Thank you, Father Barnabas

What are some things to appreciate? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So on Monday, I wrote an appreciation to my pastor for Pastor Appreciation Month, which was last month. I had done something on Facebook, but I wanted something more public. I thought about that later on and realized I should go to someone also who could be called the other pastor in my life.

Not sure if he’d agree 100% with that title, but many of you know that my wife is a catechumen in the Eastern Orthodox Church. At first, I had my concerns and doubts, but I grew to appreciate the change that I saw in her. We also both got to know the priest down there, Father Barnabas, very well.

Sometimes, we would go in for a counseling session together and the way he has talked to her has often impressed me. It’s a calm approach, but it is often firm and tough as well. There’s no beating around the bush. He used to be a police officer so he knows something about how to talk to some people.

Yet what is amazing is the time investment. There’s so much of it. At the end of a session, he’d often ask if he could get a hug and then say something like, “I like you. You’re a good kid.”

Other people have noticed that liking too. When my wife and I went to an event a few months ago in downtown Atlanta at a major cathedral there, we sat with the priest of another church and other people we didn’t know. It wasn’t intentional. We just sat somewhere and they joined us.

Before too long, Father B (As I often call Barnabas) saw us and came over and put his hands on our shoulders and said “You can’t have these two. They’re mine.” I thought it was just a fun little comment, but afterward, the other priest told me, “He’s really protective of you two. I could tell when he said that that he really meant it. He’s really looking out for you.”

Bible studies at the church were often fun too. The only one we’ve been to is Revelation and there were many times when he’d ask a question and say “Does anybody know?” and I’d raise my hand immediately and he’d say “Not you.” Allie was getting concerned about it, but he assured her it was a game we played together. It was fun.

Yet the interesting thing is we both know I am a devout Protestant, but I think he’s just as much there for me as he is for Allie. He’s helped me learn to think about different issues on how I relate to Allie better. He’s been there for me when Allie has been in a suicidal state.

Why is this? Something he tells Allie all the time. “Father’s not a title.” He made a donation to her fundraising effort and said to her mother on the phone, “It’s for a selfish reason. I want that child to get well.”

If that’s selfish, we need more selfish people out there.

Something else I like is that my Protestantism has not been used against me. He’s told me why he left that world. I respect it. When I have talked one-on-one, I have never been told something like, “Well if you would just abandon your Protestantism and accept Orthodoxy, your problems would be solved.” I think that’s a cheap move anyway, but it’s never been an issue.

Many times when I’m at the church with Allie, people know that I am a Protestant, and they’re okay with it. It’s not an issue. I can look around and say “These are my people also.” I would hope that if any of them ever came to my Protestant church, it would be the same way again.

Now do Father B and I have our disagreements on theology and history and things like that? Yep. Never been an issue though. He’s still supported me. When I went and debated Dan Barker, I found out later from him that he actually watched the whole debate online. I was really pleased with that. There has never been a hesitancy to share a prayer request from me either.

I think I have been fortunate to get some of the wisdom that I’ve seen. I’ve read a number of books on Orthodoxy and from an Orthodox perspective. I still disagree, but there is a good respect here. I also still maintain my strong stance when it comes to dialogue between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox, to strive to see all as my fellow Christians and go after any who question the salvation of the other.

So thank you Father Barnabas for what you have done with Allie. I hope it keeps up and I can definitely say from what I see, Father is not a title.

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

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)

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

A Protestant Look At Holy Week

What does holy week look like to an outsider? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

With my wife looking into Eastern Orthodoxy, she was very excited about holy week. For those who don’t know, there is apparently debate on when Easter takes place so on the 21st, we celebrated Easter at the Protestant Church. The next week we were celebrating another Easter known as Pascha at the Orthodox Church.

One of the things that is done on Pascha, or rather before, is a time of Lent where something is given up which includes meat and dairy. My wife was excluded from this for medical reasons and because the priest mainly wanted her to abstain from self-harm for Lent. (To that end, she got her 11-month chip at Celebrate Recovery last night.) Keep this in mind as we go on.

Something I have said about Orthodoxy for awhile is that I question whether the traditions do go back to the original apostles or not. This is not to say that some of the rules might not be helpful. If someone wants to observe a time of Lent and it helps them in their worship and helps them honor Christ, well and good. I have no problem with that. If that becomes the sign of a true Christian, then I think there is an area of concern.

Every night of the week there was an event going on at the Orthodox Church. We were there for most of them, although not for all. We have been packing for a move to another cheaper apartment complex here in the area. My wife thoroughly enjoys them. Myself, not so much. As I have let be known on here previously, I really don’t think statements made to Mary or the saints go back to the apostles.

On Saturday night, everyone meets at the church at 11 P.M. Yes. You heard that right. P.M. We then go in and each of us is given a candle that is unlit. A few minutes before midnight, the whole place goes dark. Then around midnight, the priest starts speaking about Christ being risen and has a lit candle. He lights a candle of some others upfront and they in turn spread that light so before too long, everyone is holding a lit candle.

There is also a portable tomb carried much like the pallbearers carry the coffin at a funeral through the doors. We all go outside together in the middle of the night with our candles to continue the surface. To go back in, the tomb is placed at the doors and everyone has to kneel some to go under it and go inside the building.

In all honesty, though, I was watching most of the time and thinking “I hope someone doesn’t accidentally light someone else’s hair on fire.” This is not to say that way of worship is wrong, but it is to say that this is just the way that I think about things.

Everyone is invited after the service to the feast. My wife and I had no interest in the food being served and we wanted to get to sleep. We didn’t get home until around 2:35 A.M. Then, we had to get up in the morning again for a noon service. The feast has a lot of the foods people abstain from during the Lent period so it wasn’t a major deal for me anyway.

I do think the Orthodox take the resurrection seriously, but what matters to me is do the laity in the pews do so? I will freely say that sadly many Protestant Churches have abandoned their intellectual responsibilities without thinking about the resurrection, but I suspect this is more of our Americanism coming through than something problematic in Protestantism itself.

When my wife was on her journey and visiting a Catholic Church, we met with a priest to ask questions. When she told him she was looking for something deeper, he gave an answer I 100% agree with and still hold to this day. “What you are looking for, you will find by going deeper in Jesus.” For my own wife, I think the ritual and order of Orthodoxy is more helpful to her. Could she have found similar in an Anglican Church? Perhaps, but the nearest was about 30 miles away from us.

For me, it’s not the same way, and ultimately that’s okay. As long as one holds to what is essential to being a Christian, I think we should all strive to unite together. Do I wonder how many of the laity in the Orthodox Church are taking the resurrection seriously? Yes. I wonder the same about the Protestant and Catholic Churches as well.

So Holy Week is certainly an interesting experience, but I am thankful to be back to the way things normally are and while I can handle it, having a church service at midnight is something I am thankful only takes place once a year. I also do not have any sides on the debate of the true date of Easter. What matters is Christ is risen, something we should all celebrate.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Eastern Orthodox Christianity – A Western Perspective

What do I think of Daniel Clendenin’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’d like to thank Dr. Clendenin for sending me the two books he has on this topic. I hope before too long to get to the second one. This one is the perspective and the other is the reader.

Clendenin states his case first by explaining Eastern Orthodoxy. He does this from the perspective of a Western Protestant who had to do some long-term work in Russia. Here in America, normally, most Christians are Protestants. In Russia, the situation appears to be that most are Orthodox.

The first chapter is actually a defense of Orthodoxy. This is most likely written to help explain people like Franky Schaeffer and Peter Gillquist. For those concerned by those names together, Clendenin does not put them on the same level. In the last chapter, for instance, he says we need to listen more to the Timothy Wares and Thomas Odens than to the Frank Schaeffers.

Many of us from the Protestant perspective put Orthodox on the same level as Catholics. The paradox is that they often do the same with us. I believe Clendenin is wanting us to see that we’re all Christians.

There are some problematic statements. We can include the idea on p. 30 that Orthodoxy makes the strongest claim to unbroken apostolic succession and that the idea of salvation outside of its church is a questionable assumption. It’s only natural that many outside the church will look with suspicion on a claim like this, especially since Orthodoxy is really a minority position in the world and if Clendenin is right, is dwindling.

Clendenin then goes into the doctrine of God. In the West, we often have our theology laid out in a systematic way. Not so in the East where it looks like personal experience is much more relevant and that God is known in mystery. The main idea is actually that we know more what God is not. There is some of this in the West, but the idea is quite different to our ears.

The section on icons is quite interesting. There’s a brief look at the debate on icons. I was surprised to hear that for the first 300 years or so, icons weren’t supported in the church. Naturally, one cannot read all through the church fathers immediately and see, but I did get out my Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs and look up icons, which pointed me to art and images. Looking up images, I found that that does seem to be the case.

Still, I think those in support of icons had the best arguments Biblically. I just think that going with history and tradition, the iconoclasts had the better argument. Naturally, I go with Scripture the most. That being said, I understand the concerns about the possibility of idolatry. It is a danger those in Eastern traditions need to be concerned about. I have been in services that were arranged to celebrate the coming of an icon and it does concern me to see that happening.

There’s also an interesting juxtaposition. When the iconoclasts were in charge, they tried to destroy icons. When the other side was, they tried to destroy the writings of the iconoclasts. If only we could go back and tell Christians to not destroy their material or even the material of their pagan opponents. We could learn so much that way.

Next comes Scripture and tradition, which is always a touchy issue. Clendenin argues that it’s not an either/or. It’s more which conception of tradition do we go with. A Protestant like myself wants to know how a tradition can be shown to A) come from the apostles and B) be shown to be true. We don’t reject all of them. I think there’s good basis for thinking Mark is the testimony of Peter. That’s not on the same level as, say, the nature of the Eucharist. One is a historical claim. One is a metaphysical claim.

At the same time, we in the West need to be mindful of tradition. The Reformers would agree with this saying that all must be interpreted according to the rule of faith and they were quite eager to go to the Patristics. We can’t consider the church fathers infallible, especially since they disagreed on some issues, but we don’t need to disregard them entirely.

There’s a section on theosis, but I think I’d really like to get to the part on the hermeneutic of love. In this, Clendenin wants to look at how we can all get along. Still, he has some critiques of the system as a whole.

Protestants need to be open to the idea as many of us still use artwork. When I used to get pastoral counseling at a church, sometimes I would get there early and I would go to a room for private prayer. Honestly, artwork rarely moves me. I’m just not that type of person, but there was a stained glass portrait of Jesus with a shepherd’s staff knocking gently on a door. I always liked that painting.

Yet on the other side, Orthodoxy has a hurdle to say that icons are mandatory. The use of icons enjoyed less than universal acceptance in the early church. Does it really help the cause of unity to have statements about those who reject icons being heretics?

It’s also worth pointing out that when God gave us a communication of Himself for future generations, it was in a book. The Old Testament has them and the New Testament as well. It was not in icons. While icons can help us think about events in the Gospels, they can’t fully pass on the Gospel message.

When it comes to Scripture and tradition, it is pointed out that Scripture was canonized and not a tradition. Tradition is good to have, but some traditions could detract from Scripture. A tradition being old does not equal true nor does a tradition having wide support from the Patristics equal that.

Clendenin points out the church fathers were not monolithic and Orthodoxy could benefit from a critical eye looking at them and weighing them out. On the other hand, if the Orthodox depend too heavily on the fathers, Protestants depend too little. We could bear to go back and see the history of the doctrines we believe.

Where do we go from here? Clendenin does present some concerns. When there is a call for dialogue between Orthodox and Protestants, it has been the Protestants mainly who have been initiating. Protestants tend to get an idea that they are less than welcome at the table as it were.

He also quotes Weber who says “Successionists must be highly selective and ignore all evidence to the contrary. They must also maintain an idealized and naive view of the past. In the end, successionism is based on one’s theology or ideology, not on any critical historical analysis.” Clendenin follows with, “I believe that Orthodoxy’s historical claim to unbroken apostolic succession is just that; it is a theological claim that is, ironically, uncritically unhistorical.”

He also argues that when you look at worship talked about in the New Testament, it’s often descriptive and not prescriptive. How many of us have services like in 1 Corinthians where one person stands up to speak and then another stands up to speak? The Lord’s Supper I think was done extremely differently. One would think if the main issue was over the meaning of the words Jesus said, Paul would clarify that. Instead, Paul asks us to examine ourselves. I don’t think it’s so much getting a theology right as making sure our hearts are right.

The liturgy is no doubt moving and beautiful to some, but to others, it is not. Some will be helped on the path of discipleship. Some will not. Clendenin gives two examples. Ed Rommen was a Protestant turned Orthodox because of the beauty of the liturgy. James Stamoolis was an Orthodox who became an evangelical Protestant because the liturgy was deeply unsatisfying. Perhaps it’s not a question of one being right and one being wrong, although that could be there, but a point more of different styles of worship connecting with different people. My wife is drawn in more by aesthetics and music, for example. I am more drawn in by ideas. To each their own.

Clendenin’s book is a great work. I think many Orthodox could read it and not have a problem with it and hopefully at the end with the criticisms and concerns say, “Thanks. We’ll keep that in mind.” It would be good also to see more Orthodox willing to study Protestantism and why we believe what we believe.

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

Book Plunge: Light From The Christian East

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

This book is a Protestant look at the movement of Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodox readers might be suspicious at first, but they shouldn’t be. If anything, one could say not that Payton is too critical, but that he isn’t critical enough. In my talking with him, I honestly just asked him “Why aren’t you Orthodox?” I’m not, of course, but the book can seem so gushing at times I couldn’t help but wonder why he isn’t.

The work is largely a work of wanting to be ecumenical, which it succeeds at. Payton takes us through many aspects of the way that worship is done in the church and how it differs from many Western perspectives. He answers questions about their worship style. The work is largely aimed toward Protestants.

Questions center around what is the church, how do Orthodox people pray, and what’s with all the icons? Many Protestants who go to an Orthodox service will walk away wondering what was going on. My wife goes in and sees something that she thinks is beautiful. I am sure she does, but I am one who doesn’t really get the same pull at all.

Along the way, the reader will get a lot of history. One might think that 1054, the year of the great schism is the most important year in differing between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Not so. 1204 is far more important when the Western church refused to help the Orthodox Church during the Crusades. The reader will also learn a lot about the iconoclast controversy.

An aspect that seems to come out repeatedly is that the West and the East are both asking different questions and getting different answers. We in the West do tend to take a much more academic approach to Christianity. The East seems to take a much more mystical approach where the idea of Orthodoxy is thought to be intuitive.

I understand Payton wanted to write something ecumenical, but I did often wish he could have highlighted why he thinks the way he does. Why is he not Orthodox? He does say he has his own criticisms of the Orthodox Church. I would have liked to have seen them. There is nothing inherently wrong with a good critique after all and it can be a way that iron sharpens iron.

I would have also liked to have seen more on aspects of Orthodoxy I do find troubling. I have a problem when it comes to the Mariology and the treatment of the saints, practices that I do not find any Biblical basis for. The idea of how those outside the church are seen can be problematic. I remember reading on an Orthodox web site put out by the Orthodox Church about Protestants being heretics. How serious is this? Are we placed outside of the Christian faith according to the Orthodox? I do find it troubling since I think we should all be able to name what the Gospel is and who all is believing it or not.

I also wonder when we talk about Western and Eastern if it’s so much the denomination as it is the culture. What could we see in an Eastern Protestant Church? Do Orthodox Churches in the West have many of the same problems that can be found in Western culture?

Still, those wanting a good introduction will be benefited by this book and it’s not just me saying this. I have even seen this book for sale at an Orthodox cathedral during a Greek festival event. If the Orthodox can think it’s an accurate enough description of their faith, I think a Protestant can read it without problem.

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