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Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic [Paperback]

By Francis J. Beckwith (Author)
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Item description for Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic by Francis J. Beckwith...

What does it mean to be evangelical? What does it mean to be Catholic? Can one consider oneself both simultaneously? Francis Beckwith has wrestled with these questions personally and professionally. He was baptized a Catholic, but his faith journey led him to Protestant evangelicalism. He became a philosophy professor at Baylor University and president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). And then, in 2007, after much prayer, counsel, and consideration, Beckwith decided to return to the Catholic church and step down as ETS president. This provocative book details Beckwith's journey, focusing on his internal dialogue between the Protestant theology he embraced for most of his adult life and Catholicism. He seeks to explain what prompted his decision and offers theological reflection on whether one can be evangelical and Catholic, affirming his belief that one can be both.

Publishers Description
What does it mean to be evangelical? What does it mean to be Catholic? Can one consider oneself both simultaneously? Francis Beckwith has wrestled with these questions personally and professionally. He was baptized a Catholic, but his faith journey led him to Protestant evangelicalism. He became a philosophy professor at Baylor University and president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). And then, in 2007, after much prayer, counsel, and consideration, Beckwith decided to return to the Catholic church and step down as ETS president.
This provocative book details Beckwith's journey, focusing on his internal dialogue between the Protestant theology he embraced for most of his adult life and Catholicism. He seeks to explain what prompted his decision and offers theological reflection on whether one can be evangelical and Catholic, affirming his belief that one can be both.
It's difficult to explain why one moves from one Christian tradition to another. It is like trying to give an account to your friends why you chose to pursue for marriage this woman rather than that one, though both may have a variety of qualities that you found attractive. It seems to me then that any account of my return to the Catholic church, however authentic and compelling it is to me, will appear inadequate to anyone who is absolutely convinced that I was wrong. Conversely, my story will confirm in the minds of many devout Catholics that the supernatural power of the grace I received at baptism and confirmation as a youngster were instrumental in drawing me back to the Mother Church. Given these considerations, I confess that there is an awkwardness in sharing my journey as a published book, knowing that many fellow Christians will scrutinize and examine my reasons in ways that appear to some uncharitable and to others too charitable.

From Publishers Weekly
In May 2007, Beckwith, the president of the Evangelical Theology Society (ETS), stepped down as president of the society and resigned his membership. Eight days earlier, Beckwith had embraced the Catholicism of his childhood and youth and had been publicly received back into the Catholic Church. In this thinly written, often plodding book, Beckwith lukewarmly chronicles his journey back to Catholicism, from his early days of reading philosophy and his academic study with Protestant Christian apologists such as Norman Geisler and John Warwick Montgomery to his graduate work at Fordham and the encouragement of various family members to embrace Catholicism once again. In the end, Beckwith takes the best from both worlds, claiming that he is an evangelical insofar as he believes in the Gospel (evangel) and a Catholic insofar as he believes that the church is universal. Since Beckwiths book resembles a conversation among those in the know about the principles and struggles within ETS and Catholicism, it would have been more useful as a journal article. The book has little meaning for anyone outside this select circle struggling with a move from Protestantism to Catholicism. (Jan.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic by Francis J. Beckwith has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Publishers Weekly - 11/10/2008 page 47
  • Commonweal - 01/16/2009 page 24

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Brazos Press
Pages   144
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.16" Width: 5.92" Height: 0.39"
Weight:   0.4 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 10, 2009
Publisher   Brazos Press
Edition  Reprinted  
ISBN  1587432471  
ISBN13  9781587432477  

Availability  1 units.
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More About Francis J. Beckwith

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Francis J. Beckwith (PhD, Fordham University; MJS, Washington University School of Law, St. Louis) is professor of philosophy and church-state studies, and fellow and faculty associate in the Institute for the Studies of Religion, at Baylor University. In 2008-09, he will serve on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame as the Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow in Notre Dame's Center for Ethics and Culture. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case against Abortion Choice and To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview.

Francis J. Beckwith currently resides in Anaheim Hills, in the state of California. Francis J. Beckwith has an academic affiliation as follows - Baylor University, Texas.

Francis J. Beckwith has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Christian Worldview Integration
  2. Critical Issues in Bioethics

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Reviews - What do customers think about Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic?

Francis Beckwith Explains His Return  Jan 9, 2010
Dr. Beckwith tells a compelling story of leaving the all-too-often flaccid Catholic Church of the late 1960s and 1970s for the energetic Evangelic region of American Christianity. Still to come is - as implied by the title - his return to full communion with the Catholic Church in 2007. That this occurred at the height of a credible academic career, even as he served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) is remarkable; that it occurred at all is a testimony to the irresistible nature of the God who loves us.

Should you not be an academic theologian and harbor fears of a turgid, difficult to follow tome, all I can say is that this is a very approachable story of personal conversion, which easily mixes the broad outlines of theological issues - while not diving too deeply - with, dare I say, a nearly breezy and comfortable story-telling style that is both easily consumable, and ultimately satisfying.

For any non-Catholic who may find it anywhere from mildly odd to deplorably indefensible for an otherwise-rational person to become Catholic, or simply for a more sympathetic person who just is curious as to what would encourage a well known Evangelical figure to become Catholic, at great apparent risk to his professional and personal lives ... in either case or yet another, this book is well worth the time.

Bravo, Dr. Beckwith, and welcome home!
Wonderful  Oct 19, 2009
As I wrote this review it became clear to me that I was actually writing about many books, and had to work hard to stay focused on this one. Perhaps this review is a "tale of two books:" Beckwith's volume, and the book of apologetics written by Norman Geissler in response. Beckwith's book is not a book of apologetics in the strict sense. Nor is it completely a memoir. It may be a mix of both genres, but to the mind of this reviewer, it transcends most books of either sort.

This book reads very much like an explanation. Not designed to be a thorough apologetic nor a complete rejection of another Christian tradition (like Geissler's uncharitable, bigoted, and failed attempt at a "rebuttal": Is Rome the True Church?: A Consideration of the Roman Catholic Claim) it is rather a compelling narrative that seeks to explain why the president of a prominent evangelical theological organization (the ETS) would return home to the Church of his youth.

The typical biblical proof-texts are not hammered home to excess and exegesis on them is not shared in great length, which is a good thing. As compelling as the old arguments are, protestants have proof-texts of their own, and one can only hear the same old Bible verses screamed at the top of one's lungs uncharitably so many times before one becomes convinced that Christian charity is absent on the part of the players in the argument. This book on the other hand is a level headed, clear, compelling story and pretty thorough explanation for the reasons for Beckwith's conversion, and it is told without acrimony and without a meanness of spirit. That says something about the quality of Dr. Beckwith as a man. Beckwith knew that there are Eastern Orthodox in the group he was essentially forced to leave, and one can hear the hurt that Geissler's (and probably others') bigotry caused. After all, if people who believe in a Catholic view of ordination and the sacraments were allowed to stay in the ETS, why wasn't Geissler? The answer is simple: plain bigotry on the part of some in the evangelical establishment.

I read this book during an interesting time in my life. I had witnessed a small scandal on the part of a priest up-close (nothing sexual, just an abuse of power), and was considering the priesthood question very closely. When one spends years studying the issues that divide protestants and Catholics, one discovers something. There is really only one issue that divides these two Christian traditions: the nature of the priesthood.

It is not too great an oversimplification to admit that every protestant doctrine, from sola fide to sola scriptura, was developed by the reformers in response to abuses of power on the part of Catholic clerics. The reasons for the protestant doctrines are historical and rational. The reformers had the Bible as a source of doctrine (in that sense they were still Catholics) but they perceived in the priesthood a threat to independence, and an authority that was far too often abused. A theology and an exegetical system had to be developed that removed the traditional role of the priest as a vehicle for Christ's grace and allowed the believer to be saved without the interference of sacraments that far too often seemed to come with strings attached. It is again not too great an oversimplification to say that Luther provided the exegesis in support of this attack on the priesthood, and Calvin provided the first clear systematic theology doing the same.

Does one need sacramental confession in order to have sins forgiven? The protestant response must be "no," for to say yes would require the priesthood. Does one need the Eucharist in order to be saved? The protestant response must either be a highly nuanced "yes" or an outright "no" because to admit the Eucharist is to open the door for the priesthood. Can the Magesterium be an authoritative teacher? The protestant response must be "no" for to say yes would admit that the Holy Spirit leads clerics in a way that is different from the lay Christian believer.

Now, there are middle ground approaches to all these questions (see Anglicanism as one example) but essentially this admittedly simplified analysis holds water. Our differences are ultimately about the priesthood, and any reasonable and scholarly protestant or Catholic should admit this. If the traditional Church taught that ordination was a sacrament that was an efficacious sign of God's grace that left a permanent mark on the soul of the ordained in a way transforming him into something else: a person capable of acting "in persona Christi," then the protestants had to develop a exegetical system that attacked this understanding.

And I was sorely tempted to agree with them. I had reason to go look. One of the books I read was "Is Rome the True Church" by Geissler and, for balance, I also read this volume.

Fortunately (or unfortunately?) for me, the two volumes are worlds apart. Beckwith's story is humane and told with heart and charity. Geissler's foray into apologetics is amateurish and (given his scholarly background) unforgivably tendentious and simple minded.

In the end, after much soul searching over the course of a year, and a tremendous amount of reading, from these two volumes, to Michael Davies on the priesthood, to the Institutes by Calvin, to reading in the Summa, I came to the conclusion that I had to remain a Catholic, if an uncomfortable one. And I can relate to Dr. Beckwith's journey very well as a result; I am grateful for this compelling and charitable little book.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone, protestant or Catholic, interested in discovering why someone would travel to the Catholic faith from another Christian tradition. It is charitable, kind, an in no way a rejection of all things protestant. One thing that kept me away from becoming a protestant myself was the "witness" of some evangelicals, especially fundamentalists, who seem to have their whole identity wrapped up proclaiming a vicious anti-Catholic polemic. Perhaps it is just because I spent too much time online while searching, but it seems to me that for every Billy Graham there are five Jack Chicks... and that is a scary proposition.
Beckwith tells all in returning to the Catholic church  Sep 21, 2009
As someone who is considering converting to the Catholic church, I've been reading any number of books on Catholocism and become a regular watcher of EWTN's The Journey Home. Earlier this week I watched the Journey Home show with Francis Beckwith and listened with great interest as he detailed his journey back to the church of his boyhood. I was so intrigued and captivated by his ability to so clearly articulate his reasoning that I immediately went to this site and ordered his book. I was not disappointed.

Beckwith not only provides the story of spiritual journey from boyhoode to the pinnacle of his Protestant career as President of the Evangelical Theological Society but also provides the logical progression of his thought as he finally undertook a careful examinmation of his Protestant beliefs against Catholic teachings. In the end he realized that returning to the Catholic church was his only choice and he did it with grace, humility, and love. Beckwith clearly is in debt to his Protestant years and the spiritual knowledge he gained and it is only with love and respect that he explains how he finally had no other choice but to fully embrace the Catholic teachings. For him it was not an either/or position. Rather it was a matter of coming into a an even greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be able to fully receive the sacraments provided by the Catholic church.

I'll admit I found the first 75 or 80 pages a bit slow but once Beckwith gets to the really important stages where he examines the differences and the likenesses of the Evangical teachings to the Catholic Church that the book really takes off. From then on my pencil worked as fast as my eyes swept down the pages taking in all he had to say. If you're considering the Catholic church or if you're just curious about the process one man underwent on his journey to becoming Catholic, you're bound to enjoy this book. Another interesting tidbit about Beckwith is that he is still part of the faculty at Baylor University. Catholic or Protestant, Beckwith will give you something to think about.
Frank Beckwith's Journey Back to Roman Catholicism  Aug 25, 2009
In 2007, Francis Beckwith, the president of the Evangelical Theological Society, announced that he was stepping down from his post after having converted back to the Catholic Church of his childhood. Beckwith's announcement sent shock waves through the evangelical world. Even some of Beckwith's closest friends did not see his conversion coming.

Why did Frank Beckwith, a well-respected evangelical scholar and author, return to the church of his childhood? Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic (2008, Brazos Press) is a personal memoir that tells the story of Beckwith's decision to rejoin the Roman Catholic Church.

Return to Rome is primarily a narrative, although it is laced with Catholic apologetics, evangelical appreciation and criticism, as well as theological reflection. Speaking of his book, Beckwith states:

"It is not meant to be an apologetic for Catholicism or an autobiography in the strict sense." (16)

Despite Beckwith's stated intentions in writing this memoir, it is hard to see this book as something less than a Catholic apologetic, since he devotes a considerable amount of space to delineating the theological reasons for his movement back toward the Roman Catholic Church.

Beckwith begins his story with his departure from Roman Catholicism. Raised in the atmosphere of post-Vatican II Catholicism, Beckwith received little conservative and traditional teaching.

"My religion teachers often spoke of Catholicism as `our tradition' rather than as a cluster of beliefs that were true. This relativizing of the faith did not engender confidence in the young students under their tutelage. Moreover, basic Catholic doctrine was often presented inadequately." (36)

He writes honestly about the weaknesses of the Catholic environment of his childhood:

"I believe that the Catholic Church's weakness was presenting the renewal movements like the charismatic movement as something new and not part of the Church's theological traditions. For someone like me, interested in both the spiritual and intellectual grounding of the Christian faith, I didn't need the `folk Mass' with cute nuns and hip priests playing `Kumbaya' with guitars, tambourines, and harmonicas." (38)

Reading over the reasons for Beckwith's departure from the Roman Catholic Church, I could not help but wonder if perhaps evangelicals are making the same mistakes he observed in the post-Vatican II era. What if evangelicals are watering down biblical truth in an effort to be "cool" and appeal to certain segments of our society? What if evangelicals are repeating the mistakes the Roman Catholics were making 30 years ago? Might such a development lead more people to Rome?

Beckwith recognizes that the Catholic Church's intellectual tradition was also very attractive. He writes:

"My experience has been that most very intelligent Christians who had come to a deeper walk with Christ in independent Evangelical and/or non-liturgical churches often gravitate toward a theological and/or ecclesiastical tradition that has strong historical roots, such as Calvinism, Lutheranism, Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy." (44)

Beckwith does not sugarcoat his experience as a young child in Catholicism. He asks tough questions of Catholicism:

"...The American Catholic Church has to ask itself a serious and painful question: is there anything that we did that helped facilitate the departure of these talented and devoted people from our communion?" (45)

Beckwith recounts the passion of his early years as an evangelical. He speaks fondly of Francis Schaeffer. He relates his enthusaism upon becoming convinced that certain creeds are authoritative renderings of Christian doctrine. He outlines the major steps in his education and his rise to prominence in evangelical scholarship.

Readers might be surprised to discover some charismatic tendencies in Beckwith's memoir. He describes a vision of Jesus that his wife had. He interprets events in his life as signs of God's approval of his departure from the evangelical faith back to Roman Catholicism.

Beckwith devotes considerable space to the doctrine of justification by faith, which is, of course, the defining difference between Protestants and Catholics. I found his exposition of the Protestant view to be somewhat reductionistic. For example, he writes:

"The grace one receives is legal or forensic. This means that grace is not real stuff that changes nature, but merely the name given to God's graciousness by legally accounting to us Christ's righteousness." (85)

I do not know of any Protestant who argues that God's grace is not transformative. Protestants take care to note that the basis of our justification is faith alone in Jesus Christ. But that does not exclude the transforming power of God's grace. We simply do not call the moral transformation "justification." Protestants are careful to avoid making our own righteousness the basis for our salvation.

The end of the book forcefully argues for inclusion of Catholics in the Evangelical Theological Society.

"I still believe that the ETS doctrinal statement is broad enough to allow Catholic members." (119)

I actually agree with Beckwith on this issue. I do not classify Catholics as evangelicals in the classic sense, but if Beckwith is making a case for Catholic membership in ETS based solely upon the society's doctrinal statement, then he is correct. There is nothing in this document that would explicitly exclude Catholic members.

Beckwith bolsters his case by bringing good evidence:

"Pastors and theologians like Boyd, Pinnock, and Sanders are constrained only by `inerrancy' and `the Trinity,' which means (at least theoretically) that they could embrace any one of a variety of heresies condemned by the ancient Church and yet still remain an ETS member in good standing: Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, or the denial of Christ's eternal sonship. Yet oddly, Catholics who embrace the Church that claimed to have the ecclesiastical authority to condemn these heresies, and which provided to its separated progeny, including Evangelicals, the resources and creeds that provide the grounds for excluding these heresies, apparently have no place in ETS." (126)

I find Beckwith's case to be very persuasive. He goes on to write:

"Put in terms of specific traditions, if the term `Evangelical' is broad enough to include high-church Anglicans, low-church anti-creedal Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, the Evangelical Free Church, Arminians, Calvinists, Disciples of Christ, Pentecostals, Seventh-Day Adventist, open theists, atemporal theists, social Trinitarians, substantial Trinitarians, nominalists, realists, eternal security supporters and opponents, temporal theists, dispensationalists, theonnmists, church-state separationists, church-state accomodationists, cessationists, non-cessationists, kenotic theorists, covenant theologians, paedo-Baptists, Anabaptists, and Dooyeweerdians, then there should be room for an Evangelical Catholic." (128)

I agree with Beckwith that ETS should allow Catholics in its membership as long as it stands by its current doctrinal formulation. If ETS decides that Catholics should be excluded, then the official doctrinal statement needs to be adjusted in order to reflect what the society agrees is "true evangelical identity." It might be time for a more robust confession of faith, and not the minimalist document that guides ETS today.

At the end of the book, Beckwith admits:

"...My return to the Catholic Church has as much to do with a yearning for a deeper spiritual life as it did with theological reasoning." (128)

In the end, Beckwith confesses that a deep spiritual yearning ultimately led him back to Rome, not theological reasoning. Return to Rome would have been better had Beckwith given us more insight into Rome's satisfaction of his spiritual yearnings instead of the doctrinal issues that he admits were not the primary factor in his decision to return to Rome.
Disappointing explanation, more details needed  Aug 18, 2009
I first met Frank in the late 1980s at an ETS conference. He gave a presentation on Mormonism; I was a seminary student who was impressed with the UNLV professor's paper and thought it had something to offer. Over the years I met him on several different occasions, even participating in a back-and-forth email discussion on something we disagreed about. Generally, I have found Dr. Beckwith to be cordial and reasonable, even in our differences. Today I continue to hold high praise for his book on abortion, which I still think is the best Pro-Life work ever written on the subject; more than a dozen times I have recommended it because his argumentation is sound. In fact, I have even used some of his reasoning with my secular students in the college classroom when they have written essays on the volatile subject, as using his line of reasoning has helped blow the argument out of the water. His book with Koukl on relativism is also a favorite. Check out my previous 5-star reviews on both of these books. Good stuff.

With this as a background, I have to say I'm extremely disappointed in Dr. Beckwith's latest book, regardless of whether or not I agree with his "conversion" from Protestant theology to Catholicism. To start with, the book lacks details, even if his humorous style is engaging. Despite being called "Return" to Rome, I was also not convinced that he really ever left the Catholic Church in the first place. The details of the original "conversion" of him having left the church are surprisingly general. Or perhaps I missed this in the book. If you consider Dr. Beckwith's philosophical career, including the "Evangelical" issues he tackled such as Mormonism and abortion, I wonder if these couldn't have been issues that a Catholic writer could have written. (I haven't done the research, but I'm guessing that Catholic Answers, the RC apologetic society, has never had negative things to say about his work when he wrote as an "Evangelical." After all, even a Catholic could have been the author of pretty much all of his work. Someone please check me on this and I'll take this out if I'm wrong.)

I am also not impressed that he was the ETS president. In fact, there have been other presidents that, in my mind, haven't been the epitome of the Evangelical Christian position. Yes, he was the ETS president, something that he apparently hopes gives him absolute credibility. But does this "make" him, by definition, an "Evangelical"? I'm sorry, but I would argue "no." With his Catholic background, including his education, you would think that more emphasis would have been given to this area of a book. Remember, it reads "Return to Rome." He needed to have first convinced the reader that there was ever a time he needed to "return" if he never really left in the first place. Could it possibly be that Frank was merely a Roman Catholic wearing Protestant clothes for a couple of decades before "coming home to Rome" again?

Hence, I'm not convinced in the veracity of this Evangelical-turned-Catholic story. Perhaps I'm out to lunch, maybe I'm just too jaded or biased, or there is the chance I'm just a judgmental person. But with a whopping 144 pages (it could easily be read in a sitting), more details are needed. I also believe calling oneself an "Evangelical Catholic" does not hold any real meaning. What in the world does that really mean? It seems to be an attempt of having your cake and eating it too. Is he saying I'm in your camp and yours too? I guess I too am an Evangelical Catholic, even though I believe in justification by grace alone, the idea that there are only two ordinances, and the idea that Peter was not the first pope. (You're right, I must not be an "Evangelical Catholic.")

I love the guy--no doubt, Dr. Beckwith is one of the brightest philosophers I've ever met, and I mean that sincerely--but I'm afraid this book is a sorry disappointment. I recommend not spending any money on it unless more is added to show the author was more than just a wolf in sheep's clothing.

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