An Outsider’s Look at Eastern Orthodoxy

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An Outsider’s Look at Eastern Orthodoxy

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My first experience with Eastern Orthodoxy was my first girlfriend. She was Greek Orthodox and the first girl I ever kissed.

Then, years later, one of my key teachers in my religious studies doctoral program at a major American research university was a well-known Russian Orthodox theologian (OCA). He did not hesitate to try to recruit us, his students, into Eastern Orthodoxy. I learned a lot from him.

I have read every book I could get my hands on on EO theology and most of them by Eastern Orthodox theologians. Among my EO mentors, through their writings, were Kallistos Ware, Vladimir Lossky, Florovsky (I temporarily forget his first name), John Zizioulas and many others. Of course, I also read ancient EO theologians such as Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus and included chapters on EO in my book “The History of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of tradition and reform” (InterVarsity Press).

While teaching theology at two Baptist universities, I invited EO priests and theologians to speak in my classes and took classes at EO churches for divine liturgies and conversations with priests. I wrote a scholarly theological article on deification that was published in “Theology Today.”

During the 1990s, I took part in several weekends of dialogue between Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox theologians. These were facilitated by Lutheran theologians Carl Braaten and Robert Jensen.

All this to say that, while I’m still an outsider, I consider myself an EO expert, well, at least as much as one can be while remaining non-EO.

David Bentley Hart is an EO theologian and philosopher who caught my eye. Some of us here will be reading and discussing his new book “You Are Gods” which I mentioned in my immediately preceding blog post.

I find the EO concept of “theosis” or “deification” compelling and have argued that people who embrace it must also embrace the EO distinction between the essence of God and the energies created by God. I’ll be interested to see what Hart does with that distinction. It is intended to preserve the God-creature distinction.

Of course, there’s a lot more to EO theology than that, but “theosis” is a typical EO concept (perhaps not unique to EO theology, though) that I have come to accept. How else to interpret 2 Peter 1:4?

I also accept EO’s rejection of the “filioque clause” in the Nicene Creed; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son (in the economic Trinity) but only from the Father in the immanent Trinity. And filioque clauses were definitely wrongly inserted into the Nicene Creed by Western Christians based on Augustine’s erroneous view of the Holy Spirit and the Trinity.

I also accept that Platonism, in general, is more favorable to Christianity than Aristotle’s philosophy.

So why have I never joined an EO church? Well, as an anabapticostal, that wouldn’t happen without a radical paradigm shift, especially with regard to church structure, liturgy, and sacraments.

However, I have much to thank the theologians and priests of EO; they have enriched my thoughts and my Christian life, even if I remain a stranger.


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