Book Plunge: Roman, But Not Catholic

What do I think of Jerry Walls and Kenneth Collins’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For the most part, I have never got into the debate between Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox. As a good Protestant, I have my reasons, but it has never been a focus. Still, as a podcast host, I have been a fan of the work of Jerry Walls and when I heard about this book coming out, I thought it would be a good one to have a discussion over.

The thesis behind the book is that the Roman Catholic Church is indeed Roman, but it’s not Catholic, as it is not what is universally believed. While that is a charge, there is not anger in the book. It’s not an attempt to destroy Roman Catholicism. The writers have a great love for Catholics. Collins grew up with a Catholic education and Walls did some of his studies at the Catholic school of Notre Dame.

Despite that, they do think there is something at stake. There is a reason the Reformation matters. The writers then take us on a trip through church history and various theological issues such as questions of authority, looking at the Papacy, Marian devotion, etc.

They did point out that it looks like for many converts to Rome from Protestantism, it is an all-or-nothing game. As someone who loves history, this is of great interest to me. I meet many people who have the attitude that if there is one contradiction in the Bible, how can we know that any of it is true? This is a position I find frankly, ridiculous. I may not know how it is that Judas died for betraying Jesus exactly, but that would be a far cry from saying I can’t even know that Jesus existed.

It ultimately comes down to a question of authority. Suppose the Roman Catholic claims that I do not have an authoritative magisterium to interpret the text. Am I to really think that I have no reason whatsoever to think I don’t know what some particular texts mean unless someone else tells me? Sure, there are difficult passages, but there are passages that are not difficult. Even while simple passages have great underlying nuances to them many times that can amplify their meaning all the more, the basic context is the same.

Consider John 3:16. I can get the basic message. God loved the world and then gave His Son for that world so that none could perish but that all could have eternal life. Of course, a deeper understanding of Christianity will bring out more for me from that passage. I could ask questions about what it means to perish or whether in a Calvinistic context the world refers to everyone or just the elect? The basic message though of God loving and wanting to redeem humanity is still there.

What has to be asked is even if one thinks one has to have an authority, why this authority? Why should I think this one is right on everything in fact, including Marian positions I see zero support for in Scripture or church history? There are many groups that take the same approach with a ruling authority who says what the Scriptures mean. Why should I think the RCC has it all right?

The history of the Papacy I have found as a problem as well. There were no doubt many wicked Popes in the history of the church. This has to be taken seriously. If it is true then how can we say that God was guiding the church when wicked Popes were elected?

I should say in all of these concerns, I am pleased to see that many things I do not remember being brought up. For instance, there was no political gain made about the claims of pedophile priests, something I think is not really as accurate as it is made out to be and there are even worse cases in the public school system. Let’s be sure. One can disagree with Catholics without being anti-Catholic. I happen to have a great delight in my Catholic brothers and sisters and happily work with them in defending Christianity.

The book ends with a cry for unity. It would be great to see it happen, but we are not there yet. Pope Francis certainly is being a different Pope and rocking the boat a bit. Only time will tell what will happen to the RCC in the future.

Still, those who are considering crossing the Tiber and going to Rome should really consider the material in this book first. It does give a lot of food for thought. I also think many Catholics reading this book would not think they were being attacked, which is good. We need to be able to discuss our differences and discuss them in true words but loving words as well. We may not like what the other side has to say, but we should all hear what others have to say and be willing to consider their position. If we have to change ours, we change it. If we don’t yet, we at least have a better understanding of one another.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Our Dangerous Familiarity With Scripture

Is there a danger in our society where Christianity is normative? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If your household is like mine, my wife and I do frequently discuss the Bible and what it means for us, particularly when we are going through a difficult time, which we all go through. We also contrast it with others we see who fail along the journey and ask what they did wrong and how we can avoid it. One thought that comes to my mind is that too many people who call themselves Christians just aren’t taking Scripture seriously enough. The sad thought is that every one of us to some extent falls into that category.

You see, we will share with our neighbors and on Facebook and on our blogs and web sites about the glorious truths of Christ. We will talk about how His power is in us to work and to bring about the Kingdom. We will even listen to Christian songs that sing that message and sing those same songs in our church service. We will stand up and we will cite the creeds in our church services as if to say that we give full support to them and back them entirely. Many of us will stand up for the Inerrancy of Scripture and say that we fully believe that which is written in the Bible.

We’re good at talking.

We’re not so good at walking.

You see, we’ve become in some ways so familiar with the text that it no longer strikes us as radical in any way. Our Biblical morality has become normative for many cultures in many ways. We don’t realize how much of a change it is to dare suggest that a person should not be a slave, that a woman has value in herself, that sex is something sacred for marriage, that we should want to give to the poor, etc. Even many atheists today will agree to some of the claims before. (Probably you’d only find the most resistance on the third one) These have seeped into our background knowledge so much that we don’t realize it. Many people do not realize they are living with a Christian morality and frankly, we don’t even realize it.

When it comes to the story of the Bible, we’ve grown up with so many cute Vacation Bible School and Sunday School lessons on this that we have not got to have the shock value. We grew up thinking this is the way not only that the world is but that it has always been. The surprise of it has never been taught. Unfortunately also, we’ve made God detached in this one. We don’t really talk about who God is at all or what He intends to do in us. We talk about what He will do for us and very rarely does that seem to include personal holiness. Instead, it most often means things like providing comfort and peace when we need it and He’ll come when we pray because we’re in a bind. We don’t see Him as a day to day reality in our lives. It’s almost like we look and say “Well yeah, I know God is there and He loves me, but so what? Look at what’s going on in my life.”

We must really ask ourselves if we’re saying “So what?” to our worldview.

What does it mean when we talk about God? The great work of Jesus was that He gave us access to God, and yet we don’t really bother to learn anything about this God He gave us access to. How many of you men would like it if your wife treated you like just a paycheck so she could get the things she wants at the store and did not come to really know and appreciate you as a person? (And how many of you wives are doing just that?) How many of you women would like it if your husband only came to you when he wanted sex but just showed no interest in you otherwise? (And how many of you husbands are doing just that?) Yet too often, this is how we have treated God, you know, the being we say is the most awesome and wonderful and majestic one of all. The one who has all the power to do what He wants, all the knowledge to know what the right thing to do is, and is all present meaning He sees everything. Oh yes, we also believe He’s going to judge us at the end of our lives and everything we have done, thought, or said, will be called to account.

Tell you what. Let that last part sink in for awhile before moving on.

Everything. There are no exceptions.

Every. Single. Thing.

As I thought about this, I remembered a meme my wife put up that is a sentiment I have shared many times that a marriage cannot be 50-50 but 100-100 and I thought “Could it be that we do not seek to give all we can in our marriages when we don’t even do that with God?” In fact, it looks like we more often than not seek to give the bare minimum. Let’s consider a line like “You should not have sex before marriage.” We can look at that and say “Okay. I get it. No sex before marriage.” But then the rationalizations come in. “Yes, but what constitutes sex? Does this mean I can do absolutely nothing truly intimate before marriage?” It’s like we want to get as close to that line before we cross it. It’s practically thinking that we suspect God is holding out on some joy and keeping it from us.

Why on Earth would you give God the bare minimum? Do you think He’s going to waste what you give to Him? Do you think that if you give money or time or service to Him that He will waste that? Do you not realize that your actions in this life really show the world what you think of God? If your actions do not match up with your words, you can be sure that the people will go with your actions instead of your words.

Now some of you can say “God is going to judge me, but I’m saved so I get to spend eternity with Him.” Well to begin with, that’s just taking advantage of the grace of God. It’s saying “I’m already covered so this sin is no big deal.” That despite the fact that any one sin is enough to require the death of the Son of God so you can be forgiven. Sorry, but to Him, it’s all a big deal and if you do not see sin in your life as a big deal, then frankly you are not taking God seriously. You must also realize on the bright side that if you do take it seriously and come to Him and ask Him seriously for help as you repent, that He will help you.

Still, let’s suppose as we have good reason to that it is true that you will make it into His Kingdom. How you spend your life here will determine how much you will enjoy eternity the next life. So let’s look at you men again who might say “Look. I mainly value my wife for sex, but I love her still and our marriage is fine. What’s the big deal?” To begin with, I’m not sure why you would want your marriage to be described as “fine” when it should be described as awesome, but if you treat your wife as a sex object, you can certainly get a lot of jollies down here, but if you’re married to a Christian, that Christian is the temple of God and you will get called to account for how you treated that temple.

Your capacity to enjoy God in the next life could be greatly lessened by your failing to appreciate Him in this life.

Let’s also add in the case of Jerry Walls. Walls is a Protestant who believes that we shouldn’t have jettisoned the idea of purgatory. God has to make us holy somehow and he doesn’t see a guarantee of a sudden zap when we die. There will be a time of waiting according to Walls where God will purge our unholiness out of us.

Let’s suppose that that is true.

If so, do you not realize that living a life of sin means you will be further and further from experiencing the joy of the Kingdom because you lived so long in contradiction to it? I’m not sold on Walls’s idea yet, but it does make me look at myself and say “Am I taking sanctification seriously? Am I taking holiness seriously?” We can often act like our wrong doesn’t really matter to God and on what basis do we normally do it?

Feelings and experience.

“Sure. I did this thing I normally shouldn’t have, but I didn’t feel awful and the sky didn’t come crashing down around me so it must not be any big deal to God.” If personal experience and feelings were a guide to holiness that was surefire, I suspect many of us would be living better. Unfortunately, how we feel in a situation is often a result of not just that situation but a lifetime of training our emotions and feelings a certain way. They become repetitive. We can numb ourselves to any idea that we are doing something wrong by just ignoring it. That’s one reason so many guys can get caught in internet pornography. They ignore the one feeling and they emphasize that other feeling that certainly feels oh so good to them.

But for that, judgment is still coming. You will stand before God.

Again, let that sink in for a bit before moving on.

And what are the consequences of not taking Scripture seriously and thus not taking holiness seriously? Look around you.

How many of you live lives that the rest of the world will look at you and say “Wow. That’s what I want my life to be like.” How many of you husbands would have your wives be able to wake up and say “My husband is just so much like Jesus it’s a joy to be married to him.” (And wives, if you are saying that, are you indeed giving him your very best like you should give your best to Jesus?) How many husbands get up and say “I love my wife so much that I am willing to die for her at this moment.” (And if you say that, dying is no doubt difficult to do for someone, but are you willing to also live for them?) Again, many of us seek to give the bare minimum in our marriages. That could be why the divorce rate is so high.

Okay. I know there are times that a divorce is Biblically allowable. I also don’t think the claim is true that it’s just as high for Christians as it is for non-Christians since it’s my understanding that Christians who regularly worship and pray and read the Bible together and thus seek to live out a Biblical worldview have a much lower divorce rate. Despite that, divorce is a tragedy. Even if it is Biblically allowable, divorce is a tragedy. Our hearts should weep when we hear about it taking place in the church again even when we think it needs to be done. In fact, at our house, unless we’re discussing it in a context like this, we never use the word. It is simply “The d-word.”

This also includes our sex lives. Isn’t it a shame that we look at sex in our culture and the Christians are seen as the prudes who don’t really enjoy sex? We Christians should be the ones who are enjoying it the most. (Adding in if we are married of course.) If you want the world to look at your marriage and see it as something that they should desire, that will include your sex life in it. Sex is a covenant making activity and it serves the role in marriage of renewing the covenant as it were with your spouse. You come in and give everything you have to your spouse and leave yourself totally vulnerable to them. Yet in that vulnerability, there is to be the greatest of joy for you come knowing you are fully accepted and loved. Christians should in fact corner the market on having great sex and too often, we don’t.

What do you take the time to enjoy the most? Peter Kreeft spoke about one of his sports teams in baseball he likes once and said sometimes he worries he’s more of a fan of them than he is a fan of Jesus. How many of us could say likewise? How many of us follow our favorite sports team with more devotion and excitement than Jesus. Now some of you might call foul (pun intended) on me in this saying that you know I’m not a sports fan. Fair enough. Could I be more interested in a game I am playing at the time? Could I be more interested in a TV series I am watching at the time? Unfortunately, looking at the state of my prayer life, I think I could often say that yes, some things are more appealing. Could it in fact sometimes be that the ministry of Jesus is more appealing than Jesus Himself?

To get back to judgment, some of us will read and say, “Yes. I know I need to get things right, but judgment is off in the distance.”

For some people in Chattanooga, judgment came suddenly yesterday. I am not saying that their deaths was God’s judgment on them. Not at all. I am saying that they woke up yesterday morning I’m sure thinking they had the rest of their lives ahead of them. They had time to do things they meant to do. They had time to tell their loved ones that they loved them. They had time to play with the kids later on. They had time to show their spouse how much they appreciated them.

But they didn’t.

Before the day was over, they unexpectedly stepped into eternity.

And what guarantee do you have that the same won’t happen to you today?

We often look at our world and wonder how it got the way that it did. The idea of redefining marriage would have been unthinkable decades ago. Now it’s normative to most people. We can actually rip apart a baby in the womb and have people that will defend and celebrate it. Many of the things we were sure would never happen have in fact happened and as I tell people as an apologist, it really blows my mind the things that I have to defend today because I never would have dreamed someone could think otherwise.

This did not happen because the world did what the world does.

This happened because the church did not do what the church is supposed to do.

Do we really think this would have happened if we were taking the claims of Christ seriously? Do we really think this would have happened if we had properly informed ourselves on our worldview? Do we really think this would have happened if the church had more consistently lived what it believed? No. The blame falls on our heads for not doing the job of standing up and contending for the faith and we will be called to judgment for that.

In fact, we often talk about caring for the poor in Christianity. You know who’s job that is in Christianity? Yours. It is not the job of the government to take care of the poor. It is the job of the church to do that and the reason the church is having such a hard time is we decided to ask Caesar for his help. Do we really think that Christ is so weak and incapable that His church would need the help of Caesar to do what He had told them to do? The sad reality is yes, yes we do in fact think that. We can know we think that because that is in fact what we did.

Please also understand I am not going hard on everyone else and ignoring myself in all of this. I do take a serious look at myself and ask if I’m doing all that I could be. Of course, we can all always do more. None of us will live perfectly, but if I really do think God can help me in my struggle with sin, that He can empower me to live a holy life, that eternity of bliss with Him is the best thing that can possibly be, and that He will be my judge one day, I should take it seriously. If I believe the Bible is from Him and the commands in there are true, I should take that seriously.

Am I? Good question.

Are you? Also a good question.

Think about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/14/2015: Jerry Walls

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

Awhile back, I reviewed the book Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. As it stands, I interviewed Dr. Walls on this book last Monday. That interview will be being worked on and will come out hopefully on Saturday. We spent about forty minutes on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory each. If you don’t know who Dr. Walls is, let me tell you some about him.

Jerry Walls

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).

I should also point out that I found out that Dr. Walls and his son (Who has written an excellent book on the Legend of Zelda) are big tea drinkers and so that definitely shows that they’re on the path of righteousness.

We started with talk about Heaven and the question we had to ask was if Heaven was boring. That was where we started. Why is it that we do not celebrate the idea of Heaven? Why is it that there is just not a lot of appeal to the topic? We talked about how our view of God affects our view of Heaven and how our view of this current world does that as well. It really does make a difference if you have a false view of creation. If all you have is a sort of pie-in-the-sky by and by mindset where you will just fly away, you will not take this world seriously nor the idea that God is really going to redeem this world.

What about Hell? We did ask the hard questions. If God knows what it will take to make me believe, why does He not just do that? What about the question of those who have never heard? Why not go with the idea that God annihilates us in the end instead? How can it possibly be that anyone will be in Heaven if they know that there will be loved ones suffering forever in Hell? These are all hard questions, but Dr. Walls was willing to take them on.

Finally, we got to Purgatory. This was an interesting one. Dr. Walls is not a Catholic, but yet thinks we should try to reclaim this doctrine. We talked about the idea of post-mortem evangelism and we also talked about the importance of sanctification. How does this tie in with the Great Commission? If there is a chance that God will reach people without our activity and even after death, does that change our motivation?

You might not agree with all Dr. Walls says, but you can be sure it will leave you thinking. This was an astounding interview and I hope you’ll listen for it when it comes out.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

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

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters