Silly me. I thought that we’d gotten beyond the puerile anti-Catholicism of previous generations; I assumed that the nutcases in the fringes of the Internet were, well, on the fringes. Perhaps that’s true; maybe they just all left their cells at once and descended upon Dr. Francis Beckwith en masse. But, after reading three days of venomous comments on his blog, I’ve come to a different conclusion. Philip Jenkins was right: anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice.
Let me cut off one criticism with a quick comment: I am not going to defend Catholic triumphalism here. I admit I’m rather pleased that Dr. Beckwith has returned to the Church, but I also think that many recent converts to Catholicism look at the foibles of our Church through rose-colored glasses. Some of them may end up like Bill Cork, returning to their roots. Maybe I will, too; I have no way of knowing what the future holds. But, I rejoice with Dr. Beckwith and I’ll leave it at that.
Now, about the Evangelical and Reformed folks who take issue with Dr. Beckwith’s decision. On the one hand, I’m glad they take issue; they wouldn’t be true to their own traditions if they didn’t disagree with him. But, the sheer arrogance is breathtaking. Let’s take a sampling of the more egregious offenders:
We all know Dr. Beckwith is a well respected man, a good thinker, etc. But, like Greg Koukl says at times, good thinkers make simple mistakes. This is certainly one of them for Dr. Beckwith.
This past week I taught Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” to my son’s home school co-op class, prompting my observation as a longtime ETS member that it seems apparent ETS today would roll out the red carpet for Erasmus, but would give old man Luther the boot. Those tempted to cast a longing glance after Dr. Beckwith would do well to read “Bondage of the Will,” themselves. It’s a perfectly Scriptural cure for Tiberculosis.
As an ex Roman Catholic, and as one who strives to reason with my unsaved Roman Catholic family held captive to its bogus claims, I feel nothing but shame toward people like yourself.
You may well be a respected theologian and smart guy, a great philosopher and all that, but to me, you are a traitor and a stumbling block for the truth of the gospel.
I am grieved in my spirit regarding this decision.
I don’t hold RC’s in ill-will as people, and I do believe that it’s possible for RC’s to be saved. However, it would be in spite of the stated dogmas of their church. I hold them and their church anathema specifically because of Galatians 1:6-9.
I will keep you in my prayers b/c ultimately it is your soul that is on the line before Christ and if you wish to stand behind Rome in your defense before the Father instead of soley behind Christ’s finished work on the cross than you really do need my prayers.
These commentators are stunning. I really don’t know if any words can do justice to how spectacularly wrong they are. But, I’m going to try. Do they really think that all us relatively intelligent people who examined the claims of Rome and decided to leave our Evangelical roots are deluded? That our logic failed us when we left the “Bible alone” behind?
I expect them to disagree with us, but at least give us a little bit of credit. I spent two years studying and arguing with myself and others before I converted. My friends will attest to the agony I went through; the last thing I wanted to do was leave my Baptist church family behind. But, I had to follow my conscience.
There is one simple error of logic that Evangelicals make, that underlies all these comments and prevents the unity of Christianity. That error is that the Bible is formally sufficient for salvation. This position cannot be justified from Scripture itself, because the Bible does not itself define what books it contains, and it is painfully obvious that it does not interpret itself. We must rely upon an external authority, if only to determine the Canon. To claim to follow the Bible alone is to fall into circular logic.
I think I understand why at least some people fall for this error. It is not in our nature to submit to external authority, so we appropriate that authority for ourselves. A common sentiment in Evangelicalism is that the Holy Spirit guides us to the correct interpretation of Scripture. I’d like to think that is true, but the evidence speaks to the contrary: if it were the case, then to whom is the Holy Spirit truly speaking? Those who interpret Scripture to allow one thing, or those who interpret it differently? Ultimately, we appeal to some tradition or another to define the “correct” interpretation. But then how do we determine which tradition to follow?
It is admirable, however, to admit that we follow the tradition of our fathers, in solidarity with them. But, one has to understand that others’ fathers might have followed differing traditions. If relativism is OK with you, then perhaps you could leave it at that, but I couldn’t stop there. I remain convicted that Jesus (in John 17 in particular) and St. Paul (in 1 Corinthians 1 in particular) demand unity in the Church. This is not some invisible unity, but real, visible, tangible communion. The answer to the question of which tradition to follow cannot be answered by examining the present, but only by looking to the historical record of 2,000 years of Christianity. When you do that, as Cardinal Newman so aptly put it, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”
So, then, we’re left with two choices: either remain in a magisterium of one, following one’s own whims under the pretext of following the Holy Spirit, while He is leading others who follow their own inner voices to different conclusions, or submit to some external human authority. Submission is terribly difficult; it requires humility, which is not a common virtue. The humble man admits that the sum of human experience is greater than his own. The humble man seeks to understand the other through the other’s eyes, not his own. If you want to understand Catholicism, learn about it from Catholics. If you want to understand the early Church, read the Church Fathers. Then make the decision to submit.
Discover for yourself that the old myths about Romanism and Popery aren’t true. The evidence is all there, if you just take the time to look:
- We don’t believe in salvation by works. We believe in salvation by the grace of God, which will be manifested in good works. As St. James put it, faith without works is dead.
- We don’t pray to saints in the same way we pray to God. We ask the saints, who are in heaven, to intercede for us to God, much as we ask friends to pray for us here on Earth.
- We don’t worship the Blessed Virgin Mary in the same way we worship God. We honor her for her example, for her purity, and for her constant intercession with her Son, but we know that she isn’t God.
- We can’t buy our way into heaven with indulgences. Indulgences, which can’t be bought or sold, are means of reducing time in purgatory.
- And speaking of purgatory, it’s simply a place beyond space and time where we who are saved will be cleansed before entering Heaven. Nothing impure can enter the presence of God, and a snow-covered dunghill is still a dunghill. Indulgences are earned by actions that increase our purity here on Earth, therefore reducing the amount of cleansing needed.
- We don’t re-sacrifice Christ every Mass. We re-present the one Sacrifice.
- Infallibility doesn’t equal impeccability. The pope, unless he’s declaring something of faith and morals, in a specific manner, is just like you and me. He’s a sinful human being.
- Yes, we’ve done bad things in the past, but we’re sinful, too. It may not have been a good idea to burn Protestants at the stake, although if you take heresy as seriously as we do–and by your comments, I know you do–then to keep someone from infecting others with their salvation-denying views is perfectly understandable. There were bad popes and good popes, there are bad bishops–lots of ‘em. But, that does not take anything away from the preaching of the Gospel.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Please don’t bother reading some hysterical anti-Catholic to learn what Catholics believe. Ask us. We are not the members of a vast conspiracy designed to preach a false Gospel; we were preaching the Gospel before the Canon was set.
And once you’ve learned from us what we believe, then maybe, just maybe, in a spirit of charity, you’ll realize that we seek the face of Christ every bit as fervently as you do. And if we do that, then surely, He will not turn us away.
UPDATE: With sadness, I see that Dr. Beckwith has resigned from the ETS completely, to avoid the public conflict that his presence in that organization would cause.