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

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: 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