Thursday, May 24, 2007

Beckwith's Review of Hewitt's Book on Romney

In First Things Frank Beckwith (who co-edited The New Mormon Challenge [Zondervan, 2002]) reviews Hugh Hewitt's book on Mitt Romney's Mormonism.

Beckwith begins with a helpful overview of Mormon history and theology. He marvels at how it is both profoundly wrong and genius at the same time:
Even if one thinks that Smith was profoundly mistaken (as I do), one cannot help but marvel at the religious genius of this project: It has all the advantages of Reformation Protestantism and nineteenth-century Restorationism (“Let’s get back to what Jesus and the apostles originally taught”) with all the advantages of Catholicism and Orthodoxy—an apostolic magisterium within the confines of a visible church. Smith has both a priesthood of all believers and a priesthood managed by a church hierarchy. He offers a new gospel unconstrained by centuries of theological precedent, yet it he could claim that it is as old as the apostles. He could, without contradiction, reject tradition while claiming to be the true guardian of an ancient message. It may be wrong, but it was brilliant.
Hewitt rightly identifies and refutes what Beckwith calls the Creedal Mistake ("when a Christian citizen believes that the planks of his creed are the best standard by which to judge the suitability of a political candidate"). However, Hewitt does not address what Beckwith calls the Kennedy Mistake (when someone makes the "claim that his theology and church do not influence or shape his politics").

Beckwith's conclusion rings true to me:
If one does not support Romney’s candidacy, it should not be because he is a Mormon. It should be because one has good reason to believe he is not the best candidate for the office. That is the message of Hewitt’s book. It is one that would resonate with Martin Luther, who once tersely said, “I’d rather be ruled by a competent Turk than an incompetent Christian.”