A Troublesome Conversion?

Some of you have, perhaps, heard of Francis Beckwith’s re-conversion to Roman Catholicism. It’s not unheard of for Protestants to become Catholic. It’s not even that uncommon of late for evangelicals to become Catholic. But when the president of the Evangelical Theological Society converts, it’s unsurprising that many people feel the need to speak out.

In today’s comment at Christianity Today, they include this in their story:

The ETS executive committee regarded Beckwith’s resignation as “appropriate.” The committee’s eight members, including acting president Hassell Bullock of Wheaton College, said in a May 8 statement that ETS membership is not compatible with “wholehearted confessional agreement with the Roman Catholic Church. All ETS members annually must affirm that “the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” The statement does not say what precisely constitutes “the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety.” But the ETS executive committee noted that by including the Apocrypha, the Roman Catholic canon differs from what evangelical Protestants recognize. In addition, the committee said Roman Catholics recognize certain extra-biblical statements as infallible, including when the pope speaks ex cathedra. Ex cathedra statements have affirmed Mary’s immaculate conception and her bodily assumption.

Sola Scriptura has long been a cornerstone of Protestant theology. I think that’s a good thing. But I don’t think it can work the way the ETS leadership is trying to make it work. Official Roman Catholic theology has a very high view of scripture. Their reading of scripture is that the infallibility of papal statements ex cathedra can be legitimately from the bible. I’m a Protestant on this issue. I don’t see it there.

But there are other things I don’t see in the text of the bible alone, things that the ETS seems to find there. Most obviously, there is the acceptance of these 66 books and these only that is the centerpiece of their position.  I don’t have any trouble accepting that the Protestant tradition got something right when it so identified the extent of scripture. But they can’t do so by the authority of scripture alone.

I also don’t see any theories about the “autographs” offered in scripture. While we see some images of the text being written (parts of Jeremiah and some of Paul’s epistles come to mind) , no theory of the way their authority arises or functions is offered.

In both these cases, then, at the very least the ETS can be taken to be moving beyond the bible alone – in a way not perceptibly unlike the way Roman Catholics move beyond it.  Surely the ETS has the right to police its own boundaries. I’d just like to see them (I speak as a friendly outsider) use some better arguments.

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