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

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/13/2018: Glenn Sunshine

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

Just over 500 years ago this month, the Reformation started which shook the world, and not just the Christian world. There is much debate about this event. Was it a good thing? Was it a bad thing? Why was it done?

This month on the Deeper Waters Podcast, we are focusing on these kinds of questions. This one obviously is rooted in history. How shall we approach it? Many of us don’t know much about what the world was like 500 years ago. Just as in studying the world of the Bible, we need to know what the world was like at the time of the Reformation to better understand the dynamics.

To discuss this, I have decided to bring on a historian of the Reformation. I have seen this person do some debating and I was quite impressed with what I saw. It is my hope that he will be able to shed some light on this event for us and help us better understand what it was and how it shapes our world today. His name is Glenn Sunshine.

So who is he?

Glenn got his B.A. from Michigan State University in 1980 in linguistics with high honors. He got his Masters at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1985 in church history graduating Summa Cum Laude, another M.A. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1987 in Renaissance/Reformation history and his Ph.D. in 1992 from the same place in the same subject.

So what did happen in the Reformation? Is this where a new church rose up that was completely cut off from the old? Did the Reformers decide to just get rid of everything and ignore all of the tradition of the past? Did the Reformers originally even intend to break away from the Catholic Church?

How about relations with the Eastern Church? What role did those play? We often forget that there is a third major block of the Christian church.

Did the church really need reform? Would even Catholics think that the church had issues at the time that needed to be addressed? If so, what really led to the events happening that were so dynamic that several people moved away from the Catholic Church and before too long, you had several other churches showing up?

How are we to approach figures like Martin Luther? Sure, he did a lot to reform the church, but didn’t he leave a lot of blotches behind, such as anti-semitism? Was he accurate in what he said and would any of his opponents have conceded that?

Finally, how has the Reformation affected us today? What are the positives? What are the negatives? How are we to be Christians in a post-Reformation culture?

These are the kinds of questions I plan to ask. I can’t guarantee I’ll get to all and there will be new ones rise up, but it will be great to talk about this with a professor of Reformation history. I hope you’ll be listening and please consider going on iTunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

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

The Denominations Myth

How many denominations are there? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Have you ever heard the claim about how many denominations there are in Protestantism? This is used by people in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and even atheists and agnostics. The former against Protestantism and the latter against Christianity. How can anyone take Christianity seriously when there are so many different groups?

The number is often exaggerated and without looking at the source for it. Any high number should be viewed with suspicion, especially if it goes into the tens of thousands. Still, this claim is not without some evidence behind it and even this from a valid source.

If you look at The World Encyclopedia of Christianity you will find that it does indeed say there are over 30,000 denominations. Well, time to pack it up and go home. After all, we’re way too divided if that’s the case.

While there is some division, it is not as much as one would think at a closer look. The division is into six major ecclesiastical blocks. It’s strange how that isn’t the first position cited. Actually, no. No, it’s not. Many people wanting to use arguments without checking their source thoroughly will go with something that falls along their biases. We are all guilty of this tendency and we must all check ourselves.

This is a list of these kinds of groups. If you look, you will find that Orthodoxy and Catholicism both have a number of denominations listed in them. This is based on the kinds of rites that they follow. It’s doubtful whether any practitioner of these traditions thinks that these all count as different denominations.

Some denominations are also based on a particular need. Consider the case of a Korean church for instance. They want a church that speaks their language and understands their culture. Their beliefs could be identical to the Baptist church down the street in terms of doctrine, but they would still be another denomination.

Also, consider that in a city like mine, Atlanta, you could have churches in different areas that are independent Baptist. These are not tied to a hierarchial order. Suppose they all have the same beliefs doctrinally, but they are far apart because this is a big city and not everyone wants to drive fifty miles or however much it is to get to church. Each of these would count as one denomination.

Someone might say, “Well, Nick. Of course, you’re going to say this. You’re a Protestant.” Fair enough, but first off, that doesn’t deal with the evidence I present. Second, it doesn’t deal with the fact that a Roman Catholic writer also recognizes the problem. Does this show that Catholicism or Orthodoxy are incorrect? Not at all. It does show that this is a bad argument for their position, just as there are bad arguments for Christianity, Protestantism, Sola Scriptura, and any other position.

For a humorous look at this, I recommend also the video my ministry partner, J.P. Holding made.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Cult of the Saints

What do I think of Peter Brown’s book published by University of Chicago Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

I got Peter Brown’s book in an attempt to try to further understand the treatment of saints in church history. How is it that the treatment of the saints that we have today came about? Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of Brown’s book looking at that.

Brown instead focuses greatly on a kind of two-tiered system. Heaven and Earth were seen as boundary markers and the two were quite separate. This could be a clue still to how the movement came about. It wasn’t the saints in Heaven that were often thought to bring the blessings, but rather it was the bodies of the saints on Earth. One would visit the tomb of the saint instead and his body was supposed to bring blessings. (Why else would there be relics that were supposed to be body parts of the saints?)

This could also have come about perhaps from the idea of the need of intermediaries. Jesus can seem too great to approach and obviously, one cannot go to another god since Paul already explained for us that there aren’t any. While some Christians prayed to angels, perhaps even they were too great. What about another human mediator? What about the dead saint in Jesus who died? Could we not go to him?

While many of us could quote Scripture on how we can boldly approach the throne of grace and such, that does not mean much if the average layman is not able to read those books. Again, much of this is speculation on my part. Brown doesn’t spend much time on this kind of question as he does on the interactions that took place.

There are accounts also of miracles that took place at these locations. These extend to modern times as one can see from reading the work of Craig Keener, but I don’t really see this as a proof since many miracles take place in Protestant evangelism. Beyond that, there are also reports of miracles in other religions. It is fine to think the true religion can express itself in miracles, but as the Old Testament even warns, miracles alone are not the sign of the true religion.

Another warning to the reader is that many parts of the book that contain quotations can have those quotations in another language. Sadly at times, these quotations do not come with translations so if you do not speak the language, then you are stuck without knowing what it means. Perhaps you could use a Google Translator or something of that sort, but few of us will take the time to do something like that.

Brown’s book is relatively short, but it is packed with scholarship. The content is a little over 100 pages, but the notes section is still quite lengthy which is something I like. I always want to go and see how well the author has interacted with material and constant interaction is a good sign to me.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evangelical Exodus

What do I think of Doug Beaumont and Francis Beckwith’s book published by Ignatius Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This book is the story of several people who graduated from Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) and went on to become Catholics. I attended SES, but due to the situation with Geisler going after Mike Licona, who became my father-in-law while I was there, I never graduated. I chose to leave first.

That’s one reason I am very hesitant to write this review. I don’t know everyone in the book, but some I do know and I consider friends. I have my criticisms of their arguments, but I do not wish to diminish friendship at all.

Let’s state something at the beginning. This book argues against Protestantism, but I would not classify it as anti-Protestant because Beaumont and others speaking in the book still say that Protestants are Christians. I, meanwhile, work happily with many Catholics and have no problem seeing them as Christians. We have some substantial issues however and those are worth discussing.

Doug Beaumont’s story is the first one. One key theme throughout the book that shows up in his story is, “How do we know our interpretation is correct?” Unfortunately, I think such a question is not a good one to ask. There can be reason to doubt anything. What needs to be asked is “Is my interpretation an informed interpretation?” If someone then wants to say “Well how do you know it’s correct?” I would just ask for a good argument against it to show that I am wrong.

Something sad in the chapter also was Beaumont speaking about the church of the Seminary falling apart. I was a part of that church and I saw it fall apart. Sadly, in both cases I think what happened with Geisler played a part. The Geisler attack on Licona was a major issue at SES and Geisler I think holds a lot of blame for students abandoning evangelicalism.

I was also disappointed when I read about Beaumont doing his research for Geisler’s systematic theology book. When it came to views on ecclesiology and eschatology, Beaumont had to get quotes that matched Geisler’s view from the Church Fathers. Good luck. Beaumont says he just did a word search and picked quotations that sounded like they could support his view and hoped they weren’t out of context. It would have been far better just to say the support isn’t there.

I remember distinctly being disappointed by Volume 4 of Geisler’s Systematic Theology. I am an Orthodox Preterist. I was when I came to SES and I was when I left. I also did not hide this. When I filled out my application and I was asked views I disagreed with, I listed I was an Orthodox Preterist. I was asked to just not try to evangelize my views. I had no problem with that. When I worked in the library for a time, I was curious when students came in doing research on eschatology and saying they were critiquing Preterism. When I asked what they found about it and they listed objections, I just inwardly thought, “They really are missing it.”

It seems a shock to some contributors in the book to learn that the rapture is a 19th-century doctrine. Wasn’t one for me. I had known that for years. It looks like SES too often did not know church history well. I have come to realize an advantage I had going in as having debated these views for years on the internet and having to know them instantly.

From here, I wish to move on to Joshua Betancourt’s view. On p. 60 he talks about how Protestantism views God as a judge instead of a Father. I actually think this is accurate for many, but not all. The context group of scholarship has brought us the truth of honor/shame cultures and how to read the Bible in light of what the culture was. (By the way, shouldn’t this have been known according to Catholicism and Orthodoxy if this is the way to interpret the text? It seems like most often it’s Protestants making strides in Biblical scholarship.

With my view, the point is to see that we have dishonored God. It’s not the breaking of an abstract rule. It’s bringing disgrace on the person of God. I remember being in a Catholic church once and the priest delivering the sermon saying that the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus is something the Protestants have right. I think it’s something we have wrong. It highly individualizes Jesus and leaves out honor and shame.

Betancourt goes on to talk about suffering and says that only in the Catholic church do you find the practical value of suffering. I don’t see how that is since our Bibles tell us all to count it all joy in suffering and Romans 5 telling us about suffering and such. Should Protestants say more? Yes. Have we said nothing? No. Clay Jones’s book on suffering I think has excellent advice in this area.

Jeremiah Cowart next on p. 80 has several critiques of Protestantism. Where are the aesthetics and the liturgy? Where is the public confession of sins? Where is the real presence in the Eucharist? Etc. However, some of these could be begging the question in favor of Catholicism. Some of these could be beneficial for some people, but not all. If all ancient churches had liturgy, we have to ask why. Perhaps it was because people were illiterate and this is the best way they could get all of Scripture. For my purposes, I don’t find such things to really help me on the path of discipleship and would actually prefer a longer but relevant sermon. Some people are moved by sights of beauty there. That’s fine.

Brandon Dahm’s essay I honestly found the most concerning. At one point, he speaks about Lessing’s Ditch and how even if arguments could show the resurrection is likely true, that’s not enough to ground Christian faith. You need more than probably. Why? We do that everyday. We all drive places most everyday without KNOWING that we will get to our destinations safely, but expecting that we will so much so we tell others when we will arrive. We make appointments for the future not knowing that we will be there, but thinking that we will be there.

Furthermore, if the arguments are all there for the resurrection and the arguments against it are bad, then this is not a good reason to reject the resurrection. It also doesn’t undermine faith. Faith is not so much about that you believe but how you respond to what you believe. It’s an acting trust.

Dahm also says that you can’t get the creeds from Scripture so those are probable at best as well. This is something that seems to happen consistently. We cannot be certain of what the Scripture says, so go to authority. Question. How can you be certain you chose the right authority? Maybe the Orthodox have it right. Maybe the Mormons. Maybe the Watchtower.

As for the authority, what are their reasons? How did they get to that conclusion? Could they possibly be wrong? The exact same questions still apply. If the Magisterium wants to tell me how a text should be interpreted, I want to know why they think that. They could be right, but I want to know why first.

One of my biggest concerns came on p. 104-105 where Dahm says

When there was a question of doctrine or morals, I did not weigh the evidence on various sides and look for proof texts, but went to the Catechism first. At that point, I was still not convinced by the arguments for the Catholic side of one practical issue. I made a conscious decision to trust the Church, which was the first time I had done so on an issue with practical consequences that were not all desirable. It was freeing.

This kind of statement should concern everyone. To demonstrate why, let’s restate it and just change a few words.

When there was a question of doctrine or morals, I did not weigh the evidence on various sides and look for proof texts, but went to the Prophet first. At that point, I was still not convinced by the arguments for the Mormon side of one practical issue. I made a conscious decision to trust the Church, which was the first time I had done so on an issue with practical consequences that were not all desirable. It was freeing.

Or

When there was a question of doctrine or morals, I did not weigh the evidence on various sides and look for proof texts, but went to the Watchtower first. At that point, I was still not convinced by the arguments for the Jehovah’s Witness side of one practical issue. I made a conscious decision to trust the Organization, which was the first time I had done so on an issue with practical consequences that were not all desirable. It was freeing.

Excuse me if something like this does not concern me.

Dahm closes by saying that if you have not looked at his reasons and read what he has, which is good up to this point, or have not had the experiences he has had, then you should be slow to reject Catholicism. The experiences is the difficult part. He refers to praying the Rosary, living the Catholic life, going to the stations of the cross, etc.

So do you need to take the Hadj in order to be able to reject Islam? Do I need to move to Utah and wear the underwear to reject Mormonism? Naturally, if you start to live out a belief system, you will start to believe that system more and more. Has Dahm done this yet with these other systems? Is he being too quick to reject those?

And if someone wants to tell me the Mormon Church or an organization like that cannot be the ancient church, well tell that to the Mormon apologists. They say exactly that. Do I think they’re right? Of course not. It doesn’t change what they say.

Travis Johnson is next and birth control was a big issue for him. The early church universally condemned it. How can it be a matter of conscience today? Yet from what I’ve read of the early church, they also opposed sex for any reason other than procreation. If so, do we really want to take that side? Do we want to say that that’s how we should live? Good luck finding a married man who will go along with that one!

Also, when the early church fathers all have a view, I want to know why. What are their reasons? How good are the arguments. They were also premillennial, a position I think is highly lacking. Could it be that maybe sometimes Greek thinkers had a hard time reading a Jewish text?

In Michael Mason’s essay, I find much about the problem of division. Well, there’s plenty of division among Catholics. Catholic scholars do not agree on the text. There are even some Catholic New Testament scholars who think that Mary and Joseph did have other children together thus nullifying perpetual virginity. The appeal to authority just doesn’t cut it for me.

In Brian Mathews’s article, I am concerned that he had a degree from SES and yet had a hard time answering what the Gospel is. I don’t consider this the fault of Mathews so much as the fault of SES. What was being done exactly? I think too many came in who did not know apologetics well and were taught to defend one set of doctrines instead of coming to their own conclusions.

Mathews also says Aquinas believed in Apostolic Succession. Good for him. Why? What were his reasons? I love Aquinas, but I don’t think we have to agree with him or any Christian on everything. The arguments I see for apostolic succession are weak really. They are often based on Scriptures about traditions that do not give the content of those traditions but somehow, we’re supposed to know them in the tradition.

I want to give credit to Andrew Preslar for being the only writer I saw who brought up various scandals in the Catholic Church and what a blight they are on the Church. As I write this review, there is scandal over pedophilia in Ireland and Pennsylvania and people are calling for Francis’s resignation, including high-ranking bishops in the Catholic Church. Kudos to Preslar for owning up to this as a real problem.

Unfortunately, he then goes on to say that communion in the life Of Christ normally includes being in full communion with the Pope. Excuse me if I’m skeptical that having a good walk with Jesus requires being in communion with another man. Jesus is the one who determines the Church and not the Pope.

The most relevant sections are the appendices in the back. I won’t say everything. For instance, on justification, I am looking more at N.T. Wright’s view, but this is not a hill I’m ready to die on. Questions of canon are brought up frequently. This has never been a concern of mine. The books we accept have apostolic authority in coming from an apostle or the associate of an apostle, were first century works, and were accepted by the church at large.

If someone wants to ask me how I know the right ones were picked, I say I just trust that God oversaw it all just like the right words were produced in Scripture. I noticed that J.P. Holding says similar and was quoted, though he saw the quote when I told him and says he doesn’t go the way the Catholics go. I urge readers to read his Trusting The New Testament for more. If we are told the Catholics have the right answer, well why? What are their reasons?

Often it is said that we cannot know the authors of the Gospels apart from tradition. We can know some since there is both internal and external evidence for the Gospels, but there is a difference. Gospel authorship concerns questions of history which is how we determine authorship of all other anonymous ancient works. That is not on the same epistemic level as, say, the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

As for Sola Scriptura, I just take it to mean that whatever is true cannot contradict Scripture. It does not mean all traditions are false or are thrown out. We should, however, evaluate the traditions and see how reliable they are. If your historical claim starts in the 2nd or 3rd century and claims to go back to the beginning, excuse me if I’m skeptical.

Now if someone wants to try to show me that tradition is infallible, feel free to go ahead. Note a passage like 2 Thess. 2:15 doesn’t help UNLESS you can show that the traditions you teach are the traditions that they taught. After all, what happens when church fathers disagree or there are competing traditions. Who do I go with?

Also, in the final section, we are told about the minimal facts approach and told that if we lost all of Scripture, would we still have Christianity? Yes. Those things are found in church tradition. Problem. The minimal facts also is based on data that is early and accepted by critical scholars. Can these traditions be shown to be early and accepted by critical scholars? If anyone is unsure if this is the right understanding of the minimal facts, rest assured it is. I read this in the presence of Mike Licona and Gary Habermas as I was going through the book at the time.

This book is an honest look however at the question and one can understand why Protestants become Catholic. It does give good food for thought and it is not antagonistic. I think it is something that Protestants should take seriously, but I am just not convinced.

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: Roman Catholicism. Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us

What do I think of this multi-authored work published by Moody Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our story can begin from very different perspectives. We can look at Pope Boniface VIII who told us that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that the saved must be in submission to the Roman Pontiff. Later on, the Westminster Confession refers to the Pope with such great compliments as calling him the antichrist, Man of Sin, and Son of Perdition.

Can’t we all just get along?

Over time, we have indeed got along better. Still, we can wonder how this relationship works. How serious are our differences? Are the differences between a Protestant and a Catholic on the same level as those of a Methodist and a Baptist?

In this work, many evangelical Protestants state their opinion. Sometimes it can seem hard to get an overall idea. One side can seem to say we need to strive for unity. Another gets the impression that our differences are too radical and based on differences of the Gospel itself.

Many chapters deal with many different perspectives. I naturally found the chapters on history and such to be the most interesting. The chapter detailing conversions to Catholicism by people like Tom Howard and Scott Hahn were quite interesting. Sometimes, seeing people who I think should know better be concerned about supposed cracks in Protestantism, I just had to wonder. These seemed like pretty simple objections to me. It’s possible I’m missing something, but it’s also possible I’m not.

William Webster’s was the chapter I found the most appealing of all. This one involved a look at the doctrines historically, including how many of the church fathers interpreted a key passage like Matthew 16:18. Webster’s critique is one I think a Catholic should want to answer.

The question of unity is regularly raised. On the one hand, we want to be unified because there are opponents on the gate that want to get rid of both of us. On the other hand, shouldn’t a unity be built on truth? What if there are differences in how we see the Gospel? Do we brush those aside? Do both sides though want to return to a state where the other is the side of the devil?

There’s also concern over an increasing liberalism in Catholicism today, such that many other religions can be seen as being under salvation, and of course differences between the Council of Trent and Vatican II. While I have not heavily invested myself into these issues, they are quite concerning. I do know also that Pope Francis has been making a lot of waves.

So where do I stand from here? How about aiming for better-natured disagreements? I still cherish my Roman Catholic friends. I have no doubt many Roman Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ. I also don’t doubt that many are lost. The same I say about Baptists and Lutherans and Presbyterians and other denominations. I know many Catholics who I am convinced love Jesus more than I do and Thomas Aquinas is my favorite thinker outside the Bible.

But I do have things to think about. Can I discuss these with my Catholic friends? Absolutely. My main hope is that if we disagree, we will still part as that. Friends.

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