Unless you’ve been living in the fourth century, you’ve certainly heard by now that Francis Beckwith resigned this week as president of the Evangelical Theological Society. A week earlier, the philosopher had returned to full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. But since there are certainly readers of this blog who have applied for permanent-residency visas in the fourth century, I figured I’d better post the news. Dr. Beckwith spoke with Christianity Today about the whys and wherefors. Of course the Fathers played an important role:
I do think we have to admit that the way that we read Scripture is through the ideas and concepts that have been passed down to us by a great tradition.
Look, you’re not going to come up with the Nicene Creed by just picking up the Bible. Does the Bible contribute to our understanding? Absolutely it does; the Nicene Creed is consistent with Scripture. But you needed a church that had a self-understanding in order to articulate that in any clear way. I am not saying that necessarily means that you have to be a Catholic. But we have to understand that the Reformation only makes sense against the backdrop of a tradition that was already there. Calvin and Luther did not go back and re-write Nicea. They took it for granted. There’s nothing wrong with conceding that and celebrating it and reading those authors.
Looking at tradition would also help evangelicals learn about Christian liturgical traditions, like Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism, that many evangelicals reject because they say liturgy is unbiblical. When did these practices come to be? It turns out many of them came to be very early on in church history when people were close historically to the apostles themselves. There must be something to these practices that the early Christians thought was perfectly consistent with what they had received from the apostles.
That may not convince them that it is right, but at least it would show them that it was widely held and that Christians who were right there on top of the early church practiced them. That was quite liberating for me, when I became aware of the writings of some of the church fathers and especially the liturgical aspects. Some of the folks who have read my blog post on my return to the church have misunderstood my reading of the church fathers. They think I went back and tried to find theology, and that really wasn’t it for me. It was the practices of the church that were more important. I did some research years ago on the relationship of Greek philosophy and the Christian doctrine of God, and that was very helpful. But that’s when I first began reading the fathers. One finds the practice of penance very early on during the times in which Christians were being persecuted. Some of the Christians who had denied their faith had to publicly repent for their sins and suffer penance. This was considered to be perfectly consistent with a doctrine of faith.
We want to reward people who promote the reading of the Fathers so well. So buy the man’s books!