The Baggage of Benedict and the Backward Step of Beckwith
The following was posted on the blog of Mauro Meister, Professor of Old Testament in Mackenzie University, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Pope Benedict XVI recently (May 2007) arrived in Brazil. He brought lots of things in his baggage. I’m not talking about the Popemobile or his Swiss guards. Nor about his clothing, patterned after that of the Old Testament high priests, with kilometres of gold and silver thread (by the way, Catholicism has a lot to do with the book of Leviticus. I’m referring to the centuries of Romanist tradition.) The different pieces of his baggage, however, present contents that are, for Protestants, conflicting:
1. The Pope brings in his baggage the defence of certain values that we, as evangelicals, prize highly, and that we are seeing fewer and fewer historical Protestants willing to defend: the defence of marriage as a divine institution, of sexual activity exclusively within the marriage relationship, of the value of intra-uterine life, and the defence of biblical heterosexuality. In these areas, and only in these, we hold a certain sympathy for the papal baggage. We are curious as to whether his coming may be used by God to alert the conscience of our society to the suicidal path it is following, as it frenetically embraces secularization.
2. On the other hand, the Pope is bringing along a suitcase full of provisions for idolatry: he is coming to Brazil to be idolized and to make the idolatry of ‘Frei Galvão’ official with his canonization. The coming of the Pope is a super dose of steroids for all the mystical manifestations that we are going to be seeing in the next few days, including one more holiday in our modern and lay nation where we observe the clear separation between church and State . . . or not?! It has been interesting to observe Globo, and the other TV networks as well (including Record who in the past got reprimanded for kicking the image of a saint on the air but has now obtained a contract for coverage . . .), dedicate a major portion of the news coverage to exalt Roman Catholicism.
3. In his baggage we also find the hope of revitalizing the Catholic faith in Latin America that in the fifties was that of 93% of the population and now of around 64% (Data Folha) or 74% (FGV). Who knows? Our survey institutes usually vary up to 2% . . . Is there a cover-up here?
And Beckwith? Who is he? You probably haven’t heard of the recent ‘conversion’ of Francis J. Beckwith to Roman Catholicism. The fact would go unnoticed if this Beckwith were not the President of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), the largest association of evangelical scholars in North America. The most interesting thing about Beckwith’s conversion is the fact that he intended to stay on as the ETS president until the end of his mandate in November of this year, even though he had changed his convictions and had decided to join the Roman Catholic Church. The basic reason for this decision lies in the fact that, according to his understanding, the change in church loyalty would not hinder his continued underwriting of the ETS statement of faith:
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.
This causes us to reflect on some interesting points:
1. A declaration of faith that is so succinct is not serving as sufficient basis for maintaining an organization with ETS’ purpose and size, especially with respect to the differentials in the evangelical convictions. The fact is that we live in a religious world that is less and less confessional with a growing tendency to use vague and imprecise language. Apparently, within the current context, even for a philosopher of Beckwith’s weight, precision does not matter. The expression ‘the Bible alone’ (Sola Scriptura), in fact, may mean many things, including the acceptance of ‘Magisterium of the Church’ and all its baggage of tradition (the same as that of Benedict) that leads to the reduction of Christ’s singular mediation, of the arguments against idolatry and the exclusiveness of justification by faith. Can it be that the real contradiction is that difficult to perceive?
2. Beckwith’s step is part of a growing religious ethos, that of the ‘spiritual journey.’ According to him, born in a Catholic home and baptized and confirmed before he was 14, the step of returning to the Roman Catholic Church was a simple one: ‘I need only go to confession, request forgiveness for my sins, ask to be received back into the Church, and receive absolution.’ For someone familiar with ‘Sola Gratia‘ for some time, these steps seem, at the very least, strange. Nevertheless, this is all becoming very common in the postmodern context of the emerging church. We see this happening more and more.
3. Within this same spirit, it is important to remember that to speak of religion or confessions is considered old-fashioned. Nowadays, people speak of ‘spirituality’, another vague term that can shelter the contradictions of postmodern times. Many have wished Beckwith well. Personally, I pray that he may go back on his decision. Moreover, according to Nancy Pearcey, six words have become the mantra of the new millennium: ‘I’m into spirituality, not religion.’1 In a country as degenerate as ours and that is suffering from such a tremendous ethical crisis, nevertheless 97% of the people of Brazil say they believe in God, with a capital G, according to a Data Folha survey . . . We see in this an immense contradiction.
4. But check out the other side of the issue: similarly to Benedict, the moral values and worldview defended by Beckwith in his books are still those we really appreciate: anti-abortion, pro-family, intelligent design, etc., and it is possible that Beckwith will flee to the field that is less ethically relativistic and more clearly defined when compared to the amorphous configuration of contemporary evangelicals. Even with a more defined ethic, Beckwith’s option carries real soteriological harm with it.
The lesson that we learn from the coming of Benedict and the ‘unconversion’ of Beckwith is this: he who forgets to be only co-belligerent to become an ally in common causes runs the risk of ‘walking spiritually’ along trails that the Gospel we find in the Word of God does not approve and of seeking comfort in a path which is mystic and cosy, but alienated from the truth.
- Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Crossway), p. 117.
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