Why I Will Never Become Eastern Orthodox
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I admit that I am attracted to Eastern Orthodox theology. As I explained here before, my main professor of historical theology during my Ph.D studies was EO. He opened my eyes to the goodness of EO theology and, of course, tried to convert me to EO. I resisted. I’ll explain why a little later here.
During my 15 years teaching theology at an evangelical liberal arts college (with a seminary in which I also taught occasionally) I got to know some EO theologians and priests and entered into excellent dialogue with them. I was enriched by their friendship.
One was the canon of a OCA cathedral; he was especially kind and helpful both to me and my students. I’ll never forget one of his answers to a student’s question. The student asked him “What are Orthodox distinctives?” My friend the canon immediately said “We don’t have any distinctives; you do.” What an answer!
Then came Peter Gillquist to speak to my class. I opened the class to any student and faculty member or staff person who wanted to sit in and listen to his presentation and his answers to questions. Peter was a gem. He knew exactly how to present EO to Protestants to make it winsome and attractive and he explained very convincingly why he left Protestantism to become EO. After his presentation and answers to questions many students surrounded him to discuss how to become EO! I told Peter he was the most dangerous speaker I had ever had—from another Christian perspective than my own. I meant that as a compliment and he took it that way.
I find myself leaning into some aspects of EO theology, but my “hang up” especially lies in EO ecclesiology and since you can’t separate one aspect out from others, it’s all a package for EO people!, I can never be EO. I am as low church as possible.
One thing that attracts me to EO theology is its attitude towards Augustine with which I could not agree more! IMHO, Western theology went off the rails with Augustine—in many ways. I do not like Augustine or Augustinian-inspired theology. And I abhor nominalism/voluntarism which later came to infect Protestantism.
In case you’re wondering (I’m sure you’re not) why I am not attracted to Catholic theology, there are too many reasons to enumerate and describe. I have never felt any attraction to Catholic theology except possibly to a few Catholic theologians who have enriched my mind and soul—such as (to name only a few) Walter Kasper, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Bishop Robert Barron whose Youtube videos I love to watch and listen to.
Back to my subject: When I talk about my attraction to EO theology I’m talking about the basics, the fundamentals, what I call “subterranean theology,” what lies below the surface and most people don’t even know about. For example, the EO view of nature and grace, the EO vision of the future of creation, the EO distinction between God’s essence and energies, the concept of deification, and EO’s rightful claim to historical continuity with the earliest church fathers.
So, to cut this short, I’m a Mennonite looking over at the EO churches and wondering how to like both? Talk about cognitive dissonance! But I actually enjoy cognitive dissonance. Weird, I know.