Over the past 18 months or so I have been reading a variety of books about Catholicism. This was partially sparked by a friend that became Catholic, but just as much it is about understanding a large segment of the church that I do not have real experience with.
If we take John 17 seriously, then Jesus was praying that the church (universal) be one. And a church that does not at least strive to understand those that are in different streams cannot be one. So I read one or two books a month outside of my Evangelical background to better understand parts of the church that are outside of my experience.
I have found that conversion stories are particularly helpful. In part because people that convert out of the evangelical world still understand it and are well placed to be able to speak in a language that Evangelicals will understand and can act as mediators between the worlds.
Francis Beckwith is a Christian philosopher, former head of the Evangelical Theological Society and current professor at Baylor University. This is a short book. I remember the small dust up his conversion caused in 2007. But I have not actually read anything by him previously and did not really know much about his work.
Beckwith grew up in a Catholic family. But he really discovered faith in a charismatic Protestant church as a teen. In and out of Protestant and Catholic churches and schools over the next twenty years, he was familiar with both the theology and people on both sides. I think because Beckwith still works in a protestant university with a host of Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox academics he has bent over backwards to keep this a personal account and very low key. Beckwith is far from the angry convert that is railing against what he is leaving.
The end of the book is more focused on some of the theological issues and responds directly to the Evangelical Theological Society, but this conversion story is not primarily about theology as Scott Hahn’s Rome Sweet Home account was. Instead this seems to be more about a sociological issues of conversion.
Beckwith at one point comments that for him, many common Evangelical disagreements with Rome (Mary, Purgatory, the Apocrypha, etc) were not big issues because either the the Catholic church has the authority or it does not. If it has the authority it claims then those issues were decided by the appropriate authorities and if they don’t have the authority then it does not matter.
I think like many converts to that I have read authority of the church is the central issue, that seems to be true for Beckwith but if anything he seems to embrace that authority more clearly than others I have read. However, Beckwith is a philosopher, he is not a slough for theology and I think his response to the Evangelical Theological society’s statement of faith (that he agrees with) is a good illustration of the problems that many Evangelicals are unaware of with their own theology. (Essentially sola scriptura cannot be defended as a theological point except by reaching outside of scripture to defend it.)
I did find one antidote very telling and concerning. He said (without using any names, but with enough references to know who he was talking about) that after he conversion he listened to a public discussion of his conversion and one of the participants lamented about ‘how a person of Beckwith’s intellect could convert’. This is problematic for Evangelicals precisely because people say that same thing about people that convert to Christianity as a whole. It was a passing comment, but it reflects a real belief by many Evangelicals.
On the whole, this was a well written and helpful book. I do wish there was some more details in places, but it is his story to tell and he gets to tell it in his own way.