Francis Beckwith, I Just Don’t Get Your Return to Catholicism
I am married to a former Catholic. My wife is a faithful follower of Jesus Christ who came to Christ on a school bus when someone opened the Scriptures to this ‘good Catholic girl’ for the very first time. In the Scriptures – not in incense, ceremony, protocol – she found the Lord seeking her. As her husband, I have been attending Mass off and on for the past twenty-seven years out of respect for my in-laws, whom I love very much.
While I have a small modicum of respect for the RCC for her moral positions on some ethical issues, I have never understood the attraction of the RCC. I have watched the Mass, the pomp and ceremony, smelled the incense, attempted to sing Gregorian styled hymns and have willingly prayed during the Mass whatever prayers I could pray without violating my conscience. I have read Catholic authors and theology. And I still don’t get it.
I don’t get the mystery, the intrigue, the ‘hidden-ness’ of the sacrament, the symbolism, the mediated gospel. Personally, I believe there is in the heart of every man, woman and child a desire to know God; but I also believe that there is in the heart of every man, woman and child the seeds of idolatry that causes us to dress up God with symbolism, mystery, pomp, procedure once He is found.
I believe that the RCC is just this – a man-made institution that has dressed God up in such a way as to make God even more mysterious than He already is. Catholicism allows some people to satisfy their need for God and their need for idolatry by wrapping the gospel in a fabric of symbolism that ends up cloaking and trumping the gospel itself.
And now comes the news of Francis Beckwith’s return to the Catholic church. What makes this return so illustrative is 1) Beckwith was a childhood Catholic and converted to Protestantism as a young adult, so his return is a return to what he once was and maybe never stopped being and 2) he is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society – in fact, he is the President of the ETS, although he has resigned this position as of May ’07.
Beckwith states his arguments in an e-mail posted May 5th, 2007.
1) He says that ‘I can in good conscience, as a Catholic, affirm the ETS doctrinal statement, I do not intend to resign as a member of ETS.’ This is amazing. If Beckwith can do this either evangelicalism means nothing or Catholicism means nothing – it can’t be both.
2) He notes, ‘There is a conversation in ETS that must take place, a conversation about the relationship between Evangelicalism and what is called the ‘Great Tradition,’ a tradition from which all Christians can trace their spiritual and ecclesiastical paternity.’ He, I take it, is referring to the early church Fathers. I also take this to be a reference to Beckwith’s ascent to ‘Tradition’ being co-equal with Scripture.
3) He says that he has read ‘more sophisticated works on justification by Catholic authors.’ I take it that by this admission he had previously been reading ‘unsophisticated’ Catholic authors on justification.
4) His conclusion is: ‘I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant and that the Catholic view of justification, correctly understood, is biblically and historically defensible.’ Why does he add the caveat, ‘correctly understood?’ Is there something about Catholic teaching that is easily misunderstood when it comes to the doctrine of justification – how a person is saved?
5) Beckwith follows up this statement with, ‘Even though I also believe that the Reformed view is biblically and historically defensible.’ Paul, Peter, James, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Spurgeon must be turning over in their graves.
6) Beckwith notes his acceptance of the catholic creeds and understanding of the Scriptures as grounds for accepting tradition as co-equal to Scripture.
7) Finally, Beckwith states: ‘Given these considerations, I thought it wise for me to err on the side of the Church with historical and theological continuity with the first generations of Christians that followed the Apostles.’
I am stunned, considering that Beckwith is such a celebrated Christian philosopher. Beckwith’s re-conversion carries with it a major assumption – that ‘the first generations of Christians that followed the Apostles’ always got it right when it came to doctrine. While many of the early creeds are laudable and even essential, soon after the first Apostles died off, as I noted earlier, the manmade desire to dress up the gospel with symbolism, pomp and ceremony, incense, papal systems, etc. burst on to the scene. In fact, it was already happening in the church at Galatia. Beckwith is not the first to get it wrong and he won’t be the last. I would like to personally ask Beckwith:
· What do you think of papal authority?
· How can you simultaneously affirm the Catholic view of justification and the evangelical/biblical view of justification? I knew you were a good philosopher, but…
· Will you give homage to Mary? Is she to be venerated? Did Catholics get her right?
· And what about the Mass where Jesus Christ is crucified afresh each time, a practice specifically forbidden by Scripture? (Hebrews 6:6 and 10:29)
· And what about the Catholic view of the co-equal nature of Scripture and tradition? Doesn’t it seem obvious to you that when it comes down to it for the Catholic tradition always seems to trump Scripture?
Beckwith’s assumptions are like any assumptions – when you assume it always makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u” & ‘me.’