Proactive Thought Policing

By now, many of my readers will already know of Dr. Francis Beckwith’s decision to return to the Roman Catholic Church. Beckwith, who taught at Baylor where two of my cousins went to school (prior to Beckwith’s tenure), was originally baptised, confessed and communed in the Roman Catholic Church, but later left for evangelical Christianity. He has been, until his resignation in recent days, president of the Evangelical Theological Society. (By the way, here is the ETS doctrinal statement: “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.”) Just several days ago, he was received back into the Roman Catholic Church by way of confession. And has resigned his post as president of ETS.

Some folks, of course, ain’t none too happy about all this. Like Dr. Eric Svesden.

Svesden, apparently, would just rather you predict your apostasy ahead of time and have done with it. In a post responding to Beckwith’s return to the Roman Catholic Church, Beckwith has his own sort of questions:

Did he have questions about where his allegiance resided when he assumed the position as president of ETS? What were the signs of his apostasy? And what measures did/does the ETS executive committee take to provide oversight over the theological musings of its president? How was Beckwith nominated, selected, and voted in given his (now well known) leanings evident in his articles, in his conversation, in his teaching?

This kind of thing is occurring with alarming regularity these days, due in large part to the post-modern, post-Christian abandonment of fidelity to truth (recall my last blog article on Timothy George). There are warning signs for this sort of thing, and they are not that difficult to detect. Do we really need to wait until someone follows through with his “exploratory” musings, all in the name of academic freedom, before we begin to call him to account?

Sure would be nice if potential apostates could forecast their intention to apostatize.

17 thoughts on “Proactive Thought Policing

  1. Maybe if they started enclosing Chick Tracts in the envelopes with the ETS membership renewal letters they wouldn’t have to worry about these kinds of things happening.

  2. The sorts of witch hunts that are proposed are pretty common in fundamentalist evangelical circles. More than one pastor sat me down during my time as a Campus Crusade staff member and grilled me on whether I was a charismatic or a feminist. I think they got the Inquisition script from the same place (seminary, maybe?), because I soon came to recognize the questions.

    Of course, the fact that I’ve now “apostasized” may seem to them to have vindicated their concern.

  3. When I left the A/G, I happen to see one of the denominational leaders at a restaurant several months later with my old pastor. I was asked on how things were going with my family by my ex-pastor and then the “boss” broke in with the grilling and it came down to the fact that my leaving the A/G was due to poor mentoring by my pastor rather than my search for salvation. As long as they can assign blame, it takes away accountability from the leadership and their doctrinal stances.

    Christo Anesti!

  4. From a letter written by Fr. John Krestiankin:

    “Every man has to choose his own life’s path. This is so that no one can hide behind another person’s back.

    Think through everything well. there are only two paths blessed by God: family and solitary-monastic.

    Both of these pathes are of the cross. So, make your choice, which cross is more suitable for your salvation.

    May God give you wisdom!

    Your first blessing after you have chosen should be that of your parents, and the second, that of your father confessor.”

  5. Pingback: The WebElf Report
  6. There was an article in the American Baptist press about this situation. It’s completely typical of that brand of evangelical conservativism. This is where “fundamentalism” becomes a purity cult. It just does. They are the true church.

  7. Oh, and one more thing…when I was growing up as a Lutheran, we were taught that Martin Luther “never wanted to start his own church, but rather to reform the existing one”. If this is so, why are so few Protestants given room for intellectual honesty with regard to Rome? I’m Orthodox and there’s a lot in the Roman Church with which I disagree, but she’s a far cry from the late medieval period and the abuses found therein. Just seems like some sectors within Protestantdom just have to have an enemy called Rome..

  8. Apostasy is not usually a sudden process. Why is it unreasonable to raise issues of integrity?

    Or do we believe that whatever any man who manages to obtain ordination may do must be alright, however shifty, deceitful, or immoral it may be by worldly standards? (The Borgia Pope would have loved this!) Surely not! But ecclesiasticism can mean something very like this, as the Episcopalian debacle shows.

    If we do not endorse vice in dog-collars, then surely we need to have standards. That means asking questions when something like this happens. Why shouldn’t we expect integrity of people in high places?

  9. Roger:

    Why do you frame it in such a dialectic of opposition? Why the stark either/or?

    Can not a man have integrity, but nonetheless over some time find himself moving in a direction different from that toward which he started? Or, to tweak the metaphor: Can not a man have the same destination–and thus no deceit in his stated aim–but find himself a better path down which to head toward that end?

    Further, on what grounds do you assert that apostasy is a sudden, conscious enterprise? Is it not more likely–especially with a man of integrity–that a move such as Beckwith’s is, rather, a more gradual and less obviously conscious work? Cannot the accumulation of impetus take months and years, while the actual choice and decision happen in a moment? While we see the sudden diversion from one path to another, who is to say that the shift was not gradual? A half-degree variance along a steady integrated path will over time lead to large divergence, but be otherwise unnoticeable along the way.

    No, Svesden is asking for nothing less than that the apostate telegraph his apostasy ahead of time.

    And relative to Beckwith’s integrity: I rather suspect he need answer to no one on that score–he’s demonstrated his integrity, by seeking guidance, by speaking to those to whom he has accountability, and finally by resigning both his presidency AND his membership. Those who would attack his integrity to me smack of sour grapes at losing someone of his capacity as erstwhile “poster boy” a la “former Catholic.”

  10. “Further, on what grounds do you assert that apostasy is a sudden, conscious enterprise? Is it not more likely–especially with a man of integrity–that a move such as Beckwith’s is, rather, a more gradual and less obviously conscious work? Cannot the accumulation of impetus take months and years, while the actual choice and decision happen in a moment?”

    This is exactly Svendsen’s point (not Svesden, btw). It is a gradual (albeit ever-increasing) process that takes months and years. That means Beckwith lost his evangelical conviction long ago. In the meantime, Beckwith “pretends” to be an Evangelical. Moreover, he coverted to RCism BEFORE he stepped down as president of ETS. A “man of integrity” would have done it the other way around. He would have stepped down from a post he no longer believed in once it became clear what he intended to do. Unfortunately THAT didn’t happen. And your attempt to make Beckwith shine in this situation rings hollow.

    “No, Svesden is asking for nothing less than that the apostate telegraph his apostasy ahead of time.”

    No, Svendsen was not asking that at all; in fact, his point was not even about Beckwith. It was about the climate ETS has created according to which a high-ranking official of its organization can convert to RCism right under the noses of the ETS leadership, and the leadership somehow is taken by surprise. His point was about the lack of accountability in ETS and about the impact of postmodernism on the attitude of those who ought to be more concerned about truth than they are. In the future, perhaps you ought to clear your befuddled head and give a fair reading before responding rashly to these sorts of things.

    “And relative to Beckwith’s integrity: I rather suspect he need answer to no one on that score–he’s demonstrated his integrity, by seeking guidance, by speaking to those to whom he has accountability, and finally by resigning both his presidency AND his membership.”

    And at what stage did he do this? Before or after he converted to Rome? Integrity dictates he resign before–Beckwith resigned after. That’s not integrity–that’s willful deceipt.

  11. As Dr. Daniel B. Wallace said in his statement on the Christianity Today blog about Beckwith’s conversion/reversion, there is nothing in the ETS statement of belief that would prevent a Roman Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox Christian from signing it. And that statement is the sole membership requirement to join ETS, as anyone can see by going to the ETS Website.

    Thus, to infer that what Dr. Beckwith did was disingenuous or deceitful seems to be saying more than can or should be said. Other information about ETS does indicate that the founders, or some of them, did indeed intend to keep Catholics out, but that is commentary and not what the ETS text says.

    Read it here:

    Comments

    I appreciate the gracious tenor of the ETS executive committee’s response to Dr. Beckwith’s resignation. This is a model for all of us to follow. There has been way too much of a defensive posture by evangelicals over Dr. Beckwith’s return to Catholicism, and too much triumphalism by many Roman Catholics. Surely those outside the Christian faith are not impressed by this in-fighting.

    But I wish to take issue with one point raised by the executive committee’s statement: It seems illogical to assert that if one believes that other documents besides the scripture are infallible, a person could not sign the ETS doctrinal statement. There is nothing in the statement that says that only the Bible is inerrant; it says that only the Bible is the inerrant written word of God. As such, it does not even explicitly affirm the Bible’s role as final authority for the Christian, just that it is the only document that can be called the inerrant written word of God. Further, there is nothing in the statement that defines what books belong in the Bible. Consequently, it cannot be used to declare that a Roman Catholic or eastern Orthodox person cannot embrace this credo.

    Dr. Beckwith, I understand, withdrew his membership from ETS because he did not want to do damage to the body of Christ but wanted to have an open, irenic dialogue between Catholics and evangelicals. Unless I am mistaken, he felt that he could sign the doctrinal statement of the ETS without any reservation. Further, he did say that no one on the executive committee put any pressure on him to resign. Although I may disagree with him over several issues, I am puzzled about the executive committee’s inference that the ETS credo on inerrancy is one of them.

    Posted by: Daniel B. Wallace at May 8, 2007

    FYI – Dr. Wallace is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, a premillennial dispensationalist Evangelical seminary.

  12. So it’s the technical letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law that’s important for the Christian mind these days? It is opportunism of the highest order to take advantage of what may be a poorly worded statement and completely ignore the known intent of that statement. I’m disappointed that Wallace would take this position, but not entirely surprised. It seems to me that kind of “interpretation” is not adopted out of good will, but out of dubious utilitarianism. If I ask my son to “throw out the trash,” and I find later that he has tossed it outside without actually putting it into the metal trash container–which is understood by all to be the intent of my request–I will not be satisfied with his telling me “well, you didn’t actually say put it in the trash can.” If my wife asks me to hold her hand, and I briefly sqeeze it and go about my business, I can assure you I will not get away with a statement to the effect “Well, techincally you didn’t say to continue holding it.” Beckwith is NOT an Evangelical. It is entirely absurb for anyone to suggest that he should somehow remain in an organization that represents a theological tradition he has rejected! Shame on Wallace for suggesting such a thing.

  13. monogenes:

    It seems to me that you and Svesden are railing about the “known intent of that statement.” Apparently it’s not so “known” as the two of you would like to make out.

    After all, which “version” of the Trinity would be acceptable to the ETS, the “Augustinian” or the “monarchian”? Which “version” of sola scriptura would be acceptable to the ETS, that of the fundamentalists’ solo scriptura of that of Luther?

    If it’s so “poorly worded” as you claim, then it hardly seems viable to attack Beckwith’s integrity when he is not only adhering to the “letter of the law” allowed by such a statement, but simply living into the sort of integrity the ETS itself fosters by virtue of its ambiguity.

    No, Beckwith is no fraud, all you’re puffing about notwithstanding. The fraud is that folks like yourself want to bind Beckwith with the very noose the ETS statement itself strangles you with.

    That fact that “opportunists” such as you and Svesden attempt to besmirch Beckwith’s integrity only shows your own unwillingness to look to your own house. If the ETS statement is to be interpreted such as you and Svesden think it should be, then quit attacking someone else’s integrity and get with it: vote a tougher statement into ETS. Until that happens, then your judgments about others’ integrity is just sour grapes. Physician heal thyself.

  14. “It seems to me that you and Svesden are railing about the “known intent of that statement.” Apparently it’s not so “known” as the two of you would like to make out.”

    Of course it is.

    “After all, which “version” of the Trinity would be acceptable to the ETS, the “Augustinian” or the “monarchian”? Which “version” of sola scriptura would be acceptable to the ETS, that of the fundamentalists’ solo scriptura of that of Luther?”

    Nice smokescreen. The founding members are still alive, and they have clarified the intent of the founding statement as regards the phrase “word of God written.” Everyone knows what OT canon Evangelicals hold, and it is disingenuous to raise questions about just how “Bible” is supposed to be defined.

    “If it’s so “poorly worded” as you claim, then it hardly seems viable to attack Beckwith’s integrity”

    You’re the one who raised the issue of Beckwith’s integrity–not I and certainly not “Svesden.” I simply responded to it because you unfairly attributed the integrity issue to Svendsen when his issue was with ETS. There’s no disagreement that ETS needs to tighten up their statement in light of what’s happened. But the president, of all people, knows the intent of the statement, and should not opportunistically take advantage of its poor wording.

    “No, Beckwith is no fraud, all you’re puffing about notwithstanding. The fraud is that folks like yourself want to bind Beckwith with the very noose the ETS statement itself strangles you with.”

    Folks like myself? Does that include the ETS Executive Committee, which has come to the same conclusion as me? Does that include the founding members, who have come to the same conclusion as me? If the executive committee AND the founding members have clarified the “meaning” of the statement, and have done it in such a way that they deemed it obvious that the statement excludes Roman Catholics, why are you still disputing this?

    “That fact that “opportunists” such as you and Svesden attempt to besmirch Beckwith’s integrity only shows your own unwillingness to look to your own house.”

    Huh? “Svesden’s entire point (do you have a spelling problem by the way?) was that ETS needs to do some house-cleaning. How have you missed that?

    “If the ETS statement is to be interpreted such as you and Svesden think it should be,. . . ”

    “If”? There is no “if” here. The statement has been clarified by both the ETS Executive Committee AND its founding members. Why do you keep rambling on as though there’s some question about what it means?

    “vote a tougher statement into ETS. Until that happens, then your judgments about others’ integrity is just sour grapes. Physician heal thyself.”

    Maybe you should learn how to read–and spell.

  15. monogenes:

    That’s funny, I do not mention integrity once in the post, and, in fact, the first mention of integrity is from Roger Pearse above, and it was to that that I was responding initially. In fact, what I questioned in the original post is not Svendsen (make you feel better?) questioning Beckwith’s integrity, but the sort of proleptic announcement of apostasy that Svendsen (make you feel better?) quite explicitly advocates.

    You, however, piled on immediately on the integrity issue by explicitly accusing Beckwith of “pretending” to be evangelical. So, Mr. Pot meet Mr. Kettle.

    So, apparently, your obfuscating notwithstanding, you do indeed question Beckwith’s integrity, and apparently on the grounds that he didn’t predict his apostasy ahead of time. Oh, yeah, and he waited a few days after his reception back into the Catholic Church to resign. But of course that wait wasn’t at all predicated on the fact that the ETS statement is in any way ambiguous. Because, after all, doggone it, everybody knows what it really means.

    Get over yourself, brother. If the ETS statement can only be accurately parsed once you’re “in” the club, then it is a disingenuous statement. If I can’t get to the website, look at the statement, and figure I can affirm it on its face (there’s no mention of the “Apocrypha” in the statement, so why should I interpret to be only the Protestant canon, and where would the website give me any clue that by golly “Word of God written” sure don’t include them there Apocriffer), then it sure raises the ol’ eyebrows that I’d be asked to join and fork over my dues.

    No, friend, you’re preaching a sort of ETS gnosticism: join us, and once you’re in you’ll get the full meal deal.

    Beckwith’s fine. You and Svendsen (make you feel better?) and the ETS need to clean your own house first before you go railing on anyone else’s integrity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s