Friday, May 11, 2007

Rome Vs. Wheaton, Round One: Justification

To begin our consideration of Francis Beckwith's jettisoning of evangelicalism for Rome, we'll start with the first issue he raised in his interview in Christianity Today. He says:
"The issue of justification was key for me.... As an evangelical, even when I talked about sanctification and wanted to practice it, it seemed as if I didn't have a good enough incentive to do so. Now there's a kind of theological framework, and it doesn't say my salvation depends on me, but it says my virtue counts for something."
If evangelicalism ever had a chief architect, John Wesley would be at the top of the list. His famous rationale for holy living ("fear of punishment and hope of reward") is admittedly a factor, but "a good enough incentive" it certainly is not. Without gratitude, and a healthy grasp of the grace which occasions it, any and all motives for godliness are surely selfish and lacking the necessary dynamic to keep the wind in our sails.

Now if, in the mind of the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, Roman Catholicism provides a better incentive for holy living than evangelicalism's fear of punishment and hope of reward, what does that say about the latter's view of grace? At the very least it would indicate that, despite the anti-Roman rhetoric and all the "Solas" it can muster, contemporary evangelicalism is a far cry from that which Trent anathematized thirty years after Luther nailed his theses on the castle door at Wittenberg.

Of course, I don't think either Rome or Wheaton provide a decent rationale for holiness. So if both get justification wrong, what other factors should tip the scale?