Book Plunge: Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology

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

When my wife’s mentor was visiting recently, I was looking for a book for her and found this one on the shelf. I didn’t remember when I requested it, but I figure I did with my wife’s current looking into Eastern Orthodoxy. I got it out and decided to soon read through it.

Now I have and I found it an interesting read and informative. I am curious to see that it’s a work by an Orthodox Priest but published by an evangelical press. I really encourage that. I think Orthodox Christians should read books by evangelicals about their position and vice-versa and the same goes with Catholics. We have differences and similarities and we need to understand those.

The book is written on the level for laymen so that part is a bonus. It’s also not really argumentative. I would have liked to have seen a little bit of that seeing as an evangelical needs to know what makes the Orthodox position distinct and that would require telling some of our differences.

Fortunately, what we agree on is covered well in this book. The evangelicals should stand up and say amen to the news about the Trinity and the person of Christ. There could be some pause on issues of creation since the author doesn’t say there’s a necessity for a literal Adam and Eve. Some also might be concerned about Louth not having a problem with evolution.

Those positions don’t trouble me, but I know they will trouble some. It’s good though that Louth is familiar with these issues and I like seeing the Orthodox having the same kinds of discussions we Protestants have. Now let’s get also to some things I would like to see changed in the book.

First, I would love for there to have been something like a glossary. There are times terms are used about Orthodox worship that I doubt many evangelicals would know and they are not explained. Louth will write about the Metropolitan and I suspect some Christians would say “I know we have bishops and elders and deacons and presbyters. I don’t remember that position in the church.” A glossary would have it that an evangelical reader could look back and see terms explained.

Second, I would really like to see what Louth thinks makes the Orthodox Church distinct. I realize this would entail some criticisms of Protestantism and Catholicism, but I think that’s a good thing. We need to hear those criticisms. If we are wrong, then we can embrace a true position. If not, then we can hopefully learn to refine our own position.

Third, some history of Orthodoxy would be nice. Now I don’t mean saying “Our church started in 33 A.D.” I don’t know anyone in the other camps who is at all persuaded when the Orthodox say that. I don’t think this needs to be extensive, but something needs to be there.

Fourth, I would like more explaining on the doctrines we do disagree with. Why do the Orthodox hold those positions? I know the reasons, but many evangelicals might not. Why do you hold that Mary was perpetually a virgin and is the mother of God? Why do you hold that it is okay to pray to saints? Why do you think the way that you do about the Eucharist?

Of course, this could have made the book longer than intended. In all fairness, Louth does have listed books for further reading, but I would have liked more categories and many of them more specific. What if someone wanted church history specifically, as an example?

What I might like even more if someone was to write it, and it could be out there already, would be a dialogue book with an Orthodox and a Protestant in dialogue and it could be interesting to include a Catholic. There is some of this in Plummer’s Journeys of Faith, but it could be interesting to have a book dialoguing different positions. Salvation, the eucharist, Mary and the saints, original sin, etc.

Still, if you want to understand Orthodox theology, this is a good introduction. I encourage reading it. I also want to again point out that while I am still a devout Protestant, I am thankful for my brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church. I’ve learned a lot of wisdom from them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/27/2018: Doug Beaumont and Jefrey Breshears

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

A little over 500 years ago, Martin Luther put up his 95 theses and after that, the world has never been the same. A rift was eventually created unlike any before. The Catholic Church had dealt with opposition, but due to the printing press, this one lasted with the ideas being broadcast far and wide.

In the aftermath, both sides hardly came together and started asking “Why can’t we be friends?” Instead, both sides have been guilty in the past have handling things in a less than Christlike way. Namely, killing each other. Wars would take place with Protestants and Catholics both being on the run.

Today, things are different. Many of us will happily work alongside one another. While for the most part, most of us do see the other side as fellow Christians, there are still areas of disagreement. We can all be benefitted by good discussions about what those disagreements are and how to handle them. Is the Catholic Church the church that Jesus established? Or do the Protestants have it right and the teaching of Scripture is the only infallible authority the church has?

To discuss this, I have a show coming up with a Catholic and a Protestant. Doug Beaumont, a former professor of mine at SES turned Catholic will represent the Catholics. Jefrey Breshears, founder of the Areopagus here in Atlanta will represent the Protestants.

So who are they?

According to his bio:

Douglas Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in theology from North-West University and an M.A. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, where he taught for several years before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church. He has since appeared on The Journey Home and Catholic Answers Live, and has been interviewed by The National Catholic Register, EWTN, Relevant Radio, and The Patrick Coffin Show. He is the author of Evangelical Exodus and The Message Behind the Movie, has contributed to Bumper Sticker Catholicism, The Best Catholic Writing, The Apologetics Study Bible for Students, and the Christian Apologetics Journal, and has written online articles for Catholic Answers Magazine, Strange Notions, and Catholic World Report. He can be found online at douglasbeaumont.com.

And for Jefrey Breshears

According to his bio:

I received my Ph.D. in history from Georgia State University, specializing in two fields: (1) Ancient history, philosophy and religion; and (2) modern United States history. I also taught for 15 years at Georgia State and Kennesaw State University, and also at Atlanta Christian College and Reformed Theological Seminary, during which time I taught courses in ancient and medieval history, early and modern U.S. history, and political history.  I also developed a course entitled “American History Off the Record: Social and Political Themes in Popular Music from World War I Through the 1970s.”  In 2003 I founded the Areopagus, a Christian education organization in the Atlanta area that offers semester-length seminar courses and forums on topics related to Christian history, apologetics, contemplative Christian spirituality, literature and the arts, and contemporary cultural issues.

Having done some recent research on this topic, I am looking forward to having two people who have studied this more than I have come on and discuss the matter. I also hope this discussion will produce more light than heat. Be watching for the next episode and please consider leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: The Cult of the Saints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: The Communion of Saints

What does it mean to speak about the Communion of Saints? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In our day and age if we live in the West, we’ve really lost sight of community. This is why we often have what I call a Lone Ranger Christianity. We tend to think that we can do it all on our own. In the apologetics field, I often see this with people who think they have to be authorities on every subject. In the end, they will end up being authorities on none. They know enough to go a little bit further than most, but they don’t know enough to go deep on a topic.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to apologetics. This applies to many of us in the Christian community. When you meet someone who wants to avoid the fellowship of fellow Christians in a church and chooses to just be a Christian on their own, then you are dealing with someone who thinks that this is actually possible. It’s not. We are commanded to be a body, to be a family, to be a unity.

When we think about the Communion of Saints, we are not thinking about Communion as is practiced in most Protestant churches today, though that is an example, but we are thinking something along the lines of the cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 12 with numerous examples in Hebrews 11. We are thinking of the heroes of the faith who went before us and we are also thinking about our brothers and sisters around the world, many of whom are having to pay the ultimate price for Jesus right now.

When the church comes together for a Communion it is where we celebrate what really unites us and what is that? Consider what is often said. “The body of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, broken for you.” “The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given for you.” In each case, we are pointing to Jesus as our Lord and Savior. This is what unites us. This is our common bond. We are a body that has many members in it and we all serve different roles. Not everyone is an apologist, or an evangelist, or a teacher, or a counselor, or a minister, or a missionary. We might all be called to do some of that type of work on a certain occasion, but that does not mean it is necessarily our life focus.

What unites us most is our neediness. We are all people who realize that we are in trouble and we are in need of a savior and we have chosen to place our trust in Christ and call Him Lord. At least, we say we call Him Lord. The question we have to ask ourselves today is if we just say that or if we really live like it is true, and part of the reason the Christian church is not being the salt and light in the West that it could be is that our individualism makes it that we are more often unknowingly seeking to make ourselves the Lord of Jesus. Our faith is a great way for us to meet our goals and be successful rather than a way for us to bring about the success of the Kingdom of God.

This is also why church history is so important. When we look back, we can see several saints who went before us and see how they lived their lives and learn from their wisdom, and granted this is something I need to do a lot more of as well. None of us are islands in Christianity. We’ve all got to where we were before by standing on the shoulders of those who came before us and we owe them a great debt.

Remember today that you are part of a body. Go through the epistles and look at the “One Another” commands that are given. How many are you following? Are you observing the fact that you are part of the Communion of Saints?

In Christ,

Nick Peters