Book Plunge: Behold Your Mother

What do I think of Tim Staples’s book published by Catholic Answers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A couple of decades or so ago the movie, “There’s Something About Mary” came out. In Christianity, there is also something about Mary. It’s my contention that both sides make too much of this. Catholics and Orthodox I think overdo it where it does seem practically like Mary is deified. I think Protestants look at this and say they want to avoid going to that extreme, and they do so by going to the other extreme. Mary shows up in the text and we have to rush her off.

Tim Staples writes from the Catholic side. A Catholic friend recommended I read this. Going through, I could see how if you were a Catholic, you would find this convincing, which is a danger we must all be wary of. I am by no means immune.

Yet as I went through this book, I thought about dispensationalism some. You take this conjecture here and take this premise here and you build upon those. If you accept the opening conjecture and the premise, the whole system seems to follow. But what if you don’t? If you don’t, it collapses like a house of cards.

Also, in full honesty, I realize I am not the best on this issue. I started looking into this for my own wife who is doing her exploration and I wanted to be informed and read the best minds. I think I have actually been reading far more pro-Catholic and pro-Orthodoxy works than otherwise.

Let’s start with a statement on tradition. Generally, I find that when I’m with an Orthodox or a Catholic, they tend to want to milk a passage like 2 Thess. 2:15 for all it’s worth. Interestingly, both of them think that their traditions are the ones that are being talked about. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it difficult to think that the sex life, or lack thereof, of Mary and Joseph was a church tradition at the time. I do think Luke had access to Mary as a source, but it seems odd to picture him interviewing her and say “So how often did you and Joseph have sex after that?”

My position on tradition is simple. Test all things. Hold to that which is true. Why do I accept Scripture as infallible? Because it proves itself over and over. Why do I not accept tradition as infallible? Because it doesn’t prove itself like that.

Staples on p. 23 starts making a comparison between the Ark of the Covenant and Mary. He points to the ark having the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and a copy of the Ten Commandments. These come from Scripture he says. The manna is the true bread from Heaven in John, the rod the great high priest in Hebrews, and the Ten Commandments the true Word of God in John 1.

That can sound impressive until you realize something. Luke’s audience didn’t have access to Hebrews or John. This is not to say we can’t use one work to understand another, but we must understand each work on its own to the best of our ability first. I also think it is wise to look at the work of Timothy Kauffman as well.

Kauffman points out that first, there seems to be a mania to make everything Mary in the Old Testament. Whatever exists, somehow it represents Mary. I told a friend last night I was expecting Naaman’s servant girl to be a type of Mary soon. While my friend humorously said Jezebel would seen be a type of Mary, he didn’t miss the mark too much. Athaliah and Maacah in the Old Testament are both seen by Staples of types of Mary since they were queen mothers.

Kauffman points out that what was in the Ark was also nothing for the Israelites to celebrate. All of them were permanent reminds of the failures of the Israelites. While we could say that Jesus came because the Israelites failed, it doesn’t really put Mary in the same glorious light. We also have to note the vast differences between Mary and the Ark. One could probably come into physical contact with Mary and live.

Yet this is what Staples’s work relies on. If you accept this interpretation and that one, then you have a case that can possibly be made. Again, we go back to the whole dispensational outlook.

On p. 38, Staples makes a point about an argument saying Scripture is silent on this matter. The irony was not lost on me. Scripture I think is silent on many of these issues about Mary and they are conjectures I think taken unwisely from the text.

In Matthew 12:48-50, we read about Jesus asking who His mother and brothers and sisters are. He says it is those who do God’s will. Staples says Pope John Paul II said that Jesus wished to divert attention from the purely fleshly bond of motherhood to the spiritual bond. Well, not exactly. Jesus was making a radical statement about family. Kingdom of God comes before even family. The same is in Luke when we are told that if we don’t hate our families, we cannot be disciples. This is a comparative statement saying simply that the Kingdom must come before even familial bonds.

On p. 61, Staples looks at the greeting of Gabriel to Mary. Noteworthy is when Staples looks at this whole section, he looks at Mary full of grace as a claim about her having forgiveness in her life. This is the idea of what the Reformers meant by grace. Note that. Staples is basing a Catholic doctrine of Mary on the usage of grace as understood by the Reformers.

Let that sink in.

Grace was part of the language of the day. It meant favor and Mary was indeed highly favored. No Protestant should deny that. It’s right there in the text! I don’t see any reason to think that this is somehow a name change on the part of God that Mary would have a new name that meant full of grace. Yet Staples will come back to this passage over and over. Passages like Revelation 12 and this one are perennial passages that he returns to over and over.

Anyway, on this page, Staples finds it odd that Mary is troubled by the greeting of the angel. Who would be troubled if their neighbor said hello. This is just an odd argument to make. I guarantee you if I walked out of this apartment today and my neighbor said hello, I would say some greeting back. If I walked out and an angel said hello, I would stop in my tracks immediately and quite likely something would be going up on Facebook and we’d be calling friends and family, assuming we weren’t commanded to be silent. Being greeted by an angel is NOT like being greeted by your neighbor. I find it remarkable not that Mary was troubled, but that Staples could think such a thing.

Staples on p. 74 looks at a passage about the virgin daugther of Zion thinking it’s about Mary. Isaiah 37:22 says Assyria despises and scorns her. Could it actually be this is something in Isaiah’s time? The text is said in the present tense. Just saying. But once again, it has to be all about Mary.

Staples also says it is fitting that Mary be sinless since she bore Jesus in her body. Why not then make the whole household of Joseph sinless since Jesus would grow up there? Why should not Israel be sinless since Jesus would walk it’s streets? Such is the problem with conjecture of this sort.

On p. 77, Staples talks about how Mary inaugurates the New Covenant. Such thinking is again why many Protestants have a problem with the Marian dogmas. I recall a month or so ago my wife was watching a video about the rosary and all the people talking about all that Mary was doing for them. It ended and I said, “Kind of makes me wonder if Jesus is doing anything anymore.” As a Protestant, it just looks like much of the glory that goes to Jesus gets transferred to Mary.

Staples on p. 83 also say the ordering of names in Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary shows importance. Yet in this greeting, Mary is mentioned first and then Jesus. What also of the genealogy in this book? In Luke’s genealogy, God is listed last. Is God of least importance?

At 104-105, we get to Revelation 12 where Staples insists the woman is Mary. Unfortunately, his reading is selective. I am thankful to Jason Engwer of Triablogue for his work on this. It also looks like New Testament scholars like Raymond Brown do not accept this interpretation. Staples’s interpretation would have us switching back and forth between literal and apocalyptic interpretation.

Staples also regularly says Mary is the new Eve. Even if this is granted, it still doesn’t show immaculate conception. Staples quotes Justin Martyr to show that the early church did see Mary as a new Eve, but again as Engwer points out, he did not hold that Mary was sinless.

By the way, I find it odd to think that Eve was a virgin when she took the fruit. I see no reason to think that Adam saw Eve and then said, “Okay. Now let’s just go on a quiet walk through the garden.” Not at all. Sex is not evil and since the text talks about the two becoming one flesh then, I think it’s a fair judgment to say that’s what happened.

Speaking of which, when we get to perpetual virginity, Staples says we don’t need a defense of it because no one objected to it in the first century when the New Testament was written. This assumes, of course, that perpetual virginity was being taught in the first century.  It’s interesting to think that your sex life, or lack thereof, again, is part of the apostolic dogma being taught to all the Roman empire in the first century.

Staples tries to defend celibacy of the sort in marriage with many examples. Jeremiah was told to not take a wife. Well and good, but he was not told to take a wife and not have sex with her. Sometimes men were to abstain from their wives for a time. Well and good, but this is not a lifelong vow. Paul in 1 Cor. 7 even tells husbands and wives to NOT deny themselves to one another except for unless you both agree to it and even then, only for a short time. Paul is practically screaming, “Spouses! Don’t stop having sex with one another!”

What makes this all amusing is that on 141, he argues that it is unlikely Jesus’s brothers were younger because it was normally unacceptable for younger brothers to rebuke an older sibling. Sure, but yet Staples has spent pages defending the idea that Joseph and Mary would be husband and wife without having sex and yet all of a sudden, with this passage he goes with what is “normally unacceptable.”

By the way throughout here, Staples argues that Mary in essence became the spouse of the Holy Spirit. This is why Joseph could not have sex with her. Joseph needed to be there to raise Jesus and provide legal inheritance and protection for the family. The thought of such about Mary though is something that really makes Protestants like myself say we can’t go in for the whole Marian dogmas.

He also relies on the Protoevangelium of James. This can be a good work to read, but no reason is given to think it is historical and I don’t know of scholars today who do think that it is. It’s a work around mid-second century or possibly later. Why should we think it would be an accurate account then of Mary’s origins and the birth of Jesus?

Yet when we get to the brothers of Jesus, Staples says those who see these as biological brothers are eisegesis, which strikes me as a great point of irony. It’s noteworthy also that Josephus is never interacted with. Josephus could easily differentiate between brothers and cousins even when looking at the Old Testament, yet he refers to Jesus as the brother of James. Again, I am in debt to Engwer for his research on the patristics and perpetual virginity.

In looking at the bodily assumption of Mary, Staples says that there are two tombs of Mary. One is in Jerusalem and one is in Ephesus. This is explained because Mary lived in both places. So did the apostle John. Should we think that John would have two tombs? Could it be there are two tombs because there are differing traditions?

If so, then what of tradition? This is the problem we Proetstants have. Tradition is infallible, except for when it isn’t. We just have a simple test of trusting that which truly shows itself to be reliable.

On p. 220-221, Staples says that if we consider that the Gospels were written 30-60 years after the events and the fragments date from about 90 years after, even skeptics must admit third-century fragments about the Assumption make the Catholic position look compelling.

Uh. No.

Sorry, but they don’t. Those Gospels can be shown to be records of events that went on at that time. The same cannot be said for the Assumption, unless Staples wants to put the Assumption on the same level of the Gospels in his claim, which seems a stretch anyway.

Staples also says that the fact that some traditions say Mary died and was buried means nothing. We say the same about Jesus and He was resurrected! Well, yes, and we also explicitly say He was resurrected. I can show you plenty of people in the Old Testament that it was said that they died and were buried. Should we be open to the Assumption of all of them too?

On p. 227, Mary is said to be the hope of all humanity because she is what we can all hope to be. Well, yeah, unless Jesus is enough for you. Jesus shows the faithfulness of God enough. Again, this does at least border on the idolatry of Mary.

On p. 278, I get to an argument that really makes no sense to me. I contacted a friend of mine who understands English far better than I do and asked his opinion. Was I missing something? Apparently, I was not.

Staples is writing about the queen mother and the position she had. He goes back to the story of Adonijah and Bathsheba. Adonijah asks Bathsheba to ask Solomon if he could have Abishag as his wife. Bathsheba presents the request. (By the way, the text Staples quotes says Solomon had a seat brought in for his mother. Not much for a queen mother)

“When Solomon heard of the request Adonijah had made of the queen mother, he saw through his brother’s plans and had him immediately killed. Because of the power of the intercession of the queen mother, he knew he couldn’t refuse his mother’s request—but now he didn’t have to! Adonijah didn’t seem to have considered that outcome!”

So let’s see.

Adonijah requests to have Abishag be his wife.

Solomon cannot refuse since Bathsheba is the messenger.

So Solomon grants the request by killing Adonijah?

How is this not a refusal of the request?

I still read this passage and I cannot make any sense of it. And yet we are told because of this that the requests of Mary to Jesus will not be refused. Looking at that, it looks like Mary is put in a greater position than Jesus.

Finally, in a final appendix, Staples gives one more example of a queen mother. Esther. Now I know the book of Esther very well. Surely she fits.

Except for, well, she wasn’t a mother that we know of, she probably wasn’t a virgin, and she was the wife of the king rather than the mother of the king, but hey, if you ignore those differences, you might have something. Such reasoning is one more reason Protestants like myself look at this with suspicious.

Staples does do more work than most, but I still just can’t accept it. I think there are too many problems and it honestly looks like the early church had a low view of sex and didn’t want Mary to be associated with it as the mother of the Lord and then doctrine after doctrine had to be made. This isn’t to say Protestants don’t error in how they see Mary. We do. While Catholics I think give her too much honor, we give her too little. We need to find the median.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: An Outline of Orthodox Dogmatic Patristics

What do I think of Romanides’s work published by the Orthodox Research Institute? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A warning about this book. This one is deep. The average person will not understand it. If you want a book on Orthodoxy that is friendly to the average reader, this isn’t the one. This is not said in an insulting sense as such could be said about several Protestant and Catholic books. It’s just said because it’s true.

Yet going through, there was not much in theology that I had a problem with. It’s one reason I don’t understand it when people say they move to Catholicism or Orthodoxy because of the theology. The theology is still very much the same.

It’s when we get into more secondary issues that I start having problems as those secondary issues can often at times appear to be primary issues. This is something that makes this different from many other denominational issues. Orthodox and Catholics both set themselves up as the true church and everyone else is in some lesser position, although I have some reason to be concerned some Orthodox do see those on the outside as not even Christians.

Mainly, this happens when it comes to Scriptural interpretation. Romanides will tell us about a divine council that gives the interpretation of Scripture and one should not try to think they can interpret apart from that guidance. Unfortunately, no backing is given for this other than the assertion that this council comes from the apostles. How one can know this is unknown.

This is one of my problems when tradition is put on the same level as Scripture. Which tradition? How can we know? The Orthodox claim the wisdom of the apostles lies in this divine council. The Catholics claim it lies in the magisterium. Both of them claim this on the basis of tradition and both say the other is wrong on the basis of tradition. How could we choose which one?

What about a Protestant like myself? We go with the one source everyone agrees comes from the apostles, the Scripture. I don’t buy into any idea that I need this other group before I can understand the Scripture and I don’t accept such in Protestantism either. Anyone willing to do the work of study can have a good understanding of the text. Of course, this won’t be an infallible understanding, but it’s dangerous to really think one’s understanding cannot be wrong anyway.

This isn’t to say that I think the Orthodox are wrong on everything that is a secondary matter. Of course not. I am quite friendly to their idea of heaven and hell in the sense that God’s presence is a joy to believers and a torture to those who are not. I also am entirely open to the idea of the church not just being invisible but visible as well. I think that people should be able to look at us in all our traditions and see Jesus.

Again, while there are things I do like, when it comes to issues such as the treatment of Mary and the saints or the reliability of tradition, I am highly unpersuaded. In fairness, Romanides’s probably did not write this book for someone like myself but for those in the fold of Orthodoxy already. Still, if future reading doesn’t make better arguments, I will continue to be unconvinced and see such things as the traditions of men but not rooted in Christ or Scripture.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: In Search Of Ancient Roots

What do I think of Kenneth Stewart’s book published by IVP Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Historically, many times different denominations have not gotten along. Today, there is much more communication and with the internet here, many people are coming across other belief systems they would have no access to before. Many an orthodox Protestant can be wondering about their belief system. Where did it come from?

Stewart’s book is written to help those searching Protestants. While not for any one particular denomination, he does work to show that many of the beliefs and such that we have today go back to our ancestors. Not only that, there was great theological development even on core doctrines. One quick example is the Trinity. It’s not that Jesus rose from the dead and immediately the apostles got together and wrote the Nicene Creed. The outworking of that event took at least three centuries to get to Nicea and today we can look back and see the development of the doctrine.

One great theme of this book is that the Fathers matter. I remember asking someone well over a decade ago in talking about apologetics if they could name an early church father. The only name that came to mind was John Wesley. That’s why we have to do a better job educating. So many people know so little about these great people that many times gave their lives for the Christian faith. We not only don’t know our doctrines, but we don’t know the history behind those doctrines.

Stewart definitely wants us to return to the Fathers. He tells us that early Protestants were known for doing this. Today we think of other traditions scouring the Fathers, but he says in the past the Protestants were the ones doing this the most. There’s no reason Protestants today can’t be doing in-depth research on the Fathers.

He also speaks about examples of debates that we have today. The two he chooses are the frequency of the Lord’s Supper and if we should participate in infant baptism. Both of these chapters bring up points that will be of interest to anyone in these debates.

There’s also a chapter on the history of Newman with the look at the claim that to study church history is to cease to be Protestant. Stewart contends that there are two different Newmans. One is the one presented in many popular writings. The other is one the Catholic Church itself was unsure about.

Towards the end, he starts looking at the harder issues. Many of these chapters I thought would actually work better at the beginning of the book. These include the claim that the Roman Church does have the highest authority due to the seat of Peter being occupied. Stewart argues that the data for this is not as strong as would be like and the claim is not helped by the fact that many times there were rival popes and each pope was busy excommunicating the other.

There’s also a chapter on the history of justification by faith. I find the fact that so many have written on this to show that the early Fathers taught this as fascinating, but there was one blind spot here. I did not see any quotations from the Fathers. I would have liked to have seen some of those at least. One could not get an encyclopedic look of course, but something would be nice.

Finally, it ends with why people abandon Protestantism and go the other way. Again, the message is that we need to really study our history and our doctrine. We have had a sort of anti-intellectualism come over the church and too many have the idea that everything just fell down from heaven and the history is irrelevant. We need to know not only where we are and where we are going, but how we got here.

Those interested in church history will benefit from reading this. It would be good for those on all sides of any such debate. I hope we can return to some serious look at our history. In an age of greater skepticism, we need it more and more not just because of the constant changing of churches, but because of outside attacks on all churches.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Unchanging Witness

What do I think of S. Donald Forston and Rollin G. Grams’s book published by B&H Publishing Group? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

With the Supreme Court voting to redefine marriage and the rise of writers like Justin Lee, Matthew Vines, and John Boswell, the church faces a new challenge. Historically, the church has always held to a consistent sexual ethic when it comes to issues relating to homosexuality, but now the claim is rising up that an active homosexual lifestyle and Christianity can coincide. This is also causing splits across the church as new denominations are formed when Christians are convinced the one that they had has fallen away.

Forston and Grams have written in this situation to help Christians through this time by first off, giving an overview of history from ancient Judaism up to the present time to see that the new move is indeed something new and without any Biblical warrant at all. Some might want to claim that Christians have held to different stances throughout history, but it is up to the critic now to substantiate that in light of this research. This was a highly thorough part of the book constantly looking at primary resources and citing them.

After that, we get into the Biblical data, which while I enjoyed the history was the much more intriguing part to me as we get to see interactions with the arguments of the homosexual revisionists today. It’s not a surprise that the change of interpretation has come to coincide with what Western culture wants to embrace. Of course, there can be grounds for changing a long held viewpoint on how a passage should be interpreted, but we need to make sure that those grounds are valid grounds. It can be too easy to begin with the conclusion that we want and then go on from there.

You might think that if you’ve read Gagnon’s work on the topic, you need go no further, but I disagree. Gagnon’s work is indeed excellent and he makes the most thorough exegetical case that there is, but I think in some ways these writers build on the foundation and add in a few extra pieces along with the historical data. If you have read both of these books, you will be equipped to deal with those who wish to say that Christianity and an actively homosexual lifestyle can coincide.

In the end, the writers say it will come down to a question of authority. There are a number of people who are now saying “Well yeah, the Bible does condemn this, but we just realize that was the opinion of the writers in the time of the Bible.” If someone wants to say “We’ve changed our view on slavery and women”, the writers have a section at the end dealing with that kind of objection.

If there were some downsides, I wish more of the quotes from the church fathers had focused on homosexual behavior instead of pederasty. Also, if you want more of a Natural Law approach, you won’t find it here. I think it’s important that Christians have both Natural Law and Scriptural approaches, but I understand the writers could not give us everything.

Ultimately, if you want to know what’s going on in the church with this issue, this is a book you need to get your hands on.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: Conclusion

What have we learned looking at the Apostles’ Creed? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As Christians, we’re people of Scripture, but it’s not as if the canon was closed and then lo and behold, everything just popped into place here centuries later. We have a rich tradition that we came from and we need to look at that tradition. Too many Christians really have no knowledge whatsoever of church history. They do not know who great thinkers were, what great problems the church faced, great events that shaped the church, and how their own Bibles came down to them.

How can it really hurt your Christianity, if it is true, to know its history?

The look at the Apostles’ Creed has been a start for that. I specifically chose this creed due to it being shared in my own church on a regular basis, which is one of the reasons I think my church is so wonderful. I listened to it regularly and repeated it regularly and started wondering how many of us have really thought about the creed.

As we’ve gone through it, I hope I’ve impressed on you a deeper meaning of what has been said. Naturally, I’m not claiming a perfect interpretation, but I’m hoping that I have given you a thought-provoking interpretation. Even more than that, I hope that I have ended up giving you a life-changing look at the creed and furthermore, I hope I have given myself one.

We Christians are actually people of creeds. Much of our Christian lifestyle focuses on right living, and indeed it should! We should be living a certain way if we are said to be Christians, but much of that should be based on right doctrine. What you live should be a direct outworking of what it is that you really believe.

Consider if you are your average middle-class person living today and lo and behold, you receive undeniable proof from your bank that a rich relative passed away and left you millions in your bank account. Is your lifestyle going to change somehow? You bet it will! Even if you say “I don’t really care for buying a lot of fancy things”, you will probably at least care for getting your children through college and if you don’t have those, you will hopefully care for giving away money you don’t really need to charities that you think deserve that money.

If you go to see your doctor and he tells you you have a disease and it will be terminal unless you do X, Y, and Z, then chances are you will end up doing X, Y, and Z. That is, you will do them if you want to live. In both of these cases, it is your knowledge that is affecting how you live and in the case of Christianity, it is the claim to have the knowledge of the revelation of God. That should change everything.

Pay attention to the creed and pay attention to what it is you believe and especially let the creed drive you back into the Scriptures, the ultimate authority we have for what we believe today. From there, spend some time studying what has happened in the life of the church and how it is that you got that Bible that you value so greatly.

The creed is a statement that connects you with those Christians from the past, Christians that lived in a world where their lives were on the line regularly and being a Christian carried a serious cost. They often also did not have the luxury of the fine resources for study you and I have. We have centuries of Christian though, a gold mine of knowledge, that we can draw from. What a waste on our part if we do not learn from it and benefit from it.

I encourage you to do be benefiting from it. This is your heritage. Some of you might enjoy going to a web site like ancestry.com and learning about your family history. How much more should you be interested in learning about the history of your spiritual family?

Let that journey begin today.

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