Deeper Waters Podcast 10/27/2018: Doug Beaumont and Jefrey Breshears

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

A little over 500 years ago, Martin Luther put up his 95 theses and after that, the world has never been the same. A rift was eventually created unlike any before. The Catholic Church had dealt with opposition, but due to the printing press, this one lasted with the ideas being broadcast far and wide.

In the aftermath, both sides hardly came together and started asking “Why can’t we be friends?” Instead, both sides have been guilty in the past have handling things in a less than Christlike way. Namely, killing each other. Wars would take place with Protestants and Catholics both being on the run.

Today, things are different. Many of us will happily work alongside one another. While for the most part, most of us do see the other side as fellow Christians, there are still areas of disagreement. We can all be benefitted by good discussions about what those disagreements are and how to handle them. Is the Catholic Church the church that Jesus established? Or do the Protestants have it right and the teaching of Scripture is the only infallible authority the church has?

To discuss this, I have a show coming up with a Catholic and a Protestant. Doug Beaumont, a former professor of mine at SES turned Catholic will represent the Catholics. Jefrey Breshears, founder of the Areopagus here in Atlanta will represent the Protestants.

So who are they?

According to his bio:

Douglas Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in theology from North-West University and an M.A. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, where he taught for several years before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church. He has since appeared on The Journey Home and Catholic Answers Live, and has been interviewed by The National Catholic Register, EWTN, Relevant Radio, and The Patrick Coffin Show. He is the author of Evangelical Exodus and The Message Behind the Movie, has contributed to Bumper Sticker Catholicism, The Best Catholic Writing, The Apologetics Study Bible for Students, and the Christian Apologetics Journal, and has written online articles for Catholic Answers Magazine, Strange Notions, and Catholic World Report. He can be found online at douglasbeaumont.com.

And for Jefrey Breshears

According to his bio:

I received my Ph.D. in history from Georgia State University, specializing in two fields: (1) Ancient history, philosophy and religion; and (2) modern United States history. I also taught for 15 years at Georgia State and Kennesaw State University, and also at Atlanta Christian College and Reformed Theological Seminary, during which time I taught courses in ancient and medieval history, early and modern U.S. history, and political history.  I also developed a course entitled “American History Off the Record: Social and Political Themes in Popular Music from World War I Through the 1970s.”  In 2003 I founded the Areopagus, a Christian education organization in the Atlanta area that offers semester-length seminar courses and forums on topics related to Christian history, apologetics, contemplative Christian spirituality, literature and the arts, and contemporary cultural issues.

Having done some recent research on this topic, I am looking forward to having two people who have studied this more than I have come on and discuss the matter. I also hope this discussion will produce more light than heat. Be watching for the next episode and please consider leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Eastern Orthodox Christianity – A Western Perspective

What do I think of Daniel Clendenin’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’d like to thank Dr. Clendenin for sending me the two books he has on this topic. I hope before too long to get to the second one. This one is the perspective and the other is the reader.

Clendenin states his case first by explaining Eastern Orthodoxy. He does this from the perspective of a Western Protestant who had to do some long-term work in Russia. Here in America, normally, most Christians are Protestants. In Russia, the situation appears to be that most are Orthodox.

The first chapter is actually a defense of Orthodoxy. This is most likely written to help explain people like Franky Schaeffer and Peter Gillquist. For those concerned by those names together, Clendenin does not put them on the same level. In the last chapter, for instance, he says we need to listen more to the Timothy Wares and Thomas Odens than to the Frank Schaeffers.

Many of us from the Protestant perspective put Orthodox on the same level as Catholics. The paradox is that they often do the same with us. I believe Clendenin is wanting us to see that we’re all Christians.

There are some problematic statements. We can include the idea on p. 30 that Orthodoxy makes the strongest claim to unbroken apostolic succession and that the idea of salvation outside of its church is a questionable assumption. It’s only natural that many outside the church will look with suspicion on a claim like this, especially since Orthodoxy is really a minority position in the world and if Clendenin is right, is dwindling.

Clendenin then goes into the doctrine of God. In the West, we often have our theology laid out in a systematic way. Not so in the East where it looks like personal experience is much more relevant and that God is known in mystery. The main idea is actually that we know more what God is not. There is some of this in the West, but the idea is quite different to our ears.

The section on icons is quite interesting. There’s a brief look at the debate on icons. I was surprised to hear that for the first 300 years or so, icons weren’t supported in the church. Naturally, one cannot read all through the church fathers immediately and see, but I did get out my Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs and look up icons, which pointed me to art and images. Looking up images, I found that that does seem to be the case.

Still, I think those in support of icons had the best arguments Biblically. I just think that going with history and tradition, the iconoclasts had the better argument. Naturally, I go with Scripture the most. That being said, I understand the concerns about the possibility of idolatry. It is a danger those in Eastern traditions need to be concerned about. I have been in services that were arranged to celebrate the coming of an icon and it does concern me to see that happening.

There’s also an interesting juxtaposition. When the iconoclasts were in charge, they tried to destroy icons. When the other side was, they tried to destroy the writings of the iconoclasts. If only we could go back and tell Christians to not destroy their material or even the material of their pagan opponents. We could learn so much that way.

Next comes Scripture and tradition, which is always a touchy issue. Clendenin argues that it’s not an either/or. It’s more which conception of tradition do we go with. A Protestant like myself wants to know how a tradition can be shown to A) come from the apostles and B) be shown to be true. We don’t reject all of them. I think there’s good basis for thinking Mark is the testimony of Peter. That’s not on the same level as, say, the nature of the Eucharist. One is a historical claim. One is a metaphysical claim.

At the same time, we in the West need to be mindful of tradition. The Reformers would agree with this saying that all must be interpreted according to the rule of faith and they were quite eager to go to the Patristics. We can’t consider the church fathers infallible, especially since they disagreed on some issues, but we don’t need to disregard them entirely.

There’s a section on theosis, but I think I’d really like to get to the part on the hermeneutic of love. In this, Clendenin wants to look at how we can all get along. Still, he has some critiques of the system as a whole.

Protestants need to be open to the idea as many of us still use artwork. When I used to get pastoral counseling at a church, sometimes I would get there early and I would go to a room for private prayer. Honestly, artwork rarely moves me. I’m just not that type of person, but there was a stained glass portrait of Jesus with a shepherd’s staff knocking gently on a door. I always liked that painting.

Yet on the other side, Orthodoxy has a hurdle to say that icons are mandatory. The use of icons enjoyed less than universal acceptance in the early church. Does it really help the cause of unity to have statements about those who reject icons being heretics?

It’s also worth pointing out that when God gave us a communication of Himself for future generations, it was in a book. The Old Testament has them and the New Testament as well. It was not in icons. While icons can help us think about events in the Gospels, they can’t fully pass on the Gospel message.

When it comes to Scripture and tradition, it is pointed out that Scripture was canonized and not a tradition. Tradition is good to have, but some traditions could detract from Scripture. A tradition being old does not equal true nor does a tradition having wide support from the Patristics equal that.

Clendenin points out the church fathers were not monolithic and Orthodoxy could benefit from a critical eye looking at them and weighing them out. On the other hand, if the Orthodox depend too heavily on the fathers, Protestants depend too little. We could bear to go back and see the history of the doctrines we believe.

Where do we go from here? Clendenin does present some concerns. When there is a call for dialogue between Orthodox and Protestants, it has been the Protestants mainly who have been initiating. Protestants tend to get an idea that they are less than welcome at the table as it were.

He also quotes Weber who says “Successionists must be highly selective and ignore all evidence to the contrary. They must also maintain an idealized and naive view of the past. In the end, successionism is based on one’s theology or ideology, not on any critical historical analysis.” Clendenin follows with, “I believe that Orthodoxy’s historical claim to unbroken apostolic succession is just that; it is a theological claim that is, ironically, uncritically unhistorical.”

He also argues that when you look at worship talked about in the New Testament, it’s often descriptive and not prescriptive. How many of us have services like in 1 Corinthians where one person stands up to speak and then another stands up to speak? The Lord’s Supper I think was done extremely differently. One would think if the main issue was over the meaning of the words Jesus said, Paul would clarify that. Instead, Paul asks us to examine ourselves. I don’t think it’s so much getting a theology right as making sure our hearts are right.

The liturgy is no doubt moving and beautiful to some, but to others, it is not. Some will be helped on the path of discipleship. Some will not. Clendenin gives two examples. Ed Rommen was a Protestant turned Orthodox because of the beauty of the liturgy. James Stamoolis was an Orthodox who became an evangelical Protestant because the liturgy was deeply unsatisfying. Perhaps it’s not a question of one being right and one being wrong, although that could be there, but a point more of different styles of worship connecting with different people. My wife is drawn in more by aesthetics and music, for example. I am more drawn in by ideas. To each their own.

Clendenin’s book is a great work. I think many Orthodox could read it and not have a problem with it and hopefully at the end with the criticisms and concerns say, “Thanks. We’ll keep that in mind.” It would be good also to see more Orthodox willing to study Protestantism and why we believe what we believe.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Mary for Evangelicals

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

Mary is often a controversial topic for Protestants? Why? We see what the Orthodox and the Catholics do and while I agree it is over the top, we can go too far in the opposite direction. Protestants don’t really have much of a position on Mary other than “We disagree with Catholics and Orthodox.” Protestants like myself need to really learn how to view Mary.

Fortunately, Tim Perry has written an excellent book on that topic. One who reads this book will have to agree that it is thorough. Perry goes from Paul to the Gospels to the early church, the medieval church, to the Reformation, and finally to our own time. Of course, not everything can be covered, but major highlights in the timeline will be.

Perry also works on sticking with what the sources say and presenting differing viewpoints where relevant. We could say that for Protestants, usually Mary shows up at Christmas and then is rushed off of the scene so we can move on to other aspects of the life of Jesus. This could be the case for the Gospels. Mark presents Mary in a section alongside of Jesus’s opponents where she and the family are well-meaning opponents, but still acting as opponents. If all we had was John, we wouldn’t even know Mary’s name.

Going through church history, we start with the early fathers and see the impact of the Protoevangelium of James on the early church. Many did believe it to be a true report, though thankfully some were skeptical. At times, it looks like the early church decided to fill in some missing gaps (Much like many of think needs to be done with the childhood of Jesus) and those explanations can be seen as accurate not because they’re shown to be, but because they’re thought to be fitting of what God would do.

When you get to the Middle Ages, you get to a time that seems to have really stretched. You will have feasts that are done to honor the conception of Mary. This is a good entry to prepare us for the Reformation period.

Here, you have Luther and others who at the start are not opposed to Marian devotions. Later on, this seems to change as appeals to Mary and the saints are often seen as being practices that easily lead to idolatry and less honor being given to Jesus. I can easily say I share these concerns.

As we get to the modern era, we start seeing different looks at Mary. There are feminist looks that think that Mary is too unrealistic for a woman to relate to. There is liberation theology that looks at her as an example of the poor standing up against the rich. While many of us would not agree with a feminist or liberation theology approach, we can agree that Mary’s being a woman needs to be seriously remembered and realize that she was someone who was poor and yet gave a magnificat challenging Herod and Caesar.

Perry at the end gives us his own Mariology. I do think he is too quick to agree with the perpetual virginity of Mary. I don’t think there’s any real basis for this in the Gospels as I think it’s best to treat the brothers of Jesus at face value as brothers. I also think it’s important to look at Josephus’s testimony here who regularly could easily differentiate between cousins and brothers.

He is open to praying to Mary and treating her as a sort of co-redeemer, though I still am suspicious of each of these. I do get concerned about trying to contact those on the other side of the curtain as it were since I don’t see this as a recommended practice in Scripture. I think Perry would probably agree with me that if this cannot be done in good conscience by a Christian, then it should not be done.

This is a good book to read on the importance of understanding Mary. Whether one agrees or disagrees, they will walk away with a greater appreciation of Mary. While we have many disagreements between us, Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox should all agree that Mary is certainly a very important woman in salvation history and be thankful for what she did for us in being the mother of our Lord.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Light From The Christian East

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

This book is a Protestant look at the movement of Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodox readers might be suspicious at first, but they shouldn’t be. If anything, one could say not that Payton is too critical, but that he isn’t critical enough. In my talking with him, I honestly just asked him “Why aren’t you Orthodox?” I’m not, of course, but the book can seem so gushing at times I couldn’t help but wonder why he isn’t.

The work is largely a work of wanting to be ecumenical, which it succeeds at. Payton takes us through many aspects of the way that worship is done in the church and how it differs from many Western perspectives. He answers questions about their worship style. The work is largely aimed toward Protestants.

Questions center around what is the church, how do Orthodox people pray, and what’s with all the icons? Many Protestants who go to an Orthodox service will walk away wondering what was going on. My wife goes in and sees something that she thinks is beautiful. I am sure she does, but I am one who doesn’t really get the same pull at all.

Along the way, the reader will get a lot of history. One might think that 1054, the year of the great schism is the most important year in differing between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Not so. 1204 is far more important when the Western church refused to help the Orthodox Church during the Crusades. The reader will also learn a lot about the iconoclast controversy.

An aspect that seems to come out repeatedly is that the West and the East are both asking different questions and getting different answers. We in the West do tend to take a much more academic approach to Christianity. The East seems to take a much more mystical approach where the idea of Orthodoxy is thought to be intuitive.

I understand Payton wanted to write something ecumenical, but I did often wish he could have highlighted why he thinks the way he does. Why is he not Orthodox? He does say he has his own criticisms of the Orthodox Church. I would have liked to have seen them. There is nothing inherently wrong with a good critique after all and it can be a way that iron sharpens iron.

I would have also liked to have seen more on aspects of Orthodoxy I do find troubling. I have a problem when it comes to the Mariology and the treatment of the saints, practices that I do not find any Biblical basis for. The idea of how those outside the church are seen can be problematic. I remember reading on an Orthodox web site put out by the Orthodox Church about Protestants being heretics. How serious is this? Are we placed outside of the Christian faith according to the Orthodox? I do find it troubling since I think we should all be able to name what the Gospel is and who all is believing it or not.

I also wonder when we talk about Western and Eastern if it’s so much the denomination as it is the culture. What could we see in an Eastern Protestant Church? Do Orthodox Churches in the West have many of the same problems that can be found in Western culture?

Still, those wanting a good introduction will be benefited by this book and it’s not just me saying this. I have even seen this book for sale at an Orthodox cathedral during a Greek festival event. If the Orthodox can think it’s an accurate enough description of their faith, I think a Protestant can read it without problem.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/6/2018: Orthodoxy and Protestantism

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

This month is the month that the Reformation took place in history. This is an event in history that changed Christianity greatly. Many people grow up thinking that if you’re not Catholic, then you’re Protestant. This means that they forget about the other pathway of Orthodoxy.

Readers of this blog know that I am not Orthodox. I have read on it and done writing on why I disagree, but I am always for people exploring questions. What better way to explore than have both sides come together and discuss what they agree on and what they disagree on and how Protestant and Orthodox relations can move on from here?

To do this, I first asked the priest at the church Allie and I have been attending if he would come on to talk about Orthodoxy. Who to have discuss on the other side? I searched for awhile and asked a number of people and eventually found that Dr. James Payton would take on the task.

So who are these men?

Dr. Payton:

According to his bio:

B.A. (Religion), 1969 — Bob Jones University
M.A. (Theology), 1971 — Bob Jones University
M.Div., 1975 — Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)
Th.M. (Historical theology), 1975 — Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)
Ph.D. (Intellectual History of Early Modern Europe [2nd field: Late Medieval Political and Ecclesiastical History]) — University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario)
8 years as a pastor (1977-1985)
30 years as a history professor (1985-2015) at Redeemer University College (Ancaster, Ontario)
— now, Professor Emeritus of History (Redeemer University College)
And Father Barnabas Powell:

According to his bio:

Fr. Barnabas (Charles) Powell is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. Having been raised in a small Pentecostal church as a boy, Barnabas grew to love the church, enjoy the music, and eventually came to be the youth pastor of his home church.

Barnabas attended Toccoa Falls College, an Evangelical Protestant school in North East Georgia, and received his theology degree there in 1988. He then went on to establish a new church in the Atlanta area. While pastoring, Barnabas also was heavily involved with Evangelical Christian media. He served Dr. Charles Stanley’s In Touch Ministries as Promotions and Public Relations coordinator, and also served as the Affiliates manager for Leading The Way Ministries with Dr. Michael Youssef.

Barnabas became interested in the history of the Church, and began a reading program that would eventually lead him to enter the Orthodoxy. Several of the families that had been with him during his pastorate entered the Orthodox Christian Church together in November of 2001.

Barnabas joined the staff of Orthodox Christian Network, the producers of Come Receive The Light, in April of 2003, and now serves the media outreach as the director of development. Orthodox Christian Network is the SCOBA Agency commissioned to create and sustain a national media outreach for the Orthodox Christian Churches in the U.S.

In 2007 Barnabas was given the blessing of Metropolitan ALEXIOS of Atlanta to enter Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.

On November 8th 2009, Barnabas was ordained to the diaconate in his home town of Atlanta, GA at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral by His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios and on Sunday March 8, 2010, Barnabas was ordained to the holy priesthood at the same cathedral. He is now the proistamenos (senior pastor) of Sts. Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene Greek Orthodox Church in Cumming, GA.

Fr. Barnabas founded Faith Encouraged Ministries in 2014 and is the host of Faith Encouraged LIVE on Ancient Faith Radio. He also produces the Monday thru Friday Devotional called Faith Encouraged Daily.

Fr. Barnabas is particularly motivated by the beauty and timelessness of our Orthodox Christian faith and strives to see this timeless faith put down deep roots here in America. The Orthodox Christian faith is uniquely suited to quench the spiritual thirst of Americans from all backgrounds with the depth and beauty of our Orthodox faith.

Ultimately, Fr. Barnabas believes that Orthodoxy is the path to both spiritual renewal in our Orthodox homes and the path for all believers to spiritual maturity.

This is already agreed to not be a debate, but a discussion. We will discussing what unites us and what we disagree on and how we can move on from there. What should Protestant and Orthodox relations be like in the future? What can we learn from one another?

I hope you’ll be listening. Please also be sharing our work and go on iTunes and leave a positive review for the Deeper Waters Podcast with Nick Peters. I love to see them!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

What do I think of Andrew Stephen Damick’s book published by Conciliar Media Ministries? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Damick’s work is the one that I have seen that is most apologetic in the area of Orthodoxy. Damick interacts with other religious beliefs and tries to treat them as fairly as he can. There are many aspects of his criticisms that I would agree with, but overall, I still remain unconvinced about the truth of Orthodoxy.

For instance, on pp. 118-119, Damick speaks about an anti-intellectual tradition in many Protestant churches today. In these churches, if you don’t go to Bible College or Seminary, that’s a mark in your favor. I have encountered this way too many times.

There are many times Damick will criticize attitudes he sees in Protestantism and many times I agree with him. I agree with the problem of so many people claiming that they hear from the Holy Spirit. I agree that these people are really setting themselves up as infallible because, hey, the Holy Spirit told them otherwise.

One area about Damick’s work that does concern me is how much time is spent criticizing Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and then there’s one chapter on other religions. I would think that we should be more concerned about these other religions than other religions that I think are still within the fold of Christianity. There are about 100 pages+ plus on Protestantism and about 20 or so on other religions.

On p. 65, he starts talking about Sola Scriptura, he never really defines what it is. The problem is apparently every believer becomes authoritative in interpreting the Scripture. Yes and no. Some people do have more validity than others. Joe Blow down the street who has never read a book outside the Bible or the professor of NT Greek at the seminary down the street both have an interpretation but all things being equal, the professor’s interpretation should have more weight.

What we do with this is that we can discuss what we read in the Scripture. How do we know what the text of Scripture means? How do we know what the text of any work means? We have to study it and understand any surrounding context and if needed look at the original languages.

Damick also says that Sola Scriptura is the rejection of tradition, but this is false. It is simply the saying that Scripture is the final authority and it alone is the infallible message from God that we have. We have no problem with tradition as tradition. I have no problem with the tradition of the Trinity, because I see that abundantly in Scripture.

Now consider traditions like praying to the saints and the Marian viewpoints. I cannot see those in Scripture, so I look at them with Scripture. If they don’t measure up, then I reject them. If there is some other evidence they’re reliable, I’m open.

What about academia? Damick tells us scholarship is in disarray, and indeed it is, but some scholarship is better than others and I contend the scholarship in favor of Christianity is better. Damick then asks what happens with the next archaeological finding or manuscript variant? Do we have to revolutionize our understanding of Christianity?

Indeed we might have to. If the evidence is against Christianity or showing that it’s wrong, then we should abandon it. Damick is here showing some anti-intellectualism that he has condemned. I have no fear of research going on into Christianity because I am convinced that Christianity is true and will last.

On p. 81, Damick tells us the only way to make sure you’re reading the text correctly is to do so in the tradition of the apostles. The question now becomes how can we know this? How can Damick be sure that this is accurate? The Catholics say the same about the Magisterium. The Mormons say the same about the teachings of the Prophet. The Watchtower says the same about their publications.

All of this tells me that the text cannot be understood on its own. Why should I think this? Is there something about the text of the Scripture that is written differently than any other text? Are any of these groups giving us the academic insight of the scholarship into the social context of the Biblical world?

On p. 89 he talks about baptism and infant baptism. I am troubled by the usage of Mark 16:16 to make the case since I don’t think that’s authentic. I also think it’s a misusage to say “Let the little children come to me” from Jesus to justify infant baptism. It’s comparing apples to oranges.

On p. 95, he says “if sola scriptura means that all tradition and hierarchial authority are to be rejected and the Bible is to be read in an isolated manner, there can be no method by which theology is corrected and doctrinal orthodoxy maintained.” Yes. IF. Yet shouldn’t it be known if that’s what it means? If it doesn’t, then this is a straw man. I contend this is not Sola Scriptura and I find it troublesome that Danick is not clear on what it is.

On p. 108-109, Damick talks about faith. Damick doesn’t really speak about what faith is much. In the Biblical case, faith means trust in what has been shown to be reliable. Damick says that if you define it as absolute knowledge, you are not in the tradition of the apostles. However, there are times that this happens in the ancient world. Aristotle once used it to refer to a rhetorical proof.

On p. 110 in talking about salvation, Damick says it should be enough to give the words of Jesus. He who endures to the end will be saved. Both of these passages are talking about eschatology and soteriology and the survival of persecution. In Acts 27:31, during the storm while Paul is at sea he says to the centurion, unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.

Is Paul giving us a way of soteriology? Is Paul saying that the way to be saved is to get in a ship on a stormy sea and stay on board the whole time? No. He’s saying that they will not be spared from the storm if this happens. It is hard to say that you need to stay in the apostolic tradition to understand the Scripture when I see this kind of understanding going on.

We get the same when we come to John 6 and the passage about eating flesh and drinking blood. My contention is that many people are taking that passage far too literally. Jesus is comparing Himself to the manna in the wilderness. As the people there needed to depend on manna for their sustenance, so Jesus must be our sustenance.

On p. 155, Damick has been looking at groups many of us would call cults and asks that if Mary Baker Eddy is wrong, why is John Wesley Right? He lists several people like that. Why should we think one is right while the other is wrong? How about the same standard? Evidence?

Finally on p. 182, Damick tells us that the Church doesn’t have any learning to do because God has revealed Himself to them and by leading the apostles into all truth. I am unsure how to take this. Part of me is concerned that Damick could be saying learning is not needed anymore. Also, just because the immediate apostles were led into all truth, it doesn’t mean that thoes who were immediately after them have the same promise.

Another concern I have with Damick’s work is that I don’t see a defense of Orthodoxy really. The defense is assumed. I can’t say that the criticisms of Roman Catholicism are certain. They look fine to me, but I don’t know enough about Roman Catholicism to speak definitively.

Damick’s book is good in many of its criticisms, but I don’t see the strong case for Orthodoxy yet. To be fair, I don’t think he’s writing for that purpose and I think his intended audience is fellow Orthodox. I appreciate his learning and I think we could have a good conversation together, but I find some of his defenses lacking.

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: 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

 

What Is Not The Gospel

Do we make secondary issues the Gospel? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, I wrote about the topic of “What is the Gospel?” At this point, I think it’s important to answer what it is not. Now when I say the Gospel is not X, that does not mean that X is unimportant. X could be an issue worth studying on its own. It could even be something that is true. What I am saying is that we don’t want to marry it to the Gospel where that if X is not true, then we have no Christianity. So what are some things that the Gospel is not?

First, the Gospel is not inerrancy. Again, this does not mean that that is false, but it does mean that an error in the Bible does not mean we pack it all up and go home because Jesus did not rise from the dead. As I have said before, imagine going up to a skeptic. Their argument that Jesus didn’t rise? The Bible has errors in it. (This does happen. Someone like David McAfee in his book Disproving Christianity, which I have dealt with, argues against Christianity not by even touching the resurrection but by listing Bible contradictions.)

Suppose you respond to this person who has given you a web site of 101 Bible errors by going off and researching all of those errors and proving to your opponent’s satisfaction even that they are not errors. Will he convert? No. He’ll just go get another list of 101 errors. You will in turn be playing “Stump the Bible Scholar” over and over. In fact, you will STILL have to prove the resurrection lest he say that treating the resurrection as a fact is an error.

There are also plenty of devout Christians who do not believe in inerrancy. I disagree with them, but I don’t doubt their sincere love for Jesus. Of course, I am not opposed to Biblical reliability or anything like that, but the Bible is not an all-or-nothing game.

Creation is also not the Gospel. This is a big one in that we often think that unless the world was created in six literal days a few thousand years ago, then Christianity is false. Not for a moment. Someone still has to answer the question “What do you do with Jesus?” We all still have to explain the historical data surrounding Jesus.

Creation is a big one because so many ministries make their focus on creation. It’s as if if evolution were proven to be true, we would all be doomed. How would evolution show Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? The historical evidence is still right there. It still has to be explained somehow.

By the way, I mention young-earth creationism specifically because that’s usually the one this gets married to, but I would say the same if you married Christianity to old-earth creationism or to theistic evolution. Again, I am not saying don’t care about your view of creation or that it doesn’t matter. I’m just saying it’s not an essential.

Calvinism or Arminianism is not the Gospel. For the former, you can actually see a lot of Calvinists out there saying “Calvinism is the Gospel.” Well what does that mean for those of us who aren’t Calvinists? We don’t believe the Gospel then? Are we just second-rate Christians? What exactly?

Calvinism might explain how a person comes to believe, but how does that explain what happened to Jesus? It doesn’t. A Calvinist and an Arminian could use the exact same arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. Of course, I have many friends who are devout Calvinists and I have no wish to dissuade them from that, but I just caution them to please not marry it to the Gospel. Calvinists usually are the main ones doing this, but I’d say the same to Arminians and in fact to Molinists as well.

Eschatology is not the Gospel. Eschatology does have some tie-ins obviously with the resurrection, which is an eschatological event, but your view on eschatology is not the Gospel. This is probably the biggest one for me on the list because I am a staunch defender of orthodox Preterism. If I was shown to be wrong, I would have a hard time explaining a lot of passages, but my view of Jesus would still stand as far as the resurrection is concerned.

One exception I could make to this is the view that everything happened in 70 A.D. This position is problematic to me because I think in the end, it has to deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Our future resurrection is said to be like His bodily resurrection. If our resurrection is not bodily, then neither was His, and that’s a big problem. That means Jesus did not really conquer death. Note then the one exception I have is an exception because of what it says about the resurrection.

As far as I’m concerned, these are the biggest kinds of issues often concerned with what the Gospel is. When I meet someone and I want to know if they’re a follower of Jesus, I ask them about their view of Him. I look for what they think about Him. If they accept His deity, bodily resurrection, and His being the second person of the Trinity, I normally have no problem whatsoever. Now could some of them have a false view of how they are saved? Yes. Some Protestants for instance can have a works view of salvation. I don’t think that disqualifies them. They can be saved in their ignorance. It’s also why I’m not ready to cast out my Catholic or Orthodox brothers and sisters.

When it comes to defending Christianity and the Gospel then, the #1 thing to defend is Jesus rising from the dead. If that’s false, then let’s pack it up and go home. If it’s true, then we will find an answer for the secondary issues somewhere along the way and even if we don’t, we still have Christianity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters