The Roman Catholic
Church, Protestantism, The Move Back to Rome, Francis Beckwith’s
Return to Rome, and
Evangelicals are moving “back” to Rome,
that is, the Roman Catholic Church.
Perhaps the most jolting incident of a person to do so
was Francis Beckwith, who was President of the Evangelical
Theological Society at the time of his move.
While there is a lot of discussion about the issues, few
speakers seem to understand, possibly because of their lack of
theology and philosophy.
Beckwith is himself a philosopher.
His move only shows that even philosophers fail to follow
the basic tenets of their own discipline.
And, many Protestants
are guilty of this, as we will see.
The Issues Have to Be
Isolated; First, Regeneration
For sure, there are many issues here.
Let me begin with the issue of who are and who are not
discussions are not about “true” Christians vs. “false”
are they about who is and is not going to heaven, that is, the
saved vs. the unsaved.
Only God knows who falls into each category.
And, this matter brings us to the first principle.
“Regeneration by itself is no enlightening.”
This statement is one of Abraham Kuyper in his
Principles of Sacred Theology (page 266, 580).
I have not read any
mention of regeneration in these discussion between Roman
Catholics and Protestants. In
fact, regeneration is not often discussed in any theological
issues today. One
reason may be that it has no chapter in the Westminster
Confession of Faith and may be overlooked.
While “Effectual Calling” includes the definition of
regeneration, the word itself is not used there.
(It is used elsewhere in the WCF.)
Regeneration is the
change wrought in a person by the Holy Spirit to turn him from
believing that his own way is trustworthy to believing that
God’s way of the Scriptures is ultimately trustworthy.
Central to this change is that person's recognition that Jesus
Christ died for his sins and the idea of the Trinity.
Regeneration is more complex than the
simple statements that I am making about it here, as I have
But this definition will suffice here, as our concern is
that regeneration conveys no knowledge.
It conveys a disposition towards God, His plan for
history, and what he requires of man—as presented in the Bible.
primarily an orientation to the Bible as truth.
The fact that no
knowledge is communicated is both the strength and weakness of
Its strength is that salvation is not dependent upon a fixed set
of truths or propositions.
The thief on the cross did not have to study the Bible or
be catechized to be immediately with Jesus in Paradise (Luke
23:43). The thief
illustrates that there is one “baptism” (Ephesians 4:5), that of
the washing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), that determines the
eternal destiny of those regenerated.
(See discussion of unity, below.)
It is interesting that Gordon Clark in his
book, Faith and Saving
Faith, approaches, but never gives a particular set of
propositions that a person must believe to be saved.
And, this omission occurs in probably the best book ever
written on the topic!
In fact, if one begins to list necessary doctrines to
guarantee one’s salvation, where does one stop other than
finally just encompassing the whole Bible?
One could even make the case that the Christian's knowledge (as
central to faith) must be perfect; that is, equal to God's
knowledge ... which is omniscience ... which is both heretical
“disposition” named above, then, does have one inescapable
object of belief: the Holy Scriptures.
The Holy Spirit who causes regeneration, also wrote the
Scriptures through men.
He is not going to deny Himself, and He is not going to
teach by any other means (John 17:17).
Many readers may be offended and even consider me
heretical that I did not say that the object of belief if Jesus
Christ. My answer
is that the truths about Jesus Christ are only found in the
is no explicit knowledge of Him or His salvation outside of the
weakness of the lack of knowledge that comes with regeneration
is the diversity that is found among Bible-believing Christians.
We should quickly dispense with any truth-claim of a
person who calls himself a Christian and who does not believe
that the Bible is God’s Word, infallible, inerrant, and
That person has no claim to be a Christian either by
definition or by established orthodoxy.
Simply, a Christian is a “Christ-one” (Acts 11:26), one
who at least believes certain basics about Jesus Christ as Lord,
God, and Savior.
How can the Holy Spirit who regenerates and who also wrote the
Scriptures, deny Himself?
“What,” you say, “I thought you said that
there is no necessary beliefs for the Christian!”
No, I said there was no “fixed set of truth or
propositions,” but a person’s beliefs must include many, if not
most, of those that Scripture and orthodoxy have stated.
Perhaps the simplest belief system is that of The
Apostles’ Creed. A
person who could not state with considerable certainty of, and
affection for, the truth of those propositions should not claim
nor be allowed to claim the name “Christian.”
In my opinion, and I think logically
necessary, is that the most basic belief from regeneration is
also the most comprehensive: that the Bible is indeed the very
Word of God written, infallible, and sufficient for all that a
Christian needs (II Timothy 3:16-17).
This belief in the Bible is logically necessary because
all truth-claims must ultimately arrive at a first principle
that is the authority and explanation of all that is derived
later, especially ethics. This
first principle must be comprehensive from which these
derivations come or else it is insufficient.
I posit that there are only two choices for a
(1) self and (2) an objective authority outside of oneself.
If self, then one may freely choose whatever he wishes
from any source that he chooses, including the Bible.
Interestingly, there are few religions and no human philosophies
that have an objective authority sufficiently comprehensive and
practical for all issues of life.
For time and simplicity, I cannot flesh out that
statement. But when
one compares the sufficiency of Scripture to any other claims to
one’s life principle, the others pale in both their “demeanor of
authority” and their comprehensiveness.
I am aware that no one thinks perfectly
consistently with (2).
To an extent, as much as we would abhor eisegesis, we are
all guilty of it.
But “self” must give considerable attention to hermeneutics,
creeds, statements of councils, and recognized scholars.
Every regenerated Christian has been forced by his own
reason to agree with truth that he did not at first believe,
either of doctrine or practice.
This “change of mind” (a form of repentance) comes about
by the Scriptures as the authority of God.
There is an
impassable gulf between the “self” as authority and the
Scriptures as authority.
It is a difference in disposition and the governance
of one’s life. It
is the gulf between being regenerate and unregenerate
All this discussion is both preliminary and
foundational. It is
preliminary in that no distinction is attempted between who is
and is not “saved.”
Challenges between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are not
about who is truly a Christian (regenerate) and who is not (the
judgment is to be made by the individual himself and by churches
who have doctrinal standards for memberships.
Ultimately, God will separate the sheep and the goats and
the wheat and the chaff.
discussion is about logical necessity.
The Scriptures, as God speaking “Thus says the Lord,”
will not allow any other authority other than itself.
As we have seen, in reality the only other authority is
the self. The law of
non-contradiction forces a choice between any truth-claim of
Scripture, and one that is different.
I doubt that either the regenerate or the unregenerate
appreciate this sufficiently.
When two regenerate people disagree, there can be only
one truth. Either
one is right or the other wrong, or there is a third choice that
neither sees. One
cannot simply say that “we agree to disagree.”
That statement is too facile.
Their attitude should be more serious.
“We disagree about eternal truths.
May the Holy Spirit and more study show us the truth that
we are seeking.”
While on a practical level, they cannot argue endlessly (and
thus the need for individual churches and denominations), they
should be aware of the seriousness of their disagreement.
Further, persons who disagree should be sure
that they have some basic teaching in hermeneutics and logical
education would include the importance of precise definitions,
syllogisms, logical fallacies, tests of truth, and
All Christians should be thus educated.
For sure, churches are failing in this endeavor.
I know of no church that defines a curriculum for its
members, when everywhere else in society a definitive education
is required. Even
on-the-job training is given after one has completed an
extensive and lengthy formal education.
Agreement between one who is regenerate and one who is
unregenerate will ever occur at more than a superficial level.
Kuyper has shown this better than anyone else (of
whom I am aware) in his
Principles of Sacred Theology.
Cornelius van Til and
Greg Bahnsen have repeatedly stated that the unregenerate must
begin with theistic premises just to have an argument to present
against theism! Then,
the unbelievers argue against it!
That is just an amazing
Application of This
First Principle: The Holy Scriptures
attempt at reconciliation between Roman Catholic and Protestant
doctrine is impossible for logical reasons.
To think otherwise is profoundly simplistic and naïve.
The definitions of justification, regeneration, the
sacraments, the Scriptures, authority, confession, forgiveness,
sanctification, and images in worship are a few of the major
the two sacraments upon which both agree, Holy Communion and
Baptism, their interpretation (definition) of each is different.
Reconciliation is possible only if central definitions of
either are changed to those of the other belief system
A change of definitions by either position would
That is, the position itself would become that of the other or a
Thus, reconciliation is impossible.
One or more definitions may be accepted by the other, but
this is a change of position, not reconciliation.
These differences have existed for 500 years for just
these reasons discussed here.
What common sense, must less careful reasoning, could
believe realistically that either side is going to change?
These are not exact syllogisms, but they
identify the problem better than “warm fuzzies” that “the Church
ought to be one.”
(See the following section.) While the problem of emotions
cannot be addressed here, any consideration of reconciliation of
Rome with Protestants is nothing but sentimental emotion.
Theological and philosophical precision will not allow
even the first step of reconciliation.
Actually, The Church Is
churches has not been able to have definitions and propositions
that all Christians can agree upon, the Holy Spirit has in
There are five “ones” in this passage: the Trinity (Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit), hope, baptism, faith, and body.
The Trinity (named individually) is part of the
definition of Christianity without which it does not exist.
All Christians have the one hope of heaven.
There is one body: all those who have been regenerated
(sometimes called the invisible church).
There is one baptism: regeneration.
And, there is one faith or what is spoken of in the Bible
as “the faith” (Jude 3). While
there are likely other passages that unify all Christians,
certainly this one does.
By this delineation, one is forced to
reconcile this Biblical reality with one’s theological
Baptism cannot be the mode itself or whether regeneration and
baptism coincide (baptismal regeneration), as it differs among
all denominations, while all Christian denominations believe
that at least the Bible (“the faith”) is one authority for
would agree that there is only one body (often named “the
invisible church,” although of whom that body consists would
differ. One hope
would have to be heaven, even if Roman Catholics posit purgatory
as an intermediate step.
Perhaps, this passage is discussed here too
briefly. But, for me, it
describes a profound unity and spiritual reality of
that can be found when two or more Christians find that indeed
God has transformed their lives with a unity of doctrine at a
most basic level whether they are Roman Catholic or Protestant.
Philosophers Ought to
Know Better. They
Deny Their Own Discipline
Francis Beckwith writes about a sentimental
journey in his Return to
Rome. But this
sentimentality obscures eternal issues of great importance.
And, he is not the only one making great errors over his
movement. There are
both Protestants and Roman Catholics making similar great
errors. Beckwith begins with a sentimental offer.
This book is a narrative intertwined with
encounters, arguments, criticisms, and reflections.
It is not meant to be an apologetic for (Roman)
Catholicism or an autobiography in the strict sense. (p. 16)
OK, it is not a formal “apologetic,” but it is
inescapably an apologetic.
Why else would anyone read it?
Who cares about
the movement of a person from one church to another, even a high
profile person, unless they are interested in his reasons for
this attempt is so naïve and deceiving.
The disagreements between the emerging
Protestants and the Roman Catholics were crystallized at the
Council of Trent on the latter side.
Various confessions and creeds, such as the Westminster,
Belgic, Helvetic, Heidelberg, and Canons of Dordt, formulated
Beckwith and others refers to positive changes in the Roman
Catholic Church over the past 40 years.
But, make no
mistake about it, the Roman Church has not moved one iota on
what was stated to be “anathema” at the Council of Trent.
The divide on central issues has not changed since that
time. While the
overt antipathy may have cooled and even become at times
reversed because of Vatican II, the doctrinal antithesis has not
changed. Again, I
say that any statement to the contrary is naïve and sentimental.
In history, much blood has been shed over
these issues. In
Geneva while Calvin was there, one man, Servetus was executed.
The Spanish Inquisition tortured, killed, and confiscated
property for hundreds of years.
The Spanish Armada sailed as a Roman Catholic navy to
crush Protestant England.
The English, Scotch, and Irish tortured, killed, and
fought wars over the ideas of Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism,
Arminianism, and Calvinism.
The French Roman Catholics lured and massacred tens of
thousands of Hugenots on Bartholomew’s Day.
Let us not pretend that the thin veneer of a “gentler and
kinder” day can hide these heinous events of history.
And, I will let the reader decide who is the greater
torturer and murderer in these events.
The formal statement of the Evangelical
Theological Society discerns the issues more clearly.
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.
This focus is appropriately narrow.
It only concerns
sola Scriptura which along with the Trinity defines the ETS.
But where is the response of Protestant denominations?
Where is the response of Baylor, a Southern Baptist
University, where Beckwith is a faculty member?
Indeed, many Protestants offered sentimental praise of
Beckwith’s journey as endorsements for his book.
Brothers and sisters,
these issues are serious and of eternal consequences.
Relative to the abortion movement, one has
often heard, “Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to
repeat it.” The
history of Roman Catholicism has many positives, but it has also
While Protestantism is not without its warts and wars, it has
been the vanguard of personal freedoms all over the world, for
example, Great Britain and the United States.
Protestants Are Heavy
with the Warm Fuzzies, Also
Protestants emotions and experience have almost replaced
change has allowed attempts at reconciliation with Rome and
muted any outcries about the “return” of Beckwith and other high
It is well documented that the large majority, perhaps as
high as 90 percent of the colonists at the time of the American
Revolution, were not only Christians, they were Calvinists.
However, they differed
in church government and mode of baptism, as Presbyterians,
Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and others.
And, they had a high level of education and erudition
that Neil Postman calls “typographic America.”
Calvinism has at its core, definitive creeds
While its members are not required to adhere to its doctrines,
its officers are.
And, seminary education is required of its preachers and
particulars tend to be a tether to prevent severe drift unless
they are denied outright.
But Calvinism has been influenced by emotionalism, as
Revival and Revivalism
traces modern emotionalism back to the changes that occurred
from The Great Awakening to the revivalism of the mid-19th
century. While not
perfect, that awakening was centered in Calvinism.
It was primarily
a work of the Holy Spirit in the regeneration of souls.
Is not this effect where this paper started, with
to get “decisions” made conversion a work of man, rather than a
work of God. It
has brought many tares into the church who were not interested
in serious Bible study.
Then, Sunday School was begun for unchurched children
which led to its teaching being primarily for children of church
members, making teaching no longer the responsibility of
teaching is the best way to learn, parents lost both knowledge
and ability to reason.
And, with a general anti-intellectualism in the culture,
Christianity became centered on the emotions.
This focus on emotions is seen in all denominations: the
antics of Pentecostals, evangelistic messages every week without
breadth of Bible teaching, seeking “decisions” and counting the
numbers, accepting virtually any testimony for entry into a
local church, “winsomeness” over doctrinal purity, “no creed but
Christ,” and “contemporary” worship services, to name a few.
But, the worst influence has been those who
ought to have had sound reasoning: the philosophers and the
Beckwith’s journey is full of emotionalism.
Certainly, he examines the issues, but at places fails in
his reasoning at critical points.
For example, he sees no problem with his being Roman
Catholic and still be a member of the ETS.
Where is his application of the law of noncontradiction
that there can be only one authority, as stated by the ETS
Again, Protestants are no better.
J. P. Moreland, in spite of his excellent work in many
areas as a Christian philosopher, writes disparagingly of
Protestants who are “over-committed to the Bible” to the extent
that something “must be done about it.”
He too is unable to apply the law of non-contradiction to
a first principle.
John Frame counters this kind of thinking with his “Defense of
Something Close to Biblicism.”
Of course, C. S. Lewis has been a popular
writer and apologist among Christians for decades.
But the popular appeal in his writings fails standard
tests of orthodoxy
and standard rules of philosophy.
As an example of that inconsistent reasoning, Lewis’ own
answers for The Problem
of Pain were insufficient for his own trials.
Dorothy Sayers was more on target when she
said that “The Drama Is in the Dogma,” the title of one of her
essays. The drama
is not in experience in conversion, in worship services, or in
“feeling good” about one’s faith.
It is about doctrine, systematic docrtrine.
It is about doctrine that is both consistently and
thoroughly Biblical, as well as meeting the tests of truth and
logic. It is The
Apostles and Nicene Creeds, as well as many others more detailed
in breadth and precision.
(The “tests of truth and logic” are standards
that are ultimately derived from Scripture itself.
They are not a separate standard outside the Bible that
can judge it. But
interestingly, many if not most, of these standards have been
widely accepted as philosophical standards for centuries!)
A Return to Biblical
Authority and Logical Necessity
For all their bravado and exuberance as Bible
believers, evangelical scholars still show great weakness in
their Biblicism (see Frame above) and understanding of
philosophy. The WCF
set a pattern which has not been followed.
Its first chapter is on its first principle, “The Holy
it is both theologically and philosophically sound.
Within that first chapter, it states:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things
necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is
either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary
consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at
any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the
Spirit, or traditions of men. (Section 6)
Again, we see philosophical and theological
consistency, as one proceeds by “deduction.”
Today, induction, empiricism, evidentialism, and
experience are more often the sources of authority, as
exemplified by Beckwith and Moreland.
Perhaps the clearest example of Biblical
neglect is the fact that in the United States, where estimates
of 50 million Christians or more exist, the extent and rapidity
of cultural descent into moral depravity would more have been
expected of a nation where the Marquis de Sade rules.
Yet, Christians still major on the minors of “peace and
prosperity” that Francis Schaeffer wrote about more than 30
years ago. Even in
this decline, those same “Christ-ones” demean and deplore the
theonomists who are almost the only ones addressing the issues
of this decline. I
do not endorse all that theonomists say, even as they disagree
But they do use the Bible to address political and other
For the most part, evangelical laymen are
ignorance is not their fault.
Their shepherds are not faithful from the pulpits to
preach the “whole counsel of God.”
They initially profess to a superficial understanding of
the Gospel and never get more than that.
But they do not read or “study” their Bibles.
Even those who have a consistent “quiet time,” are
getting only the emotional messages of their devotional
literature that could possibly qualify as skim milk (Hebrews
5:12-14). They need
to learn hermeneutics, read commentaries, and scour the web for
some great sites that are Calvinist, Reformed, or Presbyterian.
They need to study the WCF.
And, finally, they need to study the tools of philosophy
and logic. All this
study may take 10, 20, or more years, but I never said that it
was easy. By
comparison, a college degree takes 16 years.
Professional degrees take longer.
Is not the study of God’s Word more important?
Oh, I will let you in on a little secret.
The rules for understanding the Bible, hermeneutics, are
no more or less than the tools of philosophy: logic,
definitions, propositions, language, history, etc.
“Hear O Israel, the Lord
our God is one!”
There is no contradiction of right thinking in either His
general revelation (nature and the cosmos) or His Special
I should have said this in the beginning and saved you all this
today has been truncated into a simple message of
true Gospel is the entire Bible from Genesis 1 to
Confession of Faith is both theological and
philosophical in its first chapter and therefore first
principle being the Holy Scriptures.
Unless there is a body of truth, what we know of
God can be easily falsified.
God must be truth before He can be believed and
While one must
give credit to Alvin Plantinga as having started
virtually a revolution in academic philosophy by his
challenges to secular philosophers, the acceptance of
“anyone who calls himself a Christian” to the
Society of Christian philosophers (which he started) is
A self-designated Christian who does not accept
the major tenets of Christian orthodoxy or the inerrancy
of the Scriptures does not affirm “Christian” as its
most basic core.
to Death (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1985).
The fact that
Postman is not a Christian makes his comments all the
C.S. Lewis and
the Search for Rational Religion (Grand Rapids: