Book Plunge: In Search Of Ancient Roots

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

Historically, many times different denominations have not gotten along. Today, there is much more communication and with the internet here, many people are coming across other belief systems they would have no access to before. Many an orthodox Protestant can be wondering about their belief system. Where did it come from?

Stewart’s book is written to help those searching Protestants. While not for any one particular denomination, he does work to show that many of the beliefs and such that we have today go back to our ancestors. Not only that, there was great theological development even on core doctrines. One quick example is the Trinity. It’s not that Jesus rose from the dead and immediately the apostles got together and wrote the Nicene Creed. The outworking of that event took at least three centuries to get to Nicea and today we can look back and see the development of the doctrine.

One great theme of this book is that the Fathers matter. I remember asking someone well over a decade ago in talking about apologetics if they could name an early church father. The only name that came to mind was John Wesley. That’s why we have to do a better job educating. So many people know so little about these great people that many times gave their lives for the Christian faith. We not only don’t know our doctrines, but we don’t know the history behind those doctrines.

Stewart definitely wants us to return to the Fathers. He tells us that early Protestants were known for doing this. Today we think of other traditions scouring the Fathers, but he says in the past the Protestants were the ones doing this the most. There’s no reason Protestants today can’t be doing in-depth research on the Fathers.

He also speaks about examples of debates that we have today. The two he chooses are the frequency of the Lord’s Supper and if we should participate in infant baptism. Both of these chapters bring up points that will be of interest to anyone in these debates.

There’s also a chapter on the history of Newman with the look at the claim that to study church history is to cease to be Protestant. Stewart contends that there are two different Newmans. One is the one presented in many popular writings. The other is one the Catholic Church itself was unsure about.

Towards the end, he starts looking at the harder issues. Many of these chapters I thought would actually work better at the beginning of the book. These include the claim that the Roman Church does have the highest authority due to the seat of Peter being occupied. Stewart argues that the data for this is not as strong as would be like and the claim is not helped by the fact that many times there were rival popes and each pope was busy excommunicating the other.

There’s also a chapter on the history of justification by faith. I find the fact that so many have written on this to show that the early Fathers taught this as fascinating, but there was one blind spot here. I did not see any quotations from the Fathers. I would have liked to have seen some of those at least. One could not get an encyclopedic look of course, but something would be nice.

Finally, it ends with why people abandon Protestantism and go the other way. Again, the message is that we need to really study our history and our doctrine. We have had a sort of anti-intellectualism come over the church and too many have the idea that everything just fell down from heaven and the history is irrelevant. We need to know not only where we are and where we are going, but how we got here.

Those interested in church history will benefit from reading this. It would be good for those on all sides of any such debate. I hope we can return to some serious look at our history. In an age of greater skepticism, we need it more and more not just because of the constant changing of churches, but because of outside attacks on all churches.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: The Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary Today

What do I think of Rene Laurentin’s book published by Ignatius Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In my continued look at Marian apparitions I have moved over to Laurentin’s book. Laurentin definitely writes from a Roman Catholic perspective. While I am Protestant, I do not consider myself anti-Catholic. I have a great love for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are Catholic, but I am naturally skeptical of some of Roman Catholicism’s doctrines.

Laurentin’s book I did not find convincing unfortunately. There are some matters that are naturally worth looking into, but the problem is if Laurentin has done the looking, he rarely invites us along for the journey. Instead, it just looks like if a series of apparitions leads to renewed faith and people saying the rosary more and such, then hey, we should welcome and accept this. I do not see any real criteria he has for determining if something is valid or not.

For me as someone who is skeptical, that doesn’t exactly cut it. An anti-Catholic could say “Of course a Marian apparition would say that. That will lead people into a false religious system.” I could say as a skeptic that it will get people more dependent on the experiences that they have instead of on the Scripture that has been handed down to us.

Laurentin does go into more than just the apparitions. He gets into accounts of statues crying and other such things. Some of these accounts apparently do have miracles attached to them. I am open to investigating such things but as I’ve said, the problem with Laurentin’s work is that you just get a picture and a paragraph.

At times, there are even apparitions that get things wrong about the future and are still said to be valid. Why? Well, Paul wasn’t entirely right when he said in 1 Thess. 4 that the return of Christ would happen in his lifetime. Such an interpretation of that passage is highly debated, but I find it amazing that in a way to justify an apparition that makes a mistake, it is okay to go after Scripture.

I am not opposed to people having a renewal of their faith, but I want to know what it is based on. If people get excited about their faith and do not have a firm foundation, then they will be more prone to believing anything that comes along and if the door has already been opened for anyone who is claiming an apparition, how will that door ever be shut again? What else could be going on?

Thus, while I am certainly open to what is going on, I think Laurentin’s case is quite lacking. Looking at the fruit alone isn’t enough because most any movement at the start will have some fruit that is seen as positive. What we need to ask is do we have any reason to believe a specific claim is true beyond the effects? Without some firm criteria, we open ourselves up for any event whatsoever and we might not like what it is that we are opening the door to.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

What do I think of Jerry Walls’s new book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

In the interest of fairness, I want it to be known that Brazos Press did send me a review copy and I consider Jerry Walls a friend.

When I first heard about Jerry Walls, I thought he was a Catholic.

Not because I’m anti-Catholic! Not at all! With my philosophy, I’m a Thomist in my philosophy and a reader of people like G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft. I’d just heard that he’d written a book about Purgatory and thought that was the case. I was surprised a bit when I found out he was a Protestant just as I am. I suspect with this book out, some people would be surprised to learn that this is a protestant view of the cosmic drama, as he describes it.

But yes, Walls is very much Protestant. Picking out his position I find is interesting. The book is not about soteriology per se, but yet his strong position against Calvinism is noted. It’s more really about eschatology, but he is one of those rare people that you can talk about his position in eschatology and you don’t mean the one we normally mean, such as what is the view on the rapture or the Olivet Discourse. This is all about our personal eschatology. What happens to us when we die.

Walls is familiar with this seeing as he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Hell, and I can hardly imagine what it would be like to have to give a defense of your view that Hell is a justifiable doctrine. While I think it is, it is not the kind of position I would want to do a Ph.D. dissertation on, yet Walls did so and it looks like he managed to defend Hell in light of some of the best antagonism, so he has something to say.

Yet this time, he rightly starts with Heaven. What is Heaven. How will it be for us? Walls rightly shows that we Christians need to spend more time thinking about this doctrine. I do want to jump ahead to something he says at the end of the book about Heaven answering the question of if we will be bored in Heaven. I do that because frankly, hearing the way some Christians talk about Heaven, I think I would be bored endlessly if their descriptions were right. Too often we make Heaven sound like an eternal church service. (Never mind other baloney claims such as we become angels when we die) There’s a reason skeptics of the faith say that Heaven would be boring and if they’re in Hell, they’ll be with their best friends anyway.

Walls gets most of his information on Heaven from Scripture going to Revelation 21. He does not take it in a literalistic sense, but he does have it that this is powerful language. God who exists in Trinity is the central focus of our eternity. He is the basis. He is the one that makes Heaven, Heaven and he is the one that makes eternity to be eternity. Our origins are found in Him and our purpose is found in Him. As has been said, if you have a “God of the Gaps” mentality, you’re not really dealing with the God of Scripture.

Wells shows that this is not just pie in the sky nonsense to escape reality, but is facing reality head on. It is saying that all of our hopes and desires do point to somewhere. He does this engaging with numerous arguments from the skeptical side, such as those of Russell or Nietzsche. Heaven is the best explanation that we have of all of the data that we have. Heaven makes sense of our world.

Yet what about Hell? Why is there Hell? Walls works to show that Hell is God giving people what they have wanted for so long and for this, he is largely in debt to Lewis, who aside from Scripture I would say is no doubt the most quoted author in the book. The gates of Hell are locked on the inside. The people in Hell are the ones who ultimately choose they want nothing to do with the God of Scripture. I would have liked to have seen something in this section that would have dealt more with the conditionalist position which is gaining popularity. Walls could have done that in another book, but it would have been good to see something here.

From there, we get into Purgatory. Now this is where some Protestants could be raising up their intellectual shields in defense and preparing to go on the attack. It is understandable, but I agree with Walls that we really need to interact with this idea and not just associate it with Catholics. Catholics believe a lot of right things too after all and just because an idea was misused is no reason to throw it out entirely.

I will not go into the details of Walls’s argument other than to say it focuses greatly on sanctification and while I cannot say I’m totally sold on it yet, and I do not think Walls would want me to change my mind entirely after reading just one book, I can say I do think Walls has benefited us greatly by starting the discussion and one aspect I will say I am sure he’d be pleased with, is that it does get me thinking more about sanctification and how seriously we need to take it.

Walls also deals with the problem of evil, including from this the speaking of Ivan from the Brothers Karamazov. While Dostoyevsky who wrote the book was a Christian, these are some of the most powerful quotes you’d hear advocating the problem of evil that he puts on the lips of his atheist character. Many atheists should learn to realize that we know the problem very well and I think Dostoyevsky places it more powerfully than any atheist writing I’ve read on it.

And yes, Walls has an answer. Of course, those interested in this need to get the book so they can see it.

We move on from there to morality and if there is a grounds for it in atheism. Walls of course argues that there isn’t and looks at some of the best theories out there attempting to explain this. Of course, if there is no ground for morality, then it’s quite difficult to raise up the problem of evil unless you want to say that it is an inconsistency for Christianity but when you abandon Christianity, lo and behold, there is nothing that is truly good or evil.

Finally, there’s a section that includes theories on the possibility of someone being reached even after they die. This is an interesting idea, but again, I’m not really sold on it. I wasn’t really sold on Walls’s approach to Hebrews 9, but I do think he’s certainly right to show that if Scripture does contradict any idea that we have, then we have to come to terms with the fact that that idea is wrong.

So while I do not agree with all that Walls says, I have to say this is an excellent book to get you thinking. It will put in you a desire for the state of Heaven and get you thinking seriously about sanctification and holiness. I do not doubt that even with that conclusion, that Walls will be pleased.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 1/17/2015: Peter D. Williams

What’s coming up on this Saturday’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re going to be continuing our look at abortion as expected this Saturday. Normally, we in the West in America tend to think about what has happened here in America. We are busy thinking about Roe V. Wade. This is important, but we are not the only country in the world. What is going on in another country? For that, we will have a discussion with someone who is across the pond, and that will be Peter D. Williams in the United Kingdom.

Peter D. Williams

Who is he? According to his bio:

Peter D. Williams is Executive Officer for Right To Life, the UK’s premier right-to-life charity and campaigning group. Peter works closely with the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group (the legislators in the UK Parliament who campaign for the right to life), and engages in public debates in print and media for the dignity of all human beings.

A former atheist, who ‘reverted’ to Catholic Christianity, via a period of dissenting from the Church’s teachings during which he was also a radical supporter of legalised abortion, Peter also ‘moon-lights’ as a Catholic Christian apologist, arguing the case for the Gospel and the Church in the British media. He lives and works around London.

Admittedly, my main interaction with England happens to be listening to the Unbelievable? podcast, to which Peter D. Williams has been a fascinating guest to have on. They have had a number of shows on the topic of abortion, but I have yet to really interact with someone over there on the topic and find out what is really going on in the U.K. with abortion so like many of you, I will be learning as much as I can during this show. (That is a benefit of doing a show like this. It’s not just old hat stuff being talked about. It is a learning experience all throughout.)

We have the event of Roe V. Wade over here in America that is a landmark decision that changed abortion forever. Does the U.K. have anything similar? What is the general belief about abortion in the U.K.? Since the U.K. has a more nationalized system of health care, how does that affect the practice of abortion? Are teenagers allowed to get abortions without the knowledge or consent of their parents as can happen over here? What does opposition to abortion look like in the U.K.?

And also, we are told the U.K. is in a post-Christian climate. How does this affect the national attitude toward abortion? Does it say anything about where America could be heading? Do we have something valuable that we need to learn from those people who live across the pond from us?

I hope you’ll be watching your ITunes feed next week for this episode. Abortion is going to be our focus all month long on the Deeper Waters Podcast and I am sure Peter D. Williams will be a fascinating person to have on the show to talk about this important topic.

In Christ,
Nick Peters