Beckwith Back With Rome

Frances Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, has converted back to the Roman Catholicism of his youth. That’s old news as the blogosphere counts slackness.

It’s becoming old news, too, that Dinesh D’Souza, who a lot of people thought was Catholic, recently became the president of the—a lot of people thought—evangelical Protestant King’s College.

What I found most interesting was Beckwith’s response to the ensuing dustup. Beckwith, who knows evangelicalism and Catholicism about as well as anyone could, points to clear differences between the two groups. He denies firmly that D’Souza was right in calling those differences an intramural, denominational debate.

I was particularly struck by this paragraph, in which Beckwith quotes the King’s College doctrinal statement and then adds some comments of his own in brackets:

The salvation of man is wholly a work of God’s free grace and is not the work, in whole or in part, of human works or goodness or religious ceremony. God imputes His righteousness to those who put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation, and thereby justified them in His sight. [{Beckwith:} This is a distinctly Protestant presentation of justification, especially the use of the odd phrase "religious ceremony," which apparently does not include altar calls, reciting the sinner’s prayer, or "rededicating" your life to Christ. However, there is a Catholic understanding of these concepts—grace, works, and sacrament—that are consistent with believing that salvation is wholly a work of God’s free grace, though Catholicism does not believe that a believer’s grace-infused cooperation detracts from or adds to God’s free grace. Just as the cooperation of the human writers of Scripture does not make the Bible only half the Word of God, our grace-infused cooperation with God’s work in us does not make it less wholly His work.]

Notice two things:

  • Ouch. Beckwith has to be right that Protestants have their own religious ceremonies with as little background in Scripture as Marian Devotion. Protestant traditions may not be written down in codes of canon law housed in the secret vaults at Christianity Today headquarters, but they are stubbornly persistent. We have to be willing to admit this and to change if we are to continue to make the Bible our final authority. But at least we’re being inconsistent rather than purposefully making the commandment of God of none effect by our tradition (Matt. 15:6).
  • Beckwith said the opposite of what many Protestants assume Catholics believe. He is no Pelagian; he doesn’t believe that being good enough will save him. He actually said that salvation is “wholly a work of God’s free grace,” something even many Protestants are chary about. It’s typically nominal Catholics (and there are millions of them) who get caught saying that God will let them into heaven for being good people. Evangelical evangelists need to know this.

I encourage you to read Beckwith’s whole piece. The differences between Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism are very serious. (I also encourage you to listen to some Catholic radio; it is very enlightening about what faithful American Catholics believe.)

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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