POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Beckwith Returns to Rome

Christian philosopher Dr. Francis Beckwith just returned to the Roman church.  What makes this interesting is not that a protestant converted to catholicism as this happens in both directions every day.  What makes Beckwith's case interesting is that he is the current president of the Evangelical Theological Society a primary academic society of evangelical theologians.  Dr. Beckwith was raised Roman Catholic and did his PhD work at a Roman Catholic Institution (Fordham), so in some sense he is returning to his roots.  What has confounded some was his reasoning for return.  You can read his account on the blog Right Reason, where he is a regular contributer.

Carl Trueman over at Reformation 21 has a charitable response where he questions the basis Beckwith gives for his decision. Catholic bloggers and apologists (Armstrong, Akin) are quite pleased, protestant response is mixed...from opposition, to friendly dissent, to lament. Doug Groothuis' comments on Dr. Beckwith's site is indicative of the feelings of many.

The unfortunate reality is that none of the reasons Beckwith gives for converting to Roman doctrine seem to come directly from the teaching of the Bible.  Most evangelicals would not even give time to understand the doctrines of the reformation and could not interact with our dissent from Rome.  I know many evangelicals who are enamored with Rome due to its intellectual tradition and the appearance of unity in "one church" - Evangelical churches are not a hot beds for thinking and wrestling with deep theological and philosophical questions...so the thinking man wanders away.

Yet the richness of Christian reflection is very present in both Protestants and Roman Catholics past, but the levity of most evangelical churches today is unbearable to many.  In my own struggles with the unbearable lightness of contemporary evangelicalism, I have found fertile soil in those who thought deeply in the Protestant tradition (Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Hodge, Spurgeon, John Piper) and enjoyed the fruit of Christian thought in the pre-Reformation Catholic philosophers.  Yet becoming a loyal subject of Rome is something I see as a great mistake.

We quickly forget (and many never even know) that the reason there is a "Roman" church is a story where the gospel was mingled with the civitas of a great ancient empire - and in that soil the bishop and political power mingled as one.  Europe then was under the grip of an ecclesiastical hierarchy which grew progressively wayward from the teaching of Scripture. When in hopes of reform, the church's own sons and daughters questioned its doctrine and practice in light of Scripture, many were tortured, poisoned and burned.  The history of the reformation is vastly undertold today in both public and Christian education.

There is much to commend in Catholicism - but to measure the doctrines of any group of people one must compare its teaching to a standard of truth. Protestants hold that the teaching of Jesus and the apostles - found in Holy Scripture - should be the standard by which we judge all such teachings.  Here I will stand - joyfully - I can do no other. 

Best wishes to Dr. Beckwith in the good work he does in the academy and public sphere.  He will continue to be an ally in some arenas...yet I cannot help but regret his return to Rome.