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

What Is The Gospel?

When we speak about the Gospel, what are we talking about? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, someone alerted me to something that was said on James White’s Facebook page which is the following:

Without using Google, who said the following, providing a classic example of what I call the “Mere Christianity” movement, which defines the faith *apart from* the Gospel itself:

While I’m an evangelical by choice, I recognize one does not need to be an evangelical to be a Christian. If one embraces the essentials of the Christian faith, I’m happy to call that person my brother or sister and work alongside them in ministry, whether they are Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or whatever.

For some fun, I sent it to a few people that I know to see what they thought also. One of those people was Mike Licona. He told me that he read the statement and found that he agreed with it.

Which is good since he’s the one who made it.

I, however, will stay that I stand by that statement. There are a number of us who have supported Mike with what he went through with the accusations that he was denying inerrancy. In this number are Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. I have some of each on my Facebook friends list. I would have no problem having guests of either persuasion on my show and in fact I do know I have had Catholics on there before. All of these people I see as my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now do I think they’re off on some doctrines? Yep. You bet. You know who else is? Most everyone I know. In fact, I’m off on some doctrines. Why do I hold to them then? Because I don’t know what they are! I just know that the field of Christianity is a complex field and it would be quite arrogant of me to think I’m the one person who got everything right.

But let’s look at this charge. What is this with defining faith apart from the Gospel itself. As I told my wife that evening, I think too often we misunderstand the Gospel. We think the Gospel is justification by faith. It’s not. I do not deny justification by faith, but justification by faith is I think a response to the Gospel and not the Gospel itself.

In a book I recently reviewed called One Gospel For All Nationsbiblical scholar Jackson Wu presents a viewpoint from China on how different cultures see different things in the Bible. Of course, this doesn’t change what the Bible says, but we all have a danger of reading our culture into the Bible. Consider a passage like Romans 7 with the supposed autobiography of Paul. We all read that as if it is Paul describing what we go through, but it isn’t. Most scholars agree this is not autobiographical and is more a speech in character. If we go this route in fact, we could be putting us in that position and making us opposed to the good news in Romans 8 unintentionally.

Wu says that wherever the Gospel is mentioned, you find at least one of these three themes in the text. Those are creation, covenant, and Kingdom. The problem for most of us is we can go straight from Genesis 3 to the Romans Road and think all that stuff isn’t important. I think of what N.T. Wright said when he hears the creed that talks about Jesus “Born of the Virgin Mary”, and then “Suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Wright says he can picture the four Gospel writers in the background saying “We spent a lot of time on that stuff in the middle and we think it’s important.”

I find it odd then to think about defining faith apart from the Gospel itself. Perhaps we should hear what the Gospel is. Romans 1 for instance begins this way.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Some commentators will think that the Gospel doesn’t really start until later around verse 16 or 17. This is false. It begins right here. What do we have? We have a descendant of David which points back to the covenant made with David. We then have the resurrection of Jesus by which Jesus was declared to the world to be the Son of God. Because of this, we have received grace.

If we make something like justification the Gospel, then really we have to ask “What is the point of Israel?” Does the Bible just have a lot of filler stuff in it? What is the point of Jesus teaching the Kingdom of God? Could it be that maybe He actually meant there was a Kingdom and He was the king?

So what is the purpose of justification then in all of this? It’s realizing that there is indeed a new king in town and He calls for your allegiance. Justification is admitting that God is in the right and you are in the wrong and submitting to the Lordship of Christ. In doing so, God welcomes you to His family. God then looks at you and pronounces you to be in the right.

So let’s look at the above list. Protestants. Catholics. Orthodox. Would these agree that God created the world and yet it fell into sin through our actions? Yep. Would they agree that God made covenants with Abraham, Israel, and David? Yep. Would they agree that God revealed Himself in Christ, the God-man, who physically rose from the dead? Yep. Would they agree that we should all submit to Jesus as Lord? Yep. (And would they all fall short still in that submission. Yep.)

With that, I have no problem calling any of them my brothers and sisters in Christ. I would have no problem working alongside them in ministry. If I minister to someone and he comes to Jesus and wants to be Orthodox or Roman Catholic, okay. I don’t have a problem with that. I would hope my Orthodox and Roman Catholic brothers would think likewise if he wanted to join the other community or be a Protestant after they evangelized him.

So if Mike Licona is in the wrong for being willing to see Christians outside of evangelicalism and to fellowship with Roman Catholics and Orthodox brothers and sisters, well I guess I’ll be in the wrong too. I just see us all as learning to submit to Jesus as Lord. Do we have some differences and can we discuss them? Yeah. We do and we can, but that should not stop us from doing the real Kingdom work together.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles Creed: The Holy Catholic Church

Can a Protestant say they believe in the Holy Catholic Church? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Sometimes, I discuss the question of Catholicism, but in the long run, it doesn’t really interest me that much. As it stands, I have numerous other things to study and I tend to focus on what Lewis referred to as “Mere Christianity.” I am Protestant and actually attend a Lutheran church at the moment. Am I ready to sign on the dotted line and say I’m a Lutheran? No. Still, I think our church right now is simply wonderful and I look forward to what we’re doing and I’m honored to get to serve.

My own position with regards to Catholics and at this point I could say members of the various churches called Orthodox (With a capital o as really, all churches should seek to be orthodox in their teaching) is that they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am certainly not one of those who thinks the Catholic Church is hellbound or that the Pope is the antichrist or such ideas as that. I am thankful that my Catholic brothers and sisters that I interact with also do not call my Christianity into question.

Some readers out there might be saying that there are several lost Catholics out there. You know what? I agree with them.

There are also several lost Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, etc.

Now the word Catholic really means universal. A good Christian can then say they believe in a universal church. Some might wonder about this with the supposed claim of x thousand denominations. (The number keeps changing.) The reality is that this claim is usually not looked into too much. You could have two churches in the same town that have the exact same belief and both of them could be counted as denominations. Why? Because these are self-governing bodies. There could be two in the same town because maybe it’s a really large area and two are set up due to the distances people are willing to travel to go to church.

For more on this, see this helpful and entertaining video by my ministry partner, J.P. Holding.

The main advice I’d give here is we all need to seek to avoid the extreme positions. I have learned much from my brothers and sisters of other denominations. Peter Kreeft comes to mind immediately and he is one who prays for the unification of the churches. I would hope that many of my Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters would say that they too have learned from reading the writings of those of us who are Protestant.

Also, if I was asked to state what the church of Jesus Christ truly is, it is those who recognize Jesus as Lord and Messiah both. Wherever you have them gathered, you have the church to an extent. Christ is present in the midst of us. When we get to eternity, we will find people from the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox traditions there together worshiping before the throne of God. We might as well learn to get along together now. Of course we can discuss our differences, but let’s strive to do so realizing that we all still proclaim Jesus as Lord.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Church History Matters

What do I think of Robert Rea’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Let’s be blunt. For many of us, history isn’t always the most exciting topic, which is quite really a shame since it impacts our lives so much. If we’re Christians, we love the Bible and we think it’s important to know what happened in it, but aside from perhaps something like the Reformation, many of us don’t know what happened in church history. Go to your average church and ask the people who know their Bibles well to name a single early church father. Most likely, you’ll get blank stares and some might say “Martin Luther? John Calvin? John Wesley?”

It’s a shame that those of us who have such a great love of Scripture so often do not bother to understand how our own history that went before us turned out. We act as if Jesus came and then perhaps something like the Reformation happened and lo and behold, we are here now and now we must live our lives.

Part of this is the individualism in our culture that places each of us in our own little vacuum of existence where what went before us doesn’t matter and what’s happening outside of us doesn’t really matter. It is our personal universe that is of the supreme importance. What difference can the Donatist controversy make? How can I be repeating the errors of the Gnostics today, whoever they were? Why should I care about those old arguments Thomas Aquinas put forward for God? Do I really need to care about how John Chrysostom interpreted Scripture?

Rea tells us that in fact church history does matter and if we are students of Scripture, we should be students of that history. We should be learning about the great men and women who came before us and realize that the lessons we learn from them in the past can be highly influential in our day and age and keep us from repeating their errors and help us to repeat their successes.

C.S. Lewis years ago gave the advice to read old books because when you do, you read another time and place that critiques yours and can see blind spots in your position that you do not see because of the unspoken assumptions you accept in your culture. Meanwhile, you too can see blind spots in the work that you are reading that they would miss for the same reasons.

In fact, the author suggests we read outside of the circle of our own faith tradition, our own time, our own location, and our own culture. In doing so, we will interact with areas we would never have considered before. If we are wrong, we can correct our view. If we are right, we are still the better for getting to see why others think differently.

The first part of the book is about tradition. How is it understood? The reality is Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox (By orthodox, unless stated other wise, I mean branches of the church such as Eastern Orthodox) all place some value on tradition. Some place it on the same level as Scripture. Some don’t, but they see it as important to consider and insofar as it agrees with the Scripture, should be accepted. Bible-Focused Christians, as Rea prefers to call them regardless of where they land on the church spectrum, would all tend to accept statements like the Nicene Creed for instance.

Regardless of your position, tradition should not be ignored. Even if you think it is wrong in a certain place, it is helpful to learn how it is that that tradition came about, why it was held to in its day, and what the reasons were for believing in it. It would not be as if people just woke up one day and said “Hey! Let’s believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary!” There would be reasons for holding to it, rightly or wrongly, and a context that it was discussed in.

This part also includes a little bit about church history and how we got to where we are. As stated earlier, too many of us really have no idea even though we claim to be Bible-focused. This is interesting in an age where many of us like sites like ancestry.com where we want to see where our families came from, and there is no wrong in doing so of course, but our very Christian faith does not get the same treatment.

The second part is about the way we interact with the past. Can you form friendships as it were with those who went before. I am thinking of a debate I had with an atheist not too long ago where I stated that we do have the works that we can read by the past and we should critique them today and learn from them today. We can interact with the philosophers and others who went before us rather than leave reality up to only people today who happen to get a voice just because they’re conveniently alive at the time. There is a well of wisdom before us and we need to drink from it.

This includes finding mentors and accountability partners. No. You can’t communicate with them the same way you would with a friend, but you can still learn from them and let their lives be a blessing to you. I think of Aquinas for instance whose arguments I use today. When properly understood, they are incredibly powerful in our day and age. Too often, we have dismissed ideas just because they are old. Some ideas will stand the test of time and we will find we have just reinvented the wheel when we are done if we ignore them.

Finally, we have a section on how this affects us today. Can we bring the past into the present? What this deals with is how to interpret Scripture, such as by learning from the methodologies used in the past to interpret Scripture, and also how learning history affects our practices of worship and compassion and missionary service.

I will say I was a bit disappointed that despite being academic, when it came to this last section, nothing was really said about apologetic approaches. It would have been good to see how those of us who are in the apologetics ministry could look to the past for valuable mentors and friends in the field. Other important areas were mentioned, but this one was left out. I hope a future edition will include that as well as we can learn from great defenders of the faith in the past such as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas.

Still, this is a recommended read and got me thinking about the importance more of learning from the past and learning how to interpret Scripture as they did. You won’t find out much about church history per se, but you will find out much about why you should find out about it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast: 5/3/2014 Robert Kolb

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Before we get to that, I want to explain a situation going on. The group that I am with has decided to drop BlogTalkRadio. It is my hopes to get back there somehow. I do not know how much longer it will last. We have been told to use a Skype Recorder but that is technology I’m not familiar with and it would limit your ability as listeners to get to call in and talk to my guests and ask questions.

Therefore, it is my hopes that either another group might want to incorporate the Deeper Waters Podcast and allow us the same time slot, or else that we will come across someone, and maybe someone reading this blog, who wants to sponsor the Deeper Waters Podcast. I’m going to do all I can to keep the show going, but I want you to be aware of this situation. Please be in prayer for it.

For now, let’s talk about this Saturday’s show.

My guest this Saturday will be Robert Kolb. For alerting me about Dr. Kolb, I want to think my pastor at The Point where my wife and I worship together. He tells me that Dr. Kolb is one of the top five experts on the Reformation and that’s what we’re going to be talking about.

In his own words,

“Robert Kolb, Missions professor of systematic theology emeritus at Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, came to the seminary faculty after service as executive director of the Center for Reformation Research in Saint Louis (1972-1977) and as professor of religion and history at Concordia College, Saint Paul (1977-1993). From 1993 to 2009 he served as director of the Seminary’s Institute for Mission Studies and spent extensive periods of time teaching in post-Soviet Europe and East and South Asia. A member of the LCMS Commission for Theology and Church Relations from 1984 to 1992, he was its chair from 1989 to 1992. He was associate editor and then co-editor of The Sixteenth Century Journal (1973-1997) and since 1993 has been a member of the continuation committee of the International Congress for Luther Research. He helped edit the new English translation of The Book of Concord (2000) and has published some twenty books on the Lutheran Reformation and on evangelism and Christian doctrine.”

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What impact does the Reformation have for us today? How is it relevant in our apologetics and evangelism? Was it all good? Was it all bad? Was it a mixture in between? These are questions that we’ll be discussing and frankly, it’s an area I haven’t looked at too much myself so I will be definitely looking to learn about the Reformation alongside those of you who are listening.

Please be joining us for this episode to learn about this important event in history and please keep in mind to consider what you can do to support the Deeper Waters Podcast. As always, if you want to call in and ask a question, the number is 714-242-5180. We will be at our usual time from 3-5 PM EST.

The link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters