Book Plunge: Protestants and Catholics

What do I think of Peter Toon’s book published by Servant Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Discussions about Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism was never something I really wanted to get into. I have been a subscriber of Mere Christianity for several years and been one wanting to look at defending the essentials. What changed is when my wife started asking questions and I realized if she’s doing this, I need to start looking into this. I asked a friend fluent on the issues for a good book on the topic and was recommended Peter Toon’s book.

Toon writes from a Protestant perspective, but his writing is friendly and he shows problems each side has with the other and ways that both could handle things better. There is no hint of anything that says that Catholics are an apostate church or anything like that. There is nothing saying that Protestantism is where the action is and we have it all together on our end. He points to statements made by both Protestants and Catholics that are good and that are problematic He points to honest concerns that both have about the other.

He covers the main issues as well. Not everything, but some of them. Authority is a big one. When I encounter Catholics, many of them say that it’s not really possible to understand the text of Scripture without the magisterium. Protestants reply that the meaning is in the text. Catholics say they gave the canon of Scripture. Protestants say canonicity lies in the books and the church discovered that rather than created it.

Authority I think could be the biggest issue. Where does the authority lie? This is the issue that leads to Sola Scriptura. Protestants say that the tradition cannot be known to be accurate, but we can study the Scripture and know that this is what the apostles said. Catholics see the tradition as being based in apostolic succession and thus reliable.

Other issues come up too such as justification. This is likely also before the understanding of the New Perspective on Paul so that isn’t a big debate in the book, but it was a major issue. Fortunately, I do think Protestants and Catholics are starting to come together to discuss these issues more.

Sacraments are also an issue. Protestants tend to only recognize baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Catholics recognize more. There are also differences on how the Lord’s Supper is to be seen. Is it transubstantiation or real presence or is it something else?

Mary is one of the last topics covered. Catholics often see themselves as defending the mother of God and upholding her honor and such. Protestants look more and say that it seems to border on idolatry to them. Unfortunately, Protestants then go and don’t seem to pay any attention to Mary. While we can think Catholics give too much honor, let us not be guilty of giving too little.

One nice appendix also in the book is a letter John Wesley wrote to a Roman Catholic. It is a letter seeking reconciliation and focusing on what is agreed on. Many of us do hope that one day there can be reconciliation. I am not sure how it is possible, but I can hope.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/13/2017: Kenneth Collins and Jerry Walls

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

500 years ago this year was the Reformation. Those who don’t learn from history are often condemned to repeat it. Today, there are many who still look at this as one of the most important moments in church history. Some today say it definitely still matters.

Two such ones are my guests today. They contend that there is still a divide between the churches and want to explain why they think that is. I would like the audience to know that while this show is about the Reformation and Roman Catholicism, I happily fellowship with Catholics and others. We had originally arranged a debate that would have a Catholic and an Eastern Orthodox scholar on as well. They backed out a week before and there was not enough time then to get some other scholars on. I still wanted to do this show so please understand I wanted to have both sides on to talk about the matter.

So on my special interview for today, I’ll be talking to a couple of Protestant scholars about why they take the stance that they do. They have recently released a book called Roman, But Not Catholic. If possible, we will also be giving away some copies of the book. My guests today are Kenneth Collins and Jerry Walls. So who are they?

First, Jerry Walls

According to his bio:

Jerry L. Walls is Scholar in Residence and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University.  He has authored or edited over a dozen books and over eighty articles and reviews.  Among his books are: Hell: The Logic of Damnation (University of Notre Dame Press, 1992); Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy (Oxford University Press, 2002); Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation (Oxford University Press, 2012); and The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, ed. (Oxford University Press, 2008).   His co-authored book with David Baggett, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford University Press, 2011) was named the best book in apologetics and evangelism by Christianity Today in their annual book awards in 2012.  He is also a big sports fan, and has done two books about basketball: Basketball and Philosophy: Thinking outside the Paint (coedited with Greg Bassham, University of Kentucky Press, 2007); and Wisdom from the Hardwood: Defining a Success Worth Shooting For(Gray Matter Books, 2012).

And Kenneth Collins:

According to his bio:

Kenneth J. Collins is an internationally recognized scholar in the field of Historical Theology and Wesley studies.  He has given lectures in England, South Korea,  Russia, Estonia, Finland, Costa Rica and elsewhere.   

 

Dr. Collins is a graduate of Asbury (M.Div.) and Princeton (Th.M.) seminaries, and he did his doctoral work in Wesley studies at Drew University.  Collins taught philosophy and religion at Methodist College (now a university) for over a decade before his was appointed a professor Historical Theology and Wesley Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, the position that he currently holds.

 

The author and editor of fifteen books, Professor Collins has produced scores of articles and numerous reviews. His books have been translated into Russian and Korean—and soon Chinese.   His Wesley titles included the following:

 

  • The Works of John Wesley: Doctrinal and Controversial Treatises II. Vol. 13. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013.

 

  • The Sermons of John Wesley: A Collection for the Christian Journey. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013.

 

  • The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007.

 

  • John Wesley: A Theological Journey. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.

 

  • Conversion in the Wesleyan Tradition. Primary editor along with John Tyson, assistant editor.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001

 

  • A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999.

 

  • The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley’s Theology. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997.

 

Beyond this, Dr. Collins has written numerous articles in the field of Wesley studies too numerous to mention here.

 

As a researcher in American religion, especially in terms of evangelicalism,  Collins has written two important works:  The Evangelical Moment: The Promise of an American Religion and Power, Politics and the Fragmentation of Evangelicalism:  From the Scopes Trial to the Obama Administration.    

His most recent book (released October, 2017), along with co-author Dr. Jerry L. Walls,  is Roman But Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years After the Reformation.   

 

He is currently working on a One Volume Wesley Bible Commentary that is being prepared along with Dr. Joel Green.  It will be published by Abingdon Press.

 

Having received numerous teaching awards, Dr. Collins is a dynamic lecturer and is the former president of the Wesleyan Theological Society.  In addition, he has been on the steering committee of both the Wesleyan Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion and the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies.  His is the Director of the Wesley Studies Summer Seminar and The Wesleyan Holiness Pentecostal Studies Center.   He is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.

I hope you’ll be listening to this episode and whether you agree or disagree, may we all be better informed. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Changing Churches

What do I think of Mattox and Roeber’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This book is a look at how two Christian academics left the fold of Lutheranism and went to two other churches. One went Roman Catholic and the other Eastern Orthodox. Each of them writes three chapters in the book and the final is by a Lutheran academic who is still a Lutheran on why he’s just not sold on the point yet.

I consider myself a holder of Mere Christianity, but I can say easily the best church I’ve ever been to is a Lutheran church in Knoxville, TN called The Point. For Allie and I, one of the great highlights of getting to go back to Knoxville beyond seeing friends and family is getting to go to the Point again. It is hard for me to find a church that goes beyond the fluff that I normally hear, but the Point does that, while at the same time is able to speak to non-academics and give them a message they need to hear.

Something surprising in this work to me is how approvingly Mattox and Roeber speak about Martin Luther. At one point, I was wondering if Martin Luther was being nominated for sainthood by them. This is a relief in contrast to many of my Protestant turned Catholic friends who love to make posts and memes that poke fun at Luther.

Going through this book will certainly help one better understand the approaches. I do think there is indeed something to the doctrine of theosis talked about by Roeber. Unfortunately today, many people will hear theosis and think of the idea of divine exaltation from the Mormons.

I also do think Protestants need to have a good doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. I know when my wife and I got married, we came back from our honeymoon and went to our church. She had done something to her leg and wasn’t able to walk easily so she was in a back room during the service and watching it on a TV. When the time for Communion came, I, as a new husband, went and got the bread and juice for her and brought them to where she is since I think it was my responsibility to make sure she had that. I consider this a quite special memory.

My hesitancy comes in each case that while I learned much about each tradition, I do not see any reason yet to fully accept each tradition. I think it’s too easy today to engage in all-or-nothing thinking. It could be that theosis is right, but that does not mean that the Orthodox church is the true church established by Christ. It could be that Roman Catholics have a better doctrine of the Eucharist, but that does not mean that the dogmas about the papacy and Mary are accurate.

Much of the book is also about questions of justification and issues involving sexuality today. For justification, I do wish more would have been said about The New Perspective on Paul. This was something that deserves far more traction and I cannot say that justification is the main issue I have in the debates about Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. For me, the claims are largely historical. Can we historically establish with first or even second century evidence that this is what happened? Do we have any reason to believe that teachings that are held today in churches are teachings that were held by the apostles and first Christians?

For issues on sexuality, scandal has rocked all the branches of Christianity here, and this is not a shock. It’s not a reason to go from one denomination to another. You will find sinners and hypocrites in every single one of them. You will find people who do not take their religious life seriously everywhere. This is not the fault of any one church. This is the fault of people.

I appreciated the final contribution of Paul Hinlicky at the end about why he is still a Lutheran. I find his case interesting, but at the same time I wondered what this would have to say to people who are not Lutherans per se. I have said my favorite church is a Lutheran church, but I do not subscribe to it as interdenominational differences don’t really interest me as much. (So why read a book like this? Because I wanted to hear what Jerry Walls had to say and in doing research and preparing a podcast on it, I came across the book by Mattox and Roeber and wanted a counterperspective.)

Here’s the most important point however. I have a great memory of being in the chat service of PALtalk one evening and a Jehovah’s Witness was there dialoguing with myself, a Roman Catholic, and an Eastern Orthodox. It was just four of us and the RC and EO and myself were in great unison defending the doctrine of the Trinity against the Witness. This is how I think it should be.

I do not hold to Catholicism for instance, but I don’t have any patience for the idea that the Pope is the Antichrist. (Although as a preterist, I am convinced some popes have been antichrist.) I love my Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ. I have friends in each field. Are there some non-Christians in the folds of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy? Without a doubt. Just as there are some in Protestantism.

I do not doubt also that if Roeber and Mattox and I got together and chatted, there would be many issues that we would have good disagreements on and discuss them, but I think more of them we would be meeting and nodding our heads in agreement. Those are the issues that I have chosen to focus on. The secondary debates about our differences are good, but let us never let the secondary issues overpower the primary unity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Cult of the Virgin Mary; Psychological Origins

What do I think of Michael Carroll’s book published by Princeton University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Carroll’s book is a look at the role of Mary and of the apparitions of Mary from a more psychological perspective. The book is itself kind of a mixed bag. While it speaks of the cult, I do not think it means this in a derogative fashion but in the sense of the religious practices of a movement. Today, I could speak about the cultic functions of the Mosaic Law without saying the Jews are a cult in the same way groups like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are defined as cults.

The start does have some interesting history on Mary and the Roman Empire and how they were viewed in early Christianity. Carroll is kind in his words many times and you don’t see disparaging talk of Christianity. He also doesn’t seem to take seriously the idea that Mary is a copy of many cultic groups of the time save for perhaps Cybele. Still, if so, that would only be one aspect and it does not mean that all of Christianity is a copy. Am I convinced by that? No, but at least he doesn’t say everything is a copy and argues against that.

Too much of the first session is also dependent on Freudian thinking. The great assumption is that the thinking of the people would be like ours today and that would include thinking sexually in the way Freud said children do. I found myself quite skeptical in this section.

By far, the most interesting part to me was the part about the Marian apparitions. Carroll does interact with the writings on these appearances and looks at many of the major ones. If Carroll’s even descriptions of these are accurate, they are really nothing like the appearances of Jesus to His disciples. Many times you would have people, notably children, who saw something and no one else did. They also did not know what they saw often until someone else suggested that it was the Virgin Mary and lo and behold, that’s what it became.

Carroll looks at the information in the devotional literature on the seers who saw the image and gives explanations that can easily justify the appearances as hallucinations or illusions. More study will have to be done on this, but for those who are suspicious, these are interesting ideas to consider. The Catholic Church itself has recommended caution in many cases of apparitions, and I believe rightly so.

In all of this, nothing is said to make one think that the people experiencing these apparitions are crazy or anything of the sort. There is no indication that these people were living with a long-term mental illness or something of the kind. Many people within their lifetime who are otherwise normal and healthy will have hallucinatory experiences and it means nothing negative about their mental state.

While I have other reading going on now on the apparitions, for those who are interested, this could be a good book worth checking out though I would say it would be for the section on the appearances. The first section has some interesting ideas, but the dependence on Freud is quite a negative to me. Still, with the possibility that these are hallucinations, having a psychological look is quite helpful.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What Is The Gospel?

When we speak about the Gospel, what are we talking about? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, someone alerted me to something that was said on James White’s Facebook page which is the following:

Without using Google, who said the following, providing a classic example of what I call the “Mere Christianity” movement, which defines the faith *apart from* the Gospel itself:

While I’m an evangelical by choice, I recognize one does not need to be an evangelical to be a Christian. If one embraces the essentials of the Christian faith, I’m happy to call that person my brother or sister and work alongside them in ministry, whether they are Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or whatever.

For some fun, I sent it to a few people that I know to see what they thought also. One of those people was Mike Licona. He told me that he read the statement and found that he agreed with it.

Which is good since he’s the one who made it.

I, however, will stay that I stand by that statement. There are a number of us who have supported Mike with what he went through with the accusations that he was denying inerrancy. In this number are Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. I have some of each on my Facebook friends list. I would have no problem having guests of either persuasion on my show and in fact I do know I have had Catholics on there before. All of these people I see as my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now do I think they’re off on some doctrines? Yep. You bet. You know who else is? Most everyone I know. In fact, I’m off on some doctrines. Why do I hold to them then? Because I don’t know what they are! I just know that the field of Christianity is a complex field and it would be quite arrogant of me to think I’m the one person who got everything right.

But let’s look at this charge. What is this with defining faith apart from the Gospel itself. As I told my wife that evening, I think too often we misunderstand the Gospel. We think the Gospel is justification by faith. It’s not. I do not deny justification by faith, but justification by faith is I think a response to the Gospel and not the Gospel itself.

In a book I recently reviewed called One Gospel For All Nationsbiblical scholar Jackson Wu presents a viewpoint from China on how different cultures see different things in the Bible. Of course, this doesn’t change what the Bible says, but we all have a danger of reading our culture into the Bible. Consider a passage like Romans 7 with the supposed autobiography of Paul. We all read that as if it is Paul describing what we go through, but it isn’t. Most scholars agree this is not autobiographical and is more a speech in character. If we go this route in fact, we could be putting us in that position and making us opposed to the good news in Romans 8 unintentionally.

Wu says that wherever the Gospel is mentioned, you find at least one of these three themes in the text. Those are creation, covenant, and Kingdom. The problem for most of us is we can go straight from Genesis 3 to the Romans Road and think all that stuff isn’t important. I think of what N.T. Wright said when he hears the creed that talks about Jesus “Born of the Virgin Mary”, and then “Suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Wright says he can picture the four Gospel writers in the background saying “We spent a lot of time on that stuff in the middle and we think it’s important.”

I find it odd then to think about defining faith apart from the Gospel itself. Perhaps we should hear what the Gospel is. Romans 1 for instance begins this way.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Some commentators will think that the Gospel doesn’t really start until later around verse 16 or 17. This is false. It begins right here. What do we have? We have a descendant of David which points back to the covenant made with David. We then have the resurrection of Jesus by which Jesus was declared to the world to be the Son of God. Because of this, we have received grace.

If we make something like justification the Gospel, then really we have to ask “What is the point of Israel?” Does the Bible just have a lot of filler stuff in it? What is the point of Jesus teaching the Kingdom of God? Could it be that maybe He actually meant there was a Kingdom and He was the king?

So what is the purpose of justification then in all of this? It’s realizing that there is indeed a new king in town and He calls for your allegiance. Justification is admitting that God is in the right and you are in the wrong and submitting to the Lordship of Christ. In doing so, God welcomes you to His family. God then looks at you and pronounces you to be in the right.

So let’s look at the above list. Protestants. Catholics. Orthodox. Would these agree that God created the world and yet it fell into sin through our actions? Yep. Would they agree that God made covenants with Abraham, Israel, and David? Yep. Would they agree that God revealed Himself in Christ, the God-man, who physically rose from the dead? Yep. Would they agree that we should all submit to Jesus as Lord? Yep. (And would they all fall short still in that submission. Yep.)

With that, I have no problem calling any of them my brothers and sisters in Christ. I would have no problem working alongside them in ministry. If I minister to someone and he comes to Jesus and wants to be Orthodox or Roman Catholic, okay. I don’t have a problem with that. I would hope my Orthodox and Roman Catholic brothers would think likewise if he wanted to join the other community or be a Protestant after they evangelized him.

So if Mike Licona is in the wrong for being willing to see Christians outside of evangelicalism and to fellowship with Roman Catholics and Orthodox brothers and sisters, well I guess I’ll be in the wrong too. I just see us all as learning to submit to Jesus as Lord. Do we have some differences and can we discuss them? Yeah. We do and we can, but that should not stop us from doing the real Kingdom work together.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Church History Matters

What do I think of Robert Rea’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Let’s be blunt. For many of us, history isn’t always the most exciting topic, which is quite really a shame since it impacts our lives so much. If we’re Christians, we love the Bible and we think it’s important to know what happened in it, but aside from perhaps something like the Reformation, many of us don’t know what happened in church history. Go to your average church and ask the people who know their Bibles well to name a single early church father. Most likely, you’ll get blank stares and some might say “Martin Luther? John Calvin? John Wesley?”

It’s a shame that those of us who have such a great love of Scripture so often do not bother to understand how our own history that went before us turned out. We act as if Jesus came and then perhaps something like the Reformation happened and lo and behold, we are here now and now we must live our lives.

Part of this is the individualism in our culture that places each of us in our own little vacuum of existence where what went before us doesn’t matter and what’s happening outside of us doesn’t really matter. It is our personal universe that is of the supreme importance. What difference can the Donatist controversy make? How can I be repeating the errors of the Gnostics today, whoever they were? Why should I care about those old arguments Thomas Aquinas put forward for God? Do I really need to care about how John Chrysostom interpreted Scripture?

Rea tells us that in fact church history does matter and if we are students of Scripture, we should be students of that history. We should be learning about the great men and women who came before us and realize that the lessons we learn from them in the past can be highly influential in our day and age and keep us from repeating their errors and help us to repeat their successes.

C.S. Lewis years ago gave the advice to read old books because when you do, you read another time and place that critiques yours and can see blind spots in your position that you do not see because of the unspoken assumptions you accept in your culture. Meanwhile, you too can see blind spots in the work that you are reading that they would miss for the same reasons.

In fact, the author suggests we read outside of the circle of our own faith tradition, our own time, our own location, and our own culture. In doing so, we will interact with areas we would never have considered before. If we are wrong, we can correct our view. If we are right, we are still the better for getting to see why others think differently.

The first part of the book is about tradition. How is it understood? The reality is Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox (By orthodox, unless stated other wise, I mean branches of the church such as Eastern Orthodox) all place some value on tradition. Some place it on the same level as Scripture. Some don’t, but they see it as important to consider and insofar as it agrees with the Scripture, should be accepted. Bible-Focused Christians, as Rea prefers to call them regardless of where they land on the church spectrum, would all tend to accept statements like the Nicene Creed for instance.

Regardless of your position, tradition should not be ignored. Even if you think it is wrong in a certain place, it is helpful to learn how it is that that tradition came about, why it was held to in its day, and what the reasons were for believing in it. It would not be as if people just woke up one day and said “Hey! Let’s believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary!” There would be reasons for holding to it, rightly or wrongly, and a context that it was discussed in.

This part also includes a little bit about church history and how we got to where we are. As stated earlier, too many of us really have no idea even though we claim to be Bible-focused. This is interesting in an age where many of us like sites like ancestry.com where we want to see where our families came from, and there is no wrong in doing so of course, but our very Christian faith does not get the same treatment.

The second part is about the way we interact with the past. Can you form friendships as it were with those who went before. I am thinking of a debate I had with an atheist not too long ago where I stated that we do have the works that we can read by the past and we should critique them today and learn from them today. We can interact with the philosophers and others who went before us rather than leave reality up to only people today who happen to get a voice just because they’re conveniently alive at the time. There is a well of wisdom before us and we need to drink from it.

This includes finding mentors and accountability partners. No. You can’t communicate with them the same way you would with a friend, but you can still learn from them and let their lives be a blessing to you. I think of Aquinas for instance whose arguments I use today. When properly understood, they are incredibly powerful in our day and age. Too often, we have dismissed ideas just because they are old. Some ideas will stand the test of time and we will find we have just reinvented the wheel when we are done if we ignore them.

Finally, we have a section on how this affects us today. Can we bring the past into the present? What this deals with is how to interpret Scripture, such as by learning from the methodologies used in the past to interpret Scripture, and also how learning history affects our practices of worship and compassion and missionary service.

I will say I was a bit disappointed that despite being academic, when it came to this last section, nothing was really said about apologetic approaches. It would have been good to see how those of us who are in the apologetics ministry could look to the past for valuable mentors and friends in the field. Other important areas were mentioned, but this one was left out. I hope a future edition will include that as well as we can learn from great defenders of the faith in the past such as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas.

Still, this is a recommended read and got me thinking about the importance more of learning from the past and learning how to interpret Scripture as they did. You won’t find out much about church history per se, but you will find out much about why you should find out about it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters