Francis Beckwith has responded to my review:
Before I interact with his response, I’ll make a couple of preliminary observations.
I became aware of his response when it popped up on my site meter. When I went over there the first time, he allowed for comments. A few hours later, he closed the combox.
What happened in the interim? He received a critical comment by Gene Bridges. And what did Bridges do? Beckwith cited McGath in alleged support of his contention that sola fide was a theological innovation. Gene merely corrected Beckwith’s citation by giving a verbatim quotation of McGrath’s actual position.
Now, I don’t care whether or not a blogger allows for comments. But when a blogger allows for comments, then shuts down the combox the instant he receives a single negative comment, and, what is more, a comment which is answering him on his own grounds with suitable documentation, that says a lot about the insecurity of Francis Beckwith. He can’t stand factual correction.
Which brings me to the next point—what is the purpose of his book? To justify his reversion to Rome. It’s an apologetic for Roman Catholicism. He may deny that, but, if so, he must go out of his way to deny the obvious, which merely draws attention to the obvious.
Fine. Apologetics is a two-way street. If you attack my faith, I reserve the right to counterattack.
Did Beckwith really think that he could attack the Protestant faith with impunity? If he wants to defend his reversion to Rome, which inevitably involves a critique of the Evangelical faith he left behind, I don’t have a problem with that. Give it your best shot. But we’re allowed to return fire. Trying to silence your critics the instant you receive any negative feedback is a mark of intellectual cowardice.
If he thought some comments were inappropriate, he could delete the inappropriate comments. Apparently, though, it didn’t occur to him that someone might actually disagree with his response.
“Here's another review of Return to Rome. IMHO, I do not believe that this review is the consequence of reading the book very carefully. In one place, for example, the reviewer confuses Protestantism with comments I made at a Boston College conference about anti-creedal Protestantism.”
What is that supposed to mean? If he made some comments about “anti-creedal Protestantism,” then his comments were directed at Protestantism. So how am I confusing Protestantism with something else he was discussing?
I’d only be guilty of confusion if I were confusing Protestantism with something he said about a non-Protestant faith. But he states, in his very response to me, that he was commenting on “Protestantism”: in this case, an anti-creedal version of Protestantism.
Or does he mean that I’m confused because I equate anti-creedal Protestantism with Protestantism in general?
But in my original review, I explicitly distinguished the two. He’s the one who was using anti-creedal Protestantism to tar Protestantism in general. I pointed out, in my original review, that his observation was irrelevant to confessional Protestant traditions. He is using anti-creedal Protestantism as a club to beat down Protestantism in general, as if that’s the least bit relevant to what the rest of us believe.
Remember the purpose of his book. His book is an apologetic for Catholicism. He cites invidious examples of Protestantism to debunk the Protestant faith as a whole and make way for the Catholic alternative. That’s the point of these vignettes. Fine. Be honest about your intentions.
Was that his ulterior intention at the time he delivered his remarks at Boston College? Maybe not. But that is his intention when he incorporates this earlier incident into his current book. This is not just about something in his past, but the application of the past to the present. Not just what he said back then, but how he is using that statement right here and now to make a point about how he got from where he was to where he is today.
Indeed, on the very same page, which carries over to the next page (76-77), he explicitly ties this experience into the process of reflection which led to his religious reversion. This was one of those triggering events that caused him to question his commitment to the Protestant faith. That’s how the event functioned in his thinking, and it serves a polemical function when he repeats the story in his book. It contributes to his apologetic narrative—as part of an overall argument for Catholicism, to the detriment of Evangelicalism.
“In another place he misses my analogy between grace-works and God-man by thinking that I was referring to Jesus' works. But I wasn't. What I was suggesting is that Christ's humanity no more diminishes his deity than do our works performed in grace diminish God's grace.”
What’s the actual point of his analogy? He is trying to create a parallel between Catholic synergism and the hypostatic union.
That’s a smart, tactical move because it puts the Protestant on the defensive. It carries the insinuation is that if you deny Catholic synergism, then, by implication, you operate with the same mindset as a heretic like Arius.
It’s not uncommon in high-church circles to treat the Incarnation as the paradigm of synergism. I’ve run across this comparison on a regular basis.
However, I’m happy to see Beckwith deny any analogy between the work of Christ and Christian good works. But that will make it difficult for him to uphold the cult of the saints.
“In a yet another place he thinks my comments about the scope of the Protestant canon is part of a defense of the Catholic canon. It is not. It is an analysis of the problem with the reconciling of two claims in terms of the ETS press release concerning my resignations from ETS: (1) that all theological knowledge is derived exclusively from Scripture, and (2) that the scope of the canon, an item of theological knowledge, is not derived from Scripture since it is logically prior to Scripture. As I write in the book, ‘[B]ecause the list of canonical books is itself not found in scripture—as one can find the Ten Commandments or the names of Christ’s Apostles—any such list, whether Protestant or Catholic, would be an item of extra-biblical theological knowledge.’ (p. 123).”
This is quite disingenuous. Why does he bring up the press release in the first place? It’s not like Beckwith mentioned his favorite brand of coffee. This is not some miscellaneous piece of information.
No, he’s using the press release as a pretext to attack the Protestant canon and thereby make way for the Catholic canon. The first step in establishing your alternative is to eliminate the competition. All these anecdotes serve an apologetic purpose.
He’s claiming that Protestants implicitly rely on Catholic methodology to establish the canon. That being the case, they should be more consistent. They should go all the way with Catholic methodology. That’s the thrust of his argument.
“In any event, this review is loaded with many, many mistakes like these.”
Of course, it’s easy to lodge a sweeping charges without commensurate evidence to substantiate your charges. By contrast, I carefully documented all of my allegations.
“It seems that this well-meaning fellow has let his anger get the best of him.”
As far as my own motives are concerned (“anger”), I’m under no obligation to disprove a charge which he is in no position to prove.
And, of course, we could say that Beckwith let his own emotion get the best of him: “my return to the Catholic Church had as much to do with a yearning for a deeper spiritual life as it did with theological reasoning” (129).
“That's a real shame, since the spirit in which I offer the book was intended to inspire dialogue not diatribe.”
If it was really intended to inspire dialogue, then when did he shut down the combox? His censorious actions give the lie to his ecumenical words.