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 hisĀ 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: 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: Taking Rites Seriously

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

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say at the start that I was provided with this review copy by Beckwith himself to see if I wanted him to come on my podcast. Rest assured, I do. Beckwith’s book is not just a book I want to get in the hands of many Christians I interact with, but also in the hands of many atheists I interact with.

Beckwith’s main contention is that we have often misunderstood arguments and said that as long as we say that they are “religious” or have a religious motive, then that means we do not need to consider them as real intellectual arguments. This is simply false. It could be someone holds a position for religious reasons and it could even be that someone holds a position (Such as the wrongness of homosexual behavior) just because the Bible says so, but that does not mean that that is the only reason that there is or the only motive that there is.

Something I like about Beckwith’s book is that he tries to give everyone a fair shake. Even if it is a position that he disagrees with, he tries to give it a fair look. When looking at some court rulings, even if the ruling would be favorable towards his position, Beckwith can still point out why he thinks it is an unwise ruling. This is something that we should all learn from. Just because the conclusion agrees with us does not mean that the decision was the right one. You can make the right decision for all the wrong reasons.

Some readers will also be surprised to find that Beckwith disagrees with Intelligent Design. I in fact would find myself closer to his position seeing as I think that we have married Christianity to modern science and what happens if this is explained another way? Wouldn’t it be best to have our apologetic built on something that cannot be shown false by scientific discovery? Why not base our theism on metaphysical principles, especially since the question of God is not really a scientific question but a metaphysical one. (This does not mean it does not have ramifications for science, but the final arbiter is metaphysics.)

Also, the reader will find some very helpful points on the issue of redefining marriage. This is one of the major issues of our time and Beckwith rightly shows that in reality, the people that are not being tolerant and not allowing liberty are more often the ones on the left. Beckwith has a great familiarity with the literature on both sides. One will also find similarity with the abortion debate as well.

If there was one thing I’d like differently in Beckwith’s books, it’d be that I’d like reading them sometimes to be more like listening to him speak. It’s my understanding that Beckwith grew up in the Las Vegas area and knows about the comedians and if you hear him speak, it is absolutely hysterical. Andy Bannister has managed to pull off great humor in a book. It would be interesting to see Beckwith do the same.

Still, this is a book that should be read by anyone interested in religious debates. As I said earlier also, Beckwith has the great virtue as well of wanting to treat the arguments of his opponents seriously as well. Beckwith is not just wanting to reach right conclusions, but wanting to reach them the right way and will settle for nothing less.

In Christ,
Nick Peters