What do I think of Mattox and Roeber’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
This book is a look at how two Christian academics left the fold of Lutheranism and went to two other churches. One went Roman Catholic and the other Eastern Orthodox. Each of them writes three chapters in the book and the final is by a Lutheran academic who is still a Lutheran on why he’s just not sold on the point yet.
I consider myself a holder of Mere Christianity, but I can say easily the best church I’ve ever been to is a Lutheran church in Knoxville, TN called The Point. For Allie and I, one of the great highlights of getting to go back to Knoxville beyond seeing friends and family is getting to go to the Point again. It is hard for me to find a church that goes beyond the fluff that I normally hear, but the Point does that, while at the same time is able to speak to non-academics and give them a message they need to hear.
Something surprising in this work to me is how approvingly Mattox and Roeber speak about Martin Luther. At one point, I was wondering if Martin Luther was being nominated for sainthood by them. This is a relief in contrast to many of my Protestant turned Catholic friends who love to make posts and memes that poke fun at Luther.
Going through this book will certainly help one better understand the approaches. I do think there is indeed something to the doctrine of theosis talked about by Roeber. Unfortunately today, many people will hear theosis and think of the idea of divine exaltation from the Mormons.
I also do think Protestants need to have a good doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. I know when my wife and I got married, we came back from our honeymoon and went to our church. She had done something to her leg and wasn’t able to walk easily so she was in a back room during the service and watching it on a TV. When the time for Communion came, I, as a new husband, went and got the bread and juice for her and brought them to where she is since I think it was my responsibility to make sure she had that. I consider this a quite special memory.
My hesitancy comes in each case that while I learned much about each tradition, I do not see any reason yet to fully accept each tradition. I think it’s too easy today to engage in all-or-nothing thinking. It could be that theosis is right, but that does not mean that the Orthodox church is the true church established by Christ. It could be that Roman Catholics have a better doctrine of the Eucharist, but that does not mean that the dogmas about the papacy and Mary are accurate.
Much of the book is also about questions of justification and issues involving sexuality today. For justification, I do wish more would have been said about The New Perspective on Paul. This was something that deserves far more traction and I cannot say that justification is the main issue I have in the debates about Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. For me, the claims are largely historical. Can we historically establish with first or even second century evidence that this is what happened? Do we have any reason to believe that teachings that are held today in churches are teachings that were held by the apostles and first Christians?
For issues on sexuality, scandal has rocked all the branches of Christianity here, and this is not a shock. It’s not a reason to go from one denomination to another. You will find sinners and hypocrites in every single one of them. You will find people who do not take their religious life seriously everywhere. This is not the fault of any one church. This is the fault of people.
I appreciated the final contribution of Paul Hinlicky at the end about why he is still a Lutheran. I find his case interesting, but at the same time I wondered what this would have to say to people who are not Lutherans per se. I have said my favorite church is a Lutheran church, but I do not subscribe to it as interdenominational differences don’t really interest me as much. (So why read a book like this? Because I wanted to hear what Jerry Walls had to say and in doing research and preparing a podcast on it, I came across the book by Mattox and Roeber and wanted a counterperspective.)
Here’s the most important point however. I have a great memory of being in the chat service of PALtalk one evening and a Jehovah’s Witness was there dialoguing with myself, a Roman Catholic, and an Eastern Orthodox. It was just four of us and the RC and EO and myself were in great unison defending the doctrine of the Trinity against the Witness. This is how I think it should be.
I do not hold to Catholicism for instance, but I don’t have any patience for the idea that the Pope is the Antichrist. (Although as a preterist, I am convinced some popes have been antichrist.) I love my Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ. I have friends in each field. Are there some non-Christians in the folds of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy? Without a doubt. Just as there are some in Protestantism.
I do not doubt also that if Roeber and Mattox and I got together and chatted, there would be many issues that we would have good disagreements on and discuss them, but I think more of them we would be meeting and nodding our heads in agreement. Those are the issues that I have chosen to focus on. The secondary debates about our differences are good, but let us never let the secondary issues overpower the primary unity.