on solid intellectual footing than Frank. I hope my fellow evangelicals will treat him charitably even as they carefully examine (as they should) the theological reasons for his shift.

(2) As for myself, I'm strongly committed to the five Solas of the Protestant Reformation:

Scripture alone
Christ alone
Grace alone
Justification by faith alone
For the glory of God alone
Since I was asked earlier today to comment specifically on justification by faith alone (in light of Frank's move), here's what I affirm. Justification is a legal declaration by God the Father whereby my sins are pardoned and Christ’s righteousness is applied to my account. Justified sinners are not made righteous with an infusion of holiness; they’re declared righteous solely because of the sin-bearing work of Christ on their behalf. Justification is about my status before God: I am no longer condemned because Jesus, as my substitute, both paid the penalty for sin and lived the life of perfect obedience God requires. Put differently, justification is a matter of imputation: My guilt is imputed to Christ; His righteousness is imputed to me. William Hendrickson explains:

“Justification is that act of God the Father whereby he counts our sins to be Christ’s and Christ’s righteousness to be ours (2 Cor. 5:21). It is the opposite of condemnation (Romans 8:33). It implies deliverance from the curse of God because that curse was placed on Christ (Gal. 3:11-13). It means forgiveness full and free” (Romans 4:6-8) .
Who, then, can bring a charge against God’s elect? Paul’s answer is clear: No one can. For it is God who justifies (Romans 4:5; 8:33). It is His gift, completely undeserved, so that no one can boast. In short, we can’t add to our justification. It’s already a finished work.

(See, for example, Romans 3: 26,28; 4:5; 8:30, 33. For the sources used in the above parapgraphs, see Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, pp. 968-973; James R. White, The God Who Justifies, Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001, pp. 31, 63-123; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000, pp. 722-732; John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to fight for Joy,Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004; William Hendrickson, The New Testament Commentary: Galatians, Grand Rpaids: Baker, 1989, p. 98.)

(3) As I've repeatedly stressed on this blog, Evangelical Christians committed to sound doctrine must distinguish themselves theologically from those who reject fundamental truths of the Protestant Reformation. Theological unity must never come at the expense of those truths. However, cultural reform efforts like the pro-life movement are not primarily about doctrine, but social justice. To work, they must be broad and inclusive. Historically, for example, social reform efforts designed to abolish slavery and establish civil rights for all Americans were led by large ecumenical coalitions that, despite their theological differences, committed themselves to one goal: establishing a more just society. The same is true of abortion. While rejecting religious pluralism (the belief that all religions are equally valid), we must work closely with those who oppose the destruction of innocent human life, regardless of their religious persuasion. Thus, even if I disagree with Frank's theology (and I probably will), there is absolutely no reason for me or any other evangelical to stop working with him to promote social justice in the culture.

That's all I have to say for now. If you want more evangelical responses to Beckwith's decision, you can check out Frank's blog, this piece by Carl Trueman, and postings at Triablogue.

Update 5/7: Stand to Reason also has a post here.

HT: Justin Taylor, James White

9 comments:

  1. I am happy (being a Catholic convert myself) that Beckwith has come back to the Catholic Church. That being said, I hope Evangelicals cut him a break because really, the difference between Catholic and non-Catholic Christians is not that great. In fact, in keeping with the bio-ethics theme of this blog, there are really only four differences:

    Size: The Catholic Church has more members than non-Catholic Churches.

    Level of Development: The Catholic Church has had an extra 1500 years to develop doctrine than Protestant churches, who themselves have a different level and focus of development.

    Environment: Catholics attend Mass at Basilica's, Cathedrals, etc., while non-Catholics celebrate at their own churches.

    Degree of Dependency: Catholics are more dependent on the Church for Sacraments and the dispensation of Grace than non-Catholics are.

    That being said, we are all still alive, human, whole Christian organisms on a path of self-directed development towards coming into full communion with our Lord. All that the previous SLED test shows us is that our differences are small and shouldn't segregate us and split the pro-life camp, which Scott eloquently defended in this post.

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  2. Nice Trent. I'm shocked by this development but thanks for adding a bit of humor to the situation.

    Unfortunately, not all theological theories have intrinsic value like human beings do, but I loved it anyways.

    Serge

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  3. Trent,
    Like Serge, I enjoyed the humor in your post. Nevertheless, I cannot yield to your claim that the theological differences between Catholics and Protestants are minimal. They are not, and I gave one very significant example in my above post regarding the doctrine of justification (that is, how sinners get right with God).

    But I digress. My main point, which should not be missed, is the one you eventually arrive at: Despite our very real theological differences, there's no reason we can't work together to promote social justice in the culture. To that end, I'm thrilled to enjoy your continued partnership.

    Best Regards,
    Scott

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  4. SK (and Serge), I'm curious about how you view the Reformation ideas of imputed righteousness and justification by faith in connection with the question of eternal security. As you know, there are Protestants who believe that (I dislike this terminology, but it's the quickest way to get the idea across) you can "lose your salvation." Or, as a friend from an Assemblies of God background put it to me once, while no man can pluck you out of Jesus' hand, you can walk out. Now, my question is not so much whether this view is true or false as whether you guys consider its falsity to be strictly required by the doctrines of sola fide and of imputed righteousness. I'm quite sure that some Baptists _do_ believe that "once saved, always saved"--wherein you can date the time from which you were and always will be going to heaven by the date of your true acceptance of Jesus Christ--is entailed by the doctrine of sola fide. But it is not clear to me that the one follows from the other. What's your take on that connection?

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  5. Thank you for the sensitive review of the dilemma posed by (Brother) Beckwith's return to the Catholic Church. I appreciate your discussion of justification, too.

    Bioethics is about joining with our allies to protect everyone created in the image of God. John Kilner, Ph.D. (Trinity Evangelical University, Chicago) said it best: it's about Whose we are.

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  6. Lydia,
    Since this is not a theological blog, I try to steer clear of discussions of the sort you raise in your comments. However, if you will drop me an email (info@prolifetraining.com)I'll do my best to answer your question. Thanks.

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  7. I’m Catholic and I have a lot of respect for you and your organization, SK. I have said before that I think LTI is the best pro-life educational organization out there. However, I would like to humbly give my perspective. There are three branches of the Christian Church: Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and Catholicism. I will add (Catholics are fully committed to sola gratia). In addition, I didn’t expect you to link to James White’s page regarding the Beckwith issue. Generally speaking, White’s approach regarding Catholicism creates a lot of confusion. I think you can keep your Protestant views without linking to his page on a topic of that nature.

    In Him,
    Kyl

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  8. Kyl,
    Thanks for you comment and for your kind words about LTI.

    1) In this particular case, I linked to James White, as I did Justin Taylor, because that's where I first read of Frank's move. It's common courtesy to HT those bloggers who first provide you with information used in your own posts. Had those sources been Catholic, I would have HT'd them. In short, a HT does not imply an endorsement.

    2) I do, however, cite James White's book "The God who Justifies" as a source for my take on justification. I did so because a) I think it's the best book I've read on the subject, and 2) It's influenced my own thinking. Again, that's common courtesy. Whether or not James White misrepresents Catholic teaching (or, whether or not Scott Hahn does the same with Protestant views)is a subject for theological blogs, not ones dedicated to bioethics. Hence, I won't comment on that question here.

    3) You may also note that I site Catholic writers all the time--Robert P. George, Patrick Lee, Pope Benedict (who last year, prior to me accidentally deleting our entire blogspot, got the "quote of the year" award on this blog), Fr. Frank Pavone, Fr. Peter West,et al. No one has been cited more than Frank Beckwith and that will continue to be the case, regardless of his reversion to Catholicism.

    My larger concern--and the one I keep coming back to--is that, yes, real theological differences exist between Catholics and Protestants. We should not minimize those differences or surrender to religious pluralism. But neither should we stop working together to confront what Pope Benedict rightly coined, "the dictatorship of relativism."

    To that end, I'm proud to serve with you.

    Thanks again for your kind remarks about LTI both here and on other blogs, Kyl. You've worked hard to promote us and I appreciate it!

    Best Regards,
    Scott

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  9. Thanks for providing some information about that. It is great to serve with you, Scott.

    Kyl

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