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

 

Apostles Creed: The Holy Catholic Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Nick Peters