Dr. Francis Beckwith, professor at Baylor and just-resigned president of the Evangelical Theological Society, has announced that he is returning to the Roman Catholic Church (where he grew up).
There are people I dearly love who are Roman Catholic, and I certainly don’t want to offend them or anyone else, but I was saddened by this news. Frank Beckwith is a first-rate scholar, but even smart people can make bad decisions, and I think this is one.
After saying he believes both the Roman Catholic (RC) and protestant view of justification are both biblically defensible, he says, “I thought it wise for me to err on the side of the Church with historical and theological continuity with the first generations of Christians that followed Christ’s Apostles.”
I think he has chosen the wrong way to err.
The RC view of justification is essentially salvation by grace that is maintained by works. Those works are empowered by the Spirit and appointed by God, but in the end the human has a choice as to whether or not to participate, so the human is adding something to the cross to ensure his salvation. From the protestant perspective this is salvation by grace plus.
The protestant view is salvation by grace through faith alone. Any attempt to add personal merit to the equation is not only unneccesary, we believe it spoils the whole thing – that you either trust entirely in the work of Christ on the cross or you don’t. There is no in between.
These two views cannot coexist; one side is wrong. I am not going to get into the merits of each case. The question at hand is, to which side should you err? If you’re not as sure as is humanly possible, you have to decide which side offers the better approach.
If I may borrow from Pascal, let’s put it in terms of a wager. Which is the safest bet? If the RC view of justification is correct, a protestant who trusts in Jesus and lives a godly life will (under Vatican II) go to heaven. If the protestant view of justification is correct, a Catholic who faithfully obeys the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church will not.
Given this situation, the best bet to make is the protestant approach: trust in the death of Christ on the cross to pay for your sins, and love him with you whole life from there on out. If you’re wrong, you lose nothing.
(HT: Justin Taylor)