Does Justification Matter at ETS?

Earlier this year Frank Beckwith stepped down as president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). His actions were the right thing to do as he returned to the Roman Catholic Church, IMO. But maybe I and others who agree with me were wrong. Upon reading CT’s short q&a State of the Society with ETS’s current acting president, Hassell Bullock, I can’t help but wonder if it would really matter had Beckwith stayed in office.

When asked about the current debates on justification and the hopeful outcome.

Since the doctrine of justification was the “watchword” of the Reformation, and thus the one doctrine, perhaps above all others, by which Protestantism distinguishes itself from its Catholic and Orthodox communions, it is only wise that we should talk about it and try to understand why our understanding distinguishes us from other Christian brothers and sisters. <emphasis mine>

If the doctrine of justification doesn’t matter so that the Gospel isn’t affected in anyway and we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ then why couldn’t Beckwith stay? What difference would it really make?

As for discussing Beckwith’s resignation. I think this further strengthens my questioning of his resignation.

The executive committee issued a statement that we considered to be honest and balanced. We wanted to respect Professor Beckwith, a brother in Christ, while lamenting his loss to our society and to Protestantism more generally.

If the doctrine of justification doesn’t matter in the ETS then why not just admit it? It almost seems a smoke screen to say that he should have stepped down, but he’s still our brother in Christ as the Gospel wasn’t affected.


p.s. I am only using Beckwith as a real life example not meaning to single him out.

in Church Issues,Culture,theology

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Thomas Twitchell November 11, 2007 at 6:51 pm

Does it really matter? I hear the same thing across the Arminian/Calvinist divide. Does it really matter how we define the Gospel? Isn’t really what is the interest of the church is unity for the sake of Kingdom growth? I wonder then about the ETS’s statements really having any meaning other than Beckwith stepped down to relieve any confussion for the sake of unity, and not truth. If vital differences do not matter and an amorphous gospel is all that does, then there is no need to maintain the pretense, we are all one with Rome, because it is just a matter of interpretation, isn’t it?

2 Mark Farnon aka Tartanarmy November 12, 2007 at 12:05 pm

I hear ya.
Real unity is disappearing real fast as far as I am concerned. The very people I hope to rely and lean on are letting me down everywhere I go these days.
Those closest to us are becoming our stumbling-block, well at least from my own experiences in the last 12 years that I have been a Christian, and a Protestant one at that!

aka Tartanarmy

3 Jason M. Long November 13, 2007 at 11:12 am

Unity is great, but “watering down” the exclusivity of the Gospel and doctrines on which the church was founded is not.

“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” – Galatians 1:10 (NASB)

The spirit of ecumenism is truly one of dilution; in order to be inclusive of everyone, you have to reduce your doctrines, beliefs and practices down to the lowest common denominator. Even among Protestant denominations this would be difficult, but to include the RCC in any sort of united group would concede to their beliefs, which differ at the very core from ours (grace+works, sacraments, penance, Marian theology, etc).

The RCC and those nominal Protestant denominations who do not “bear good fruit” (cf. Matthew 7:17-19) dilute the truth of the Gospel, which is defined in the Holy Scripture. Unity with darkness is not unity; it is eventual death.


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