The first book I ever read on Ancient Orthodoxy was by the Evangelical theologian Daniel Clendennin, titled Eastern Orthdoxy: A (something) perspective. When I first read it (Summer 2008) I didn’t know enough about Orthodoxy to judge it, save to say I was pleased he didn’t go all “TR” and bash Orthodoxy (and by extension, associate it with Communist Russia).
It’s a very decent introduction to Orthodoxy, all things (faults included) considered. Clendenin chooses several loci, or distinctives of Orthodoxy, and explains them to a largely unfamiliar Western audience. He discussed apophatic theology, icons, theosis, and something else, which I can’t remember at the moment.
Surprisingly, he made a good case for an Orthodox understanding of each topic (keep in mind this is a moderate Calvinist evangelical who would otherwise trash Orthodoxy). Looking back on it, I think a lot of his chapters could be improved, but all things considered, he did a fair job.
His only complaints about Orthodox are these:
- According to him, Orthodoxy has some good points on theosis, but fails to take into account Scripture’s teaching on the substitutionary aspect of Christ’s work. My thoughts: if by substitutionary he means “vicarious,” then we have no problem: for all traditions teach some aspect of a vicarious atonement. Holy Isaiah clearly teaches the Servant took the place of Israel. If by “substitutionary” he means “penal atonement,” then one must demur for reasons listed elsewhere.
- He cautions the Orthodox on the Iconoclastic controversy on the lines that the tradition was not as clear on iconodulism as the Orthodox claim. Well, granted it wasn’t a “slam dunk” case, but the practice of Icons goes back at least to the 2nd century, as iconophobes like Eusebius grudgingly admit.
- He is upset that the Moscow Patriarch (Blessed) Alexie II likened Evangelical worship services to being in a honky tonk bar. I don’t know why Clendenin is upset. While “honky tonk” connotes country music and rural culture, it is for that reason that the Moscow Patriarchate is mistaken. Most Evangelicals do not even long for honky tonk culture (which connotes the positive values of small town USA and agrarian life). Nay, rather most Evangelicals seek to model their liturgies after a Britney Spears concert (and before you criticize me of taking pot shots or being unfair, I did a lot of hours in collegiate baptist ministry–I can assure you that’s exactly how evangelicals modeled their liturgy, to the degree they even thought of liturgy. If you don’t believe me, just walk into a Rick Warren clone church).
I have nostalgic reasons for liking this book. This book dovetailed with my sudden interest in Russia and Orthodoxy. Granted, the book has flaws, but it does remind one of C. S. Lewis’s dictum in Surprised by Joy: “God is a rather unscrupulous character. He often leaves dangerous books innocently lying around. Who knows what will happen when one reads such a book?”