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