Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Rome-ward bound

"Home, where my thoughts escaping

Home, where my music's playing

Home, where my love lies waiting

Silently for me"

Simon & Garfunkel

Here is some more information on Francis Beckwith's conversion, and from a little closer to home- from Bethel University here in town....

As a Baylor University graduate (B.A., 1979), I find myself fascinated by yet another story of an evangelical coming home to Rome.

I applaud it, in a non-triumphalistic way, of course.


Rome-ward Bound

An evangelical converts to Catholicism, and everyone remains friendly.
May 18, 2007 12:01 a.m.Last month, Francis Beckwith--president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), noted evangelical philosopher, "God-blogger" and professor of church-state relations at Baylor University --was received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Shortly after, he resigned his presidency and membership in ETS, sending shock waves through the religious blogosphere and parts of the evangelical community.

The ETS executive committee--of which I am a member, as a past president of the society myself--released a statement thanking Mr. Beckwith for his many contributions to the society and expressing its desire to maintain cordial relations with him. The committee also noted that his resignation was appropriate, since the ETS affirms that "the Bible alone . . . is the Word of God written."

The phrase "the Bible alone" in the ETS context refers to the 66 books in the Old and New Testaments of the Protestant canon and thus rules out Mr. Beckwith's continued membership, given that the Roman Catholic Church accepts additional books in the canon, commonly referred to as deuterocanonical or apocryphal books. Mr. Beckwith maintains that he can still sign the ETS statement with full integrity because it does not enumerate the 66 books, but he voluntarily withdrew his membership in the interests of avoiding a rancorous debate in the society.

Responses to Mr. Beckwith's conversion run the gamut. A small number of evangelicals have reacted as if he committed an act of betrayal. Among many more, including us on the executive committee, the response has been one of cordial disagreement on some critical matters, accompanied by an acknowledgment that we nevertheless have much in common as fellow Christians.

Mr. Beckwith's conversion did catch many off guard, though. Not since the 1985 conversion of Thomas Howard, a graduate of Wheaton College , evangelicalism's flagship school, had a scholar of such high profile made the journey "from Wheaton to Rome ." A professor of English literature and prolific author, Mr. Howard was widely read among evangelical intellectuals, and his conversion sparked a similar reaction to Mr. Beckwith's, including a 14-page spread in Christianity Today.

As it happens, I am Mr. Howard's nephew and thus watched his conversion from close range. It was anything but sudden. His (and my father's) family of origin embraced a robust Protestant fundamentalism in the 1930s. But in the 1960s, feeling an aesthetic as well as theological longing, he became an Episcopalian and finally in the 1980s a Catholic. He retains some of the best of his fundamentalist upbringing (a vibrant, personal piety and commitment to historic orthodox doctrine) even as he embraces the full teachings of the Catholic Church.

Mr. Howard was among the first of what has become a steady stream of evangelical converts to Catholicism in the past 20 years. Three who achieved prominence after their conversions were the singer John Michael Talbot, now the No. 1 Catholic recording artist, Scott Hahn, a best-selling Catholic author, and Joshua Hochschild, a professor at Wheaton fired for his conversion in 2006.

A common element among these converts is a strong commitment to the Catechism and papal encyclicals. These Catholics are not generally in sympathy with the theologically liberal wing of the American Catholic Church but are enthusiastic supporters of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI's emphasis on orthodox teaching and practice. In short, they have more in common theologically with evangelicals than with liberal Catholics, and evangelicals themselves, in many respects, have more in common with traditional Catholics than with mainline Protestants. Especially on social and political issues, there is much room for common cause.

Evangelical-Catholic relations have not been this cordial in the past, of course. History is littered with the corpses (sometimes literally) of past conflict, and conversion from one camp to the other was, for a long time, almost unheard of. The Second Vatican Council (1962-65), however--with its more ecumenical outlook--changed the landscape, and relations between Catholics and Protestants in most parts of the world have improved greatly since.

In the U.S. , one encouraging development is Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), an enterprise that began under the leadership of Charles Colson (an evangelical) and the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus (once a Lutheran minister and now a Catholic priest). Since 1994, the ECT has issued position papers highlighting "important areas of agreement and disagreement among us."

Francis Beckwith's conversion to Catholicism should be seen in this same light. In an email he states: "My academic work . . . has always dealt with issues and questions that concern all Christians--Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox. My return to the Catholic Church will not change that project." For myself, I can say that I have lost a valued colleague in the ETS, but I remain his brother in Christ and wish him well in his new spiritual home.

Mr. Howard is the dean of the Center for Biblical and Theological Foundations at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn.


Tiber Jumper said...

Check out my song Rome Sweet Home

Phil B. said...

Love it! If I only knew how, I'd post your link directly on my page. I'm still learning.... both computer and Catholic-wise.
Thanks for sharing!