An Outsider’s View of Eastern Orthodoxy

An Outsider’s View of Eastern Orthodoxy August 14, 2022

An Outsider’s View of 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 main professors in my Religious Studies Ph.D program at a major American research university was a well-known Russian Orthodox (OCA) theologian. He did not hesitate to attempt to recruit us, his students, into Eastern Orthodoxy. I learned much from him.

I read all the books I could get my hands on about EO theology and most of it 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 older EO theologians such as Maximos the Confessor and John of Damascus and included chapters about EO in my book “The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform” (InterVarsity Press).

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

During the 1990s I participated in several weekend dialogue events between Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox theologians. These were hosted by Lutheran theologians Carl Braaten and Robert Jensen.

All that is to say, while I remain an outsider, I consider myself something of an expert on EO, well, at least as much as one can be while remaining non-EO.

David Bentley Hart is an EO theologian and philosopher who catches my attention. 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” convincing and have argued that people who adopt it must also adopt the EO distinction between God’s essence and God’s created energies. I will be interested to see what Hart does with that distinction. It is meant to preserve the God-creature distinction.

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

I also accept the EO 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 the filioque clauses was definitely inserted into the Nicene Creed wrongly by Western Christians on the basis of Augustine’s flawed view of the Holy Sprit and the Trinity.

I also accept that Platonism, generally speaking, is more congenial to Christianity than Aristotle’s philosophy.

So why have I never joined an EO church? Well, as a Anabapticostal that would not happen without a radical paradigm change especially with regard to church structure, liturgy and the sacraments.

However, I have much to thank EO theologians and priests for; they have enriched my Christian thought and life, even as I remain an outsider.


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