This spring, the evangelical world was roiled when Francis J. Beckwith, a professor of church-state studies at Baylor University, decided to return to the faith of his childhood and was received back into full communion with the Catholic Church on April 29 at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Waco, Texas. In addition to being a prominent religious intellectual, Beckwith was, at the time, president of the Evangelical Theological Society, an association of some five thousand evangelical academics.
The religious blogs buzzed for days with the news. Many Catholics rejoiced that a straying sheep had at last seen the light and come back home. Many evangelicals lamented the lapse of a once-steady brother, and one called for Beckwith's former Protestant congregation in Waco to place him under church discipline at once for his apostasy.
When one of my friends heard the news of Beckwith's decision, he commented, "Well, I guess FIRST THINGS has won another one!" Such a comment is understandable but misdirected. While no one can claim it underrepresents Catholic perspectives, the journal itself is an interreligious, nonpartisan publication aimed, as the masthead says, at promoting "a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society." The editor is a former Lutheran, and there are evangelicals as well as Jews on the editorial board (of which I am also a member). Frost THINGS should neither be praised nor blamed for Beckwith's conversion, though it is true that he has identified himself with "FIRST THINGS evangelicals"--evangelicals who collaborate and seek common ground with Catholics, as opposed to others who regard such activities as useless if not downright dangerous.
But Beckwith's decision to return to the Church of Rome is best seen in the context of his own spiritual journey. As he describes it, he drifted into the Protestant faith through the witness of charismatic Christians and evangelical pastors who helped him to own a living personal faith in Jesus Christ. This happened in the era of post-Vatican II Catholicism; and Beckwith, a young Christian seeking solid intellectual moorings for his faith, reacted negatively to the innovations Catholics were pushing at the time. "I didn't need the 'folk Mass' with cute nuns and hip priests playing 'Kumbayah' with guitars, tambourines, and harmonicas," he said. "After all, we listened to the Byrds, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, and we knew the church just couldn't compete with them."...