Book Plunge: Journeys of Faith

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

Journeys of Faith is about prominent Christians going to a different faith tradition within the Christian community. Each one tells their story and then there is someone who gives a rejoinder followed by a response from the original writer. The four views presented are Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Evangelicalism, and Anglicanism.

In terms of debate style, I thought the most convincing essays were done by Francis Beckwith for Catholicism and Chris Castaldo for evangelicalism. I thought Wilbur Ellsworth glossed over many of the doctrines of Orthodoxy that I have a problem with. Lyle Dorsett for Anglicanism did give a great piece about it, but I just found it odd that Anglicanism was included and there wasn’t really much to argue with. Still, when talking about transformative stories, his is probably the most incredible.

As for responses, those often weren’t as good. I thought Gregg Allison responding to Catholicism and Brad S. Gregory responding to evangelicalism were both weak responses. Allison seemed to have a prepared statement for Catholicism. While I thought the information was good, it did not interact with Beckwith’s points well. I don’t think Allison even mentioned Beckwith by name once.

In Castaldo’s piece, he had talked about how a problem he had with Catholicism was shown by Peter Kreeft. Kreeft talked about students who come to Boston College. He asks them why they should get to go to Heaven someday. Most of them say something about how they are doing their best and trying to be a good person. He said nine out of ten of them don’t mention Jesus Christ at all. The lack of hearing the gospel is something Castaldo is concerned about.

Yet you get to Gregory’s reply and Castaldo is only mentioned once by name from what I recall. A point like this was not interacted with. If you are a Catholic writing a response to an evangelical, you want to hit at the areas of concern for evangelicals. Hearing the gospel is a big concern for evangelicals.

Instead, Gregory gave what seemed also like a prepared statement and went on about how you need an infallible interpreter. I find this an incredibly weak position since it treats the Scriptures like a postmodern document that no one can understand. Second, there is not given any reason why it has to be the Roman magisterium that is this interpreter. Why not Orthodoxy or Mormonism or the Watchtower? All of them claim to have the word from God on the Scriptures.

Fortunately, all the participants in the discussion did get along. There was no claiming that XYZ was a heretic or anything like that. This is a true discussion in ecumenicism. It is the way it should be done. We need to be able to come together and discuss our differences.

A format like this is also incredibly helpful because if you get a book on Catholicism or Orthodoxy or Evangelicalism or any other position, well, of course, it could sound convincing! It’s always convincing if you only get one side of the argument. A work like this gives you both sides of the argument. This is the kind of approach that is needed.

I encourage those looking into these questions to read material like this.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Orthodox Way

What do I think of Bishop Kallistos Ware’s book published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife has been looking into the Eastern Orthodox Church. While at the church once, I asked the priest if he had any book in the church library he would recommend to help me understand Eastern Orthodoxy. He recommended I get The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware.

So I went and got it. I came home and went through it over the next few days. I have to say in many ways I was….disappointed. I was expecting to find a lot that set apart the Orthodox as unique in comparison to Protestants and Catholics. I really didn’t. I found a whole lot of theology, but it was theology I could say for the most part I agreed with.

Something that I think honestly happens with many people, not all but many, is they move from a Protestantism that is shallow and find an Orthodoxy that is deeper, without realizing that much of the theology is still a theology that is common to all traditions. It is rooted in Scripture and in natural theology. For me, at a book study with men of the Orthodox Church Wednesday night, I found myself talking about how with most people, I will keep my talk simple about God, but when I’m with my theological friends, I will talk about simplicity, impassibility, and the hypostatic union. I don’t think many there knew what I was talking about either. One said so explicitly and no one disagreed. Could it be the problem is more how deep someone is willing to go and this is a problem in all traditions? If we acknowledge it’s the same God in all traditions, no one can really lay claim to a deeper theology.

I had hoped to find more on history and how the Orthodox came to be, but that was lacking. Like I said, most of the theology I found no problem with. Some things I would have phrased differently. Ware does rely on the Fathers a lot more than I would as well.

I would have also liked to have seen more on some of my bigger contentions. I have a problem with the way that I see Mary and the saints treated in most non-Protestant traditions. I’m convinced the best way to honor the saints is not to pray to them, but to learn from their lives and seek to live like them as they live like Christ. I honestly think Mary would be aghast at the way she’s treated today. She would say that she’s just a servant and doesn’t deserve this kind of attention.

I also would like if we talk about the traditions to see the historical basis for them. When did they first show up? On what Scripture are they based? If I refuse to accept hadiths about Muhammad that come from 200 years later and even have names behind them, am I not inconsistent if I treat Christian traditions different?

Yet there were some points I did disagree with. On p. 46, Ware says that we as Christians affirm panentheism. He says God is in all things yet above and beyond all things. I understand what Ware is trying to say, but I would not say panentheism because that’s a different animal where often the world is seen as God’s body and God needs the world in some sense. God is in all things in the sense that He’s the sustaining cause of all things and all things are held together by His power (See passages like Hebrews 1:3 for example.), but He is not dependent on the world in any sense. I realize Ware would likely not disagree with that, but I think his phrasing here is quite bad.

On p. 110 he speaks about the Bible. He says that the Orthodox appreciate all the research and study into the Bible, such as redaction criticism and things of that sort, but we cannot accept it wholesale. Who does? Especially since scholars of all persuasions disagree.

Ware here deals with the idea of just a private reading of the Bible. To an extent, we would all discourage this. Even the Reformers wanted Scriptural interpretation to stay within the rule of faith. Sola Scriptura is often confused with Solo Scriptura. The Reformers did not oppose tradition as tradition. Tradition is not a bad thing, but tradition needs to be checked by Scripture.

An example can be the authorship of the Gospels. Some Catholics I have seen say that the names aren’t on the Gospels so you have to get that from tradition which means Sola Scriptura isn’t true. Let’s grant the premise for the sake of argument that the originals didn’t have names on them, although some scholars have questioned this. The difference is we do have these Gospels and we know someone or some people wrote them. We can freely accept the opinions of the church fathers and compare it with internal evidence for authorship. In other words, we have something that already needs to be explained. We didn’t make up the Gospels out of thin air.

Ware then goes on to say that the final criterion for Biblical interpretation is the mind of the church. Here, we run into a problem. I could just ask “By what criteria is the mind of the church the authority?” After all, Catholics would say you need the magisterium. Both groups claim you need someone or something outside of the Bible like that to help you understand the Bible, but upon what grounds is that someone or something chosen that is not question-begging? Both of them claim apostolic succession after all.

As a Protestant, I respond that the Bible is written in a way that much of it can be readily understood. Some is difficult and requires work, but to say that you can’t interpret it strikes me as incredibly postmodern, as if the words themselves don’t contain meaning that we can understand. Much of what I know about Biblical interpretation did not originate with these groups either, such as ideas about Genesis from John Walton or the honor-shame perspective of the Context Group of scholarship.

This is not to say I have a problem with going to the Fathers to understand the Bible. I don’t. Their words are important, but they are not infallible. For instance, I have at my house A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Recently, I had a discussion with someone asking if abortion was known in the ancient world. I said it was pointing to the Hippocratic Oath. I then decided to see what the church fathers said about sexuality and in the book looked up the section. The church fathers seemed to speak consistently that sex was seen as practically a necessary evil and to be used only for the purpose of procreation.

I find it unlikely that most devout Orthodox and Catholics would agree with this. Even Catholics have Natural Family Planning for families that want to avoid contraception, but want to avoid having children for whatever reason and still enjoy the gift of sex. I have also been told that the Fathers are premillennial as well, yet I am not that at all with an Orthodox Preterist interpretation.

I have no problem with saying that our reading should seek to get us to Christ and this is a danger of historical study at times that one can get to that position of proving something happened without showing why it happened. C.S. Lewis said years ago that some theologians work so hard to show that God exists that it would seem like He has nothing better to do than to exist.

In the end, I was wondering what about this was so much the Orthodox Way. Much of it could have just been called the Christian Way since much of the theology as I said I have no problem with. I have a problem with shallow thinking no matter what the tradition is. I think a lot of people can find a new tradition and think they’ve found something totally new lacking in their original tradition, without pausing to see if such a thing exists in their tradition. I have no problem with things like liturgy and such. I do have a problem when I see doctrines that I can’t find in Scripture and I have no way of verifying a tradition.

My research continues hoping to find more historical. I encourage people in whatever tradition they are in to go deeper. We met with a Catholic priest once on this journey who told my wife she will find what she is seeking if she just goes deeper in Jesus. With that, I think all three traditions of Christianity would agree. All of us need to go deeper in Jesus.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Theology

Are we staying in the shallow end? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife has been looking into Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy lately. This was really an area I never wanted to get involved in, but now I am. I want to know what claims she’s hearing and if I think they’re accurate or not. As it stands, I still remain a convinced Protestant, but I am noticing something.

While I think we Protestants have excelled at Bible Study, we’ve often neglected theology. We don’t really know much about what to do with our doctrine of God. We seem to treat the Trinity as this nice little doctrine that we keep around and we get out when we need to address Jehovah’s Witnesses.

My blog has been called Deeper Waters from the beginning because I think we have too often gone shallow. This has largely been due to a lack of discipleship on our part. We place a big emphasis on conversions. I really don’t like that term at all.

Imagine if we said we wanted to see more marriages. We worked to get people to the altar and to say their “I do” statements and then did nothing with them. Hypothetically, those people went back to live with their parents and never interacted at all.

We often do the same kind of thing with conversion. The goal is to get someone to walk down the aisle and say a prayer and make Jesus their savior. There is no investing in them. There is no training in them. There is no discipleship.

This isn’t an across the board condemnation. Of course, there are some churches that do this. There are far too many who do not. This is especially needed in an age where Christianity is being questioned left and right and most people don’t know how to make a basic defense of what they believe let alone know the basics of what they believe.

We often go to churches and sing songs about how Jesus is so important to us. Apparently, He’s so important that we don’t study anything about Him, learn about Him, read the Scripture that tells about Him, or think about Him much at all, except, you know, those times when we need something. Our Christianity is all about what Jesus does in our lives instead of what we do in His.

This is so even with our salvation. Many times, the goal of Christianity has been to get people to go to Heaven. While there, you will live forever and get to see your loved ones again. Oh yeah. God is there too, if that interests you and all. There is nothing about building up the Kingdom of God here. There is nothing about the difference salvation makes in this life. Paul said that if it is only for this life we have hope, we are above all men to be pitied. Paul knew we have hope for this life. Today could it be that Paul would write “If it is only for the next life we have hope….”?

What’s the solution?

It’s a really easy one. Return to deeper theology and study. This isn’t the area of only other traditions. Protestants in the past have done this. I suspect most of it is that here in the West, we have grown more individualistic and all about us. We spend so much time “listening for the voice of God” that we don’t really consider who it is we’re “listening” to.

At the Orthodox church, the priest told me to borrow if I wanted to learn from the library a book called The Orthodox Way. I have been going through it and wondering “Aside from a few secondary details, what about this is specifically Orthodox? I have no problem believing this about God as a Protestant.” I wonder how many people see this and don’t realize that other traditions can have the same views of God as well.

Our Christianity is supposed to be the central defining feature of our lives. Let’s make it that way. Let’s not drop our intellectual weapons. We can better know the God we say we love and serve by studying Him. A good spouse seeks to understand the other spouse so they can better love them. Should we not treat God even better?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Protestants and Catholics

What do I think of Peter Toon’s book published by Servant Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Discussions about Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism was never something I really wanted to get into. I have been a subscriber of Mere Christianity for several years and been one wanting to look at defending the essentials. What changed is when my wife started asking questions and I realized if she’s doing this, I need to start looking into this. I asked a friend fluent on the issues for a good book on the topic and was recommended Peter Toon’s book.

Toon writes from a Protestant perspective, but his writing is friendly and he shows problems each side has with the other and ways that both could handle things better. There is no hint of anything that says that Catholics are an apostate church or anything like that. There is nothing saying that Protestantism is where the action is and we have it all together on our end. He points to statements made by both Protestants and Catholics that are good and that are problematic He points to honest concerns that both have about the other.

He covers the main issues as well. Not everything, but some of them. Authority is a big one. When I encounter Catholics, many of them say that it’s not really possible to understand the text of Scripture without the magisterium. Protestants reply that the meaning is in the text. Catholics say they gave the canon of Scripture. Protestants say canonicity lies in the books and the church discovered that rather than created it.

Authority I think could be the biggest issue. Where does the authority lie? This is the issue that leads to Sola Scriptura. Protestants say that the tradition cannot be known to be accurate, but we can study the Scripture and know that this is what the apostles said. Catholics see the tradition as being based in apostolic succession and thus reliable.

Other issues come up too such as justification. This is likely also before the understanding of the New Perspective on Paul so that isn’t a big debate in the book, but it was a major issue. Fortunately, I do think Protestants and Catholics are starting to come together to discuss these issues more.

Sacraments are also an issue. Protestants tend to only recognize baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Catholics recognize more. There are also differences on how the Lord’s Supper is to be seen. Is it transubstantiation or real presence or is it something else?

Mary is one of the last topics covered. Catholics often see themselves as defending the mother of God and upholding her honor and such. Protestants look more and say that it seems to border on idolatry to them. Unfortunately, Protestants then go and don’t seem to pay any attention to Mary. While we can think Catholics give too much honor, let us not be guilty of giving too little.

One nice appendix also in the book is a letter John Wesley wrote to a Roman Catholic. It is a letter seeking reconciliation and focusing on what is agreed on. Many of us do hope that one day there can be reconciliation. I am not sure how it is possible, but I can hope.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/13/2017: Kenneth Collins and Jerry Walls

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

500 years ago this year was the Reformation. Those who don’t learn from history are often condemned to repeat it. Today, there are many who still look at this as one of the most important moments in church history. Some today say it definitely still matters.

Two such ones are my guests today. They contend that there is still a divide between the churches and want to explain why they think that is. I would like the audience to know that while this show is about the Reformation and Roman Catholicism, I happily fellowship with Catholics and others. We had originally arranged a debate that would have a Catholic and an Eastern Orthodox scholar on as well. They backed out a week before and there was not enough time then to get some other scholars on. I still wanted to do this show so please understand I wanted to have both sides on to talk about the matter.

So on my special interview for today, I’ll be talking to a couple of Protestant scholars about why they take the stance that they do. They have recently released a book called Roman, But Not Catholic. If possible, we will also be giving away some copies of the book. My guests today are Kenneth Collins and Jerry Walls. So who are they?

First, Jerry Walls

According to his bio:

Jerry L. Walls is Scholar in Residence and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University.  He has authored or edited over a dozen books and over eighty articles and reviews.  Among his books are: Hell: The Logic of Damnation (University of Notre Dame Press, 1992); Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy (Oxford University Press, 2002); Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation (Oxford University Press, 2012); and The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, ed. (Oxford University Press, 2008).   His co-authored book with David Baggett, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford University Press, 2011) was named the best book in apologetics and evangelism by Christianity Today in their annual book awards in 2012.  He is also a big sports fan, and has done two books about basketball: Basketball and Philosophy: Thinking outside the Paint (coedited with Greg Bassham, University of Kentucky Press, 2007); and Wisdom from the Hardwood: Defining a Success Worth Shooting For(Gray Matter Books, 2012).

And Kenneth Collins:

According to his bio:

Kenneth J. Collins is an internationally recognized scholar in the field of Historical Theology and Wesley studies.  He has given lectures in England, South Korea,  Russia, Estonia, Finland, Costa Rica and elsewhere.   

 

Dr. Collins is a graduate of Asbury (M.Div.) and Princeton (Th.M.) seminaries, and he did his doctoral work in Wesley studies at Drew University.  Collins taught philosophy and religion at Methodist College (now a university) for over a decade before his was appointed a professor Historical Theology and Wesley Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, the position that he currently holds.

 

The author and editor of fifteen books, Professor Collins has produced scores of articles and numerous reviews. His books have been translated into Russian and Korean—and soon Chinese.   His Wesley titles included the following:

 

  • The Works of John Wesley: Doctrinal and Controversial Treatises II. Vol. 13. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013.

 

  • The Sermons of John Wesley: A Collection for the Christian Journey. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013.

 

  • The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007.

 

  • John Wesley: A Theological Journey. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.

 

  • Conversion in the Wesleyan Tradition. Primary editor along with John Tyson, assistant editor.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001

 

  • A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999.

 

  • The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley’s Theology. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997.

 

Beyond this, Dr. Collins has written numerous articles in the field of Wesley studies too numerous to mention here.

 

As a researcher in American religion, especially in terms of evangelicalism,  Collins has written two important works:  The Evangelical Moment: The Promise of an American Religion and Power, Politics and the Fragmentation of Evangelicalism:  From the Scopes Trial to the Obama Administration.    

His most recent book (released October, 2017), along with co-author Dr. Jerry L. Walls,  is Roman But Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years After the Reformation.   

 

He is currently working on a One Volume Wesley Bible Commentary that is being prepared along with Dr. Joel Green.  It will be published by Abingdon Press.

 

Having received numerous teaching awards, Dr. Collins is a dynamic lecturer and is the former president of the Wesleyan Theological Society.  In addition, he has been on the steering committee of both the Wesleyan Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion and the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies.  His is the Director of the Wesley Studies Summer Seminar and The Wesleyan Holiness Pentecostal Studies Center.   He is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.

I hope you’ll be listening to this episode and whether you agree or disagree, may we all be better informed. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Changing Churches

What do I think of Mattox and Roeber’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This book is a look at how two Christian academics left the fold of Lutheranism and went to two other churches. One went Roman Catholic and the other Eastern Orthodox. Each of them writes three chapters in the book and the final is by a Lutheran academic who is still a Lutheran on why he’s just not sold on the point yet.

I consider myself a holder of Mere Christianity, but I can say easily the best church I’ve ever been to is a Lutheran church in Knoxville, TN called The Point. For Allie and I, one of the great highlights of getting to go back to Knoxville beyond seeing friends and family is getting to go to the Point again. It is hard for me to find a church that goes beyond the fluff that I normally hear, but the Point does that, while at the same time is able to speak to non-academics and give them a message they need to hear.

Something surprising in this work to me is how approvingly Mattox and Roeber speak about Martin Luther. At one point, I was wondering if Martin Luther was being nominated for sainthood by them. This is a relief in contrast to many of my Protestant turned Catholic friends who love to make posts and memes that poke fun at Luther.

Going through this book will certainly help one better understand the approaches. I do think there is indeed something to the doctrine of theosis talked about by Roeber. Unfortunately today, many people will hear theosis and think of the idea of divine exaltation from the Mormons.

I also do think Protestants need to have a good doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. I know when my wife and I got married, we came back from our honeymoon and went to our church. She had done something to her leg and wasn’t able to walk easily so she was in a back room during the service and watching it on a TV. When the time for Communion came, I, as a new husband, went and got the bread and juice for her and brought them to where she is since I think it was my responsibility to make sure she had that. I consider this a quite special memory.

My hesitancy comes in each case that while I learned much about each tradition, I do not see any reason yet to fully accept each tradition. I think it’s too easy today to engage in all-or-nothing thinking. It could be that theosis is right, but that does not mean that the Orthodox church is the true church established by Christ. It could be that Roman Catholics have a better doctrine of the Eucharist, but that does not mean that the dogmas about the papacy and Mary are accurate.

Much of the book is also about questions of justification and issues involving sexuality today. For justification, I do wish more would have been said about The New Perspective on Paul. This was something that deserves far more traction and I cannot say that justification is the main issue I have in the debates about Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. For me, the claims are largely historical. Can we historically establish with first or even second century evidence that this is what happened? Do we have any reason to believe that teachings that are held today in churches are teachings that were held by the apostles and first Christians?

For issues on sexuality, scandal has rocked all the branches of Christianity here, and this is not a shock. It’s not a reason to go from one denomination to another. You will find sinners and hypocrites in every single one of them. You will find people who do not take their religious life seriously everywhere. This is not the fault of any one church. This is the fault of people.

I appreciated the final contribution of Paul Hinlicky at the end about why he is still a Lutheran. I find his case interesting, but at the same time I wondered what this would have to say to people who are not Lutherans per se. I have said my favorite church is a Lutheran church, but I do not subscribe to it as interdenominational differences don’t really interest me as much. (So why read a book like this? Because I wanted to hear what Jerry Walls had to say and in doing research and preparing a podcast on it, I came across the book by Mattox and Roeber and wanted a counterperspective.)

Here’s the most important point however. I have a great memory of being in the chat service of PALtalk one evening and a Jehovah’s Witness was there dialoguing with myself, a Roman Catholic, and an Eastern Orthodox. It was just four of us and the RC and EO and myself were in great unison defending the doctrine of the Trinity against the Witness. This is how I think it should be.

I do not hold to Catholicism for instance, but I don’t have any patience for the idea that the Pope is the Antichrist. (Although as a preterist, I am convinced some popes have been antichrist.) I love my Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ. I have friends in each field. Are there some non-Christians in the folds of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy? Without a doubt. Just as there are some in Protestantism.

I do not doubt also that if Roeber and Mattox and I got together and chatted, there would be many issues that we would have good disagreements on and discuss them, but I think more of them we would be meeting and nodding our heads in agreement. Those are the issues that I have chosen to focus on. The secondary debates about our differences are good, but let us never let the secondary issues overpower the primary unity.

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: The Cult of the Virgin Mary; Psychological Origins

What do I think of Michael Carroll’s book published by Princeton University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Carroll’s book is a look at the role of Mary and of the apparitions of Mary from a more psychological perspective. The book is itself kind of a mixed bag. While it speaks of the cult, I do not think it means this in a derogative fashion but in the sense of the religious practices of a movement. Today, I could speak about the cultic functions of the Mosaic Law without saying the Jews are a cult in the same way groups like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are defined as cults.

The start does have some interesting history on Mary and the Roman Empire and how they were viewed in early Christianity. Carroll is kind in his words many times and you don’t see disparaging talk of Christianity. He also doesn’t seem to take seriously the idea that Mary is a copy of many cultic groups of the time save for perhaps Cybele. Still, if so, that would only be one aspect and it does not mean that all of Christianity is a copy. Am I convinced by that? No, but at least he doesn’t say everything is a copy and argues against that.

Too much of the first session is also dependent on Freudian thinking. The great assumption is that the thinking of the people would be like ours today and that would include thinking sexually in the way Freud said children do. I found myself quite skeptical in this section.

By far, the most interesting part to me was the part about the Marian apparitions. Carroll does interact with the writings on these appearances and looks at many of the major ones. If Carroll’s even descriptions of these are accurate, they are really nothing like the appearances of Jesus to His disciples. Many times you would have people, notably children, who saw something and no one else did. They also did not know what they saw often until someone else suggested that it was the Virgin Mary and lo and behold, that’s what it became.

Carroll looks at the information in the devotional literature on the seers who saw the image and gives explanations that can easily justify the appearances as hallucinations or illusions. More study will have to be done on this, but for those who are suspicious, these are interesting ideas to consider. The Catholic Church itself has recommended caution in many cases of apparitions, and I believe rightly so.

In all of this, nothing is said to make one think that the people experiencing these apparitions are crazy or anything of the sort. There is no indication that these people were living with a long-term mental illness or something of the kind. Many people within their lifetime who are otherwise normal and healthy will have hallucinatory experiences and it means nothing negative about their mental state.

While I have other reading going on now on the apparitions, for those who are interested, this could be a good book worth checking out though I would say it would be for the section on the appearances. The first section has some interesting ideas, but the dependence on Freud is quite a negative to me. Still, with the possibility that these are hallucinations, having a psychological look is quite helpful.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice

What do I think of Philip Jenkins’s book published by Oxford Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I am not a Catholic. That having been said, why would I read a book about a problem of anti-Catholicism? It’s simply because this kind of prejudice does affect all Christians. If Catholics can be targeted, anyone else is not too far behind. Plus, there are a lot of rumors that one hears and that really you want to know how good the claims are behind them.

It’s not a secret that you can watch many a movie or a TV show and the church is a villain. One of my favorite gaming series is Final Fantasy, but unfortunately one knows that even though not specified as Roman Catholic, if the church shows up in a game, you can be sure it will be evil. Since this book came out, we have of course seen works like The Da Vinci Code, which only further the idea that there is a conspiracy cover-up by the evil Vatican.

Jenkins’s book is a hard look at many of the ways of thinking. Most anything can be connected with the Roman Catholic Church and it is thus automatically branded as evil. Of course, sadly a lot of Protestants haven’t helped with conspiracy theories about the Pope being the antichrist or the False Prophet. Of course, this prejudice Jenkins points out doesn’t mean one can’t disagree with Catholicism, but it means that one takes that beyond just disagreement with doctrine to the idea that Catholicism is an evil system.

One great chapter in this book will be the chapter on the claims of pedophilia and the priesthood. Jenkins has the hard numbers on this to show that while any case is certainly a problem to be dealt with, there was much that was overstated by the media with hyped up numbers. He points out that every denomination and religion and such has people that do these kinds of things and in other systems, it’s a problem of the individual, but in the RCC, it’s seen as a problem of the system. It would also be good to have more official comparisons to other people guilty of such transgressions, say teachers in the public school system. (Of course, it must be made clear that pedophilia doesn’t exactly include teenagers and others in both cases.)

There’s also a section on the history of the church and supposed great crimes. It’s usually taken for granted that the church was a wicked institution when it came to things like the Crusades or the Inquisition or claims of anti-Semitism. Jenkins looks at all of these. In all of this, he doesn’t say that the church is without fault in everything, but he does try to be fair and show that there is a double standard often and the church can be held to be guilty on much less evidence than other bodies would be.

I found this to be an eye-opening read and leaves me once again not trusting anything I see in the media about Catholicism. We do need to have open debates and discussions between Catholics and Protestants and Orthodox and others, but let us not make this an issue of prejudice. Let us discuss the issues that we disagree instead of thinking the worst of the people.

In Christ,
Nick Peters