My mind is fuzzy and my heart is heavy

(Okay, so the fuzz has mostly cleared by now. It took me a while to get around to posting this.)

The fuzziness has to do with yesterday's grade reporting deadline. Grading Greek exams is a lot easier than grading Theology essays. But tabulating final scores involves a lot of math. (When all is said and done, I could just as well have assigned grades based on my gut impression of each student's level of mastery. But I feel a lot better having done the math to back it up.)

The heaviness has to do with the blogosphere buzz over Francis Beckwith's return to the Catholic Church, and consequent resignation first from the post of president of the Evangelical Theological Society, and second from membership in the ETS altogether. (After being "outed" by a critic of his actions, Beckwith offered an explanation for his decisions on the Right Reason group blog, of which he is a member. I learned about it from the news postings here and here. Extended discussion appears at Right Reason, as well as here and here, and I'm sure many other places on the web as well.)

I don't know Dr. Beckwith, and I am not a member of the ETS. But as an evangelical theologian who dwells on the margin between the institutions of my conservative non/multi-denominational heritage and those of the mainstream theological academy, I take the identity crises of the ETS quite personally, and all the more so as they seem not to parallel my own identity crises.

It grieves me every time ETS shuts out, or gets into big fights about whether to shut out, members who strongly identify with the evangelical movement and who embrace the ETS's anemic doctrinal standard. I am neither an openness theologian nor a Roman Catholic, but an organization that has no room for them probably has no room for me.

I should note that the ETS hasn't forced Beckwith out -- he voluntarily resigned in order to preempt that debate. (I would have preferred that he resign his presidency but not his membership, but only he can make that determination.)

And I should remind myself that the Evangelical Theological Society is not coextensive with the evangelical movement. Precisely as a loose confederation of persons and groups bearing a sort of Wittgensteinian family resemblance, it is part of the identity of evangelicalism to lack a magisterium. But if we lack a magisterium, there's no final authority to tell us who's in or who's out. Not even the Evangelical Theological Society. There are still major segments of the evangelical movement in which I feel perfectly welcome.

Nevertheless, it can be a jolt for someone who hangs around Duke Div., and thus is surrounded by evangelical Methodists who feel guilty for not being Catholic, to be reminded that there are still major segments of the evangelical community who view the Roman Catholic Church as a "cult" and its members as outside the true faith. (Given that they do believe this, though, I concede that distress and grief are thoroughly appropriate responses to Beckwith's announcement. But not vitriol and abuse.)

This, in turn, made me uneasy for a few moments about my own Presbyterian affiliation, since it seemed to be the Reformed apologists who were going most apoplectic over Beckwith's reversion. ("Reversion" sounds like a derogatory term, implying a backward move, but I believe it's the technically correct descriptor. Since Beckwith was confirmed in the Catholic Church in his youth, he can't "convert" to Catholicism, as he already are one.) But then I noted that these more-Calvinist-than-Calvin folk, who have always made me uneasy, are mostly Baptist, and would probably consider the PC(USA) almost as apostate as the Catholic Church. Just as long as I'm not guilty by association...

And this, in turn, made me lonely for Anglicanism again, which, at its best, honors and embraces the richness of its Catholic and its Reformation heritage.

It also makes me nervous about ever blogging about anything that's actually important, having witnessed the explosion of debate over on poor Kacy's blog.


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