Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Another Lifeboat Leaves

This is interesting. Noted Baylor University professor Francis Beckworth has suddenly resigned as president of the prestigious Evangelical Theological Society. The society claims 4,100 members and is perhaps the premier association of its sort among evangelical Protestants. On April 29th, Beckworth was quietly received back into the Catholic Church of his youth, and he knew this would not sit well with the society's membership.

What precipitated this move was a friend's suggestion back in January that he begin reading the early church fathers. Yep, that will do it. I know.


Unknown said...

What's amazing to me is that one can be a scholar in the Evangelical world and have no contact whatsoever with the Church Fathers! How can one go through a masters and PhD program in Religion without seriously looking at the Fathers?

I am a an Orthodox convert who has two religion degrees from Baptist schools and I never read the Fathers but when I did that was the beginning of the journey.

Anonymous said...

For those in the Evangelical world, at least those I grew up around and those I currently know - the Church Fathers are basically just considered ancient history - that they don't much matter and that history doesn't really matter.

Another interesting thing I've noted from someone at work. I am unsure what church he attends, but I don't think he is an Evangelical. He has been reading the Church Fathers so he can incorporate their "meditative practices".

I am unsure what that really means, and what do you say to that? I probably wimped out but I suddenly remembered that I had work to do at my desk. . .

Terry (John) said...


That's exactly what I thought! This is another excellent example of the fact that for Protestants, church history begins with the Reformation.


"Meditative practices," huh? That's a new one. But really, we are seeing a lot of this sort of thing these days--particularly among the Emergent Church crowd. They are trying to cherry-pick aspects of the ancient church and graft them on to whatever they are doing. It won't work, obviously. But at least it may indicate a knawing awareness of the inadequacy within Protestant churches.

Stephen said...

I took a church history class at my evangelical high school a few years back. We did cover a lot of the church and monastic fathers, and I even did a report on something that St. Justin Martyr wrote, and did a presentation on St. Anthony of the Desert. I was even so impressed with St. Anthony that I added him to my list of heros of the faith. But I don't recall learning anything about how they worshipped, or how they viewed church and the sacraments, etc... I left that class thinking that all those great saints were Evangelical, and that they all went to an Evangelical church, just like me! I don't know how much of my thinking then was planned by the teacher, or perhaps even shared by the teacher. And truth be told we only had a semester to cover 2000 years of church history, so it was a pretty quick overview and perhaps the teacher didn't think it was important to discuss worship styles and so on. But still, I got a big reality check about the past when I started looking into Orthodoxy.

So that was my good experience and introduction to the church fathers in an Evangelical setting. My bad experience was starting to discuss the issue of church with an Evangelical pastor, particularly how the church fathers saw it. This pastor told me is clear terms that what the church fathers wrote was obviously contrary to scripture so I should ignore them, and instead I should listen to his 8 part series he preached on the biblical view of church, which he gave me for free, and that effectively ended the conversation because we obviously disagreed about the church fathers and I didn't know what else to say.

So yes, there is a lot of learning Evangelicals can do. Here's hoping they do it. Cheers.

Terry (John) said...


That is an interesting experience. While I never had a course in church history in school or college as you did, my in-church training was much the same. We viewed the "1st-century church" as a bunch of non-hierarchial, non-sacramental, non-liturgical evangelicals, with each congregation being completely autonomous. Having no connection with historic, Apostolic Christianity, we had simply projected our modern Restorationist Protestant understanding upon scripture.

I greatly enjoyed the Romania pictures on your site, BTW; particularly the Orthodox funeral pics and narrative.

Anonymous said...

>This is another excellent example of the fact that for Protestants, church history begins with the Reformation.

Too often, but not always true. And particularly odd as the Reformers took the church fathers very seriously.

Terry (John) said...

>Too often, but not always true. And particularly odd as the Reformers took the church fathers very seriously.

Granted. Certainly there are exceptions, no doubt about that. I was speakly broadly of Protestants, primarily evangelicals.

It would be interesting to study just how seriously the Reformers did take the church fathers. Frankly, the Reformation occupies something of a hole in my historical knowledge. I suppose I have always been more intrigued by the fruits of the Reformation--the Protestant world today--than in the exact formulations of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli et al. With their contemporary spiritual descendants today--the sola scriptura crowd--the church fathers, almost by definition, play little to no part.

EricW said...

In November 2005 I attended the ETS conference in Valley Forge, specifically because the topic was Christianity In the Early Centuries, and I was at that time beginning to explore Orthodoxy seriously (and also because one can get lots of books for 40-50% off list price!!). I met Dr. Christopher Hall (editor of the IVP Ancient Christian Commentary series) and Dan Clendenin, as well as the one invited Orthodox speaker, Walter Ray, who spoke on theôsis (which, I found out, I have been mispronouncing - the accent is on the first syllable - i.e., θε-ω-σις - i.e., THEH-oh-sees).

The Evangelical publishing houses are starting to publish books on the Early Church. I don't know what the impetus is (besides hoped-for book sales!), but maybe it has to do with the "Emergent" interest in the Early Church; realizing that many Evangelicals are drifting Romeward or toward Constantinople (or Canterbury); or who knows what?

Terry (John) said...

I have noticed that trend, as well. In fact, I read a number of the Christopher Hall, Tom Oden, et al books back when I first started thinking outside the Prot-box. I also agree that the Emergents, to some degree, are driving this interest among evangelicals. The problem is, in my view, they cherry-pick aspects of the ancient faith and then try to graft them onto existing Protestant structures. This really doesn't work and tends to reduce it to just another in a long list of latest fads.