Francis Beckwith’s new book Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic has just been released. The new book traces his journey back to Roman Catholicism, and the last chapter deals directly with his membership in the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). Beckwith was the President of the ETS when he decided to return to the Roman Catholic Church. Beckwith said then and he contends now that he can still sign the ETS’s doctrinal statement in good conscience. He writes,
“On May 5, 2007, I resigned as president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and two days later I resigned my membership, one I held for over twenty years. . . I did not believe that the ETS doctrinal statement was inconsistent with my Catholic beliefs. . . I still believe the ETS doctrinal statement is broad enough to allow Catholic members” (pp. 118-19).
In other words, Beckwith feels that he can sign the statement in good conscience. He resigned simply because he wanted to avoid a rancorous dispute over this point. Beckwith also comments on our proposal to amend the doctrinal basis of the ETS. He writes,
“Soon after my resignations, two members proposed extensive changes to the organization’s doctrinal statement. These changes, if passed, would leave no doubt that ETS excludes all non-Protestants from membership” (p. 118).
Beckwith’s account underscores the reason that the ETS needs to clarify its doctrinal position. The current doctrinal statement consists merely of an affirmation of inerrancy and an affirmation of the Trinity. Both of those points are important, but they are insufficient by themselves to outline what we mean by “evangelical.” That is why we need to amend the doctrinal basis. We can never prevent people from signing our statement in bad faith. No doctrinal statement can keep someone from doing that. But by expanding our statement, we would be doing a service to those who wish to sign in good faith. They would know whether or not they share the Society’s definition of what it means to be an evangelical (however broad that might be).
The ETS will vote this week on our proposal to amend the ETS’s doctrinal basis, and you can read more about this effort in my previous post. In the meantime, I will post updates from ETS once the meetings commence on Tuesday in Rhode Island.