Considering the issues that have come up concerning Beckwith’s conversion/return to Catholicism, I suggest that we understand the essential differences between Protestants and Catholics. Theology Unplugged put together a series devoted to this a few months ago. They are all available on MP3. If you have time, listen to them. They can be found here.


1. Know Catholic doctrine truly before you criticize it emotionally.
2. Know Reformed doctrine truly before you adhere to it traditionally.
3. Know what the essential points of disagreement are and don’t focus on the smaller points.
4. Understand the reason for the Reformation, knowing the two key issues were justification and authority.

As well, considering Beckwith said that a major reason for his conversion was due to his studies in the early church (“I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant”), you need to be aware of the assumption that is involved in such a statement. Even if were true that the early church was more Catholic than Protestant, is there justification in adapting your theology to mirror that of the early church or do we see doctrine as progressively understood and articulated in history as the Reformers view of semper reformanda (“always reforming”)? Don’t know what I am talking about? View or listen to session 10 of Introduction to Theology here (listen to or watch all four). It will give you a better understanding of the options, helping you to understand the traditional approaches of both Catholicism (and Orthodoxy) and Protestantism.

Keep an eye on the blogs as we may be having a special announcement about an upcoming Converse with Scholars to deal with this issue.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    9 replies to "Essential Differences Between Catholics and Protestants"

    • Scott Arnold

      Thanks Michael. I think Beckwith’s return to Rome has the potentiality to make some of us (including me) who are less mature in our understanding of these issues really question where we are and what we believe. With that in mind, I believe it is best to take the approach you have taken – irenic in spirit and unapologetic in being, well, apologetic. One can certainly deal with Beckwith’s apparent errors without burning important bridges with a trusted scholar who obviously has with both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics.

      When you lay out very simply what is foundational to our differences (justification and authority), it helps us to be sure that the reformed view is correct regardless of Beckwith’s understanding. Left to my own devices, I would probably start trying to sink my teeth into the Church fathers to try to find out why he changed his mind (before being knowledgeable enough to know how to study them properly). And rather than having to go out and research all this on our own – you have it available through TTP while reacting immediately by adding it to the Converse with Scholars schedule. Of course, we still have to be good Bereans and see if it all lines up – as I know that you want all of us to search the Scriptures on anything you teach.

      I don’t know if you have any idea how important your prompt dealing with this is to people like me – so simply want to make sure you hear it and know that it is greatly appreciated.

    • C Michael Patton

      Scott, thanks so much for the encouragement. You have stated out intentions well and helped us to see the necessity of dealing with this in a way that is well thought out.

      Good to hear from you!

    • stpattykid


      I absolutely respect Dr. Beckwith’s decision to return to his catholic roots. After reading his response I don’t believe that he made a sudden or impulsive decision. But it seems to me that a man of his credentials and education would make a statement more…I don’t know…profound? To say that the early church is more catholic than protestant would be like saying the Commodore 64 is more of an authentic computer experience than the I-MAC. It seems purely subjective. Does he propose to somehow duplicate the early church experience to then be more authentically Christian? Now don’t get me wrong. I believe the church would be much more vital if it had a better sense of it’s history. We belong to a rich and wonderful tradition. Through Augustine I have heard the voice of a man who loved God. He showed me what transparency and humility can look like in a man of faith. What would Augustine say about the present Roman Catholic Church? What would he say about the history of that institution?

      Not sure I’m making any sense. But, then, again, I said I would never write a post-midnight blog. It’s my own fault. All the best.

      B.A. Hill

    • C Michael Patton

      Good comments Brian. I agree.

      At the same time, I understand where he is coming from, although I disagree. It is a philosophy of history that he has taken that causes him to believe that the early church, being in closer proximity to the apostles, had purer doctrine and practice. At first glance this seems like it is reasonable, but I think that it makes assumptions that are unwarranted. Why would we say that doctrine cannot develop through Church history? Why would we say that we cannot have a better understanding of issues such as the Trinity, the atonement, salvation than they did in the early Church? God is still involved in history isn’t He? Did He expect that the earliest Christians would have a comprehensive understanding of systematic theology in the first centuries? If so, what is the basis for such a claim? If there is no answer, we should assume that as the years go by and we stand on the shoulders of the great saints of the past we can have a better understanding of doctrine than they did in the first centuries.

      If this is the case, your computer illustration works really well.

      Thanks for the comments.

    • nathanimal

      Hey Michael…I didn’t see “Essential Differences Between Catholics and Protestants” on TUP. Is there a reason I am not seeing it in there?

    • C Michael Patton

      That is odd. When I click “here” it works. Here it is again:

      Try that.

    • tnahas

      Well this is all nice. Let’s have tea and biscuits with the heretics or should I say the false believers. I was a Roman Catholic for 40 years caught in an archaic church that told us what to believe and not to question. When can we, like Paul, and stand up and say “I am not ashamed of the gospel”. The RCC does not possess any gospel that saves and therefore should be cast out of the true Church. Sorry Michael that is as irenic as I can get.

    • roger e. olson

      AMEN tnahas.
      I don’t know if Luther and all our other “protesting” brothers and sisters are looking down today in disgust of what is taking place in this “unholy” reunion, but I do know this, it’s scary!
      I would never have believed that such men in positions of “Protestant” leadership would embrace slavery again. If I could, and I can’t because I know that “Once Saved, Always Saved” is truth, but if I could, I would choose heathenism over catholism. Give me Jesus, or give me nothing!
      ps. Anyone bothered to look at the 1994 “New Catholic Catechism?” Somethings just never change!

    • jonathancarr

      Hey the link is not working…..could you direct me there? Interested to hear the sessions.

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