Saturday, May 05, 2007

I'll be honest. I don't think anyone knows what it means anymore.

The president of the Evangelical Theological Society, Francis Beckwith (professor at Baylor), has apparently converted (back) to Roman Catholicism, but intends to remain in a member of ETS.
Because I can in good conscience, as a Catholic, affirm the ETS doctrinal statement, I do not intend to resign as a member of ETS.
(EDIT: But he changed his mind and did resign his 23 year ETS membership.)
Jay the Bennett has asked how a Roman Catholic can affirm the following from the ETS doctrinal statement:
"The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory."
But I wonder, do the Roman Catholics declare something else to be the "Word of God written"? Though it may have been intended to do so, I don't think this ETS affirmation equates to sola Scriptura.

(from The Cambridge Declaration, also the philosophy of ministry at Providence Church)
"Thesis One: Sola Scriptura

We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.

We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian's conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation."
I think the ETS bit cited affirms the inerrancy of Scripture, but it does not subordinate councils nor does it deny papal infallibility, etc..

I can see how this would be in keeping with the fundamental of the faith known as inerrancy, but do Roman Catholics deny inerrancy?

In other words, I don't see this as an exclusively Protestant statement of Scripture.

This, of course, raises the question for me ... "What is an evangelical?" Or, "Can one be an evangelical Roman Catholic?"

If it's an adherence to the "Fundamentals of the Faith" of the fundamentalist movement (i.e., bodily resurrection of Christ, imminent/literal second coming of Christ, inerrancy of Scripture, virgin birth & deity of Christ, and blood/substitionary atonement), then you're likely only going to have the nature of the atonement as the dividing wall between Roman Catholics and Protestants, though these have historically been discussions in the Protestant arena exclusively.

I do find the whole thing interesting as labels seem to mean so much less than they once did, though they're still vehemently used. Forums debate what it means to be "Reformed" and Baptists are wrestling with the nature of the true essense of Baptist identity. Evangelicals have wrestled with open theism.

So much of this we just sort of know intuitively or in our gut, but it's interesting how labels seem so fluid. Rush used to say (and maybe still does), "Words mean things," which is true, but do they mean the same thing to everyone? In communication theory terms, who defines the meaning, the sender or the receiver? Who gets to define the terminology?

We know the winners get to write history and I wonder how this plays in to definitions and establishing boundaries.

What does it mean to be evangelical? What does it mean to be orthodox? What does it mean to be a Christian? I'll be honest. I don't think anyone knows what it means anymore.

For if eveyone knows it to be something different, then nobody really knows.

P.S. Apparently Thabiti Anyabwile is feeling me on the question of definitions and asks, "What is an Evangelical?"

Labels:

21 Comments:

At 06 May, 2007 01:03, Blogger M. Jay Bennett said...

Hey Gun,

I just posted a response comment over at PTW. I think that in order for a Papist to be able to affirm the ETS statement he would have to understand the word Bible as having a 47-book Old Testament. If he concededed that the word Bible was intended to mean a 39-book Old Testament, then the word "alone" in the doctrinal statement would, according to the Romish heresy, preclude an affirmation.

What do you think?

 
At 06 May, 2007 01:06, Blogger M. Jay Bennett said...

Oh, and nice Ron Burgandy quote!

I think it means a whale's . . .

 
At 06 May, 2007 01:17, Blogger GUNNY said...

That's an interesting point. I think you're right that the word "Bible" means (or could mean) different things to the Protestant than the Roman Catholic.

Knowing the context as I think I do, those who wrote "Bible" in the statement would be describing a book comprised of 39 OT & 27 NT books, but in 2007 would/could a Roman Catholic say that's your Bible and this one is mine, just as one uses the ESV and another the KJV?

I'm not saying Roman Catholics should be in the ETS necessarily, but I can see how a Roman Catholic could affirm the statement with a clear conscience, because he's affirming the Bible as he knows it.

But, if ETS defines Bible as we do, then I think a Roman Catholic could not be a good Roman Catholic if affirming that which is a denial of their Bible.


P.S. This was one of the modifications we made to the Abstract of Principles in putting together the doctrinal statement of Providence Church. We added the word inerrancy and the composition of the Bible.

We went from this:
"I. The Scriptures.
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience."

to this:
"I. The Scriptures
The Scriptures were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience. The Bible’s 39 Old Testament books and the 27 New Testament books are regarded as inerrant and infallible in their respective Hebrew and Greek original manuscripts."

That's not a criticism of the Abstract, but we live in a world with different challenges. In a more ambiguous world, it might not be a bad idea for ETS to revise their doctrinal statement if it doesn't securely keep out those they aren't looking to have as partners (e.g., open theists).

 
At 06 May, 2007 01:24, Blogger M. Jay Bennett said...

Carl Trueman has posted on Beckwith's conversion.

 
At 06 May, 2007 08:07, Blogger Timothy said...

As one of the Catholics, I have no problem affirming the statement "The Bible’s 39 Old Testament books and the 27 New Testament books are regarded as inerrant and infallible in their respective Hebrew and Greek original manuscripts." Catholics believe that 100%

Neither would I have any problem affirming the inerrancy of the original manuscripts of the 47-book Old Testament found in the original 1611 edition of the King James Bible (and other pre-1829 bibles) as being inerrant and infallible in their respective Hebrew and Greek original manuscripts.

Like the ETS statement, you have chosen a subset of the Catholic faith. To exclude Catholics via a statement of faith, one pretty much has to include one or more heresies.

God bless...

- Timothy

 
At 06 May, 2007 16:33, Blogger M. Jay Bennett said...

timothy,

I don't understand what this means:

"Like the ETS statement, you have chosen a subset of the Catholic faith."

Could you clarify?

 
At 07 May, 2007 08:20, Anonymous Michelle K said...

Interesting.

I saw Beckwith speak this last fall...I really like him. Smart guy, good speaker.

 
At 07 May, 2007 08:30, Blogger Rev. said...

Timothy, what do you mean exactly by your statement, "To exclude Catholics via a statement of faith, one pretty much has to include one or more heresies."? Of which heresies do you speak?

 
At 07 May, 2007 11:07, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will Beckwith continue to be Baylor faculty?

 
At 07 May, 2007 14:56, Blogger GUNNY said...

Timothy wrote: "Like the ETS statement, you have chosen a subset of the Catholic faith. To exclude Catholics via a statement of faith, one pretty much has to include one or more heresies."

Actually, it wasn't our intention to necessarily exclude Roman Catholics with our statement on the Scriptures, but just to state what we believe about them. In retrospect, if we were trying to exclude anyone it would probably be what we consider a liberalism within our circles that seeks to undermine the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

Don't worry, though ... our statement of faith definitely includes some things your church had deemed heresy.
; )

 
At 07 May, 2007 16:22, Blogger M. Jay Bennett said...

Yeah, I think the Cambridge Declaration is sufficient to receive several anathema's from Rome!

 
At 08 May, 2007 00:56, Blogger GUNNY said...

It's official.

Professor Beckwith has resigned his ETS membership.

"Although I firmly believe that I can sign the ETS doctrinal statement in good conscience, my high-profile presence in ETS will likely result in the sort of public conflict that occurred during the debate over the openness view of God and the attempt on the part of some members to oust believers in that view. Because, as I noted in my prior posting on this matter, that I deeply desire a public conversation among Christians about the relationship between Evangelicalism and the Great Tradition, a public debate about my membership status, with all the rancor and stress that typically goes with such disputes, would preempt and poison that important conversation. For this reason, I am resigning as a member of ETS."

 
At 08 May, 2007 12:04, Anonymous Michelle K said...

Although I have not seen him explicitly say so, my guess is that Dr. Beckwith is staying on as faculty at Baylor. I know that Baylor has professors from many denominations, so if he was leaving I believe it would be his decision and not because they require him to do so. But, based on the comments below (taken from Dr. Beckwith's blog), it would appear that he intends on remaining at Baylor:

"Recovering Evangelical,

I have certainly not gotten the impression that Baylor is anti-Catholic as a whole. Certainly there are some individuals who are anti-Catholic, but for the most part this is not the case. My favorite professors at Baylor have been Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Anglican, and Baylor does well to keep Christian diversity amongst its staff. I do not see why Dr. Beckwith should leave Baylor after becomming Catholic. It may not always be the easiest atmosphere, but there are wonderful people here who are helping things move in a more positive direction. I, for one, really hope he stays."

Posted by: Kacy | May 8, 2007 1:35 AM

"I agree with Kacy."

Posted by: Francis Beckwith | May 8, 2007 1:48 AM

 
At 09 May, 2007 19:51, Blogger Matt said...

At root is the problem with the ETS definition. You all have already raised the question of what "Bible" means. And although we might be comfortable making certain assumptions about the framers in this case, the fact is, they didn't define it, so there is no enforcement authority unless the definition is modified. I completely disagree with the assertion that a Catholic could not sign this statement in good faith. There is nothing about the statement that excludes Roman Catholics.

What pathetic irony that an organization of theologians, of all people, would be so sloppy with their language that they couldn't even defend their ranks against the likes of the open theists!

ETS deserves whatever membership they get as long as they stubbornly insist on maintaining that limp dish rag of dirty water that they call a "doctrinal basis".

As for labels, Gunny, "evangelical" is a label I no longer accept willingly. I think it is beginning to take on the undertones that "fundamentalist" carries. It is especially increasingly associated with guys like Falwell and the others that the media has elected elders of the American church. I am not one of them and will not be associated with them if I can help it.

Sorry...I can't let it go...I was going to close here, but I just want to ask...if the ETS wanted a nice broad definition that would keep the doors open and yet maintain some sense of orthodoxy, why would they choose Scripture as the lone issue? I think this is a result of the period in which the "basis" was defined. The language devised and swung like a club in the 20th c. fundy vs liberal wars is no longer relevant for the most part. I think we are finding in the case of the ETS doctrinal basis that the definition has outlived its usefulness. These discussions (on the faults of the basis) are symptomatic of the degrading terminology.

Of course, it may just be that ETS has always been intended to absorb people of such varied views as Pinnock and Beckwith. In which case we are out of line for thinking that any of this is a problem. It would then be by design.

Matt

 
At 09 May, 2007 22:24, Blogger M. Jay Bennett said...

"I think we are finding in the case of the ETS doctrinal basis that the definition has outlived its usefulness."

I agree, because, as Protestants, everyone originally understood the word Bible as including a 39-book OT.

If the word "Bible" is used in a doctrinal statement, regardless of further definition (which I agree would be helpful here), it simply cannot be understood as including both a 39-book OT and a 47-book OT at the same time and in the same sense. It MUST either mean one or the other.

If we say an RC could sign the statement with integrity, then we must also say Protestants cannot.

 
At 09 May, 2007 23:40, Blogger GUNNY said...

I also agree. Personally, ETS has never really jazzed me to begin with, though I could never really put my finger on it as to why.

Perhaps it was the topics that were discussed or upon which papers were written, but they weren't right in my theological wheelhouse.

I also remember back in the day finding their doctrinal statement less defined than the Baptist Faith and Message ... the 1963 version!

The circles in which I run tend to be much more defined and I like it. It doesn't mean we're better than everyone else, but it means we really know who we are.

Jay the Bennett wrote: "If we say an RC could sign the statement with integrity, then we must also say Protestants cannot."

That's an interesting statement. At first I was fully on board and yet we do have some commonality (e.g., Nicea). Yet, as I suspect it relates to the ETS statement, yeah, I think you're right.

Though there are some (albeit few) who call/consider themselves "Evangelical Catholics" (e.g., these guys and this dude's 8 principles of evangelical catholicism), the two terms used to be quite clearly mutually exclusive.

This is particularly seen in Deutschland where the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland IS/means the Protestant Church in Germany (i.e., they're basically synonymous terms).

But that's clearly not the case any more.

Like Matt noted, the term "evangelical" has taken on a peculiar meaning and in some ways means more about political party and social action groups and family issues than theology, much as "fundamentalism" has ceased to be about the fundamentals of the faith, but has become the fun-less branch in the sense of some legalistic tendencies in many churches.

Hey, if you let the non-evangelicals hijack your term ... the terrorists have already won.

 
At 10 May, 2007 00:16, Blogger M. Jay Bennett said...

I agree with you both about the deteriorated meaning of the word "evangelical" today. It's been hijacked, pistol-whipped, and blown to smithereens. I declare war on philological terrorists.

 
At 10 May, 2007 01:45, Blogger GUNNY said...

Amen, Jay. War is on. Just one rule ... don't touch the face. Now, come get a taste.

News at 11 ... the streets run red with the philological terrorists blood!

ETS has spoken:
The work of the Evangelical Theological Society as a scholarly forum proceeds on the basis that “the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” This affirmation, together with the statement on the Trinity, forms the basis for membership in the ETS to which all members annually subscribe in writing. Confessional Catholicism, as defined by the Roman Catholic Church’s declarations from the Council of Trent to Vatican II, sets forth a more expansive view of verbal, infallible revelation.

Specifically, it posits a larger canon of Scripture than that recognized by evangelical Protestants, including in its canon several writings from the Apocrypha. It also extends the quality of infallibility to certain expressions of church dogma issued by the Magisterium (the teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church), as well as certain pronouncements of the pope, which are delivered ex cathedra, such as doctrines about the immaculate conception and assumption of Mary.

We recognize the right of Roman Catholic theologians to do their theological work on the basis of all the authorities they consider to be revelatory and infallible, even as we wholeheartedly affirm the distinctive contribution and convictional necessity of the work of the Evangelical Theological Society on the basis of the “Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety” as “the Word of God written and . . . inerrant.”


But haven't they just said, we don't want you because of all this slooge you have that we're not on board with? Isn't that different than saying, you should realize that you're not able to be here because this statement is in conflict with your slooge?

In other words, we're not going to modify our definitions or parameters because we know what they mean.

Okay ... here's my beef/contention/issue ...
If ETS wants to make its organization Protestant only or Protestant exclusive, then why not make your statement faith as such? Why tell a Roman Catholic why he/she should not be able to sign the statement of faith when it's not explicitly exclusively to the Roman Catholic?

"“the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” "

If a Roman Catholic can agree with that, and I'm thinking he/she can, then why prohibit their membership. If you don't want them, then make it so they can't agree. Put it something that's been anathematized or some such.

Throw down some sola Fide, not some inerrancy bit. Throw down some sola Scriptura. All you've done is say this is the Word of God written and inerrant. A Roman Catholic could agree with that and still see the Pope as having the capacity for papal infallibility.

If the Roman Catholic plays by your rules, let him in. If you don't want him, change the rules. If your doctrinal statement allows for open theists and you don't want them, change your doctrinal statement.


P.S. Jay ... uh, where'd you get a hand grenade?

 
At 10 May, 2007 17:20, Blogger M. Jay Bennett said...

It was sitting beside the chocolate squirrel.

 
At 21 May, 2007 17:59, Blogger GUNNY said...

I think I ate your chocolate squirrel!

I also ate some fiberglass insulation. It was not cotton candy like the man said.

; - (

Gene Veith offers some interesting comments on Beckwith's conversion back to Roman Catholicism.

 
At 22 May, 2007 12:53, Blogger GUNNY said...

Well ... this is interesting.

Scope out this 2004 article in The Southern Baptist Theological Journal.

It is critical of the ETS statement and notes the many non-evangelicals who could sign it.

"In the wardrobe of doctrinal statements the ETS statement is a bikini."

Does the ETS Doctrinal Statement Say Enough?

 

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