Dr. Francis Beckwith, the president of the Evangelical Theological Society, as become Catholic. Dr. Beckwith was raised Catholic but became an Evangelical Protestant in youth. After a review of Catholic theology and its basis, however, he has been reconciled with the Church.
I recently learned of Dr. Beckwith's intention to pursue reconciliation. Apparently my own humble writings were of use to him in his journey, and he was kind enough to say so. In view of the sensitivity of the situation, however, I of course agreed to refrain from making the matter publicly known. He also was kind enough to let me know just before he went to the sacrament of reconciliation.
Last night I received a note from Dr. Beckwith indicating that the matter had become public, and so I would like to offer warm felicitations regarding his return to full communion with the Church.
The source through which the matter was made public happened to be James White's blog, and as you can imagine, Mr. White is not happy.
In particular Mr. White raises the question of what Dr. Beckwith will do given his present status as head of the Evangelical Theological Society.
Prior to his reconciliation, Dr. Beckwith shared his thoughts on that matter with me, and though I will let him speak for himself on the subject, I will say that he intends to handle the matter in a gracious and frank manner and has already taken steps in that direction.
On his blog, Mr. White questions whether Dr. Beckwith could remain a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, writing as follows:
Let's ponder the hypothetical situation of a President of the Evangelical Theological Society converting to Roman Catholicism in the midst of his tenure. In 1998 I attended the national meeting of the ETS in Orlando, Florida. At one of the sessions some of the founding members were being asked questions about why they did certain things, why they wrote the statement of faith as they did, etc. A woman asked a question of the panel. "Why did you write 'the Bible alone' in the statement of faith?" The ETS statement of faith is very, very short. It reads:
"The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory."
Roger Nicole rose, slowly, and made his way to the podium. He looked out at the lady and said, "Because we didn't want any Roman Catholics in the group." He then turned around and went back to his seat. While most sat in stunned silence, I and a friend with me broke into wild applause. The brevity of the response, and Nicole's dead-pan look, was classic. Most looked at us like we were nuts, but we appreciated what he said. Here, one of the founding members made it clear that the ETS was founded as a Protestant organization and that primary to their own self-understanding was a belief in sola scriptura.
Mr. White is correct about the text of the ETS statement of faith or "doctrinal foundation." It's found online here.
While the ultimate interpretation of this statement is up to the ETS itself, I would point out two things:
1) The statement of a single founder, such as Dr. Nicole, regarding the interpretation of such a statement is analogous to that of a single founding father regarding the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. In other words, it is not of itself conclusive, however enthusiastically Mr. White and his friend might receive it.
2) If the founders of the ETS intended to exclude Catholics from the organization, they did not frame their doctrinal foundation in a way that would, in fact, block Catholics from being able to agree to it.
The Bible and the Bible alone is the word of God written (as opposed to the Word of God Incarnate, the word of God in nature, or the word of God handed on through the Church in parallel to Scripture). Only Scripture is divinely inspired such that every assertion of the sacred authors is asserted by the Holy Spirit. Consequently, the Bible is inerrant in the autographs. And, of course, God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.
There is thus nothing in the ETS doctrinal foundation that a Catholic could not agree to in good conscience and it is not an effective instrument for excluding Catholics from membership.
This situation will, of course, be very sensitive for members of the Evangelical Theological Society and its leadership, as well as for Dr. Beckwith and his family, and I ask readers to keep the matter in prayer.
At the hour I write, Dr. Beckwith has not posted on Right Reason, a blog in which he participates, regarding his return to full communion, and I do not know if he will do so, but I invite my readers to watch that blog for possible updates and to offer their felicitations to Dr. Beckwith in the combox below.
VISIT RIGHT REASON.