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)

Book Plunge: Primal Loss

What do I think about Leila Miller’s book published by LCB Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The kids will be alright if the parents split. Right? I mean, the experts all told us it was for the best for the children. If the parents are happy, the children will be happy. Right?

Those children are now speaking and they are not happy. They are speaking about the damage that the divorce caused them. These are people who even if they have gone on to have functional lives, still carry the scars of divorce with them even into their own marriages and other relationships.

Now let’s be clear on something. This does not mean that divorce is never a sad necessity sometimes or the unforgivable sin. I believe that if there is a marriage where both people want to work for the good of the marriage, then they can work for it and reach it. This can include even in the case of an actual affair. There could still be times of separation that are needed, however, such as in the case of physical or sexual abuse.

Leila has seventy correspondents she has talked to about this matter. Each of them are asked about eight specific topics. They are left anonymous although details about each can be found in the back. No names are given.

The following are the eight topics.

1. Effects of the divorce.
2. Feelings as child vs adult.
3. View of marriage.
4. Are children resilient?
5. Speak to your parents then and now.
6. What society should know.
7. The role of faith in healing.
8. To those facing divorce.

After this, she has stories of hope of people who overcame divorce in their own marriages and are now happily married. Then, she has a section on what the Catholic Church teaches on divorce. The former section contains several short stories and the latter section is just a few pages.

The stories in the book of what the children went through are gripping and painful to read. They need to be read though. They need to be heard. These are people being raw and candid and not writing to impress. They’re not normally going on and on about themselves or being overdramatic. They are expressing the pain they have as a result of the divorce. They are urging people to work on their own marriages.

There are some further steps I would like to see from a book like this.

First off, I understand this is by a Catholic writer reaching Catholics, but I would like to see this work broadened beyond that. I would like to see Protestants and Orthodox included as well as other religions and even secularists. Is the role of divorce in the lives of these other people the same? Will an atheist be hurt by the divorce of their parents?

I also think this will be good for people outside of the Catholic tradition who read the book. Divorce hits all people groups and all people groups need some help with it. I would like to know what people in my Protestant tradition would say to these questions as well as what other people would say in other faiths or no faiths?

Sometimes, I also thought the large number was good, but it could also be good to have a book that would have fewer correspondents, but those would be far more extensive. Perhaps a sit-down style of interview such as could be found in a Lee Strobel book on the topic.

I would also like to know what encouragement would be given to couples who don’t have children and are considering divorce. If the reason given is the kids will be damaged, what happens if kids aren’t involved? What reason is given then?

Still, this is a book that needs to be read. We need to hear about the effects divorce has on a culture. No. The kids are not alright.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Gospel Allegiance

What do I think of Matthew Bates’s book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

What is the gospel? Many pastors today write books on the topic and talk about how central it is and how important it is to be proclaiming the good news. Sadly, many of them don’t have the good news right, and these are not the liberals. These are conservative God-honoring pastors who truly want to build up the church. The gospel becomes all about what happens individually in a person’s life. Justification by faith is said to be the gospel or in some cases I’ve seen such as saying Calvinism is the gospel.

My wife and I once attended a church where the pastor at the end of every sermon gave a call to accept Jesus as savior. Unfortunately, it seemed like the whole goal every time was to get someone to go to heaven. It’s as if it’s decided that the whole point of Jesus coming and dying and rising again is all about the next life and not here.

Matthew Bates says this must change. Now while it sounds like he’s wanting to change the gospel, what he’s wanting to change is our perception. He wants the gospel to go beyond forgiveness of sins. He’s not opposed to that as it’s certainly included in the message and he’s not opposed to justification by faith, but what is the gospel?

The gospel is about Jesus coming and living and dying and rising again and thus, being the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and everyone else for that matter. We treat Messiah like it’s a name. I have even had atheists ask me why a Jewish guy would have a Greek last name, as if Jesus was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christ. The religion of Islam stresses that Jesus is the Christ, but it gives no content to this whatsoever.

When we say Jesus is the Messiah, we mean He is the king and He came to institute the Kingdom of God on Earth. Our response to this is not intellectual assent which is normally meant by faith. Instead, what is required is a life of allegiance. This does not mean that we earn our salvation, but that our lives model what we say we believe.

The kingship of Jesus means that we are not just agreeing with a proposition, but living lives of loyalty to the king. When we get the gospel wrong, we make the gospel be all about what happens to us. The gospel is all about what Jesus did and who He is. You could give a gospel presentation today to people that would not require Jesus being the Messiah or being the king. We are doing something wrong at that point.

Bates’s message then is that this a more biblical way of viewing salvation. Salvation is something that God does in us, but we willingly submit to him with a life of faith lived outward in allegiance to him. Bates does take on some of our modern pastors who emphasize too much justification by faith. He doesn’t disagree with them, but he does say that we need to move beyond that. He does have some problems with Catholicism, though he does not say Catholics are not Christians and is concerned when any Christian is restricted from partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

This is stuff I have already believed, but once you see it spelled out, it’s hard to not see it in other places. When I hear someone give a gospel presentation or read it now, it seems so lacking. While this is something I have even done a sermon on, it is something that needs to be stressed. We have made Christianity be about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which is reducing Jesus down to the buddy Jesus idea, and not about Jesus being king. When I introduce myself at a Celebrate Recovery meeting, I do not describe myself as a faithful believer in Jesus, but rather as a faithful servant of king Jesus.

I hope more pastors and more Christians read Bates’s book. Bates is doing the church a great service. He is taking the material of scholars and giving it to the public on these issues in a way that is easy to understand. This book is highly readable for the layman and I recommend it greatly.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Steven Anderson on Mount Athos

What do I think of Steven Anderson’s views on Orthodoxy? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For those who don’t know yet, I am a thoroughly convinced Protestant. I have a wife who is interested in Eastern Orthodoxy and that did get me looking into issues of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It really was something I never wanted to get into since I am one who tries to be ecumenical. Now I do have a greater understanding of both positions and still disagree, but I don’t want people speaking wrongly against my brothers and sisters on the way.

For those who don’t know, Steven Anderson is this crazy pastor who thinks that we should kill all the homosexuals or that they should kill themselves. This is not to say that I think homosexuality is fine. I think Scripture is clear on the wrongness of homosexual practice. It’s also clear to me that we’re not in an Israelite theocracy based on the Old Testament Law.

I also find it interesting that the video we’ll be looking at has a description that says the real way to get to Heaven. It’s a shame that Pastor Anderson thinks that the whole point of Christianity is to get to Heaven. That is part of it, but the goal of the gospel is to bring honor to God and has an impact for this life and not just the next one.

In this video, Pastor Anderson says that he is told that he needs to look into Mount Athos. Some of you might not know that for Orthodox people, Mount Athos is one of the most holy sites out there. I don’t claim to fully understand that, but I know when I’m at the Orthodox Church and hear Mount Athos mentioned, it’s a really big deal.

The first thing he talks about is the idea of vain repetition. I understand the concern with saying the Jesus Prayer over and over and I do agree that some people could get into this being a rote thing that they do without any real motivation behind it, but the constant repetition does not equal vain repetition. Jesus condemns a certain kind of repetition, but He does not condemn all of it.

The Jesus Prayer in my understanding is meant to change the person praying more than be a constant plea for mercy. It’s meant to make them think about who Jesus is. It’s up to the person to determine if they’re being vain in their repetition or not.

Next he mentions praying to Mary. Now I do disagree with this practice, but at the same time, I’m not ready to say everyone who has done such is being thrown into hell or is outside of the body. I would find it hard to condemn Christians across the centuries who have been doing this since whenever it started, and any Orthodox person who wants to convince me it started early had better bring some really good historical evidence to the table.

The same will be said with praying to the saints. While I disagree with this, I am not one who thinks that there were no true Christians after the apostles died until Martin Luther showed up again. I actually think most Catholics while disagreeing with Luther would agree that the Catholic Church needed some reformation and change in it and there were corrupt practices going on. Any material about practices like this then I will not say further on but just point back to these sections.

He also says something about the drinking of alcohol. He is right that the Bible condemns drunkenness, but it does not follow that it condemns alcohol, any more than the Bible condemning gluttony means that it condemns eating. The Bible condemns extramarital sex, but it thoroughly commends it between husband and wife in marital union. Jesus did not turn the water into grape juice at Cana.

I want to say at this point also that I do not say this as one who drinks alcohol. My wife has come to accept that I am willing to change my diet in many areas, but I just never want to drink alcohol. If you can control it, I have no problem with you drinking it, but I will abstain.

He then goes on to a monk carving a crucifix and says it is the making of idols even though we are told to not make any graven images. To begin with, if images are the problem, then what is going on behind Pastor Anderson in his own church video with watching a service live? Would we really say the problem with the image is that it is graven instead of that it is an image?

The first person to be explicitly said to be filled with the Holy Spirit in the Bible is a man named Bezalel. Who was he? An artist. He made images that he was ordered by God to make. Now it could be that the Bible contradicts itself in such an obvious way, or else the prohibition is not against images, but rather against the use of images to worship.

This is a point the Iconophiles brought up against the iconoclasts in the debates about the use of icons. At the same time, I want to be aware that yes, some people could treat icons and relics as if they were magic charms which is just as bad. The misuse of an object does not point to a lack of a proper use.

He also says that the Bible says it’s a shame for a man to have long hair and every priest and monk on Mount Athos has that. Samson also had it as that was part of the Nazarite vow. What is going on in 1 Corinthians is Paul is addressing practices of the day. How men and women wore their hair said something to their culture then. Were I to visit Anderson’s church, would he want me to greet his wife with a holy kiss? That’s what Scripture tells me I am to do.

Pastor Anderson said that Jesus said to beware of the ones who go around in long clothing. Jesus was speaking more of the tassels on the garments and those were used to show a special kind of holiness. In other words, Jesus was against wearing clothes for the purpose of showing off your holiness. It’s not as if Jesus would have no problem with the scribes and Pharisees if they suddenly switched to shorts and T-shirts.

He also has a statement about the prohibition of calling people Father. Now at this time, I also do not call priests in the church by the name of Father. At the same time, I recognize there are some ridiculous extremes that can be taken, such as the video my wife and I saw once about the man who called his parents by their names instead of Mom and Dad even to avoid breaking the commandment of Christ.

He also looks at collections of skulls and femurs and other bones they have and says that the Bible says to bury the dead out of sight and to not touch dead bodies. It’s really a shame a pastor has such a poor understanding of Israelite Law and its relation to Gentiles today in light of the new covenant. My understanding is that these are gathered to remind the people of the resurrection that is coming.

There’s a part here where in what is apparently an aside he says that the monks are dressed like warlocks. I am sure in movies and TV shows and video games warlocks dress in these robes, but I am also sure that in real life, they could dress just like everyone else for the most part. As I say this, it is still morning and I am wearing my Legend of Zelda robe. I suppose Pastor Anderson is convinced I’m a heathen then.

He also says that the Bible says that all those who hate me love death. He doesn’t say who says this, but it is Wisdom in the book of Proverbs. This is said about the skull collecting, but does that equal a love of death? Does someone who grows up wanting to be a mortician then hate Jesus? This is not done to worship the dead but to honor the dead.

He then goes and says there is no monastery or monk in the Bible. True. There’s also no such thing as a pulpit or a pew in the Bible as well. I wonder if Pastor Anderson’s church has a parking lot and heating and air system in it since those aren’t in the Bible. His services are recorded, even though the Bible says nothing about that. If he wants to go the argument from silence route, I expect him to be consistent.

Finally, in criticism, he says that Orthodoxy is closer to Eastern practices and he gives Buddhism as an example. The thing is, he’s right and also wrong. I don’t think it’s like Buddhism, but it is closer to Eastern practices. What else is closer to that is the culture of the Bible itself. Pastor Anderson probably knows nothing about the eastern dynamics of honor and shame and agonistic societies. The Bible is itself not a Western book. It is a Middle Eastern one.

He encourages people to come to the real Jesus and the real gospel. I encourage that, but I have many friends who are Orthodox and Catholic. We disagree on many things, but there is something we don’t disagree on. We agree on who Jesus is.

I am sure Pastor Anderson’s motivations for this are noble, but his criticisms are way off the mark. I encourage healthy dialogue between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox on our differences, but let’s make sure they are informed criticisms. I also encourage that we try to recognize that others are Christians as well. Not all Catholics and Orthodox and Protestants are Christians, of course, but for the most part, the doctrines all agree on the centrality of Christ and His work in salvation.

Let’s try to focus first on what we agree on. Alright?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/13/2018: Glenn Sunshine

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

Just over 500 years ago this month, the Reformation started which shook the world, and not just the Christian world. There is much debate about this event. Was it a good thing? Was it a bad thing? Why was it done?

This month on the Deeper Waters Podcast, we are focusing on these kinds of questions. This one obviously is rooted in history. How shall we approach it? Many of us don’t know much about what the world was like 500 years ago. Just as in studying the world of the Bible, we need to know what the world was like at the time of the Reformation to better understand the dynamics.

To discuss this, I have decided to bring on a historian of the Reformation. I have seen this person do some debating and I was quite impressed with what I saw. It is my hope that he will be able to shed some light on this event for us and help us better understand what it was and how it shapes our world today. His name is Glenn Sunshine.

So who is he?

Glenn got his B.A. from Michigan State University in 1980 in linguistics with high honors. He got his Masters at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1985 in church history graduating Summa Cum Laude, another M.A. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1987 in Renaissance/Reformation history and his Ph.D. in 1992 from the same place in the same subject.

So what did happen in the Reformation? Is this where a new church rose up that was completely cut off from the old? Did the Reformers decide to just get rid of everything and ignore all of the tradition of the past? Did the Reformers originally even intend to break away from the Catholic Church?

How about relations with the Eastern Church? What role did those play? We often forget that there is a third major block of the Christian church.

Did the church really need reform? Would even Catholics think that the church had issues at the time that needed to be addressed? If so, what really led to the events happening that were so dynamic that several people moved away from the Catholic Church and before too long, you had several other churches showing up?

How are we to approach figures like Martin Luther? Sure, he did a lot to reform the church, but didn’t he leave a lot of blotches behind, such as anti-semitism? Was he accurate in what he said and would any of his opponents have conceded that?

Finally, how has the Reformation affected us today? What are the positives? What are the negatives? How are we to be Christians in a post-Reformation culture?

These are the kinds of questions I plan to ask. I can’t guarantee I’ll get to all and there will be new ones rise up, but it will be great to talk about this with a professor of Reformation history. I hope you’ll be listening and please consider going on iTunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/6/2018: Orthodoxy and Protestantism

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

This month is the month that the Reformation took place in history. This is an event in history that changed Christianity greatly. Many people grow up thinking that if you’re not Catholic, then you’re Protestant. This means that they forget about the other pathway of Orthodoxy.

Readers of this blog know that I am not Orthodox. I have read on it and done writing on why I disagree, but I am always for people exploring questions. What better way to explore than have both sides come together and discuss what they agree on and what they disagree on and how Protestant and Orthodox relations can move on from here?

To do this, I first asked the priest at the church Allie and I have been attending if he would come on to talk about Orthodoxy. Who to have discuss on the other side? I searched for awhile and asked a number of people and eventually found that Dr. James Payton would take on the task.

So who are these men?

Dr. Payton:

According to his bio:

B.A. (Religion), 1969 — Bob Jones University
M.A. (Theology), 1971 — Bob Jones University
M.Div., 1975 — Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)
Th.M. (Historical theology), 1975 — Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)
Ph.D. (Intellectual History of Early Modern Europe [2nd field: Late Medieval Political and Ecclesiastical History]) — University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario)
8 years as a pastor (1977-1985)
30 years as a history professor (1985-2015) at Redeemer University College (Ancaster, Ontario)
— now, Professor Emeritus of History (Redeemer University College)
And Father Barnabas Powell:

According to his bio:

Fr. Barnabas (Charles) Powell is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. Having been raised in a small Pentecostal church as a boy, Barnabas grew to love the church, enjoy the music, and eventually came to be the youth pastor of his home church.

Barnabas attended Toccoa Falls College, an Evangelical Protestant school in North East Georgia, and received his theology degree there in 1988. He then went on to establish a new church in the Atlanta area. While pastoring, Barnabas also was heavily involved with Evangelical Christian media. He served Dr. Charles Stanley’s In Touch Ministries as Promotions and Public Relations coordinator, and also served as the Affiliates manager for Leading The Way Ministries with Dr. Michael Youssef.

Barnabas became interested in the history of the Church, and began a reading program that would eventually lead him to enter the Orthodoxy. Several of the families that had been with him during his pastorate entered the Orthodox Christian Church together in November of 2001.

Barnabas joined the staff of Orthodox Christian Network, the producers of Come Receive The Light, in April of 2003, and now serves the media outreach as the director of development. Orthodox Christian Network is the SCOBA Agency commissioned to create and sustain a national media outreach for the Orthodox Christian Churches in the U.S.

In 2007 Barnabas was given the blessing of Metropolitan ALEXIOS of Atlanta to enter Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.

On November 8th 2009, Barnabas was ordained to the diaconate in his home town of Atlanta, GA at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral by His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios and on Sunday March 8, 2010, Barnabas was ordained to the holy priesthood at the same cathedral. He is now the proistamenos (senior pastor) of Sts. Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene Greek Orthodox Church in Cumming, GA.

Fr. Barnabas founded Faith Encouraged Ministries in 2014 and is the host of Faith Encouraged LIVE on Ancient Faith Radio. He also produces the Monday thru Friday Devotional called Faith Encouraged Daily.

Fr. Barnabas is particularly motivated by the beauty and timelessness of our Orthodox Christian faith and strives to see this timeless faith put down deep roots here in America. The Orthodox Christian faith is uniquely suited to quench the spiritual thirst of Americans from all backgrounds with the depth and beauty of our Orthodox faith.

Ultimately, Fr. Barnabas believes that Orthodoxy is the path to both spiritual renewal in our Orthodox homes and the path for all believers to spiritual maturity.

This is already agreed to not be a debate, but a discussion. We will discussing what unites us and what we disagree on and how we can move on from there. What should Protestant and Orthodox relations be like in the future? What can we learn from one another?

I hope you’ll be listening. Please also be sharing our work and go on iTunes and leave a positive review for the Deeper Waters Podcast with Nick Peters. I love to see them!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace The Mother of Jesus

What do I think of Scot McKnight’s book published by Paraclete Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In looking at Orthodoxy and Catholicism, I have thought the attention given to Mary is overdone. I can’t agree with praying to Mary or treating her like she’s the Queen of Heaven or asking her to intercede for us and such. While I freely say I think Catholics and Orthodox make more of Mary than should be done, I think Protestants have seen that error and done the exact opposite.

So we read the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke and see the parts about Mary and kind of rush through those. Mary in essence just becomes an incubator for the Son of God and then we rush her off the scene. After all, we don’t want to be mistaken for Catholics or Orthodox!

This is just as much of an error.

In this book, McKnight seeks to take a look at Mary from a historical perspective starting with just the Bible first. Mary is no simple ordinary peasant girl. She is a girl who accepts one of the most dangerous positions in history and while a peasant, has the temerity to challenge both Herod and Caesar.

From the moment Mary agreed to the request of the angel, she knew her life wouldn’t be the same. What about her future husband? What about her family? What about her reputation? In response to all of this, Mary still sings. She rejoices that she has been given the honor of bearing the Messiah and realizing that her son will be king. Could Mary and Joseph have gone to synagogue services later on in life hearing them pray for the coming of the Messiah and given each other a knowing wink and looked over at Jesus knowing He was the one?

At the same time, Mary still has her own growth to do. Imagine her going to the temple one day for purification and there is Simeon who is waiting for the Lord’s Messiah. He takes Jesus in his arms and prophecies about him. Here Mary is probably anticipating all the glory that will come. Instead, Simeon gives a dark message. Jesus will be responsible for the rise and fall of many. Jesus will Himself be rejected. Not only that, a sword will pierce Mary’s heart as well.

But this is the Messiah….

He’s supposed to be the king….

He’s not supposed to be rejected….

Then Jesus grows up to be a man and what is He doing? Is He out gathering an army to attack Rome? No. He’s preaching and doing miracles. Something isn’t right! Mary and her sons and daughters race down to see Jesus to find out what they can do. Jesus is out of His mind!

Jesus lays out the parameters of the relationship. The Kingdom of God must come first. Mary has accepted Jesus as the Messiah, but will she accept Jesus as her Lord? Will she accept that this is what the Messiah really does? Will she realize the ideas of the Jewish people of what the Messiah does are false?

McKnight spends some time looking at later developments in Mariology. He does think we should accept Theotokos, which I have no problem with. Of course, it must be properly understood which is one reason I would not bring it up in, say, a debate with an atheist. If Son of God is hard to understand, how much more is Mother of God?

He also thinks that we should have at least one day a year in the church calendar to honor Mary? And why not? We celebrate David and Moses and Paul and Peter and so many others. Why not Mary? This is the woman who was entrusted with raising the Son of God on Earth. Shouldn’t we celebrate her?

This book left me with a new appreciation of Mary and thinking as a Protestant I need to do more. It is an error to go extreme in one direction as I have said. It is just as much to go the other way. Let’s not do that.

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

 

The Denominations Myth

How many denominations are there? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Have you ever heard the claim about how many denominations there are in Protestantism? This is used by people in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and even atheists and agnostics. The former against Protestantism and the latter against Christianity. How can anyone take Christianity seriously when there are so many different groups?

The number is often exaggerated and without looking at the source for it. Any high number should be viewed with suspicion, especially if it goes into the tens of thousands. Still, this claim is not without some evidence behind it and even this from a valid source.

If you look at The World Encyclopedia of Christianity you will find that it does indeed say there are over 30,000 denominations. Well, time to pack it up and go home. After all, we’re way too divided if that’s the case.

While there is some division, it is not as much as one would think at a closer look. The division is into six major ecclesiastical blocks. It’s strange how that isn’t the first position cited. Actually, no. No, it’s not. Many people wanting to use arguments without checking their source thoroughly will go with something that falls along their biases. We are all guilty of this tendency and we must all check ourselves.

This is a list of these kinds of groups. If you look, you will find that Orthodoxy and Catholicism both have a number of denominations listed in them. This is based on the kinds of rites that they follow. It’s doubtful whether any practitioner of these traditions thinks that these all count as different denominations.

Some denominations are also based on a particular need. Consider the case of a Korean church for instance. They want a church that speaks their language and understands their culture. Their beliefs could be identical to the Baptist church down the street in terms of doctrine, but they would still be another denomination.

Also, consider that in a city like mine, Atlanta, you could have churches in different areas that are independent Baptist. These are not tied to a hierarchial order. Suppose they all have the same beliefs doctrinally, but they are far apart because this is a big city and not everyone wants to drive fifty miles or however much it is to get to church. Each of these would count as one denomination.

Someone might say, “Well, Nick. Of course, you’re going to say this. You’re a Protestant.” Fair enough, but first off, that doesn’t deal with the evidence I present. Second, it doesn’t deal with the fact that a Roman Catholic writer also recognizes the problem. Does this show that Catholicism or Orthodoxy are incorrect? Not at all. It does show that this is a bad argument for their position, just as there are bad arguments for Christianity, Protestantism, Sola Scriptura, and any other position.

For a humorous look at this, I recommend also the video my ministry partner, J.P. Holding made.

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