Thursday, September 17, 2009

Catholic Evangelicals? I don't think so

A little while ago I had the great opportunity to go to a discussion at Wheaton college between a Catholic, Francis Beckwith and and an Evangelical Baptist, Timothy George. The topic of the talk was basically what it means to be evangelical and whether or not it is possible for someone to be an "Evangelical Catholic." The reason this was the topic is because Francis Beckwith, who converted to Catholicism about three years ago, had been president of the Evangelical Theological Society. After converting Mr. Beckwith saw no need to drop the term "evangelical" and so considers himself an Evangelical Catholic - that is, a Catholic who is also evangelical.

The point of this post however isn't to summarize the talk but to elaborate on my reflections of it. To me the most interesting part of the talk was when Timothy George referred to himself as an Evangelical Catholic. His reasoning for this is that he believes the path he is on (i.e. being an Evangelical Baptist) enables him to be Catholic in the sense (as he perceives it) that the apostles were Catholic. This blew me away. What he was saying is that he doesn't have a problem with Catholicism, he has a problem with the Catholic Church. He believes in the faith of the apostles and he believes that faith is the true, pure Catholic faith and so he also believes that the established Church has distorted and complicated "original" Catholicism and become something separate.

As Mr. George himself said, the key then is the Primacy of Peter and Apostolic Succession. The barrier (or at least the main barrier) between him and the Catholic Church is that he does not believe that Jesus appointed Peter as the head of the Church and therefore as the first pope. My thoughts are a little scrambled here so I will do my best to write what I'm thinking. The connection I can't make is how he accepts the apostles' faith but refuses to acknowledge apostolic succession. Why does he apparently accept everything else but that? Something doesn't fit. Now I don't know specifically what Timothy George's arguments against Apostolic Succession and the primacy of Peter actually are, so I can't say much more. I'm sure he is familiar with the scriptural references which we Catholics believe clearly point to these two points and he, being an intelligent man, presumably has intelligent reasons for not accepting them.

Below is a passage from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 which clearly (to me at least) indicates the primacy of Peter. The writing in blue are notes from

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." [Peter is first among the apostles to confess the divinity of Christ] 17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. [Peter alone is told he has received divine knowledge by a special revelation from God the Father] 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church [Jesus builds the Church only on Peter, the rock, with the other apostles as the foundation and Jesus as the Head], and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven [only Peter receives the keys, which represent authority over the Church and facilitate dynastic succession to his authority], and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Another part of the talk that threw me for a loop was during the Question and Answer section afterward. Someone asked him about sola scriptura and how he believes in it when it isn't mentioned anywhere in the bible. His answer was what to me had always been a refutation of precisely what he was defending! He said there are plenty of things not mentioned in the bible which we believe, such as the Trinity. Until now that had always been a reason against sola scriptura, not a reason for it! However, he did elaborate and give good reasoning. He said that when sola scriptura was "coined" it wasn't intended as just that, scripture alone. To the reformers of the time it really meant the primacy of scripture and the meaning has become somewhat lost through the ages. I accept that. Granted though, there are those who believe literally in sola scriptura. To them you should ask, well you believe in the Trinity don't you? And when they respond yes (as all Christians must) ask them to show you a reference to it in the bible.

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