A Protestant Thinks About the Blessed Virgin Mary

Talking about Mary can feel dangerous, especially if you are a Protestant who adheres to Protestant orthodoxy. Sure, we sing about Mary at Christmas, feel her pain on Good Friday, and maybe even read a little about her in the gospels. But for most American Protestants, almost any other interaction with Mary is borderline Catholic. So we don’t talk about Mary, we don’t engage with Mary, and we don’t think about Mary. Life seems easier that way. But in truth, this approach is historically and theologically problematic.

Some Protestants are aware that there is more to the story of Mary than American Protestantism often lets on. Some might know that the Protestant reformers, for example, held views on Mary different than most Protestant churches today. Martin Luther affirmed Mary’s divine motherhood, perpetual virginity, and immaculate conception. Likewise, John Calvin affirmed the perpetual virginity and espoused (with qualifications) a view of Mary as the “mother of God.” Although these Reformers did not advocate the same robust Marian theology that Rome and the East did in the 16th century, these perspectives are nonetheless quite different than those of their spiritual descendants.

To assume—as many Protestants do—that everything the Church has always believed about Mary should be excoriated as a “Catholic corruption” is simply an error. We must take seriously the biblical and historical insights on who Mary is—and how she is to be approached. Modern Protestants cannot simply be content to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Continue reading

On the Misuse of Christian Tradition: A Response

sola_scriptura_forumsThe proper relationship between the authority of Christian Scripture and authority of Christian Tradition avails itself to no easy answers. From a historical viewpoint, much of the early development of both remains hotly debated. From a theological perspective, centuries (and sometimes millennia) old debates continue to shape thinking and lead toward answers long before any explicit consideration of this relationship comes into focus.

Yet there seem to be boundaries—a “highway of orthodoxy” if you will—which suggest (or perhaps demand?) a certain perspective on the Christian understanding of the interplay between Scripture and Tradition, a stance which holds a) Scripture as inspired and authoritative (overly precise definitions aside); b) Tradition as important for properly interpreting Scripture (or, if you prefer more Protestant phrasings, “interpreting within the community” or even “Scripture interpreting Scripture”); and c) both Scripture and Tradition as necessarily in conversation with one another (i.e., neither allowed to dominate the other). Continue reading

How I View Martin Luther

Last Friday, Conciliar Post hosted a Round Table discussion on Martin Luther. I would encourage you go click on over there and peruse the reflections on how Christians from a variety of denominations view the “first” Reformer. My response to this Round Table is as follows:

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

My perception of Luther arises from many experiences with the Luther’s legacy and his writings. I grew up in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod—attending both church and school until middle school—and learned much about Luther the Great Reformer there. Every fall we would talk about the Reformation, how Luther valorously stood up to the heresies of the Catholic Church. We would read stories about his life (mostly his post-Diet of Worms “capture” by Frederick the Wise), wait in eager anticipation for Thrivent Financial’s production of Luther, and talk about the central tenets of the Augsburg Confession. The picture of Luther painted at this stage of my life accorded with the idealizing of other great Christians, albeit with that special fervor which accompanied talking about Luther as a “Lutheran.” Continue reading

Bible Translations, Not Inspired (Redux)

Open BibleSome time ago I published a brief reflection titled “Bible Translations, Not Inspired,” in which I argued that we must not assume that our contemporary Bibles—because they are translations—are the same thing as the inspired (inherent) words of God. While I don’t want to disagree with that post, I do want to reflect upon the inspiration of the scriptures, spurned on by Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible Is It?, which I’ve been reading the past couple of days.

Occasionally I will run into someone who holds an unusually high view of a certain version or translation of the Bible. This is true across denomination lines: Catholics have the Apocrypha and the Vulgate, the Orthodox have the Septuagint, and various Protestants have their Scofield Reference Bibles, the King James Version, or the dearly-beloved ESV. And because we have our version of the best Bible, clearly our theology must be more fully informed (and therefore accurate). Continue reading

Book Review: After Acts (Liftin)

After Acts (Liftin)Many readers of the New Testament are both fascinated and perplexed by the book of Acts, the earliest “history of Christianity” put to papyrus. Acts begins to tell the story of the church, following the miracles, lives, and journeys of Peter, the Jerusalem Church, and the Apostle Paul. But Acts also ends abruptly—with Paul under house arrest in Rome—and often raises a number of questions about the early Church. Thus, readers find themselves wondering, “What really happened after Acts?” In answer to this question, Bryan Liftin has written After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015), a book dedicated to introducing and exploring the traditions of the Apostles following the end of “church history” in the New Testament canon. Continue reading

Book Review: Restoring All Things (Smith and Stonestreet)

“Christians are called to live for the good of the world. This requires understanding and action. We must think clearly about the world and engage deeply when and where we can.”

Restoring All ThingsIn his essay “On the Reading of Old Books”, C.S. Lewis once admonished his readers to engage numerous old books for every new book that they read. The prevailing attitude of Lewis’s day (and, indeed, that of our own) often emphasizes the new. In opposition to this “cult of innovation” we are often encouraged to return to the foundational classics of civilization and culture, and rightly so. Yet along with the wealth of the past, we must also read new books—this very website contains my reflections on a new book almost every week. Many of these new books I fully expect to make only limited lasting contributions to the shape of our world (if they make any substantial contribution at all). There are exceptions of course—though I shall not delve into a catalogue of what I perceive to be the most influential contemporary books in this particular review—and these writings are to be engaged with great eagerness. Certain other books are highly descriptive in nature, accurately taking the pulse of our world from a particular moment and perspective. The best of these are works which not only offer a catalog of contemporary culture but also connect that description with principled analysis. Though I have read many a writing claiming this dual role of description and analysis, none in recent years hold a candle to the work which is the topic of today’s review. Continue reading

Reflections on Mary: Historically Informed Theology

One of the perils of being a graduate student is constant busyness. For me, this busyness often distracts me from writing about subjects which are interesting and important but which are (unfortunately) beyond my ability to find time to address. One such subject is the Blessed Virgin Mary. In my searching for answers, Mary has often “come up” as something of a stumbling block for any progress I might make towards Orthodoxy or Catholicism. Below is the launch of my series reflecting on Mary, stemming primarily from an article written by my good friend Ben Cabe.[1] Today’s post reflects on why Christians (especially Protestant Christians) ought to seriously think about Mary and her role in Christian faith.

Icon of MaryReflecting on Mary can be “dangerous”, especially if you are a Protestant who wants to claim Protestant “Orthodoxy.” Sure, we sing about Mary at Christmas, feel her pain on Good Friday, and maybe even read a little about her in the gospels in-between. But for most American Protestants, to have almost any other interaction with Mary is borderline Catholic. So we don’t talk about Mary, don’t engage Mary, and don’t think about Mary. Life is simply easier that way.

But this is historically and theologically problematic. Continue reading

Book Review: The Ancient Path (Talbot)

The Ancient Path (Talbot)When you want to understanding something, you look for information. When you want to make sense of a story, you ask people to explain things from the beginning. When you want to comprehend a complex event, you consult eyewitnesses and experts. In an age of self-help, independence, internet “research”, and self-sufficiency, however, fewer people take the time to consult someone other than themselves when it comes to questions, even questions regarding something as profoundly personal as religious faith. Yet there are many who would suggest that, in a marketplace of ideas as varied and complex as the 21st century, we should be willing to consult something other than ourselves for insight into reality. One such voice is John Michael Talbot, who along with Mike Aquilina argues that contemporary Christians must return to the wisdom of the Christian past in his book, The Ancient Path: Old Lessons from the Church Fathers for a New Life Today (New York: Image, 2015). Continue reading

Why “This” New Testament?

I am often asked some variation of “Where did we get the New Testament?” or “Why are these specific books included in the New Testament?” In conjunction with yesterday’s post on the Origins of the New Testament, today’s post seeks to address why the New Testament includes the writings which it contains.

BibleMost of us take for granted the twenty-seven books that make up the New Testament, but this was not always the case. It was not uncommon in the ancient world for there to be different books included in Christian collections of writings. Such works as the Letters of Clement, Epistle of Barnabas, and Shepherd of Hermas are included in such noteworthy and important manuscripts as Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus. For many years the Eastern and Western Churches debated both the inclusion of Hebrews and Revelation. As recently as the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation, there were serious doubts about the works to be included in the New Testament. Of these, Martin Luther’s objections to Hebrews, James, Jude, and the Apocalypse of John (Revelation) were so severe that he placed them in an addendum to his German New Testament. Some contemporary Christian Churches in the ancient parts of the world (mostly the Middle East) still have New Testament canons that differ from the standard twenty-seven book canon of the “Orthodox” (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant). Obviously several factors had to influence why certain writings were included in the New Testament. But what were they? Continue reading

Numbering the Psalms?

Book of PsalmsThe Psalms have long been the hymnal of Christian worship. Jesus and his disciples sang the psalms of the Hebrew Bible and the practice continued with Paul and other early followers of Christ. In fact, insofar as we can tell, Christians of the first two centuries used the Psalm more than any other book of the Christian Old Testament.[1] As the Church continued to grow and other Christian liturgical materials appeared (for example, the Odes of Solomon and hymns of Ephrem and Ambrose), the Psalms continued to form the basis for much Christian worship. By the fourth and fifth centuries, numerous commentaries on the theological and historical meanings of the Psalms had appeared, further cementing the Psalms as the foundational source for Christian worship of God in Trinity. Continue reading