Roman Catholic Evangelism

My last post was to make folks aware of Michael Horton’s forthcoming book Christless Christianity.  I believe this will be an important book for evangelical churches.  This post is about another forthcoming book that I am not excited about.  One that Horton’s book should be in opposition to.  Frank Beckwith’s Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic (RtR) which is set to be published in November 2008.

The publisher of RtR, BrazosPress, has released some endorsements for the book.  To my surprise there are some protestants endorsing the book.

Should I be surprised?

Protestants are endorsing a book about someone leaving the protestant church and becoming Roman Catholic.  Yeah, I’m at least a little surprised.  I want to take a look at the endorsements and make a few observations.  I will be pulling the quotes from the book’s page on BrazosPress.

Description and Tagline

First, in the books description we read the following sentence.

In 2007, after much prayer, counsel, and consideration, Beckwith decided to return to the Roman Catholic church and step down as ETS president.

Some may say this is being nit-picky, but Beckwith resigned only after returning to Rome.  The offical ETS letter states as follows.

On May 5, 2007, Dr. Frank Beckwith resigned as President of the Evangelical Theological Society. This resignation has come as a result of his decision to be received into full communion in the Roman Catholic Church, which he did on April 29, 2007.(Source)

I’m sure this wasn’t an easy decision, however, a version of this statement is right on the cover of the book.  This makes it look like he was just some fully dedicated Five Solas guy who Rome just swept away.  It’s used as a teaser line to help sell the book.

I think it would have been proper to resign first and then submit to the Papacy. Especially, after four months of studying some of the issues. Would another month or two really have hurt?  Can you imagine if Obama’s campaign manager started studying and considering Republican positions, then, registering as a Republican in Sept. and giving Obama his resignation in Oct.?  Would that be morally acceptable to most Americans?

Protestant and Catholic Endorsements

Take a look at the endorsements which come from the same source linked above. The endorsements are from Catholics and Protestants alike.  The best I can tell the protestants are Moreland, Yamauchi, Wood and Bauman.  While the Catholics are Hittinger, Tacelli, Hahn, Mills, Chaput, Neuhaus and Budziszewski.  I’m sure someone will correct me if I misplaced someone.  As you read the endorsements you can see the differences of how this book is received between the Catholics and Protestants.

The Protestant endorsements basically say this move to Rome by Beckwith is no big deal.  Moreland starts us off by what seems to me as shrugging off this book as an “advance” for dialog.  The attitude seems to be an “I’m okay, you’re okay” position.  Which is framed as “I’m an ‘Evangelical Protestant‘, you’re an ‘Evangelical Catholic‘” where there are “important” differences with “key areas of agreement.”

Yamauchi who doesn’t really say much calls the book a “readable apologia pro vita sua” which in english means a defense of one’s life.    Wood comes in with what is basically another descriptive of the book though stating that Beckwith honors the “riches” of his “evangelical past.”  Bauman concludes the Protestant endorsements. Bauman accurately describes my position when he states the some will, “attack it as Catholic apologetics, as inter-church proselytizing and warfare.”  But tells us that it’s not an apology for Rome, but a story.

Yeah, and the reason for the story is to explain and defend Beckwith’s journey to Rome.

The Catholic endorsements show more levels of excitement as they should.  Hittinger says it “should be a wake-up call for Catholics.”  I suppose this is a way of saying that Catholics can learn from Beckwith what may be some missing ingredients he experienced as a Protestant.  Hahn informs us that Rome is the place where one “can have it all” and gain the “fullness.”  This falls in-line with the official Roman Catholic position.

Mills comment is important.  He says that this book will tell us why Evangelicals are “(often unhappily) drawn to Rome.”  We can most likely learn from this, however, my feeling is that the missing Gospel and misunderstandings of the faith by today’s Evangelicals.  Chaput praises the book as an “unforgettable witness.”  Should we understand this to mean that Catholics should have a more loving, ecumenical attitude towards Protestants as a better witness for Rome?

Neuhaus describes the journey just the opposite way I would. To him, it’s a story of “departure and return, loss and recovery.”  Budziszewski also accurately describes my thoughts as a Protestant that Beckwith’s move “means abandoning the Gospel.” He also calls the book a defense or “apologion” for Rome. We also see admission that Rome does have a strategy of ecumenical evangelism as the book is “encouraging for Catholics who aspire to the New Evangelization so often urged by John Paul II.

I wonder if these methods would be similar to recent Evangelical seeker-sensitive approaches to evangelism.

Concluding Thoughts

The above endorsements agree that Beckwith is kind to the Protestant position and I’m glad that he is a nice guy.  This kindness should not be reason enough to consider Roman Catholicism nor to continue to accept Beckwith in the faith as if nothing has changed.

This should serve as a wake-up call to the Protestant churches as to how Rome is making inroads into evangelizing Protestants.  The wake-up call should be loud and clear Protestant pastors and leaders as to why doctrine matters and cannot be divorced from feelings and faith journeys.  This brings us right back to the Christless Christianity in evangelicalism today where the doctrinal understanding is missing.

Make no mistake, this book is positioned to be a great evangelism tool for Rome.  Yes, it’s story and tagline referenced above tells us what kind of story.  Beckwith’s journey to Rome has all ready gotten significant press and blog coverage.  Hopefully, the critiques of the book from Protestants will not be as the endorsements above.  This may be an important book for Protestants to learn where our doctrinal education and clarity of the Gospel has fallen short.  I also hope I’m wrong and this book slips right by without much notice in the evangelical community.

With sorrowful anticipation…

Mark

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