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

Book Plunge: The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice

What do I think of Philip Jenkins’s book published by Oxford Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I am not a Catholic. That having been said, why would I read a book about a problem of anti-Catholicism? It’s simply because this kind of prejudice does affect all Christians. If Catholics can be targeted, anyone else is not too far behind. Plus, there are a lot of rumors that one hears and that really you want to know how good the claims are behind them.

It’s not a secret that you can watch many a movie or a TV show and the church is a villain. One of my favorite gaming series is Final Fantasy, but unfortunately one knows that even though not specified as Roman Catholic, if the church shows up in a game, you can be sure it will be evil. Since this book came out, we have of course seen works like The Da Vinci Code, which only further the idea that there is a conspiracy cover-up by the evil Vatican.

Jenkins’s book is a hard look at many of the ways of thinking. Most anything can be connected with the Roman Catholic Church and it is thus automatically branded as evil. Of course, sadly a lot of Protestants haven’t helped with conspiracy theories about the Pope being the antichrist or the False Prophet. Of course, this prejudice Jenkins points out doesn’t mean one can’t disagree with Catholicism, but it means that one takes that beyond just disagreement with doctrine to the idea that Catholicism is an evil system.

One great chapter in this book will be the chapter on the claims of pedophilia and the priesthood. Jenkins has the hard numbers on this to show that while any case is certainly a problem to be dealt with, there was much that was overstated by the media with hyped up numbers. He points out that every denomination and religion and such has people that do these kinds of things and in other systems, it’s a problem of the individual, but in the RCC, it’s seen as a problem of the system. It would also be good to have more official comparisons to other people guilty of such transgressions, say teachers in the public school system. (Of course, it must be made clear that pedophilia doesn’t exactly include teenagers and others in both cases.)

There’s also a section on the history of the church and supposed great crimes. It’s usually taken for granted that the church was a wicked institution when it came to things like the Crusades or the Inquisition or claims of anti-Semitism. Jenkins looks at all of these. In all of this, he doesn’t say that the church is without fault in everything, but he does try to be fair and show that there is a double standard often and the church can be held to be guilty on much less evidence than other bodies would be.

I found this to be an eye-opening read and leaves me once again not trusting anything I see in the media about Catholicism. We do need to have open debates and discussions between Catholics and Protestants and Orthodox and others, but let us not make this an issue of prejudice. Let us discuss the issues that we disagree instead of thinking the worst of the people.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Babylon Connection?

What do I think of Ralph Woodrow’s self-published work? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

At the outset, I’ll tell you I don’t know a lot about Ralph Woodrow. A month or two ago I hadn’t even heard his name. Now that I have heard of him, this book gives me a tremendous respect for him. Why is that?

Ralph Woodrow used to be one of the greatest advocates of the work of Alexander Hislop. He was well-known in that position by his opponents. At one speaking engagement, he was even introduced as Reverend Hislop. His book on the Babylonian Connections between the Roman Catholic Church and Babylon was the best seller of his ministry. If you wanted to know what was his greatest success and money-maker was, look at that book.

Most of the response was positive, but there was a high school history teacher who really liked Woodrow’s ministry, but knew there were problems. Hislop was not the reliable source that Woodrow thought he was. This teacher wrote Woodrow challenging him to go and investigate the claims of Hislop by looking up the primary sources.

Woodrow found that he had been fooled by Hislop. On paper, Hislop looked impressive after all. He had an impressive bibliography and several notes to back his case. The problem was those sources were rarely checked. Woodrow’s response? Was it to keep selling the book he had written and get the money? No. It was to sacrifice it by removing the book from sale and by writing this book in response. Woodrow owned up to his mistake.

At this point, I don’t care if you agree with Woodrow or disagree, but if someone is willing to do that, I think that deserves respect.

A work like this is needed today because there are too many Christians who buy into conspiracy theory type thinking and ideas like that of Hislop fuel into it. Let’s not forget that also atheists are buying into this. If you want any evidence of this, just look at Jesus mythicism. Just yesterday I had someone share with me all the similarities between Horus and Jesus. Had they done any verification of the claims? No. Could they name any respected living Egyptologist who would back the claims? No. Still, it was shared. Sure, you can count the number of Jesus mythicists on one hand out of thousands of NT scholars and classical and ancient historians (By scholar, I mean someone with a Ph.D. in the relevant field and passes peer-review and not just some person on the internet with a blog, web site, self-published book, etc. and yes, I know that means I am not a scholar so don’t treat me like one) but hey, the modern internet atheists knows better than all of them!

If most of us had the guts to go and look at the claims closely like Woodrow did and be open to being wrong, we would have much better debates.

So on to the book. An aspect of it is that Woodrow is seeking to show how ridiculous Hislop’s system is, and I think he succeeds wonderfully. For Hislop, everything traced back to Nimrod in the Bible and his being married to Seimramis. Never mind that even if Semiramis existed, it would have been centuries apart from Nimrod. A theory should never be dislodged by some inconvenient facts after all.

Hislop then tries to show that if you name any pagan god, that goes back to Nimrod. (Goddesses go to Semiramis.) Do you see a ritual here in Hawaii honoring deity X? That traces to Babylon. Do you see something in Scandanavia? That goes back to Nimrod. Is a belief being honored in Tahiti? Nimrod is responsible. Why? Well who else would it be? If everything went forth from Babylon and the rule of Nimrod, then if it shows up anywhere, that’s because of Nimrod.

You’re not convinced?

Yeah. Neither am I.

Hislop also argued from similarities based on words. Of course, this would often be their English spelling but hey, we know the rest of the world always thought in English. It’s just like the people who think Jesus is a way of saying “Hey Zeus!” It’s the people who think Israel is a way of saying “Isis, Ra, and Elohim.” Do you think this sounds ridiculous? There are plenty of people who actually believe this.

Now a downside would be that if you’re a believer in Scripture, you’ll agree with a lot that Woodrow says. If you’re not, then chances are you could wind up walking away and thinking “Yeah. The Bible borrowed everything from the pagans too.” Of course, that’s not the fault of Woodrow because I don’t think this book is written to atheists, but I do know the way that too many online think. Everything in Christianity was borrowed from the pagans!

Whatever your stripe, take this book as a warning. Just because that source you are using points to multiple sources and looks compelling (*cough cough* Wikipedia *cough cough*) that does not mean it is reliable. Try and go back and check the sources as much as you can. If some atheists had done this with the Zeitgeist movie, they might not have embarrassed themselves so much by hyping it everywhere they went.

Also, Woodrow is certainly no Catholic and neither am I, but I do agree with him that there’s a great deal we agree with them. I am happy to call many Catholics my brothers and sisters in Christ. At the same time, when it comes to our discussions about our differences, let’s make sure those differences are grounded in fact. Hislop’s work is not and the most ardent Protestant arguing against Catholicism should not use a work like Hislop’s. We have better areas to debate rather than accusing one another of pagan practice.

I recommend Woodrow’s work then for anyone who has bought into Hislop’s false information. Unfortunately today, there are a thousand Hislops from numerous other perspectives. (Again, think Jesus mythicists.) Maybe someday our culture will learn the practice of going and reading academic works and checking claims, but I am skeptical.

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