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

 

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

Malachy and Modern End Times Hysteria

Is there cause for alarm with a new Pope? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

At the start, let me state that I am a Protestant. Furthermore, I am an orthodox Preterist in my eschatology, so if you asked me if the new Pope was the Antichrist, I would say he is obviously not. Whether he is antichrist (With a little a) or not is a different matter, but no. I do not see him as a great end-times figure.

Yet now that he has been declared the new Pope, much is being made of him in light of the prophecy of Malachy. Malachy supposedly predicted the last Popes and this one is supposed to be it. Add in that this is the first Pope that is a Jesuit and now all the conspiracy theories are coming out.

I find it fascinating that most of these are all supposed to take place within our lifetime. Generation after generation considers themselves to be the chosen generation. Despite how many end times predictions have been shown to be false and thus an embarrassment to the Christian faith, the guessing still goes on.

It’s also part of our present fixation. We must live in the time. We must be the chosen ones. Okay. You’re partially right. You are the chosen ones. It does not mean you are the chosen ones to be the last generation. It means you are the chosen ones to inherit the Kingdom of God. How you were chosen I will leave for others who actually really care about the whole Calvinism/Arminianism debate.

So while you are chosen to serve in the Kingdom and you should take that task seriously, it does not mean that you are in a time that is necessarily privileged. For the sake of argument, you could live in that time. It could be Christ will return in this generation. If He does, it will not happen because it was your generation. It will not happen because of you. It will be because of Him.

Could this be a symptom of our great fixation on ourselves? For instance, when we are growing up, many of us have a belief that somehow, we will never die. Could that be changed into the idea that God Himself will intervene with the rapture or the return of Christ so He can make sure that we never die? Of course, He could do that, but if done, it isn’t just because God wants to help you avoid some discomfort.

The great danger with the latest in modern end-times hysteria is that those who do this based on a prophecy are then saying that the prophecy is from God. If the prophecy does not come true, what is the conclusion? Whatever it is, and there are several possibilities, it does not bode well for God.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of those groups that has had several end-times predictions. When they have failed, people have left the Watchtower organization. Okay. That’s good. Unfortunately, a lot of them do not become Christians but rather atheists and agnostics. When Christians make failed predictions, a lot of people will leave Christianity seeing as God is shown to not be reliable.

Also, fundy atheists online will have a heyday with such a thing. Already, I receive countless reminders that there’s a group called Westboro Baptist Church. (No! Really?!) Bart Ehrman makes much of false predictions in “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.” Of course, I think the big problem is how he interpreters prophetic passages.

Now if you are a futurist, you have the freedom to believe this Pope is the Antichrist. By all means go ahead, just be careful about making a prediction based on it. Why? Because that is to claim what God is saying and if you say “God says” when God has not said, it is an action He takes very seriously. How seriously? Well in the Old Covenant, you could get put to death for it. That’s quite serious.

Remember, according to James 3:1, if you are a teacher, you will be held to greater accountability. As for bringing about the end times, I only know of one passage that can be read that way and that’s in 2 Peter 3.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives

12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.

What I gather from this is that if you want to bring about the return of Christ, then live holy and godly lives. This is what you should be doing anyway. It’s my thinking that if we want Christ to return, then we need to do what He told us to do. That is to fulfill the Great Commission. We are not told to breed red cows or build temples or study medieval prophets. We are told to live holy and godly lives. We are told to do the Great Commission.

Why not do what we’re told instead of doing what we’re not told to do?

In Christ,
Nick Peters