What I Value About The Three Branches

Are there things to learn from every branch of Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When my wife started looking into Eastern Orthodoxy to convert, I wasn’t that happy. Reactionary at first, yeah, but over time, I have modified my viewpoint on this some. Now I am still a thoroughly convinced Protestant. At the same time, I have learned areas about my tradition I appreciate more and areas in other traditions that need to be emphasized better in my own Protestant tradition.

So what do I see in my Protestantism that I emphasize? First off, I am convinced the history is largely on our side since I see many beliefs in the Catholic and Orthodox churches that I don’t think can be traced back to the apostles. When I want to know what is reliable, I look at the history and I find the New Testament measures up well. For other traditions, it’s a case by case basis. No one ever believes all traditions. Traditions contradict one another. Only select traditions are believed.

Second, I really do think that the Protestants are known as people of the book and we are the ones that do some of the most in-depth research in Scripture. As my wife and I had lunch with an Orthodox couple one day they did say that we Protestants know our Bibles. If someone in the Catholic and Orthodox tradition agrees with this, the good news is our findings are available to all. Anyone can partake and accept them.

Catholics I think have an edge on moral philosophy. Again, this is something that is open to all, but I am thankful they are on our side with pro-life causes and defending marriage. I don’t agree with everything on this end still, but I do think some of the best comes from them.

For the Orthodox, my wife and I meet with the priest on a regular basis every two weeks go get regular counsel. I find this to be helpful because if there is something I really like that Allie is getting, it is some ancient wisdom. Too many people in my tradition seem to cut ourselves off from the past as if we are the only people the Holy Spirit has ever led into truth. We’re not.

I do think also there is a proper emphasis on worship. This is not to say that I agree with much that goes on in the worship services, such as prayers to the saints and to Mary, but I do realize the heart of it all. Even though I don’t agree with much of what I see, I do see a desire to take matters seriously and I have a great respect for that.

So while I am still a thoroughly convinced Protestant, I do think my perspective has been enriched by this journey. I have a good friend online who is a Catholic priest and I get along just fine with the priest at the Orthodox Church. (And both have also let me know that they affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm.) I sometimes wonder how we can be more ecumenical, but I think I see it when I get together to talk with my friends of a different persuasion. When we get to eternity, I don’t think it’d be proper to say we’ll all be Protestants, Catholics, or Orthodox.

We’ll all be Christians.

Maybe we should just emphasize that right now.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Meal Jesus Gave Us

What do I think of N.T. Wright’s book published by Westminster John Knox Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

N.T. Wright has always been a favorite writer of mine and when I found for sale on Kindle a book he wrote on the Lord’s Supper, I had to get it. This has been an object of study for me lately. I do tend to hold to more of a symbolic remembrance view. My ultimate position is that it doesn’t matter for discipleship which view it is. Jesus said to come to the table and that’s it.

Wright begins his book by going back in time to the Exodus and the Passover meal there. From there, we go to about 200 B.C. where a Jewish family is celebrating and acting as if they were there for the Exodus. This is then tied into the Lord’s Supper.

We then go into much more of the history. I do wish some more had been said about the Church Fathers, but Wright mainly wants to focus on the meaning of the meal. For him, the meaning of the meal is to remind us of what Jesus did and to tie all of time together as it were. We take a past event, the crucifixion of Jesus followed by His resurrection, and then we look forward to His future return and our resurrection, and we celebrate both of those in the present moment.

We also come to celebrate our unity together as a body. We are all Christians and we are all thinking about Jesus and what He did for us. We are all becoming aware of our sins and how we need to live better for the cause of Christ and how He is the Lord of us. We are thinking about just as Israel was delivered from slavery under Pharaoh, so it is that we are delivered from slavery under sin.

When he does look at the Reformation, he does get to the debate between Luther and Zwingli and he brings out some interesting facts, such as the young scholar standing in the background of their discussion who knew Aramaic and knew both of them were getting it wrong. Had something happened that Luther and Zwingli could have worked together, history could have turned out very differently. Alas, it did not.

One final point he brings out is one that I have come to appreciate more and more. The table ought not to be a place of exclusion. It’s my conclusion that the only requirement for coming to the table should be that you are a Christian. The table is a place of unity and we should recognize our unity. If you are going to spend eternity with someone and are going to be at the wedding supper of the lamb with them, shouldn’t you be willing to come to the table with them?

Wright’s book is a good and short read as most of the chapters you can read in ten minutes. Wright writes in such a way that draws you in and really gets you thinking about the meal and yet he has a profound depth to him. I highly recommend this for those wanting to understand the Lord’s Supper.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Understanding Four Views On The Lord’s Supper

What do I think of John Armstrong’s book published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We often think that the table of the Lord should be where we find unity. In an ideal world, this would be so, but we do not live in that ideal world. Unfortunately, it seems that when we come to the Lord’s table, even when we get there, we get into a debate about what is going on. We might as well learn to understand each other.

In this book, we get the views of a memorial view more in line with the Baptist tradition, the Lutheran view, and the Roman Catholic view. All come together with a mutual respect displayed for one another and in conversation. Each states his view to have it critiqued by the others.

I find myself more in line with the Baptist view. Many of the others honestly seemed to be incredibly similar to me and at times seemed hard to understand. All sides did strive to engage with Scripture to show the points they were arguing.

One aspect that surprised me was how little interaction there was with the early church. I remember Thomas Aquinas being cited at times, but I don’t remember people like Justin Martyr or Tertullian or others. It would have been good for some to try to give further demonstration that their view was the view of the original church that way. This was especially a shock when it came to the Roman Catholic position.

Many of these also addressed practical questions. Who can come to the table and how often should we come to the table? What about children at the table? All of these are important questions, but at the end, I am left with another question that might seem odd, but hear me out.

What practical difference does all of this make overall?

I am not against understanding what Jesus said and better making sense of it, but am I to think that you will not live a devout and holy life if you hold to the Memorial view as opposed to the Lutheran view? Is there anything in the text that indicates that unless a priest or a pastor says the right words or whathaveyou over the elements, that they do not become the body and blood of Jesus?

When we read the text, the text tells us in 1 Corinthians to examine ourselves. God will provide on His end, but we need to make sure that we are treating His gift properly. Most of the Christians today do not seriously think about the Lord’s Supper. While this is a shame, there is one right thing. They do it because Jesus told them to do it. If it drives them to live a holier life, all the better.

Also, I really don’t see churches today observing what I think is the Lord’s Supper anyway. Most of us have what my wife has called “The Lord’s Snack.” When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, there were people going home hungry and some getting drunk. How many people are going to take a little piece of bread or a wafer and say “I couldn’t eat another bite!” or get a little bit of wine and go home drunk as a skunk?

For us, it’s also individualized. In some Protestant churches, you can get the elements individually wrapped for you. In all branches, what I have seen is something very individualistic. A priest or pastor presides and people come up one by one and receive the elements that way. There is no unity. There is no need for you to know the person behind you or in front of you. In the ancient world, a meal was a communal experience. That is not going on in our churches today.

I am not against us striving to understand what Jesus said all the better, but I do hope we return to a table of unity soon. When we exclude fellow Christians from the table, I just consider this tragic. If we are all going to partake of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb together someday, should we not learn to partake of the table put before us together today?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/15/2018: Tim Perry

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There’s something about Mary. She was a remarkable woman in her time and one we can all learn from today. She was a woman who got the desire of all women of the time of being the mother of the Messiah and yet suffered greatly for it from conception on. She was promised that a sword would pierce her soul as well.

The struggle is that many Protestant evangelicals don’t know what to do with Mary. We look at what our brothers and sisters do in Catholicism and Orthodoxy and say, “That’s going a bit too far.” Then we say we want to do everything we can to avoid that so we have a tendency to just skip over those chapters as quickly as we can. If we give any honor to Mary, it’s just as quickly as can be and then move on.

So how should we approach her? What do we do with Mary? Have we often gone too far the other way? What can we learn from Scripture and history about this woman? In order to discuss this, I brought on an evangelical who has done the study of Mary. Perhaps we can get an evangelical Mariology. So who is our guest? His name is Tim Perry. And who is that?

He wrote Mary For Evangelicals while teaching theology at Providence College in Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada. After leaving Providence, He served in parish ministry in Sudbury, Ontario and continues to do so in Shawville, Quebec. He is an adjunct professor at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Ontario and Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA

This interview was scheduled to take place in October for Reformation month, but some events happened beyond our control and we were unable to have the dialogue. I considered that Christmastime would be just as appropriate a time to talk about Mary. This is especially so since our last discussion focused around the virgin birth. (Which I do affirm.)

We’ll be talking about the history of Mary and how she is to be seen today. Why is it that we who are evangelicals often get hesitant around this woman? Have we committed an opposite error to that of what we accuse Catholics and Orthodox of so often? When we are celebrating Christmas this year, how ought we to think of this woman? Aside from songs like “Mary, Did You Know?” we really don’t have much out there that talks about Mary. Is that a problem on our end and if so, what can we do about it?

I hope you’ll be listening to the next episode of our show where we will talk about this amazing woman and what we can learn from her today. Our earlier shows from this month are being worked on and we will get them to you as soon as possible. Thank you for being a listener of the Deeper Waters Podcast and please go on iTunes and leave a positive review.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/27/2018: Doug Beaumont and Jefrey Breshears

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A little over 500 years ago, Martin Luther put up his 95 theses and after that, the world has never been the same. A rift was eventually created unlike any before. The Catholic Church had dealt with opposition, but due to the printing press, this one lasted with the ideas being broadcast far and wide.

In the aftermath, both sides hardly came together and started asking “Why can’t we be friends?” Instead, both sides have been guilty in the past have handling things in a less than Christlike way. Namely, killing each other. Wars would take place with Protestants and Catholics both being on the run.

Today, things are different. Many of us will happily work alongside one another. While for the most part, most of us do see the other side as fellow Christians, there are still areas of disagreement. We can all be benefitted by good discussions about what those disagreements are and how to handle them. Is the Catholic Church the church that Jesus established? Or do the Protestants have it right and the teaching of Scripture is the only infallible authority the church has?

To discuss this, I have a show coming up with a Catholic and a Protestant. Doug Beaumont, a former professor of mine at SES turned Catholic will represent the Catholics. Jefrey Breshears, founder of the Areopagus here in Atlanta will represent the Protestants.

So who are they?

According to his bio:

Douglas Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in theology from North-West University and an M.A. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, where he taught for several years before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church. He has since appeared on The Journey Home and Catholic Answers Live, and has been interviewed by The National Catholic Register, EWTN, Relevant Radio, and The Patrick Coffin Show. He is the author of Evangelical Exodus and The Message Behind the Movie, has contributed to Bumper Sticker Catholicism, The Best Catholic Writing, The Apologetics Study Bible for Students, and the Christian Apologetics Journal, and has written online articles for Catholic Answers Magazine, Strange Notions, and Catholic World Report. He can be found online at douglasbeaumont.com.

And for Jefrey Breshears

According to his bio:

I received my Ph.D. in history from Georgia State University, specializing in two fields: (1) Ancient history, philosophy and religion; and (2) modern United States history. I also taught for 15 years at Georgia State and Kennesaw State University, and also at Atlanta Christian College and Reformed Theological Seminary, during which time I taught courses in ancient and medieval history, early and modern U.S. history, and political history.  I also developed a course entitled “American History Off the Record: Social and Political Themes in Popular Music from World War I Through the 1970s.”  In 2003 I founded the Areopagus, a Christian education organization in the Atlanta area that offers semester-length seminar courses and forums on topics related to Christian history, apologetics, contemplative Christian spirituality, literature and the arts, and contemporary cultural issues.

Having done some recent research on this topic, I am looking forward to having two people who have studied this more than I have come on and discuss the matter. I also hope this discussion will produce more light than heat. Be watching for the next episode and please consider leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Mary for Evangelicals

What do I think of Tim Perry’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Mary is often a controversial topic for Protestants? Why? We see what the Orthodox and the Catholics do and while I agree it is over the top, we can go too far in the opposite direction. Protestants don’t really have much of a position on Mary other than “We disagree with Catholics and Orthodox.” Protestants like myself need to really learn how to view Mary.

Fortunately, Tim Perry has written an excellent book on that topic. One who reads this book will have to agree that it is thorough. Perry goes from Paul to the Gospels to the early church, the medieval church, to the Reformation, and finally to our own time. Of course, not everything can be covered, but major highlights in the timeline will be.

Perry also works on sticking with what the sources say and presenting differing viewpoints where relevant. We could say that for Protestants, usually Mary shows up at Christmas and then is rushed off of the scene so we can move on to other aspects of the life of Jesus. This could be the case for the Gospels. Mark presents Mary in a section alongside of Jesus’s opponents where she and the family are well-meaning opponents, but still acting as opponents. If all we had was John, we wouldn’t even know Mary’s name.

Going through church history, we start with the early fathers and see the impact of the Protoevangelium of James on the early church. Many did believe it to be a true report, though thankfully some were skeptical. At times, it looks like the early church decided to fill in some missing gaps (Much like many of think needs to be done with the childhood of Jesus) and those explanations can be seen as accurate not because they’re shown to be, but because they’re thought to be fitting of what God would do.

When you get to the Middle Ages, you get to a time that seems to have really stretched. You will have feasts that are done to honor the conception of Mary. This is a good entry to prepare us for the Reformation period.

Here, you have Luther and others who at the start are not opposed to Marian devotions. Later on, this seems to change as appeals to Mary and the saints are often seen as being practices that easily lead to idolatry and less honor being given to Jesus. I can easily say I share these concerns.

As we get to the modern era, we start seeing different looks at Mary. There are feminist looks that think that Mary is too unrealistic for a woman to relate to. There is liberation theology that looks at her as an example of the poor standing up against the rich. While many of us would not agree with a feminist or liberation theology approach, we can agree that Mary’s being a woman needs to be seriously remembered and realize that she was someone who was poor and yet gave a magnificat challenging Herod and Caesar.

Perry at the end gives us his own Mariology. I do think he is too quick to agree with the perpetual virginity of Mary. I don’t think there’s any real basis for this in the Gospels as I think it’s best to treat the brothers of Jesus at face value as brothers. I also think it’s important to look at Josephus’s testimony here who regularly could easily differentiate between cousins and brothers.

He is open to praying to Mary and treating her as a sort of co-redeemer, though I still am suspicious of each of these. I do get concerned about trying to contact those on the other side of the curtain as it were since I don’t see this as a recommended practice in Scripture. I think Perry would probably agree with me that if this cannot be done in good conscience by a Christian, then it should not be done.

This is a good book to read on the importance of understanding Mary. Whether one agrees or disagrees, they will walk away with a greater appreciation of Mary. While we have many disagreements between us, Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox should all agree that Mary is certainly a very important woman in salvation history and be thankful for what she did for us in being the mother of our Lord.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/13/2018: Glenn Sunshine

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Just over 500 years ago this month, the Reformation started which shook the world, and not just the Christian world. There is much debate about this event. Was it a good thing? Was it a bad thing? Why was it done?

This month on the Deeper Waters Podcast, we are focusing on these kinds of questions. This one obviously is rooted in history. How shall we approach it? Many of us don’t know much about what the world was like 500 years ago. Just as in studying the world of the Bible, we need to know what the world was like at the time of the Reformation to better understand the dynamics.

To discuss this, I have decided to bring on a historian of the Reformation. I have seen this person do some debating and I was quite impressed with what I saw. It is my hope that he will be able to shed some light on this event for us and help us better understand what it was and how it shapes our world today. His name is Glenn Sunshine.

So who is he?

Glenn got his B.A. from Michigan State University in 1980 in linguistics with high honors. He got his Masters at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1985 in church history graduating Summa Cum Laude, another M.A. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1987 in Renaissance/Reformation history and his Ph.D. in 1992 from the same place in the same subject.

So what did happen in the Reformation? Is this where a new church rose up that was completely cut off from the old? Did the Reformers decide to just get rid of everything and ignore all of the tradition of the past? Did the Reformers originally even intend to break away from the Catholic Church?

How about relations with the Eastern Church? What role did those play? We often forget that there is a third major block of the Christian church.

Did the church really need reform? Would even Catholics think that the church had issues at the time that needed to be addressed? If so, what really led to the events happening that were so dynamic that several people moved away from the Catholic Church and before too long, you had several other churches showing up?

How are we to approach figures like Martin Luther? Sure, he did a lot to reform the church, but didn’t he leave a lot of blotches behind, such as anti-semitism? Was he accurate in what he said and would any of his opponents have conceded that?

Finally, how has the Reformation affected us today? What are the positives? What are the negatives? How are we to be Christians in a post-Reformation culture?

These are the kinds of questions I plan to ask. I can’t guarantee I’ll get to all and there will be new ones rise up, but it will be great to talk about this with a professor of Reformation history. I hope you’ll be listening and please consider going on iTunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Light From The Christian East

What do I think of James Payton’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This book is a Protestant look at the movement of Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodox readers might be suspicious at first, but they shouldn’t be. If anything, one could say not that Payton is too critical, but that he isn’t critical enough. In my talking with him, I honestly just asked him “Why aren’t you Orthodox?” I’m not, of course, but the book can seem so gushing at times I couldn’t help but wonder why he isn’t.

The work is largely a work of wanting to be ecumenical, which it succeeds at. Payton takes us through many aspects of the way that worship is done in the church and how it differs from many Western perspectives. He answers questions about their worship style. The work is largely aimed toward Protestants.

Questions center around what is the church, how do Orthodox people pray, and what’s with all the icons? Many Protestants who go to an Orthodox service will walk away wondering what was going on. My wife goes in and sees something that she thinks is beautiful. I am sure she does, but I am one who doesn’t really get the same pull at all.

Along the way, the reader will get a lot of history. One might think that 1054, the year of the great schism is the most important year in differing between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Not so. 1204 is far more important when the Western church refused to help the Orthodox Church during the Crusades. The reader will also learn a lot about the iconoclast controversy.

An aspect that seems to come out repeatedly is that the West and the East are both asking different questions and getting different answers. We in the West do tend to take a much more academic approach to Christianity. The East seems to take a much more mystical approach where the idea of Orthodoxy is thought to be intuitive.

I understand Payton wanted to write something ecumenical, but I did often wish he could have highlighted why he thinks the way he does. Why is he not Orthodox? He does say he has his own criticisms of the Orthodox Church. I would have liked to have seen them. There is nothing inherently wrong with a good critique after all and it can be a way that iron sharpens iron.

I would have also liked to have seen more on aspects of Orthodoxy I do find troubling. I have a problem when it comes to the Mariology and the treatment of the saints, practices that I do not find any Biblical basis for. The idea of how those outside the church are seen can be problematic. I remember reading on an Orthodox web site put out by the Orthodox Church about Protestants being heretics. How serious is this? Are we placed outside of the Christian faith according to the Orthodox? I do find it troubling since I think we should all be able to name what the Gospel is and who all is believing it or not.

I also wonder when we talk about Western and Eastern if it’s so much the denomination as it is the culture. What could we see in an Eastern Protestant Church? Do Orthodox Churches in the West have many of the same problems that can be found in Western culture?

Still, those wanting a good introduction will be benefited by this book and it’s not just me saying this. I have even seen this book for sale at an Orthodox cathedral during a Greek festival event. If the Orthodox can think it’s an accurate enough description of their faith, I think a Protestant can read it without problem.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace The Mother of Jesus

What do I think of Scot McKnight’s book published by Paraclete Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In looking at Orthodoxy and Catholicism, I have thought the attention given to Mary is overdone. I can’t agree with praying to Mary or treating her like she’s the Queen of Heaven or asking her to intercede for us and such. While I freely say I think Catholics and Orthodox make more of Mary than should be done, I think Protestants have seen that error and done the exact opposite.

So we read the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke and see the parts about Mary and kind of rush through those. Mary in essence just becomes an incubator for the Son of God and then we rush her off the scene. After all, we don’t want to be mistaken for Catholics or Orthodox!

This is just as much of an error.

In this book, McKnight seeks to take a look at Mary from a historical perspective starting with just the Bible first. Mary is no simple ordinary peasant girl. She is a girl who accepts one of the most dangerous positions in history and while a peasant, has the temerity to challenge both Herod and Caesar.

From the moment Mary agreed to the request of the angel, she knew her life wouldn’t be the same. What about her future husband? What about her family? What about her reputation? In response to all of this, Mary still sings. She rejoices that she has been given the honor of bearing the Messiah and realizing that her son will be king. Could Mary and Joseph have gone to synagogue services later on in life hearing them pray for the coming of the Messiah and given each other a knowing wink and looked over at Jesus knowing He was the one?

At the same time, Mary still has her own growth to do. Imagine her going to the temple one day for purification and there is Simeon who is waiting for the Lord’s Messiah. He takes Jesus in his arms and prophecies about him. Here Mary is probably anticipating all the glory that will come. Instead, Simeon gives a dark message. Jesus will be responsible for the rise and fall of many. Jesus will Himself be rejected. Not only that, a sword will pierce Mary’s heart as well.

But this is the Messiah….

He’s supposed to be the king….

He’s not supposed to be rejected….

Then Jesus grows up to be a man and what is He doing? Is He out gathering an army to attack Rome? No. He’s preaching and doing miracles. Something isn’t right! Mary and her sons and daughters race down to see Jesus to find out what they can do. Jesus is out of His mind!

Jesus lays out the parameters of the relationship. The Kingdom of God must come first. Mary has accepted Jesus as the Messiah, but will she accept Jesus as her Lord? Will she accept that this is what the Messiah really does? Will she realize the ideas of the Jewish people of what the Messiah does are false?

McKnight spends some time looking at later developments in Mariology. He does think we should accept Theotokos, which I have no problem with. Of course, it must be properly understood which is one reason I would not bring it up in, say, a debate with an atheist. If Son of God is hard to understand, how much more is Mother of God?

He also thinks that we should have at least one day a year in the church calendar to honor Mary? And why not? We celebrate David and Moses and Paul and Peter and so many others. Why not Mary? This is the woman who was entrusted with raising the Son of God on Earth. Shouldn’t we celebrate her?

This book left me with a new appreciation of Mary and thinking as a Protestant I need to do more. It is an error to go extreme in one direction as I have said. It is just as much to go the other way. Let’s not do that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Behold Your Mother

What do I think of Tim Staples’s book published by Catholic Answers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A couple of decades or so ago the movie, “There’s Something About Mary” came out. In Christianity, there is also something about Mary. It’s my contention that both sides make too much of this. Catholics and Orthodox I think overdo it where it does seem practically like Mary is deified. I think Protestants look at this and say they want to avoid going to that extreme, and they do so by going to the other extreme. Mary shows up in the text and we have to rush her off.

Tim Staples writes from the Catholic side. A Catholic friend recommended I read this. Going through, I could see how if you were a Catholic, you would find this convincing, which is a danger we must all be wary of. I am by no means immune.

Yet as I went through this book, I thought about dispensationalism some. You take this conjecture here and take this premise here and you build upon those. If you accept the opening conjecture and the premise, the whole system seems to follow. But what if you don’t? If you don’t, it collapses like a house of cards.

Also, in full honesty, I realize I am not the best on this issue. I started looking into this for my own wife who is doing her exploration and I wanted to be informed and read the best minds. I think I have actually been reading far more pro-Catholic and pro-Orthodoxy works than otherwise.

Let’s start with a statement on tradition. Generally, I find that when I’m with an Orthodox or a Catholic, they tend to want to milk a passage like 2 Thess. 2:15 for all it’s worth. Interestingly, both of them think that their traditions are the ones that are being talked about. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it difficult to think that the sex life, or lack thereof, of Mary and Joseph was a church tradition at the time. I do think Luke had access to Mary as a source, but it seems odd to picture him interviewing her and say “So how often did you and Joseph have sex after that?”

My position on tradition is simple. Test all things. Hold to that which is true. Why do I accept Scripture as infallible? Because it proves itself over and over. Why do I not accept tradition as infallible? Because it doesn’t prove itself like that.

Staples on p. 23 starts making a comparison between the Ark of the Covenant and Mary. He points to the ark having the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and a copy of the Ten Commandments. These come from Scripture he says. The manna is the true bread from Heaven in John, the rod the great high priest in Hebrews, and the Ten Commandments the true Word of God in John 1.

That can sound impressive until you realize something. Luke’s audience didn’t have access to Hebrews or John. This is not to say we can’t use one work to understand another, but we must understand each work on its own to the best of our ability first. I also think it is wise to look at the work of Timothy Kauffman as well.

Kauffman points out that first, there seems to be a mania to make everything Mary in the Old Testament. Whatever exists, somehow it represents Mary. I told a friend last night I was expecting Naaman’s servant girl to be a type of Mary soon. While my friend humorously said Jezebel would seen be a type of Mary, he didn’t miss the mark too much. Athaliah and Maacah in the Old Testament are both seen by Staples of types of Mary since they were queen mothers.

Kauffman points out that what was in the Ark was also nothing for the Israelites to celebrate. All of them were permanent reminds of the failures of the Israelites. While we could say that Jesus came because the Israelites failed, it doesn’t really put Mary in the same glorious light. We also have to note the vast differences between Mary and the Ark. One could probably come into physical contact with Mary and live.

Yet this is what Staples’s work relies on. If you accept this interpretation and that one, then you have a case that can possibly be made. Again, we go back to the whole dispensational outlook.

On p. 38, Staples makes a point about an argument saying Scripture is silent on this matter. The irony was not lost on me. Scripture I think is silent on many of these issues about Mary and they are conjectures I think taken unwisely from the text.

In Matthew 12:48-50, we read about Jesus asking who His mother and brothers and sisters are. He says it is those who do God’s will. Staples says Pope John Paul II said that Jesus wished to divert attention from the purely fleshly bond of motherhood to the spiritual bond. Well, not exactly. Jesus was making a radical statement about family. Kingdom of God comes before even family. The same is in Luke when we are told that if we don’t hate our families, we cannot be disciples. This is a comparative statement saying simply that the Kingdom must come before even familial bonds.

On p. 61, Staples looks at the greeting of Gabriel to Mary. Noteworthy is when Staples looks at this whole section, he looks at Mary full of grace as a claim about her having forgiveness in her life. This is the idea of what the Reformers meant by grace. Note that. Staples is basing a Catholic doctrine of Mary on the usage of grace as understood by the Reformers.

Let that sink in.

Grace was part of the language of the day. It meant favor and Mary was indeed highly favored. No Protestant should deny that. It’s right there in the text! I don’t see any reason to think that this is somehow a name change on the part of God that Mary would have a new name that meant full of grace. Yet Staples will come back to this passage over and over. Passages like Revelation 12 and this one are perennial passages that he returns to over and over.

Anyway, on this page, Staples finds it odd that Mary is troubled by the greeting of the angel. Who would be troubled if their neighbor said hello. This is just an odd argument to make. I guarantee you if I walked out of this apartment today and my neighbor said hello, I would say some greeting back. If I walked out and an angel said hello, I would stop in my tracks immediately and quite likely something would be going up on Facebook and we’d be calling friends and family, assuming we weren’t commanded to be silent. Being greeted by an angel is NOT like being greeted by your neighbor. I find it remarkable not that Mary was troubled, but that Staples could think such a thing.

Staples on p. 74 looks at a passage about the virgin daugther of Zion thinking it’s about Mary. Isaiah 37:22 says Assyria despises and scorns her. Could it actually be this is something in Isaiah’s time? The text is said in the present tense. Just saying. But once again, it has to be all about Mary.

Staples also says it is fitting that Mary be sinless since she bore Jesus in her body. Why not then make the whole household of Joseph sinless since Jesus would grow up there? Why should not Israel be sinless since Jesus would walk it’s streets? Such is the problem with conjecture of this sort.

On p. 77, Staples talks about how Mary inaugurates the New Covenant. Such thinking is again why many Protestants have a problem with the Marian dogmas. I recall a month or so ago my wife was watching a video about the rosary and all the people talking about all that Mary was doing for them. It ended and I said, “Kind of makes me wonder if Jesus is doing anything anymore.” As a Protestant, it just looks like much of the glory that goes to Jesus gets transferred to Mary.

Staples on p. 83 also say the ordering of names in Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary shows importance. Yet in this greeting, Mary is mentioned first and then Jesus. What also of the genealogy in this book? In Luke’s genealogy, God is listed last. Is God of least importance?

At 104-105, we get to Revelation 12 where Staples insists the woman is Mary. Unfortunately, his reading is selective. I am thankful to Jason Engwer of Triablogue for his work on this. It also looks like New Testament scholars like Raymond Brown do not accept this interpretation. Staples’s interpretation would have us switching back and forth between literal and apocalyptic interpretation.

Staples also regularly says Mary is the new Eve. Even if this is granted, it still doesn’t show immaculate conception. Staples quotes Justin Martyr to show that the early church did see Mary as a new Eve, but again as Engwer points out, he did not hold that Mary was sinless.

By the way, I find it odd to think that Eve was a virgin when she took the fruit. I see no reason to think that Adam saw Eve and then said, “Okay. Now let’s just go on a quiet walk through the garden.” Not at all. Sex is not evil and since the text talks about the two becoming one flesh then, I think it’s a fair judgment to say that’s what happened.

Speaking of which, when we get to perpetual virginity, Staples says we don’t need a defense of it because no one objected to it in the first century when the New Testament was written. This assumes, of course, that perpetual virginity was being taught in the first century.  It’s interesting to think that your sex life, or lack thereof, again, is part of the apostolic dogma being taught to all the Roman empire in the first century.

Staples tries to defend celibacy of the sort in marriage with many examples. Jeremiah was told to not take a wife. Well and good, but he was not told to take a wife and not have sex with her. Sometimes men were to abstain from their wives for a time. Well and good, but this is not a lifelong vow. Paul in 1 Cor. 7 even tells husbands and wives to NOT deny themselves to one another except for unless you both agree to it and even then, only for a short time. Paul is practically screaming, “Spouses! Don’t stop having sex with one another!”

What makes this all amusing is that on 141, he argues that it is unlikely Jesus’s brothers were younger because it was normally unacceptable for younger brothers to rebuke an older sibling. Sure, but yet Staples has spent pages defending the idea that Joseph and Mary would be husband and wife without having sex and yet all of a sudden, with this passage he goes with what is “normally unacceptable.”

By the way throughout here, Staples argues that Mary in essence became the spouse of the Holy Spirit. This is why Joseph could not have sex with her. Joseph needed to be there to raise Jesus and provide legal inheritance and protection for the family. The thought of such about Mary though is something that really makes Protestants like myself say we can’t go in for the whole Marian dogmas.

He also relies on the Protoevangelium of James. This can be a good work to read, but no reason is given to think it is historical and I don’t know of scholars today who do think that it is. It’s a work around mid-second century or possibly later. Why should we think it would be an accurate account then of Mary’s origins and the birth of Jesus?

Yet when we get to the brothers of Jesus, Staples says those who see these as biological brothers are eisegesis, which strikes me as a great point of irony. It’s noteworthy also that Josephus is never interacted with. Josephus could easily differentiate between brothers and cousins even when looking at the Old Testament, yet he refers to Jesus as the brother of James. Again, I am in debt to Engwer for his research on the patristics and perpetual virginity.

In looking at the bodily assumption of Mary, Staples says that there are two tombs of Mary. One is in Jerusalem and one is in Ephesus. This is explained because Mary lived in both places. So did the apostle John. Should we think that John would have two tombs? Could it be there are two tombs because there are differing traditions?

If so, then what of tradition? This is the problem we Proetstants have. Tradition is infallible, except for when it isn’t. We just have a simple test of trusting that which truly shows itself to be reliable.

On p. 220-221, Staples says that if we consider that the Gospels were written 30-60 years after the events and the fragments date from about 90 years after, even skeptics must admit third-century fragments about the Assumption make the Catholic position look compelling.

Uh. No.

Sorry, but they don’t. Those Gospels can be shown to be records of events that went on at that time. The same cannot be said for the Assumption, unless Staples wants to put the Assumption on the same level of the Gospels in his claim, which seems a stretch anyway.

Staples also says that the fact that some traditions say Mary died and was buried means nothing. We say the same about Jesus and He was resurrected! Well, yes, and we also explicitly say He was resurrected. I can show you plenty of people in the Old Testament that it was said that they died and were buried. Should we be open to the Assumption of all of them too?

On p. 227, Mary is said to be the hope of all humanity because she is what we can all hope to be. Well, yeah, unless Jesus is enough for you. Jesus shows the faithfulness of God enough. Again, this does at least border on the idolatry of Mary.

On p. 278, I get to an argument that really makes no sense to me. I contacted a friend of mine who understands English far better than I do and asked his opinion. Was I missing something? Apparently, I was not.

Staples is writing about the queen mother and the position she had. He goes back to the story of Adonijah and Bathsheba. Adonijah asks Bathsheba to ask Solomon if he could have Abishag as his wife. Bathsheba presents the request. (By the way, the text Staples quotes says Solomon had a seat brought in for his mother. Not much for a queen mother)

“When Solomon heard of the request Adonijah had made of the queen mother, he saw through his brother’s plans and had him immediately killed. Because of the power of the intercession of the queen mother, he knew he couldn’t refuse his mother’s request—but now he didn’t have to! Adonijah didn’t seem to have considered that outcome!”

So let’s see.

Adonijah requests to have Abishag be his wife.

Solomon cannot refuse since Bathsheba is the messenger.

So Solomon grants the request by killing Adonijah?

How is this not a refusal of the request?

I still read this passage and I cannot make any sense of it. And yet we are told because of this that the requests of Mary to Jesus will not be refused. Looking at that, it looks like Mary is put in a greater position than Jesus.

Finally, in a final appendix, Staples gives one more example of a queen mother. Esther. Now I know the book of Esther very well. Surely she fits.

Except for, well, she wasn’t a mother that we know of, she probably wasn’t a virgin, and she was the wife of the king rather than the mother of the king, but hey, if you ignore those differences, you might have something. Such reasoning is one more reason Protestants like myself look at this with suspicious.

Staples does do more work than most, but I still just can’t accept it. I think there are too many problems and it honestly looks like the early church had a low view of sex and didn’t want Mary to be associated with it as the mother of the Lord and then doctrine after doctrine had to be made. This isn’t to say Protestants don’t error in how they see Mary. We do. While Catholics I think give her too much honor, we give her too little. We need to find the median.

In Christ,
Nick Peters