Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Dr Francis Beckwith, a professor at Baylor University and a leading figure among Christian thinkers, has converted to Catholicism. I'm aware that this type of thing sometimes happens. Sometimes we cannot see the forest because of the trees, and this can happen to leading thinkers just as often as the rest of us. For example, in Dr. Beckwith's case, he read the early "Church Fathers" and found a system more akin to Roman Catholicism than to Protestant Evangelicalism. This is the main reason, so far as I can tell from his own message about his conversion. I left the following message on his blog:
If one views the Church Fathers as a lens through which we understand the Bible, it is quite possible to end up as a Roman Catholic. On the other hand, if we start in the other direction, and evaluate the Church Fathers by the standard of what we read in the Bible, it is unlikely that we will end up Roman Catholic. I for one am surprised at how quickly the early church fell away from New Testament simplicity.
In some recent sermons I explored the logical necessity for an infallible Special Revelation from God, and contrasted this to the Roman Catholic system whereby the Bible is considered to be a product of the Church. My hope is that these sermons would help answer the philosophical questions raised by the Roman Catholic approach.

However, few people would take a step this radical based solely on their interpretation of the Church Fathers. Though he didn't discuss this reason in his message, I have to wonder if the sad state of evangelical thinking had something to do with his conversion. I'm not a genuine intellectual, but I do understand a little of the emotions that some of these leading thinkers must feel. It's got to be lonely for a Protestant Evangelical thinker. A friend of mine was once told by a Roman Catholic that Protestants need the Roman Catholics because there isn't an issue that can be raised that Roman Catholics haven't been thinking about for the last thousand years. You can see some of this by looking through some of my blog postings over the last couple of years. I have subscribed to "First Things" for a couple of years now. It requires me to wade through a lot of Roman Catholic dogma (and some Roman Catholic navel gazing) in order to mine a few nuggets. And yet I must because I cannot find anything equivalent within Evangelical Protestant circles. It's my hope that some day Evangelical Protestants will be producing their own works that display depth of thought as well as loyalty to the simple gospel of Jesus Christ. Until then, it is lonely for Christian thinkers, and each year we'll see a few of them move to the Roman Catholic church.

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Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Dear Shawn:
I am not posting to enter into the sad and bitter goings on at Dr. B's site, but I need to ask you a question....(Feel free to just read this and not post it)
What did the early Christians do for almost 360 years without an official canonized collection of books that Catholics called the Bible? The Church came before the Bible so there was no official "go to book." And even if it was there, most people would not have been able to have access to it. The NT was never written to be the "white paper" on "how to be a Church."
The pillar and foundation of Truth is the Church, not the Bible. It was a collection of letters to correct and instruct. Though all Catholics believe it is inerrant and infallible, but only because the Church told us The Church flourished all over the ancient world without a written Bible (NT) in everyones pocket. I am always troubled that Jesus never once mentioned "the Bible" nor told his disciples to write everything down in a book and go by that. Instead, he said he would build a Church and the Spirit would guide you into all Truth.
Thanks for listening.

10:47 p.m.  
Blogger Shawn Abigail said...

Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your well thought-out message, and the important points it brings up. To start, yes I agree about the sad goings on at Dr Beckwith's site. Interaction with Dr Beckwith have been replaced by a lot of people having debates with each other.

You've brought up a number of points, and time doesn't permit me a full answer (that's not a cop-out. I only have a few minutes a day for blogging). Part of my answer is in the first four sermons in my series on Basic Theology, available for download from http://www.bridlewoodbiblechapel.ca/. I realize most people won't download 4 messages just to get my thoughts on a matter, but these 4 sermons do contain much of what I believe and I can't really spend the time to repeat it all.

However, here are a few brief comments. First of all, your statement about what the church did for the first 360 years assumes that we had nothing by way of Scripture until the complete canon was available, collected and distributed. But of course the church did have all the books in the Bible. Perhaps not all were available at one time and one place (although much of the canon was collected early). But the entire Bible was given to the church. For example, Ephesus had a letter, and they probably shared their letter with the Colossians. But how did the church know this was Scripture until the entire canon was collected? A good question if you are Roman Catholic, but the standard Protestant answer is that Scripture is self-authenticating. The church knew what letters were Scripture and what were not because genuine Scripture was self-authenticating.

Now I must admit to somewhat of an emotional response to the statement that "The NT was never written to be the white paper on how to be a Church." The reason is that I have encountered a number of people over the years who make this same statement in an effort to avoid the clear teaching of Scripture. We've seen this within my own denomination. And so my standard statement is that the Bible is not a textbook on ecclesiology, but it is the only guide to ecclesiology God has given us.

Protestants view the Holy Spirit as the author of the Bible. As such the promise that the Holy Spirit would guide us in all truth finds fulfillment in the Bible.

But let me ask a question. If Roman Catholics and Protestant Evangelicals both recognize the Bible as infallible, inspired and authoritative, then shouldn't we interpret and judge the Church Fathers by the standard of what we know to be true (i.e. the Bible). It seems to me that the safest starting place is what we know to be true, rather than judging the Bible by the standard of what we read in the Church Fathers.

Anyway, that's it for tonight.


9:29 p.m.  

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