Francis Beckwith

Many of you have heard the news that Francis Beckwith, President of ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) stepped down from his post last week on account of “returning home to the Roman Catholic Church.” As you might imagine, news of his decision has created more than a little discussion. In fact, the brouhaha is so great that just two days after his blog post announcing it, there were 190 pages worth of responses (more than 500 posts by the fourth day). I printed out all 190 pages, brought them home, and discussed them all evening with my wife. You are probably thinking that our lives are terribly boring and one dimensional, and of course you are right. The other reason for our interest is the research and writing I have been doing on the topic. My writing, which is intended to become a book, asserts that Catholics and Protestants must consciously relate to one another with grace and truth. Our calling to be Christ’s Body doesn’t give us the option of expressing one virtue over the other. Grace and truth must be held together in dynamic tension, for this is the example of Jesus himself (cf. John 1:14). Accordingly, we mustn’t be so open-minded that our brains fall out of our heads; nor can we justify an irritable, cranky attitude.

The extended responses to Dr. Beckwith present the wide spectrum of attitudes among Protestants and Catholics toward one another and thus are a contemporary example of the good the bad and the ugly (mostly bad and ugly). Following is an example:

“I embrace the Gospel message with gratefulness for what Christ has done for me on the Cross. It would be like a slap to His face if I would return to the Roman system. I love Christ too much to do that to Him. Beckwith, I hope and pray that you’ll come to trust in Christ alone for your salvation. Now as a Catholic you have embraced a false and deceptive doctrinal belief on salvation.”

On the grace/truth continuum, this fellow is less than balanced. Some would recommend Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends…, I would recommend reading 1 Cor 13.

“Dear Frank:
One of my students gave me your news this afternoon and pointed me to your website. I so appreciate your wrestling with all the ethical issues involved, as your blog recounts, though I wouldn’t have expected any less, knowing you as I do. What an array of responses you’ve received, which doesn’t surprise me either but still saddens me how folks can express their concern or disagreement with such vitriol. I’ve known enough folks over the years representing a huge diversity of experiences with Catholicism both inside and outside the church to have no doubt about your genuine hope to find an evangelical wing or parish or fellowship in which you can thrive, even while they may remain a minority within the worldwide Catholic communion. I hope you can do great things for the movement from within, though I don’t underestimate the struggles you may have. I suspect, though, that it will be at least a little more courteous than all the incredible [stress] you had to put with from Baylor and certain Southern Baptists! You’re still my friend with lots of admiration even if I don’t anticipate following your pilgrimage. –Craig Blomberg”

Of all the posts which I read, I appreciated Dr. Blomberg’s the most (Craig Blomberg teaches New Testament at Denver Seminary). Some of you may not agree. You may feel as though Blomberg was weak or remise to not confront Beckwith. However, I ask you, what can realistically be accomplished in a blog response beyond venting one’s doctrinal spleen? And while this kind of offloading of theological frustration may feel good, the affect upon our Christian witness is disastrous. The blog responses make us Protestants look like a bunch of uptight scholastics carrying stakes and torches.

As I reflect upon Francis Beckwith’s blog, it underscores the importance of addressing Catholics according to the grace/truth paradigm. To be sure, there are occasions when we must give an answer for the hope within us and not be reticent about differentiating our understanding of salvation from the sacramental system of Rome. But we must use wisdom in knowing what these occasions are and in every situation, regardless of our audience, be careful to speak with the loving character of Christ. God help us.

About the author

Chris Castaldo (PhD, London School of Theology) is the lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Talking with Catholics about the Gospel and coauthor of The Unfinished Reformation.


  1. Chris, Glad to see you weighing in. Is it too much to be expected for evangelicals to act nice? I’m sure that railing on Dr. Beckwith will win many hearts and minds.

  2. That’s quite an honor to be picked out of all 190 pages. And I WAS trying hard to capture the biblical balance between grace and truth. Even more importantly, Frank is a good friend. I think one of the things that would prevent a lot of the harshest reactions in situations like this would be if people would be in close relationships with one another. Blessings for your blog!

  3. Chris, I found your thoughts about the anger expressed on Beckwith’s blog over his recanting Christianity interesting. I couldn’t agree with you and Dr. Blomberg more–we have to try to relate to Roman Catholics with grace and truth, as we must relate to all non-believers.

    However, in Beckwith’s case we have a unique situation. Beckwith accepted a position of leadership in a high-profile, scholarly, evangelical organization and must be held to a higher standard. I was shocked at the news of his returning to Rome and wrote to his blog, not attacking him, but asking some very pointed questions: Do you now accept deceased Roman Catholics interceding for you? Do you now accept that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was born without sin and has bodily ascended to heaven? Do you now believe you are truly eating Jesus’ flesh in Catholic communion? Beckwith responded positively to my final query, leading me to believe that he accepts all of Catholicism. His defense of transubstantiation was built on verses from John 6, which I am sure you are familar.

    Beckwith has betrayed the trust that ETS placed in him, and has betrayed all of us who are members of ETS. He has turned his back on evangelical, Biblical Christianity and turned to a system built on straw. He had once been enlightened and had tasted of the heavenly gift and had been made a partaker of the Holy Spirit, and had tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and now has fallen away, to paraphrase Hebrews 6, it goes on to say, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” Jesus also said, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57)

    I, like you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was saved from the darkness that Rome has built upon human tradition. “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” which all refer to things destined to perish with use– in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. (Col 2:20-23)

    I think I would rather burn with Cranmer than to be thrown “into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt 25:41)

  4. Thanks Jim, input from friends like you make me further convinced of the need for my book.

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