Monday, May 14, 2007

Beckwith Again

~from the Washington Post: Evangelical Leader Returns To Catholicism
Beckwith, 46, said in a telephone interview that he had expected some repercussions in academic circles but was stunned by the public response. He said strangers have called him at home to berate him, and that his Internet server was overwhelmed by 2,000 e-mails a day to his personal Web site, which in the past seldom generated more than 90 a day.

"It's beyond anything I've ever experienced," he said.

Beckwith is not the first, or even the most prominent, evangelical to switch to Catholicism in recent years. Others include Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), theologian Scott Hahn and the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the journal First Things. On the other side of the equation, the Catholic Church has been losing droves of ordinary worshipers to the Pentecostal form of evangelicalism, particularly in Latin America.

Beckwith said his decision reflects how dramatically the divisions between evangelicals and Catholics have narrowed in recent decades, as they have stood shoulder to shoulder on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and school vouchers.

The stormy reaction, however, is a reminder of the gaps that remain, particularly on such theological questions as whether to baptize infants and how human beings gain "justification," or righteousness in the eyes of God.

Beckwith said he was raised as a Catholic in Las Vegas and was "born again" as an evangelical during his teens, at the height of the countercultural "Jesus movement" in the 1970s. He earned a master's degree and a doctorate in philosophy from Fordham University, a Jesuit institution, but then taught at Protestant schools, including Trinity International University and Baylor.

He said that for many years he agreed with the criticisms of the Catholic Church made by Martin Luther and other leaders of the 16th-century Reformation, who emphasized the authority of the Bible alone -- rather than the pronouncements of church leaders -- and who argued that justification resulted from the grace of God, not from good deeds.

But his thinking began to change, he said, as he read more deeply into Catholic theology, including works by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. After studying Ratzinger's book "Truth and Tolerance" last year, he said, he called a prominent evangelical philosopher, read him a passage about whether theology is really knowledge, and asked him to guess the author.

"He reeled off the names of a bunch of evangelical theologians," Beckwith recalled. "I said, 'No, it's Ratzinger!' And he said, 'So he's one of us!' " Beckwith said he was also deeply affected by a joint declaration in 1999 by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church on the doctrine of justification, which he said went a long way toward eliminating this historical source of division.
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