Sunday, May 6, 2007

On Being Evangelical

The president of the Evangelical Theological Society has converted to Roman Catholicism (see his blog entry here). I observe the following:

  1. Evangelical is just the kind of adjective that is in favor these days—it is void and without form. ETS's definition of Evangelicalism apparently (up to this point) has room within itself for denying the foreknowledge of God. Now, not just an Evangelical pew-sitter, not just a member of ETS, but the president of ETS has converted to Roman Catholicism. But the straying of a lone Evangelical is not the real issue here, so much as the fact that it is not a settled matter that he has strayed at all. Francis Beckwith apparently regards his Roman Catholicism as not being at odds with his status as an Evangelical. Indeed, other than for the public-relations issues that it might have caused, Beckwith thought it might be perfectly appropriate theologically for a Roman Catholic to lead the ETS. And according to Beckwith, it was not a foregone conclusion that others among ETS leadership would have any problem with his continuation as president under these circumstances. If "Evangelical" does not mean at least "not Roman Catholic", then what does it mean? And if the president of the ETS doesn't know what Evangelical means, then who does?
  2. Beckwith cites his desire for unity as a strong motivation in his decision. Ultimately, Evangelical Ecumenism must concede to broader forms of ecumenism, for if it is conceded that unity trumps doctrine, then no firm stopping place can be asserted successfully for long. Look carefully at what Beckwith has written in the aforementioned blog post about justification.
  3. Here's the perfect illustration of my differentiation between Roman Catholicism as cult (which I think it is not) vs. Roman Catholicism as false and apostate church (which I think it is). Had Beckwith joined the Mormons, I would conclude ipso facto that he is not a Christian. Having joined the Roman Catholics, I am prepared to do no more than to suspect that he has been educated beyond his intelligence and is in gross disobedience to Christ (Yes, to all of you scandalized by this statement, I am concluding that it is not Christ's will for anyone to be a Roman Catholic).
  4. All this at what was once the world's largest Baptist university (and is still my alma mater). Beckwith teaches church-state studies at Baylor. Let us pray that the Lord will not tell Helwys, Williams, Clarke, Backus, and Leland that a Roman Catholic is being paid by Baptist churches to lecture Baptists about the proper relationship between church and state!
  5. These observations illustrate why our mission boards and seminaries must strengthen their resolve to be Baptist (and to plant only Baptist congregations), not merely Evangelical. We must couple that resolve with a vigorous effort to make certain that we all know precisely what it means to be Baptist.


R. L. Vaughn said...

I wonder if any one who is offended by your belief "that it is not Christ's will for anyone to be a Roman Catholic" is also offended by the Catholic view that Beckwith has been sinning by being out of the Roman Catholic Church? On his blog he wrote that he must "...request forgiveness for my sins, ask to be received back into the Church..."

It is an interesting turn of events that a Roman Catholic will be teaching church-state relations at Baylor. I wonder whether he supports the Baptist view or the Catholic view?

Was Beckwith a Baptist, or something else, prior to reuniting with the Catholics?

Anonymous said...

99% sure he was an Episcopalian who attended Dayspring Baptist (a CBF affiliated congregation).

Whether an Episcopalian, visiting Baptist, or Catholic - his views on church-state have likely not changed (though he is now in the Philosophy Department not the Associate Director of Dawson Institute). I believe he will still teach a class or two each semester that is cross-listed in the Church-State Institute.

I believe one can be faithful to Rome whether they are a separationist or an accommodationist. I'm not sure there is one Catholic view (just as there is definitely not one Baptist view) concerning church-state.

Grosey's Messages said...

wow.. well CBFer swill be proud.

Bart Barber said...

R. L.,

As usual, you make a strong case.

Bart Barber said...


Certainly people are capable of holding any number of mutually contradictory ideas at any one time. I do not underestimate the human capacity for inconsistency.

Bart Barber said...


I'm not even going to ask whether you actually meant to write "CBFers will" or whether you intended to communicate "CBFer swill"


Grosey's Messages said...

well said... let's see what others say :)

Anonymous said...


uh and steve better watch out!


Alan Cross said...

I agreed with your post until point 5. You made a huge leap in your logic there that is not necessarily warranted. Again, it sounds like we had better be REALLY Baptist, or we're going to slide into apostacy. Sigh.

It is obvious that Beckwith has no idea what it means to be evangelical either. Just because some people are ignorant or have forgotten what things are supposed to mean does not mean that we have to run the other direction.

There sure are a lot of parapets being built around here . . .

Big Daddy Weave said...


At one point Wade Burleson listed Dr. B on his blogroll. No longer there, I noticed.

A few "names" have weighed in on Dr. B's blog. I see Malcolm Yarnell's name listed. He wrote..

Dear Frank,

Considering the tendency of evangelical ecumenism to lead to Catholicism, your conversion to Rome is not an entirely unexpected development. However, it is nevertheless disappointing to see you implicitly, even if not with cognizant intention, reject the entire sufficiency of Scripture. You and your wife remain in our prayers.

In Christ,

R. L. Vaughn said...

Anonymous, thanks for the information about Beckwith's affiliation. I'll not venture further into Baptist & Catholic differences of church/state relations for it probably leads away from the main point of Bart's post (which is more about the teflon nature of being evangelical).

Bart Barber said...


Wow! I'm thrilled that we're up to 80%! :-)

Perhaps we can get even closer if I clarify this: I am not saying that being a convinced Baptists is the only safeguard against theological drift. I'm saying that one ought to be a convinced something, rather than pretending that these theological questions of such gravity that have divided denominations are suddenly unimportant.

So, we ought to be a convinced _______________. Yet for us as Southern Baptists, the blank has been filled in already, hasn't it? We are Baptists.

Bart Barber said...


I clarify further, not all of the somethings are equally valid. I believe that all ought to be Baptist. Yet, I concede that one can be a firmly-convinced Presbyterian and stay there without ever wandering anywhere close to Roman Catholicism.

Bart Barber said...


Dr. Yarnell's words are (as usual) well uttered.

David Rogers said...


I thought you had agreed with me on the comment string on this post that the use of the term "Baptist" can be just as problematic as the use of the term "evangelical."

I believe just as strongly as ever in practical trans-denominational unity among in the Body of Christ. Whether this can accurately be termed "evangelical ecumenism" or not is to me a secondary concern.

As to the rest of my opinion, as usual, for some reason, I find myself in complete agreement with Alan Cross on this one.

I think I'm going to have to come up with a blog comment shortcut that automatically posts a comment saying "what Alan said." :^)

Bart Barber said...


I agree that the term "Baptist" is often misapplied, which is why I add in my fifth point that we need to help people to understand what the word means. Yet I know of nobody on the planet who believes that being Roman Catholic is compatible with being Baptist—even among those whose use of the term I find unsatisfactory.

Thus, weakened as it is by abuse, Baptist is still an order of magnitude a better word than Evangelical.

Why? Because with Baptist there is a problem with the way some people use the word. With Evangelical more and more there is a problem with the concept in and of itself, that is, when it is made to carry more of a load than it is designed to carry. Evangelical is a fine descriptor to employ in addition to one's denominational identity. But to attempt to use it to supplant denominational identity is to cut the anchor.

Greg Tomlin said...

I smell another scandal coming for the SBC. I bet if Ethics Daily looks hard enough, they'll find that this event has prompted Wiley Drake to launch a Baylor boycott and sign a declaration calling the pope "AntiChrist." I jest, of course. As knowledge increases, common sense so often decreases.

On another note, there may be greater forces at work here. I just had to enter the security code "MYKGB" to post this comment.


Bart Barber said...


With regard to your insinuation, I can only say, "Nyet, Nyet"

David Rogers said...


As far as I am concerned, language and terminology get in the way of understanding way too much. For instance, I get the idea that both the terms "evangelical" and "Baptist" mean something different for you than to me. Yet, I think at the same time, we both probably understand what each other means when we use each of those terms.

For me, "evangelical" is someone, or some group, that believes and embraces the basic truths of the gospel (evangel), whereas a "Baptist" is someone who belongs to one of several specific denominational groups that embrace the practice of believer's baptism by immersion. Among these, there are some that don't embrace what I consider to be the basic truths of the gospel. As such, I prefer to define myself as "evangelical" before "Baptist." But, then again, I understand you understand something a bit different by both the terms "evangelical" and "Baptist" than I do.

Bart Barber said...


It might surprise you to learn that I regularly employ the word Evangelical as a part of the definition of being Baptist. But I go back to the use of the word as applied to the transcontinental revival movement of the eighteenth century (of which the First Great Awakening was a portion).

Bart Barber said...

Unfortunately, as Beckwith's situation illustrates, late-twentieth-century (early-twenty-first-century?) Evangelicalism is a different critter altogether.

David Rogers said...


Would you at least agree with me that there are some Evangelicals who are Baptists and some who are not, and there are some Baptists who are Evangelicals and some who are not?

R. L. Vaughn said...

David Rogers wrote, "...'evangelical' is someone, or some group, that believes and embraces the basic truths of the gospel (evangel)..." and later "...a 'Baptist' is someone who belongs to one of several specific denominational groups that embrace the practice of believer's baptism by immersion." Then, "Among these, there are some that don't embrace what I consider to be the basic truths of the gospel."

David, in the last sentence I quote above, I take it the antecedent of "these" is Baptists. I have a couple of questions.

1. What do you consider to be the basic truths of the gospel?
2. Which Baptists deny these basic truths?
3. Do any "evangelicals" deny these basic truths? (I'm assuming they can't since you have them defined by those basic truths)


David Rogers said...

R.L. Vaughan,

I am not proposing a technical defintion of these terms. No telling how many different "declarations of faith" or "creeds" have already been written trying to codify the "basic truths of the gospel," some more detailed and others less so. In general, I am fairly happy with, for instance, the Statement of Faith of the World Evangelical Alliance. Basically, I would also say the "basic truths of the gospel" are those that would lead someone to an authentic regeneration experience.

Also, I prefer not to name names of individual "Baptists" and/or "Baptist" organizations that deny these truths here, because that is not really my purpose. But I think we all know there are true bona fide liberals out there who also answer to the name "Baptist."

There are also, no doubt, true bona fide liberals who answer to the name "Evangelical."

I am aware that also begs the question of my definition of "liberal," but that is a whole other bag of worms.

I am not sure if you share the view I am assuming Bart to take on this question. But, if you are, I am saying that, for me, those "liberals" who want to call themselves "evangelicals" are not truly "evangelicals." I imagine Bart would say that those "liberals" who want to call themselves "Baptists" are not truly "Baptists" either.

If such is indeed the case, I think it demonstrates the point I am trying to make. A lot of what is being argued back and forth here is more a question of semantics than anything else.

I, however, maintain that we as Baptists and Evangelicals should be more embracing of our essential brotherhood with other true born-again Christians, and Christian groups that truly preach the gospel.

R. L. Vaughn said...

David, thanks for the explanations. Sorry if that came across like I was grilling you for a technical definition of "evangelical". Just mainly looking for what kind of concept you were using concerning the basic truths of the gospel -- for example, did the Calvinism/Arminianism issue of soteriology come into play, etc. But I believe I now have a good idea of what you mean. Certainly there are some who call themselves Baptists who deny what I consider some of the most basic truths taught in Scripture.

One problem for me, I suppose, is that in my own experience an "evangelical" is a very fuzzy undefined thing. With "Baptist" I have a concept of what I see as Baptist identity historically and theologically.

I think we are in basic agreement that many who call themselves something are not really what they call themselves. I suppose I feel more "qualified" to differentiate when it comes to Baptists than when it comes to evangelicals.

David Rogers said...


Thanks for your clarification as well.

As I understand it, the Bible has some pretty straightforward things to say about the unity of the Body of Christ.

It doesn't say anything directly, though, as I understand it, about either the unity of the Baptists, or the unity of the Evangelicals.

I must ask myself, which concept comes closest to the biblical concept of the Body of Christ: the Baptist denomination, or the Evangelical movement? Although there are some fuzzy lines, and problematic exceptions to the rule, my impression is that the Evangelical movement comes closer to what the Bible refers to when it talks about the Body of Christ.

stuart said...


If I came out of a Catholic background, and in my new "protestant faith" encountered:

1. Insipid and self-centered "evangelical" worship services that, while often very large, are basically devoid of history, tradition, or awe...and

2. Three years of incessant personal attacks from lifelong "traditional" Baptists with liberal positions on scripture and moral issues...

I might be tempted to run back to Rome also. Obviously, I'm not defending his decisions. I'm just not as surprised as some may be.

I don't think the problem is that 'evangelical' is a meaningless term or that many evangelicals aren't willing to set perameters. Rather, IMHO, we don't always set good ones or consistent ones.