Francis Beckwith on the Journey Home
I just finished watching Dr. Francis Beckwith on September 24th, 2007 episode of the Journey Home (listen to mp3, download here). There are several points which I would like to comment on, and I’d much rather complete my thoughts before I post this, but because of lack of time, I will only discuss a couple of them for now. I was really struck by the intellectual and philosophical aspects of Beckwith’s conversion. He explains that as a young Catholic he didn’t feel as if there was anyone who could answer his philosophical and theological questions.
As I grew older, however, and as I began not really finding much in the parish or even in the Catholic school that I went to, not that there wasn’t anything there that was wrong necessarily, but I think that for somebody with my interests as a enthusiastic Catholic that wanted to really get into the theological and philosophical issues, it just wasn’t being communicated to me… I found myself at Evangelical churches not because I was anti-Catholic as much as I just was gravitating towards what I thought were churches that had a living Gospel, who were filled with wonderful folks who put me into contact with writers and thinkers that really developed my theological ideas (03:52 – 05:29).
Dr. Beckwith did his undergraduate degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in apologetics at Simon Greenleaf and studied under Harold Lindsell, John Warwick Montgomery, and Walter Martin. He notes the role of apologetics in his life.
I never really became a protestant apologist. I’ve always been interested in those issues that Catholics and Protestants held in common, for example, arguing for the inspiration of scripture, defending the deity of Christ, these sorts of things that would actually put me in contact with Catholic authors in many cases (06:03 – 6:22).
But I do think one of the things that would have been really important to me, was to have individuals who were able to convey the Catholic faith in a winsome and intellectually attractive way. That is, some of the questions that I had were the sorts of questions that a lot of young people have today, like ‘how do I know God exists and if God exists, how do I know Jesus is his Son?’ For those of us growing up as young Catholics, simply citing the Catechism is not good enough. You have to explain why the Catechism is in fact true, which is a different sort of question. In other words, the sort of thing that attracted me to Protestant writers, mainly their work in apologetics, is the thing that I think Catholics would do well in being able to communicate those things to young people and to put in their hands literature that makes it easy for them to understand.
One thing that Evangelicals are really good at is being able to take classical Christian doctrines and defend them in a way that people in the pew and in the congregation can be equipped and then communicate them to their friends. So, it’s not unusual, for instance, to find a book by an Evangelical defending the deity of Christ. Some Catholics would say, ‘Well, why would we need to defend that? The Church says it’s true!’ Well, the Evangelicals do a very nice job of going through the scriptures and showing why, for example, the Church councils came to the conclusions they did. In an odd way what you get in this Evangelical literature is a kind of peek into the thinking that produced the creeds that we Catholics accept anyways. So I think it would be nice to be able to convey to young people the reasoning in contemporary terms that went into the creeds that we accept (13:35 – 15:26).
Grodi also discusses the problems with young who grow up and are raised in the church, who as Grodi puts it, are “brought up through the conveyor belt of the church” but who are never really taught what they need to be taught. I think that can happen in any church. Everyone needs a mentor, and if they don’t find it within their faith, they will find it outside of their faith. For Beckwith it was a theological and philosophical thirst for knowledge, he seemed to have been blessed with a strong family support system who accepted and supported him despite being Evangelical.
I find it interesting because Beckwith said that his Catholic family and friends support and kindness was “more influential [to my return] than if they actually tried to witnessed to me, or tried to get me back into the church” (18:15-18:22). In other words, they didn’t witness or try to perform apologetics on him, and if they had, maybe it wouldn’t have worked. Yet, apologetics seems to have more value as a pedagogical tool within one’s faith group.
I’ve long suspected that apologetics has this appearance that it is directed outside one’s faith group, but when you really examine the function of it, it is directed towards one’s in-group, to either teach doctrine or why it is to be believed, but it either case it is not directed towards those not of the faith. It seems to me that Beckwith initally pursued apologetics because he wanted to understand the faith. He wanted things explained to him in “winsome and intellectually attractive way.” He himself had questions and he wanted answers.