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

 

The Denominations Myth

How many denominations are there? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Have you ever heard the claim about how many denominations there are in Protestantism? This is used by people in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and even atheists and agnostics. The former against Protestantism and the latter against Christianity. How can anyone take Christianity seriously when there are so many different groups?

The number is often exaggerated and without looking at the source for it. Any high number should be viewed with suspicion, especially if it goes into the tens of thousands. Still, this claim is not without some evidence behind it and even this from a valid source.

If you look at The World Encyclopedia of Christianity you will find that it does indeed say there are over 30,000 denominations. Well, time to pack it up and go home. After all, we’re way too divided if that’s the case.

While there is some division, it is not as much as one would think at a closer look. The division is into six major ecclesiastical blocks. It’s strange how that isn’t the first position cited. Actually, no. No, it’s not. Many people wanting to use arguments without checking their source thoroughly will go with something that falls along their biases. We are all guilty of this tendency and we must all check ourselves.

This is a list of these kinds of groups. If you look, you will find that Orthodoxy and Catholicism both have a number of denominations listed in them. This is based on the kinds of rites that they follow. It’s doubtful whether any practitioner of these traditions thinks that these all count as different denominations.

Some denominations are also based on a particular need. Consider the case of a Korean church for instance. They want a church that speaks their language and understands their culture. Their beliefs could be identical to the Baptist church down the street in terms of doctrine, but they would still be another denomination.

Also, consider that in a city like mine, Atlanta, you could have churches in different areas that are independent Baptist. These are not tied to a hierarchial order. Suppose they all have the same beliefs doctrinally, but they are far apart because this is a big city and not everyone wants to drive fifty miles or however much it is to get to church. Each of these would count as one denomination.

Someone might say, “Well, Nick. Of course, you’re going to say this. You’re a Protestant.” Fair enough, but first off, that doesn’t deal with the evidence I present. Second, it doesn’t deal with the fact that a Roman Catholic writer also recognizes the problem. Does this show that Catholicism or Orthodoxy are incorrect? Not at all. It does show that this is a bad argument for their position, just as there are bad arguments for Christianity, Protestantism, Sola Scriptura, and any other position.

For a humorous look at this, I recommend also the video my ministry partner, J.P. Holding made.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Cult of the Saints

What do I think of Peter Brown’s book published by University of Chicago Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

I got Peter Brown’s book in an attempt to try to further understand the treatment of saints in church history. How is it that the treatment of the saints that we have today came about? Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of Brown’s book looking at that.

Brown instead focuses greatly on a kind of two-tiered system. Heaven and Earth were seen as boundary markers and the two were quite separate. This could be a clue still to how the movement came about. It wasn’t the saints in Heaven that were often thought to bring the blessings, but rather it was the bodies of the saints on Earth. One would visit the tomb of the saint instead and his body was supposed to bring blessings. (Why else would there be relics that were supposed to be body parts of the saints?)

This could also have come about perhaps from the idea of the need of intermediaries. Jesus can seem too great to approach and obviously, one cannot go to another god since Paul already explained for us that there aren’t any. While some Christians prayed to angels, perhaps even they were too great. What about another human mediator? What about the dead saint in Jesus who died? Could we not go to him?

While many of us could quote Scripture on how we can boldly approach the throne of grace and such, that does not mean much if the average layman is not able to read those books. Again, much of this is speculation on my part. Brown doesn’t spend much time on this kind of question as he does on the interactions that took place.

There are accounts also of miracles that took place at these locations. These extend to modern times as one can see from reading the work of Craig Keener, but I don’t really see this as a proof since many miracles take place in Protestant evangelism. Beyond that, there are also reports of miracles in other religions. It is fine to think the true religion can express itself in miracles, but as the Old Testament even warns, miracles alone are not the sign of the true religion.

Another warning to the reader is that many parts of the book that contain quotations can have those quotations in another language. Sadly at times, these quotations do not come with translations so if you do not speak the language, then you are stuck without knowing what it means. Perhaps you could use a Google Translator or something of that sort, but few of us will take the time to do something like that.

Brown’s book is relatively short, but it is packed with scholarship. The content is a little over 100 pages, but the notes section is still quite lengthy which is something I like. I always want to go and see how well the author has interacted with material and constant interaction is a good sign to me.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evangelical Exodus

What do I think of Doug Beaumont and Francis Beckwith’s book published by Ignatius Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This book is the story of several people who graduated from Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) and went on to become Catholics. I attended SES, but due to the situation with Geisler going after Mike Licona, who became my father-in-law while I was there, I never graduated. I chose to leave first.

That’s one reason I am very hesitant to write this review. I don’t know everyone in the book, but some I do know and I consider friends. I have my criticisms of their arguments, but I do not wish to diminish friendship at all.

Let’s state something at the beginning. This book argues against Protestantism, but I would not classify it as anti-Protestant because Beaumont and others speaking in the book still say that Protestants are Christians. I, meanwhile, work happily with many Catholics and have no problem seeing them as Christians. We have some substantial issues however and those are worth discussing.

Doug Beaumont’s story is the first one. One key theme throughout the book that shows up in his story is, “How do we know our interpretation is correct?” Unfortunately, I think such a question is not a good one to ask. There can be reason to doubt anything. What needs to be asked is “Is my interpretation an informed interpretation?” If someone then wants to say “Well how do you know it’s correct?” I would just ask for a good argument against it to show that I am wrong.

Something sad in the chapter also was Beaumont speaking about the church of the Seminary falling apart. I was a part of that church and I saw it fall apart. Sadly, in both cases I think what happened with Geisler played a part. The Geisler attack on Licona was a major issue at SES and Geisler I think holds a lot of blame for students abandoning evangelicalism.

I was also disappointed when I read about Beaumont doing his research for Geisler’s systematic theology book. When it came to views on ecclesiology and eschatology, Beaumont had to get quotes that matched Geisler’s view from the Church Fathers. Good luck. Beaumont says he just did a word search and picked quotations that sounded like they could support his view and hoped they weren’t out of context. It would have been far better just to say the support isn’t there.

I remember distinctly being disappointed by Volume 4 of Geisler’s Systematic Theology. I am an Orthodox Preterist. I was when I came to SES and I was when I left. I also did not hide this. When I filled out my application and I was asked views I disagreed with, I listed I was an Orthodox Preterist. I was asked to just not try to evangelize my views. I had no problem with that. When I worked in the library for a time, I was curious when students came in doing research on eschatology and saying they were critiquing Preterism. When I asked what they found about it and they listed objections, I just inwardly thought, “They really are missing it.”

It seems a shock to some contributors in the book to learn that the rapture is a 19th-century doctrine. Wasn’t one for me. I had known that for years. It looks like SES too often did not know church history well. I have come to realize an advantage I had going in as having debated these views for years on the internet and having to know them instantly.

From here, I wish to move on to Joshua Betancourt’s view. On p. 60 he talks about how Protestantism views God as a judge instead of a Father. I actually think this is accurate for many, but not all. The context group of scholarship has brought us the truth of honor/shame cultures and how to read the Bible in light of what the culture was. (By the way, shouldn’t this have been known according to Catholicism and Orthodoxy if this is the way to interpret the text? It seems like most often it’s Protestants making strides in Biblical scholarship.

With my view, the point is to see that we have dishonored God. It’s not the breaking of an abstract rule. It’s bringing disgrace on the person of God. I remember being in a Catholic church once and the priest delivering the sermon saying that the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus is something the Protestants have right. I think it’s something we have wrong. It highly individualizes Jesus and leaves out honor and shame.

Betancourt goes on to talk about suffering and says that only in the Catholic church do you find the practical value of suffering. I don’t see how that is since our Bibles tell us all to count it all joy in suffering and Romans 5 telling us about suffering and such. Should Protestants say more? Yes. Have we said nothing? No. Clay Jones’s book on suffering I think has excellent advice in this area.

Jeremiah Cowart next on p. 80 has several critiques of Protestantism. Where are the aesthetics and the liturgy? Where is the public confession of sins? Where is the real presence in the Eucharist? Etc. However, some of these could be begging the question in favor of Catholicism. Some of these could be beneficial for some people, but not all. If all ancient churches had liturgy, we have to ask why. Perhaps it was because people were illiterate and this is the best way they could get all of Scripture. For my purposes, I don’t find such things to really help me on the path of discipleship and would actually prefer a longer but relevant sermon. Some people are moved by sights of beauty there. That’s fine.

Brandon Dahm’s essay I honestly found the most concerning. At one point, he speaks about Lessing’s Ditch and how even if arguments could show the resurrection is likely true, that’s not enough to ground Christian faith. You need more than probably. Why? We do that everyday. We all drive places most everyday without KNOWING that we will get to our destinations safely, but expecting that we will so much so we tell others when we will arrive. We make appointments for the future not knowing that we will be there, but thinking that we will be there.

Furthermore, if the arguments are all there for the resurrection and the arguments against it are bad, then this is not a good reason to reject the resurrection. It also doesn’t undermine faith. Faith is not so much about that you believe but how you respond to what you believe. It’s an acting trust.

Dahm also says that you can’t get the creeds from Scripture so those are probable at best as well. This is something that seems to happen consistently. We cannot be certain of what the Scripture says, so go to authority. Question. How can you be certain you chose the right authority? Maybe the Orthodox have it right. Maybe the Mormons. Maybe the Watchtower.

As for the authority, what are their reasons? How did they get to that conclusion? Could they possibly be wrong? The exact same questions still apply. If the Magisterium wants to tell me how a text should be interpreted, I want to know why they think that. They could be right, but I want to know why first.

One of my biggest concerns came on p. 104-105 where Dahm says

When there was a question of doctrine or morals, I did not weigh the evidence on various sides and look for proof texts, but went to the Catechism first. At that point, I was still not convinced by the arguments for the Catholic side of one practical issue. I made a conscious decision to trust the Church, which was the first time I had done so on an issue with practical consequences that were not all desirable. It was freeing.

This kind of statement should concern everyone. To demonstrate why, let’s restate it and just change a few words.

When there was a question of doctrine or morals, I did not weigh the evidence on various sides and look for proof texts, but went to the Prophet first. At that point, I was still not convinced by the arguments for the Mormon side of one practical issue. I made a conscious decision to trust the Church, which was the first time I had done so on an issue with practical consequences that were not all desirable. It was freeing.

Or

When there was a question of doctrine or morals, I did not weigh the evidence on various sides and look for proof texts, but went to the Watchtower first. At that point, I was still not convinced by the arguments for the Jehovah’s Witness side of one practical issue. I made a conscious decision to trust the Organization, which was the first time I had done so on an issue with practical consequences that were not all desirable. It was freeing.

Excuse me if something like this does not concern me.

Dahm closes by saying that if you have not looked at his reasons and read what he has, which is good up to this point, or have not had the experiences he has had, then you should be slow to reject Catholicism. The experiences is the difficult part. He refers to praying the Rosary, living the Catholic life, going to the stations of the cross, etc.

So do you need to take the Hadj in order to be able to reject Islam? Do I need to move to Utah and wear the underwear to reject Mormonism? Naturally, if you start to live out a belief system, you will start to believe that system more and more. Has Dahm done this yet with these other systems? Is he being too quick to reject those?

And if someone wants to tell me the Mormon Church or an organization like that cannot be the ancient church, well tell that to the Mormon apologists. They say exactly that. Do I think they’re right? Of course not. It doesn’t change what they say.

Travis Johnson is next and birth control was a big issue for him. The early church universally condemned it. How can it be a matter of conscience today? Yet from what I’ve read of the early church, they also opposed sex for any reason other than procreation. If so, do we really want to take that side? Do we want to say that that’s how we should live? Good luck finding a married man who will go along with that one!

Also, when the early church fathers all have a view, I want to know why. What are their reasons? How good are the arguments. They were also premillennial, a position I think is highly lacking. Could it be that maybe sometimes Greek thinkers had a hard time reading a Jewish text?

In Michael Mason’s essay, I find much about the problem of division. Well, there’s plenty of division among Catholics. Catholic scholars do not agree on the text. There are even some Catholic New Testament scholars who think that Mary and Joseph did have other children together thus nullifying perpetual virginity. The appeal to authority just doesn’t cut it for me.

In Brian Mathews’s article, I am concerned that he had a degree from SES and yet had a hard time answering what the Gospel is. I don’t consider this the fault of Mathews so much as the fault of SES. What was being done exactly? I think too many came in who did not know apologetics well and were taught to defend one set of doctrines instead of coming to their own conclusions.

Mathews also says Aquinas believed in Apostolic Succession. Good for him. Why? What were his reasons? I love Aquinas, but I don’t think we have to agree with him or any Christian on everything. The arguments I see for apostolic succession are weak really. They are often based on Scriptures about traditions that do not give the content of those traditions but somehow, we’re supposed to know them in the tradition.

I want to give credit to Andrew Preslar for being the only writer I saw who brought up various scandals in the Catholic Church and what a blight they are on the Church. As I write this review, there is scandal over pedophilia in Ireland and Pennsylvania and people are calling for Francis’s resignation, including high-ranking bishops in the Catholic Church. Kudos to Preslar for owning up to this as a real problem.

Unfortunately, he then goes on to say that communion in the life Of Christ normally includes being in full communion with the Pope. Excuse me if I’m skeptical that having a good walk with Jesus requires being in communion with another man. Jesus is the one who determines the Church and not the Pope.

The most relevant sections are the appendices in the back. I won’t say everything. For instance, on justification, I am looking more at N.T. Wright’s view, but this is not a hill I’m ready to die on. Questions of canon are brought up frequently. This has never been a concern of mine. The books we accept have apostolic authority in coming from an apostle or the associate of an apostle, were first century works, and were accepted by the church at large.

If someone wants to ask me how I know the right ones were picked, I say I just trust that God oversaw it all just like the right words were produced in Scripture. I noticed that J.P. Holding says similar and was quoted, though he saw the quote when I told him and says he doesn’t go the way the Catholics go. I urge readers to read his Trusting The New Testament for more. If we are told the Catholics have the right answer, well why? What are their reasons?

Often it is said that we cannot know the authors of the Gospels apart from tradition. We can know some since there is both internal and external evidence for the Gospels, but there is a difference. Gospel authorship concerns questions of history which is how we determine authorship of all other anonymous ancient works. That is not on the same epistemic level as, say, the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

As for Sola Scriptura, I just take it to mean that whatever is true cannot contradict Scripture. It does not mean all traditions are false or are thrown out. We should, however, evaluate the traditions and see how reliable they are. If your historical claim starts in the 2nd or 3rd century and claims to go back to the beginning, excuse me if I’m skeptical.

Now if someone wants to try to show me that tradition is infallible, feel free to go ahead. Note a passage like 2 Thess. 2:15 doesn’t help UNLESS you can show that the traditions you teach are the traditions that they taught. After all, what happens when church fathers disagree or there are competing traditions. Who do I go with?

Also, in the final section, we are told about the minimal facts approach and told that if we lost all of Scripture, would we still have Christianity? Yes. Those things are found in church tradition. Problem. The minimal facts also is based on data that is early and accepted by critical scholars. Can these traditions be shown to be early and accepted by critical scholars? If anyone is unsure if this is the right understanding of the minimal facts, rest assured it is. I read this in the presence of Mike Licona and Gary Habermas as I was going through the book at the time.

This book is an honest look however at the question and one can understand why Protestants become Catholic. It does give good food for thought and it is not antagonistic. I think it is something that Protestants should take seriously, but I am just not convinced.

Book Plunge: Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

What do I think of Andrew Stephen Damick’s book published by Conciliar Media Ministries? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Damick’s work is the one that I have seen that is most apologetic in the area of Orthodoxy. Damick interacts with other religious beliefs and tries to treat them as fairly as he can. There are many aspects of his criticisms that I would agree with, but overall, I still remain unconvinced about the truth of Orthodoxy.

For instance, on pp. 118-119, Damick speaks about an anti-intellectual tradition in many Protestant churches today. In these churches, if you don’t go to Bible College or Seminary, that’s a mark in your favor. I have encountered this way too many times.

There are many times Damick will criticize attitudes he sees in Protestantism and many times I agree with him. I agree with the problem of so many people claiming that they hear from the Holy Spirit. I agree that these people are really setting themselves up as infallible because, hey, the Holy Spirit told them otherwise.

One area about Damick’s work that does concern me is how much time is spent criticizing Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and then there’s one chapter on other religions. I would think that we should be more concerned about these other religions than other religions that I think are still within the fold of Christianity. There are about 100 pages+ plus on Protestantism and about 20 or so on other religions.

On p. 65, he starts talking about Sola Scriptura, he never really defines what it is. The problem is apparently every believer becomes authoritative in interpreting the Scripture. Yes and no. Some people do have more validity than others. Joe Blow down the street who has never read a book outside the Bible or the professor of NT Greek at the seminary down the street both have an interpretation but all things being equal, the professor’s interpretation should have more weight.

What we do with this is that we can discuss what we read in the Scripture. How do we know what the text of Scripture means? How do we know what the text of any work means? We have to study it and understand any surrounding context and if needed look at the original languages.

Damick also says that Sola Scriptura is the rejection of tradition, but this is false. It is simply the saying that Scripture is the final authority and it alone is the infallible message from God that we have. We have no problem with tradition as tradition. I have no problem with the tradition of the Trinity, because I see that abundantly in Scripture.

Now consider traditions like praying to the saints and the Marian viewpoints. I cannot see those in Scripture, so I look at them with Scripture. If they don’t measure up, then I reject them. If there is some other evidence they’re reliable, I’m open.

What about academia? Damick tells us scholarship is in disarray, and indeed it is, but some scholarship is better than others and I contend the scholarship in favor of Christianity is better. Damick then asks what happens with the next archaeological finding or manuscript variant? Do we have to revolutionize our understanding of Christianity?

Indeed we might have to. If the evidence is against Christianity or showing that it’s wrong, then we should abandon it. Damick is here showing some anti-intellectualism that he has condemned. I have no fear of research going on into Christianity because I am convinced that Christianity is true and will last.

On p. 81, Damick tells us the only way to make sure you’re reading the text correctly is to do so in the tradition of the apostles. The question now becomes how can we know this? How can Damick be sure that this is accurate? The Catholics say the same about the Magisterium. The Mormons say the same about the teachings of the Prophet. The Watchtower says the same about their publications.

All of this tells me that the text cannot be understood on its own. Why should I think this? Is there something about the text of the Scripture that is written differently than any other text? Are any of these groups giving us the academic insight of the scholarship into the social context of the Biblical world?

On p. 89 he talks about baptism and infant baptism. I am troubled by the usage of Mark 16:16 to make the case since I don’t think that’s authentic. I also think it’s a misusage to say “Let the little children come to me” from Jesus to justify infant baptism. It’s comparing apples to oranges.

On p. 95, he says “if sola scriptura means that all tradition and hierarchial authority are to be rejected and the Bible is to be read in an isolated manner, there can be no method by which theology is corrected and doctrinal orthodoxy maintained.” Yes. IF. Yet shouldn’t it be known if that’s what it means? If it doesn’t, then this is a straw man. I contend this is not Sola Scriptura and I find it troublesome that Danick is not clear on what it is.

On p. 108-109, Damick talks about faith. Damick doesn’t really speak about what faith is much. In the Biblical case, faith means trust in what has been shown to be reliable. Damick says that if you define it as absolute knowledge, you are not in the tradition of the apostles. However, there are times that this happens in the ancient world. Aristotle once used it to refer to a rhetorical proof.

On p. 110 in talking about salvation, Damick says it should be enough to give the words of Jesus. He who endures to the end will be saved. Both of these passages are talking about eschatology and soteriology and the survival of persecution. In Acts 27:31, during the storm while Paul is at sea he says to the centurion, unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.

Is Paul giving us a way of soteriology? Is Paul saying that the way to be saved is to get in a ship on a stormy sea and stay on board the whole time? No. He’s saying that they will not be spared from the storm if this happens. It is hard to say that you need to stay in the apostolic tradition to understand the Scripture when I see this kind of understanding going on.

We get the same when we come to John 6 and the passage about eating flesh and drinking blood. My contention is that many people are taking that passage far too literally. Jesus is comparing Himself to the manna in the wilderness. As the people there needed to depend on manna for their sustenance, so Jesus must be our sustenance.

On p. 155, Damick has been looking at groups many of us would call cults and asks that if Mary Baker Eddy is wrong, why is John Wesley Right? He lists several people like that. Why should we think one is right while the other is wrong? How about the same standard? Evidence?

Finally on p. 182, Damick tells us that the Church doesn’t have any learning to do because God has revealed Himself to them and by leading the apostles into all truth. I am unsure how to take this. Part of me is concerned that Damick could be saying learning is not needed anymore. Also, just because the immediate apostles were led into all truth, it doesn’t mean that thoes who were immediately after them have the same promise.

Another concern I have with Damick’s work is that I don’t see a defense of Orthodoxy really. The defense is assumed. I can’t say that the criticisms of Roman Catholicism are certain. They look fine to me, but I don’t know enough about Roman Catholicism to speak definitively.

Damick’s book is good in many of its criticisms, but I don’t see the strong case for Orthodoxy yet. To be fair, I don’t think he’s writing for that purpose and I think his intended audience is fellow Orthodox. I appreciate his learning and I think we could have a good conversation together, but I find some of his defenses lacking.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Making A Meal Of It

What do I think of Ben Witherington III’s book published by Baylor University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife has been exploring Orthodoxy later. I find it interesting that yesterday many of us line up so that people can have a small piece of bread and drink from one cup. My wife and I not being part of the Orthodox Church are not allowed to partake, but we get a blessing. After all of that, we go over to a life center and there’s a meal there where people can get what they want and we can all sit at tables and chat with one another.

It’s ironic to think that the latter practice could be closer to the Lord’s Supper than the former is.

Witherington’s book is meant to give us a theology of the Lord’s Supper. I was quite intrigued to start this book since so many Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox debates can take place around this. I have to agree with my wife’s assessment as we discussed it beforehand that what we usually get at churches should be more accurately called “The Lord’s Snack.”

Witherington starts with Passover. Is this a parallel to the Lord’s Supper? Not really. Passover looked back to the past. The Lord’s Supper is meant more to look to the future. Still, we can get a lot out of learning about how Jews observed meals and how that could differ from the way the Greeks did it.

In the middle, you get an interesting look at John where Witherington explains his reasons for thinking Lazarus is the beloved disciple.  The more I see this case, the more I think Witherington could be on to something. The historians among us will be interested in this as well.

Witherington will go on to talk about the text as it is found in 1 Cor. 11 and in the Gospels and various places in the book of Acts. It’s interesting that this is such an important feature to churches, but really very little is said about it. What is tragic the most is what has happened to the event over time.

As we move away from the idea of house churches and we establish public places for people to go to, the meal becomes less of a meal. It becomes more individualized with personal wafers and in our day, personal cups. It is not the host, the head of the household, who presides over the meal, but rather it is a priest or a minister. Of course, anyone who does preside over this event should be aware of how it needs to be done respectfully, but is there a problem with making it the responsibility of the clergy?

The table has also been a place of exclusion many times. Let’s remember that our Lord ate and drank with prostitutes and tax collectors. At the Last Supper itself, Judas was present and Jesus gave him bread specifically. Of course, the church wanted to make sure that people did not come to their feasts to disrupt them, but could the feasts themselves not be an evangelistic opportunity?

Witherington at the end talks about being on tours in other countries where the Lord’s Supper was done. One person who gave a tour was a Muslim who was apparently questioning. The other was a lapsed Catholic. Witherington talks about how he invited both of them to the table to partake of the elements. Conversion took place.

Ultimately, my view of the Lord’s Supper right now is that the meal is largely symbolic, but meant to draw us into the presence of Christ. Jesus is the real host at every event. As the bread is broken, we are to remember that the body of Jesus was broken. As the wine flows, we are to remember how the blood of Jesus was poured out on the cross.

All of this is meant to draw us into the presence of Jesus. Yet at the same time, we don’t have this like a funeral dirge, but we have it as a celebration. We remember that this was not the end. He is coming back and we look forward to when He reigns again in the future totally when the Father rules on Earth as He does in Heaven.

The meal after the Lord’s Supper could ironically be closer to the Lord’s Supper since it is actually a meal and it is actually us communing together and meeting one another. After all, when the supper was had at Corinth, people were gorging themselves and getting drunk. Hard to think of an individual doing that on what’s given out on many a Sunday morning.

If there was any change I would make to the book, I would like more footnotes when later historical events are talked about. I would like to know where I can find these events in church historians. For instance, I know Witherington shares the story about Origen castrating himself, but I am skeptical of this event being a real one instead of just a legend about Origen.

Still, this book really makes one appreciate the Lord’s Supper and it’s hard to not be moved at the last chapter with the stories of conversion taking place. Those wishing to understand the doctrine of the meal are advised to read Witherington’s book. He’s a top-notch scholar that has again brought us great information and it’s easy to understand.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Roman Catholicism. Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us

What do I think of this multi-authored work published by Moody Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our story can begin from very different perspectives. We can look at Pope Boniface VIII who told us that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that the saved must be in submission to the Roman Pontiff. Later on, the Westminster Confession refers to the Pope with such great compliments as calling him the antichrist, Man of Sin, and Son of Perdition.

Can’t we all just get along?

Over time, we have indeed got along better. Still, we can wonder how this relationship works. How serious are our differences? Are the differences between a Protestant and a Catholic on the same level as those of a Methodist and a Baptist?

In this work, many evangelical Protestants state their opinion. Sometimes it can seem hard to get an overall idea. One side can seem to say we need to strive for unity. Another gets the impression that our differences are too radical and based on differences of the Gospel itself.

Many chapters deal with many different perspectives. I naturally found the chapters on history and such to be the most interesting. The chapter detailing conversions to Catholicism by people like Tom Howard and Scott Hahn were quite interesting. Sometimes, seeing people who I think should know better be concerned about supposed cracks in Protestantism, I just had to wonder. These seemed like pretty simple objections to me. It’s possible I’m missing something, but it’s also possible I’m not.

William Webster’s was the chapter I found the most appealing of all. This one involved a look at the doctrines historically, including how many of the church fathers interpreted a key passage like Matthew 16:18. Webster’s critique is one I think a Catholic should want to answer.

The question of unity is regularly raised. On the one hand, we want to be unified because there are opponents on the gate that want to get rid of both of us. On the other hand, shouldn’t a unity be built on truth? What if there are differences in how we see the Gospel? Do we brush those aside? Do both sides though want to return to a state where the other is the side of the devil?

There’s also concern over an increasing liberalism in Catholicism today, such that many other religions can be seen as being under salvation, and of course differences between the Council of Trent and Vatican II. While I have not heavily invested myself into these issues, they are quite concerning. I do know also that Pope Francis has been making a lot of waves.

So where do I stand from here? How about aiming for better-natured disagreements? I still cherish my Roman Catholic friends. I have no doubt many Roman Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ. I also don’t doubt that many are lost. The same I say about Baptists and Lutherans and Presbyterians and other denominations. I know many Catholics who I am convinced love Jesus more than I do and Thomas Aquinas is my favorite thinker outside the Bible.

But I do have things to think about. Can I discuss these with my Catholic friends? Absolutely. My main hope is that if we disagree, we will still part as that. Friends.

In Christ,
Nick Peters