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No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Beckwith on Conversion

A few weeks ago, two sectors of American Christianity (the Evangelical world and the Catholic world) were rocked with the news that Baylor philosopher Francis Beckwith had returned to Roman Catholicism. (Note that it is really not correct to refer to Beckwith as a convert, since he was raised Catholic. Technically, he is a revert.) Some of the reactions were good; some were bad. Some Evangelicals called Beckwith an apostate and suggested that he was going to Hell. Some Catholics took the opportunity to brag, pat themselves on the back, and generally behave triumphalistically. (Hint: that's not endearing to your brothers and sisters in Christ!) Edited to add: for more on triumphalism, see this NCR editorial.

Beckwith had already done an interview for the evangelical magazine Christianity Today, as well as discussing his conversion on his blog. Now, he has an interview for the National Catholic Register. Frankly, I feel that this is the most interesting work on his conversion to date, as it goes into much more detail about the issue of justification.

Many blogreaders have been asking Beckwith about justification. His initial statement on his conversion stated:

. . . 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.

Many people wondered what he meant by that. For many evangelicals, what he said above seems inconceivable. Others (including myself!) just wanted to know what he'd been reading that changed his thinking. Beckwith promised a future lengthy work-an article or book- on the subject, but many people had questions now.

The NCR interview clarifies some of this.
For example, I found these paragraphs very interesting:

Then I read the Council of Trent, which some Protestant friends had suggested I do. What I found was shocking. I found a document that had been nearly universally misrepresented by many Protestants, including some friends.

I do not believe, however, that the misrepresentation is the result of purposeful deception. But rather, it is the result of reading Trent with Protestant assumptions and without a charitable disposition.

For example, Trent talks about the four causes of justification, which correspond somewhat to Aristotle’s four causes. None of these causes is the work of the individual Christian. For, according to Trent, God’s grace does all the work. However, Trent does condemn “faith alone,” but what it means is mere intellectual assent without allowing God’s grace to be manifested in one’s actions and communion with the Church. This is why Trent also condemns justification by works.

I am convinced that the typical “Council of Trent” rant found on anti-Catholic websites is the Protestant equivalent of the secular urban legend that everyone prior to Columbus believed in a flat earth.

I still hope that Beckwith may produce an article in the future focusing specifically on Justification, but the new interview offers a good start.

Beckwith brings with him a very positive take on the possibility of better relationships between Catholics and Evangelicals. (See, for instance, the question: "What can evangelicals and Catholics learn from each other?" in the NCR interview.) Let's hope that he's right!

HT: Jimmy Akin


Blogger La Mama Loca said...

"Obviously, because the Church has a teaching authority that doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues on which you can debate and discuss.

I do think that one of the difficulties that some Protestants have is that they have an authoritarian model of Catholicism — that there are guys sitting in Rome making these things up — and that’s unfair to Catholicism. "

Catholics have this problem, too. And I think this has something to do with the recent "defection" of Bill Cork back to Seventh Day Adventism. There is often a picture presented, even by Catholic apologists, of the Church as a monolithic structure where we now know *everything* and have the definitive answer. But there is far more room for movement and disagreement within the Church than that. You can see this with Catholics begging for an "official" answer on a moral issue instead of reasoning themselves.

11:24 AM  
Blogger La Mama Loca said...

Oh, by the way, that's a quote from the NCR article.

11:02 AM  

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