Book Plunge: The Liturgy Trap

What do I think of James Jordan’s book published by Athanasius Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As one a few years ago who started having to interact with the Orthodox Church, I have become curious about the divide between the Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. I have a great respect for all three traditions, although my home is in Protestantism. Still, when I saw a book about the liturgy trap and evangelicals being drawn into Catholic and Orthodox churches because of the worship, I decided to see what was said.

I had a concern at the start hearing that the author was part of the Reformed tradition. I am thankful for my fellow Protestant Christians who are Reformed, but at the same time I realize too often they can take too hard a line on the issues. I was relieved to hear that Jordan does not write off Catholics and Orthodox as non-Christians even if he does disagree with their churches.

I was also pleased to hear that he points to a real problem in evangelical churches. Our worship is way too shallow. Much of our songs are really filled with emotional pablum with no theological depth to them whatsoever. The songs focus on the singer and how they feel for the most part. Few of our sermons have any real depth to them. When I would attend an Orthodox Church, one benefit I had is while I never got into the liturgy, when I heard the sermon, I at least knew I would hear something substantial even if I didn’t agree with it, which was the minority for the most part.

A number of Jordan’s criticisms though I found lacking. I found it difficult to tell what his position was on praying to saints although I know he disagreed. I did get the impression that he has no problem with the idea of the word worship properly understood. For instance, it used to be in some marriage ceremonies each spouse would say to the other, “With my body, I thee worship.”

I agreed with his point on tradition. When I hear someone say that they hold to Scripture and tradition, I think they hold to certain traditions. Catholics and Orthodox both say they hold to the apostolic tradition, and yet there is disagreement between the two of them. When I hear a tradition, I want to know who said it, when did it start, and how reliable is it? If I hear of a tradition and it first shows up a few centuries after Jesus, I am skeptical.

One such tradition dealt with is the idea of perpetual virginity. This is one tradition I definitely question as it looks highly convincing to me that Jesus had brothers and sisters and I have no reason to think of these as anything but natural brothers and sisters. I do not find convincing the story of Jesus at the cross giving His mother to the beloved disciple as a reason to question that Jesus had brothers and sisters. I think Protestants should give honor to Mary as the mother of our Lord and so on our end, I think we don’t show enough reverence.

Overall, I think Jordan does definitely hit on valid points, but I think he overdoes it to at times. What I would like to see, and I just checked and it still isn’t on there, is something like a Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox counterpoints book by Zondervan. I realize there is Robert Plummer’s Journeys of Faith, but I find that one too limiting in interaction as there is just one reply and I would like to see all the positions interacting.

I also wish something had been said about, you know, liturgy. I was hoping there would be some look at worship in church history. For a book with that title, one would think that would be an emphasis, but sadly, it wasn’t. I won’t deny for some, the liturgy is quite beautiful and I understand that. For me, it really didn’t resonate and I suspect I am not alone in that.

If you’re interested in the debate, this one is a good one to interact with still. I do appreciate that it was said that there are real Christians in other churches instead of all guns blazing. We need to be able to debate our disagreements, but still do so as brothers and sisters in Christ.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
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Deeper Waters Podcast 4/18/2020

What’s coming up?

April is Autism Awareness Month. As an aspie married to an aspie, I am always doing something in April for this month. This month is no exception. Back in January, I was told about an interesting individual I should have on my show for this occasion.

While I am thoroughly Protestant, I have no problem associating with Catholics and Orthodox and hold strongly to a Mere Christianity. This week, I am having on a Catholic priest who very well understands the ins and outs of autism. This is because he himself is an autistic priest. His name is Matthew Schneider and he will be telling us about life as an autistic priest.

So who is he?

According to his bio (Taken from his blog on Patheos):

Jesus loves us. I love Jesus. My name is Fr Matthew P. Schneider, LC I’m a priest with the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi. I try to fulfill our mission of helping people know and experience Jesus, be transformed by him, and become his apostles.

I began working in youth ministry and wrote some of the material for the Conquest and Challenge Clubs but in recent years I have moved away from that. In relation to youth ministry, I wrote the only book on doing 1-on-1 spiritual mentoring with teenagers called Spiritually Mentoring Teenage Boys based on my experience (90% of it probably applies to teen girls too but I don’t have much experience there).

Slowly I’ve become one of the biggest Catholic voices on Twitter with over 50,000 followers.

I’m currently writing my doctoral thesis in Moral Theology through Regina Apostolorum in Rome. On the side, I write some articles for the Regnum Christi site (no byline), post inspirational stuff and Catholic commentary online (including this), help with sacraments at local parishes, and occasionally talk publicly on subjects I discuss here (use the contact form if you want this). I do this while living in the Legionary community in the Philadelphia metro area.

Along with my writing here, I have written for or appeared in at least 65 other media outlets.

  • I have written pieces appearing in the National Catholic Register, America, Crux, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Aleteia, ZENIT, ChurchPOP, Catholic.net, Ignitium Today, Regnum Christi Live, CatholicismUSA, and Shalom Tidings.
  • My pieces have been featured on New Advent, The National Catholic Register, BigPulpit.com, The Catholic Herald, and Spirit Daily.
  • I have been interviewed on/in the EWTN Nightly News, Catholic News Agency, The Son Rise Morning Show, Crux, Morning Air on Relevant Radio, The Catholic Channel on SiriusXM, EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, EWTN Noticias, The Catholic Herald, Elite Daily, and Kresta in the Afternoon.
  • I or my work has appeared in stories by Catholic News Agency, Crux, the Associated Press, the Huffington Post, Christianity Today, Slate, The Philippine Daily Inquirer, CNN Español, The Washington Post, Elite Daily, BuzzFeed, The Christian Science Monitor, NBC 4 (New York), RT, “On Religion” (syndicated column), LifeNews.com, The Washington Times, CBS News, The Hill, and The Guardian.
  • These lesser-known sources also had me or my work featured in some way: CatholicPhilly.com, March for Life, Grandin Media, UPolitics, The Troubadour (Franciscan University), World Religion News, The Family Research Council, ClevelandPeople.Com, International Badass Activists, Christian Daily, AsumeTech, CathNews USA, The Assyrian International News Agency, Aspie Catholic, The Brown Pelican Society, Macoco TV CHANNEL, Regnum Christi, The Diocese of Madison this week on Relevant Radio, Radio Maria, Iowa Catholic Radio, Sacred Heart Radio, EpicPew, and Upworthy.

So we will have a show with two aspies in ministry, one a Protestant and one a Catholic, talking together about what it’s like. We’ll discuss Matthew’s story and how he got to where he is and what challenged and even blessings there are in being an autistic priest. I hope you’ll be joining us.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Praying in the Presence of our Lord with St.Thomas Aquinas.

What do I think of Mike Aquilina’s book published by Lambing Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife got me this book as a gift knowing that I am looking to improve my prayer life and that I’m a big fan of Thomas Aquinas. At the start, this is a book by a Catholic for a Catholic. I am not faulting that at all. Protestants write for Protestants normally, Orthodox for Orthodox, Atheists for atheists, Muslims for Muslims, etc. Naturally, they all write books at times to try to convince others, but books that are more devotional will be more likely to be non-argumentative.

So if you’re a Protestant reading this, no, you likely will not agree with the views of the Eucharist and Mary, but that’s okay. It is quite foolish to say whichever camp you belong to that you cannot learn from the others. Aquinas is definitely someone we can all learn from and not just in his intellectual mind, but in his devotional mind.

Aquilina goes through some of the prayers of Aquinas and breaks them down bit by bit and has a devotional entry on each of them. This could then be a good daily devotional to be read just to have something to meditate on. At the same time, someone could go straight through, like I did, and get some good material out of it.

Reading through also gives the reader something to shoot for. Aquinas was in his day from my understanding a loner and standout from the crowd, but his passion is something not talked about often. Aquilina tells us that when Aquinas had a hard problem, he would go and lean his head on the altar and rest it there hoping to receive solace.

God wasn’t just an intellectual pursuit for Aquinas, although there was certainly a lot of that in his life. God was a being, a personal being, to be desired for His own sake. It is easy to go to God to thank Him for what He has done, which we should, and to make our requests known to Him, which we should do, but too often we do not come to Him for who He is.

Aquilina tells us that adoration is something that should be reserved for God alone. Of course, there’s always the chance that words change meanings and what we mean by adore isn’t the same thing as was meant back then. The attitude would still need to be the same and that would be that only God deserves the highest place. Any Christian knows that sadly, that can be a struggle at times.

So if you want to improve your prayer life and use Aquinas as a model, this is a good one. Areas of disagreement for Protestants do not have to be the focus. Catholics and Orthodox are more likely to enjoy those elements of the work, but we could all bear to improve our prayer life. Aquinas is a great model for that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The 72-hour Rule

Should we wait before we comment? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Sometimes in the world of major news networks and the internet where everyone is wanting to break the story first, we can rush to conclusions. This is especially the case in the age of iPhones when everyone practically has a video camera with them. There can be details that come out later that change a story.

A few months or so ago here in Atlanta, there was a news story about an Uber Eats driver that shot and killed a customer. When I first heard the story, my initial reaction was murder. Then I found out that this driver had the customer near him and the customer was reaching for his pockets and making a threat about what he was going to do to the driver. The driver then shot and drove off. He also turned himself into the police later.

Now I understand that Uber Eats drivers aren’t supposed to carry guns, but I honestly don’t blame the guy. If I was going to see strangers regularly, I might want to carry some form of protection as well. We also can say we don’t know what this guy would do, but the police follow the same procedure. That’s why when I get pulled over for something like speeding, I always tell the police, “I’m just getting my wallet.” They don’t know.

Over the weekend, we also had such a story break out about a Catholic boy and a Native American veteran. Based on a short clip when the story broke, the boy was immediately being condemned as a villain for going after this Native American. No doubt, there were panels being formed on news stations discussing what we could do about problems like racism today and how the youth of our nation are and probably some digs at Catholicism.

Then more of the video came out.

Whoops! I understand that even CNN has said they got this one wrong. Everyone rushed to judgment and not all the facts were in. We all had to say something immediately. Now, there’s nothing wrong with forming an opinion, but make it a tentative opinion.

I even had a friend on Facebook last night who had apparently bought into the idea of the ten-second clip and yet so many good people were trying to explain the reality of the whole story. It wasn’t helping at all. Later on, when I made a comment, I got unfriended as did another friend. My position was one that I have said before. If evidence will not change a person’s mind, their opinion is not based on evidence.

This is especially so in our political climate. I don’t care if you’re someone who thinks Obama was the best thing since sliced bread or if you think Trump is. If I saw people sharing false stories about Obama, I called them out for it despite how much I did not care for the guy. If we want to take down our opponents, let’s do it in truth and not in lies.

The idea of the 72-hour rule was one I saw someone else share, but I think it’s a good principle. Before you come down hard on an issue, wait 72 hours at least. See what unknown facts could come out. Let the case be examined better. Rush judgments can leave egg on your face.

Not only that, this boy and his family have received death threats because of a rush to judgment, One would hope that we would all agree that that is uncalled for, but today, I am not sure. Either way, this boy has received attacks he never should have because of hasty judgments.

Those of us in apologetics need to remember that we are always supposed to be people of truth in everything. We are supposed to be diligent researchers and seeking to find out what is true. We can have opinions, but let’s not make them rock solid. Give things time and then you can speak and have less chance of egg on your face.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/15/2018: Tim Perry

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

There’s something about Mary. She was a remarkable woman in her time and one we can all learn from today. She was a woman who got the desire of all women of the time of being the mother of the Messiah and yet suffered greatly for it from conception on. She was promised that a sword would pierce her soul as well.

The struggle is that many Protestant evangelicals don’t know what to do with Mary. We look at what our brothers and sisters do in Catholicism and Orthodoxy and say, “That’s going a bit too far.” Then we say we want to do everything we can to avoid that so we have a tendency to just skip over those chapters as quickly as we can. If we give any honor to Mary, it’s just as quickly as can be and then move on.

So how should we approach her? What do we do with Mary? Have we often gone too far the other way? What can we learn from Scripture and history about this woman? In order to discuss this, I brought on an evangelical who has done the study of Mary. Perhaps we can get an evangelical Mariology. So who is our guest? His name is Tim Perry. And who is that?

He wrote Mary For Evangelicals while teaching theology at Providence College in Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada. After leaving Providence, He served in parish ministry in Sudbury, Ontario and continues to do so in Shawville, Quebec. He is an adjunct professor at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Ontario and Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA

This interview was scheduled to take place in October for Reformation month, but some events happened beyond our control and we were unable to have the dialogue. I considered that Christmastime would be just as appropriate a time to talk about Mary. This is especially so since our last discussion focused around the virgin birth. (Which I do affirm.)

We’ll be talking about the history of Mary and how she is to be seen today. Why is it that we who are evangelicals often get hesitant around this woman? Have we committed an opposite error to that of what we accuse Catholics and Orthodox of so often? When we are celebrating Christmas this year, how ought we to think of this woman? Aside from songs like “Mary, Did You Know?” we really don’t have much out there that talks about Mary. Is that a problem on our end and if so, what can we do about it?

I hope you’ll be listening to the next episode of our show where we will talk about this amazing woman and what we can learn from her today. Our earlier shows from this month are being worked on and we will get them to you as soon as possible. Thank you for being a listener of the Deeper Waters Podcast and please go on iTunes and leave a positive review.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

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: Mary for Evangelicals

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

Mary is often a controversial topic for Protestants? Why? We see what the Orthodox and the Catholics do and while I agree it is over the top, we can go too far in the opposite direction. Protestants don’t really have much of a position on Mary other than “We disagree with Catholics and Orthodox.” Protestants like myself need to really learn how to view Mary.

Fortunately, Tim Perry has written an excellent book on that topic. One who reads this book will have to agree that it is thorough. Perry goes from Paul to the Gospels to the early church, the medieval church, to the Reformation, and finally to our own time. Of course, not everything can be covered, but major highlights in the timeline will be.

Perry also works on sticking with what the sources say and presenting differing viewpoints where relevant. We could say that for Protestants, usually Mary shows up at Christmas and then is rushed off of the scene so we can move on to other aspects of the life of Jesus. This could be the case for the Gospels. Mark presents Mary in a section alongside of Jesus’s opponents where she and the family are well-meaning opponents, but still acting as opponents. If all we had was John, we wouldn’t even know Mary’s name.

Going through church history, we start with the early fathers and see the impact of the Protoevangelium of James on the early church. Many did believe it to be a true report, though thankfully some were skeptical. At times, it looks like the early church decided to fill in some missing gaps (Much like many of think needs to be done with the childhood of Jesus) and those explanations can be seen as accurate not because they’re shown to be, but because they’re thought to be fitting of what God would do.

When you get to the Middle Ages, you get to a time that seems to have really stretched. You will have feasts that are done to honor the conception of Mary. This is a good entry to prepare us for the Reformation period.

Here, you have Luther and others who at the start are not opposed to Marian devotions. Later on, this seems to change as appeals to Mary and the saints are often seen as being practices that easily lead to idolatry and less honor being given to Jesus. I can easily say I share these concerns.

As we get to the modern era, we start seeing different looks at Mary. There are feminist looks that think that Mary is too unrealistic for a woman to relate to. There is liberation theology that looks at her as an example of the poor standing up against the rich. While many of us would not agree with a feminist or liberation theology approach, we can agree that Mary’s being a woman needs to be seriously remembered and realize that she was someone who was poor and yet gave a magnificat challenging Herod and Caesar.

Perry at the end gives us his own Mariology. I do think he is too quick to agree with the perpetual virginity of Mary. I don’t think there’s any real basis for this in the Gospels as I think it’s best to treat the brothers of Jesus at face value as brothers. I also think it’s important to look at Josephus’s testimony here who regularly could easily differentiate between cousins and brothers.

He is open to praying to Mary and treating her as a sort of co-redeemer, though I still am suspicious of each of these. I do get concerned about trying to contact those on the other side of the curtain as it were since I don’t see this as a recommended practice in Scripture. I think Perry would probably agree with me that if this cannot be done in good conscience by a Christian, then it should not be done.

This is a good book to read on the importance of understanding Mary. Whether one agrees or disagrees, they will walk away with a greater appreciation of Mary. While we have many disagreements between us, Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox should all agree that Mary is certainly a very important woman in salvation history and be thankful for what she did for us in being the mother of our Lord.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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

 

Deeper Theology

Are we staying in the shallow end? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife has been looking into Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy lately. This was really an area I never wanted to get involved in, but now I am. I want to know what claims she’s hearing and if I think they’re accurate or not. As it stands, I still remain a convinced Protestant, but I am noticing something.

While I think we Protestants have excelled at Bible Study, we’ve often neglected theology. We don’t really know much about what to do with our doctrine of God. We seem to treat the Trinity as this nice little doctrine that we keep around and we get out when we need to address Jehovah’s Witnesses.

My blog has been called Deeper Waters from the beginning because I think we have too often gone shallow. This has largely been due to a lack of discipleship on our part. We place a big emphasis on conversions. I really don’t like that term at all.

Imagine if we said we wanted to see more marriages. We worked to get people to the altar and to say their “I do” statements and then did nothing with them. Hypothetically, those people went back to live with their parents and never interacted at all.

We often do the same kind of thing with conversion. The goal is to get someone to walk down the aisle and say a prayer and make Jesus their savior. There is no investing in them. There is no training in them. There is no discipleship.

This isn’t an across the board condemnation. Of course, there are some churches that do this. There are far too many who do not. This is especially needed in an age where Christianity is being questioned left and right and most people don’t know how to make a basic defense of what they believe let alone know the basics of what they believe.

We often go to churches and sing songs about how Jesus is so important to us. Apparently, He’s so important that we don’t study anything about Him, learn about Him, read the Scripture that tells about Him, or think about Him much at all, except, you know, those times when we need something. Our Christianity is all about what Jesus does in our lives instead of what we do in His.

This is so even with our salvation. Many times, the goal of Christianity has been to get people to go to Heaven. While there, you will live forever and get to see your loved ones again. Oh yeah. God is there too, if that interests you and all. There is nothing about building up the Kingdom of God here. There is nothing about the difference salvation makes in this life. Paul said that if it is only for this life we have hope, we are above all men to be pitied. Paul knew we have hope for this life. Today could it be that Paul would write “If it is only for the next life we have hope….”?

What’s the solution?

It’s a really easy one. Return to deeper theology and study. This isn’t the area of only other traditions. Protestants in the past have done this. I suspect most of it is that here in the West, we have grown more individualistic and all about us. We spend so much time “listening for the voice of God” that we don’t really consider who it is we’re “listening” to.

At the Orthodox church, the priest told me to borrow if I wanted to learn from the library a book called The Orthodox Way. I have been going through it and wondering “Aside from a few secondary details, what about this is specifically Orthodox? I have no problem believing this about God as a Protestant.” I wonder how many people see this and don’t realize that other traditions can have the same views of God as well.

Our Christianity is supposed to be the central defining feature of our lives. Let’s make it that way. Let’s not drop our intellectual weapons. We can better know the God we say we love and serve by studying Him. A good spouse seeks to understand the other spouse so they can better love them. Should we not treat God even better?

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