Sunday, May 06, 2007

ETS Should Exclude Roman Catholics

Here's a disturbing bit of news from Russell Moore:
Francis Beckwith, associate professor of church-state studies at Baylor University and current president of the Evangelical Theological Society, has been received into the Roman Catholic Church, according to reports today.

The Evangelical Theological Society was founded as an academic professional organization for conservative Protestant scholars. The ETS doctrinal statement is, in its entirety: "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."
Beckwith also resigned as president of the ETS. Read Beckwith's own account of his journey back to Rome HERE. He says, in part:
[B]ecause 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.
It would seem that one thing Beckwith had to ask forgiveness for was believing in salvation by faith alone, apart from works. Sad. Notice that while he has resigned as an officer of the ETS, Beckwith intends to remain a member of the Society. Moore notes that there is at least one other Roman Catholic member of the Society. The ETS, as a body of Evangelical Protestant theologians, needs to expand its Doctrinal Basis to include a clear statement of justification by faith alone, worded in a way that excludes Roman Catholics from membership. The four Southern Baptists on the ETS Executive Committee ought to do everything in their power to begin this process. If the Society is unwilling to defend justification by faith alone, those members who cherish the true gospel ought to withdraw their membership.

Of course, this is the group that couldn't muster the votes to get rid of a heretic like Clark Pinnock.

UPDATE: Carl Trueman responds to the news of Beckwith's return to Catholicism.

UPDATE #2: Between Two Worlds links to a proposal to revise ETS doctrinal statement.

UPDATE #3: Dr. Mohler discussed the matter on his May 10 radio program with Bruce Ware, vice president of ETS and a professor at SBTS (and my Sunday School teacher!). To listen or download, click HERE.


Anonymous said...

Francis Beckwith God Speed. I am Glad the Lord led him where he thought he should be

We are of course not sure what Mr Beckwith's Confession comprised of. I suspect he confessed teaching doctrines that opposed the Catholic Church. But again we would just be speculating.

If the ETS wants to exclude Cathilics perhaps they should change the title of the organization. Catholic are Evanglical too


Josh said...

Catholics can't be evangelicals, because an evangelical is a particular kind of Protestant. And the evangelical Protestant reading of the gospel is very different from that of the Roman Catholic Church. That's why I'd like to see the ETS expand its doctrinal basis to better reflect what it means to be an evangelical. I agree that under its current doctrinal basis Catholics cannot be barred from membership.

An evangelical who becomes a Catholic is walking in error, not in the will of God. He sins against the truth.

Gretchen said...

Josh, did you know that our very own sunday school teacher is on the executive committee? (I think). Yep, Dr. Ware.

I heard he was up for president next year.

John said...


You are too quick to judge this matter without knowing enough about it. There are many things to be brought against what you have said here but one thing stands out. You said,

"It would seem that one thing Beckwith had to ask forgiveness for was believing in salvation by faith alone, apart from works. Sad."

Therefore, when James says "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone," (James 2:24 ESV) you are forced to argue that what James *means* is that a person is justified by faith alone and not at all by works. How do you accuse a Catholic of being in error and out of the will of God when he assents to what Scripture says, i.e., when James says a person is justified by works and not by faith alone, he means a person is justified by works and not by faith alone?

Josh said...

James and Paul use the term "justification" differently. For James, to be justified is to be vindicated in one's claim to have faith. Thus the dialog in James 2: "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." This is horizontal justification - justification before others who have heard one's claim to have faith.

For Paul, justification means to be declared right before God. It is a judicial act of God whereby one is declared not-guilty in his sight and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to him instead, all on the basis of faith alone. Thus Paul says in Romans 4: "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." This is vertical justification - justification in the sight of God.

The point of James 2 is that good works are the inevitable fruit of faith. Sanctification will follow justification. The point of Romans 4 is that my righteous acts - which really are righteous - are not the ground of my right standing before God: "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God."

The RCC reverses these and makes sanctification necessary for justification. The sacraments impart grace which produces meritorious acts which are necessary for one to be declared right before God.

It's never valid to play one passage of Scripture off against another.

I should also say that this notion of the real merit of good works was not established as the official teaching of the Church until the papacy of Gregory the Great in the late sixth century.

So one question (there are many) which divides Protestants and Roman Catholics is, "Is the righteousness of Christ imputed or imparted?"

John said...


I would not knowingly play one passage of Scripture off against another. If you think that I have done this intentionally or that any other faithful Catholic does this, you show how you further misunderstand the Catholic faith.

I have not heard of vertical and horizontal justification. Your interpretation may be correct, but how do I know? I've never heard of anyone else interpreting it this way. It does not make good sense to me that the point of James 2 is that good works are the inevitable fruit of faith. This seems to contradict all of the other times in the New Testament, including James, where Christians are exhorted to do good works. If good works are inevitable, then why are we exhorted to "do" them?

I don't see anything in Romans as contradicting what I understand James to be saying. That is probably because I understand Romans differently than you do. Whose interpretation is correct?

How do you know you are correct and I, as a Catholic, am wrong?

Josh said...

Have you heard a Protestant handle James 2 differently? Maybe the terms "horizontal justification" and "vertical justification" are mine, but I think the notion that James and Paul use the term differently is a pretty common Protestant view.

When I say sanctification is the inevitable fruit of justification, I mean that a person who has been justified will obey those exhortations to do good. Justification, and the consequent indwelling presence of the Spirit, are necessary to produce the fruit of the Spirit - sanctification (Rom. 8, Gal. 5, Eph. 5). Where the Spirit resides, fruit will appear. Justification precedes sanctification.

Please don't suppose I think I've got the truth in my back pocket and it's all very simple. I'm just saying, this is what the Word of God says plainly. Of course, as a Protestant I hold to Sola Scriptura.

John said...


What I am saying is do not suppose that an evangelical who has become a Catholic is out of the will of God when he has honestly read the Scriptures as you have and come to an honest conclusion that the Catholic Church is and always has been correct.

Josh said...

I'm going to post a link to a recent edition of Al Mohler's radio program in which he and Bruce Ware discuss this whole issue of Beckwith returning to the RCC. I hope you'll give it a listen and let me know what you think. Maybe we could chat face-to-face sometime.

John said...


I'll try to take a listen. I don't have ready access to high-speed that also has audio, but I'll do my best. It'd be good to meet up with you sometime, hope we can. I suppose you know we're in the same city--welcome, by the way! Hope you're getting accustomed to Luhvulle.


Josh said...

I have added a third update to this post that links to the May 10 edition of Dr. Mohler's radio program, in which he discusses the differences which exist between Protestants and Catholics with Bruce Ware.

John said...


Finally got a chance to listen to it. Thanks for letting me know about it. I appreciate the candor, honesty, and transparency of Dr Mohler and Dr Ware. Maybe I'll be able to meet up with you sometime soon.