Beckwith Back to Rome

I have been asked my opinion both on this blog and in other conversations about the recent announcement by Frank Beckwith.

Dr. Francis Beckwith’s conversion, better yet, reversion to Rome was very interesting to me. For those of you who don’t know, Francis Beckwith is a well-known scholar, professor, and president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He resigned his position as president of ETS a few months ago when he declared that he had become a communicant in the Roman Catholic Church, the religion of his childhood.

In the letter explaining his return to the Roman Church Dr. Beckwith writes:
“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.”

I am saddened by the language of Dr. Beckwith's letter. This goes to show that smart men can make large errors. How sad it is for a man who once affirmed Sola Scriptura to now embrace a religious system that rejects the sole sufficiency and unique authority of the Bible. What is also tragic is that he has rejected Jesus Christ as the one mediator between God and man and now seeks forgiveness of sins and “absolution” from the Roman Church.

Further on in his letter Beckwith writes:
“The past four months have moved quickly for me and my wife. As you probably know, my work in philosophy, ethics, and theology has always been Catholic friendly, but I would have never predicted that I would return to the Church, for there seemed to me too many theological and ecclesiastical issues that appeared insurmountable. However, in January, at the suggestion of a dear friend, I began reading the Early Church Fathers as well as some of the more sophisticated works on justification by Catholic authors. 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. Even though I also believe that the Reformed view is biblically and historically defensible, I think the Catholic view has more explanatory power to account for both all the biblical texts on justification as well as the church’s historical understanding of salvation prior to the Reformation all the way back to the ancient church of the first few centuries. Moreover, much of what I have taken for granted as a Protestant—e.g., the catholic creeds, the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the Christian understanding of man, and the canon of Scripture—is the result of a Church that made judgments about these matters and on which non-Catholics, including Evangelicals, have declared and grounded their Christian orthodoxy in a world hostile to it. 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 Christ’s Apostles.”

Well, we could argue all day about whether or not Rome is a more faithful interpreter of the early church fathers. For now I will say that it is my conviction that the Protestant Reformers were far more faithful to the likes of Athanasius and Augustine than were leaders of the Roman Church during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. However, what is most important is that the Protestant Reformers were faithful to the Scriptures. As much as they respected Augustine, for instance, the Reformers would always side with Scripture over any man, or council, or tradition. This is one of the most, if not THE most important dividing line between Protestants and Catholics. If we cannot agree on the sole authority and sufficiency of Scripture then we can agree on little else. I am also astonished by his language that he has chosen “to err” on the side of Rome.

Dr. Beckwith posted some 300 email responses to his reversion on his webpage. One, from Dr. Dale Davis said:
Dr. Beckwith,
I find it very sad you've chosen to "err on the side of the Church with historical and theological continuity with the first generations of Christians" instead of staying with the Christians who are the most faithful to the very first generation of Christians, the authors of the New Testament.
The more I've studied the history of the Reformation, the more I am thankful for the work of the Reformers--rejected, excommunicated and utterly repudiated by your Church, if not burned alive.
May you influence the Church of the Bishop of Rome for the Gospel--and help reform that body.
Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gracia, Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria!

I am glad that Dr. Beckwith stepped down from his position with the ETS. With the blurring of lines these days it would not have shocked me if he and others saw no problem with a Roman Catholic leading an evangelical organization. Anyway, in that case at least, he did the right thing.