So, with all of the criticisms I’ve offered against Protestantism in the past, how can I in good intellectual conscience remain within Protestantism? Let’s look at it:
Reappropriating the solaes
Sola Scriptura: admittedly, this is the easiest sola to debunk. Where did the Bible come from and how do you know? I won’t offer all of the problems here, but I will note this: as hinted above, one can apply many of the same criticisms against tradition that one can also apply against sola scriptura. Secondly, the manner of argumentation that tries to debunk sola scriptura using the canon doesn’t work if I hold to a Barthian view of revelation.
Sola gratia: if by it one means that God is the prime agent in salvation and that salvation doesn’t depend on my merits, then I never had a problem with this doctrine. If this doctrine is over-interpreted to entail unconditional election, then I would have to qualify it.
Sola Fide: I have always believed in the conclusions that Luther and the Reformation were aiming at: Christ’s benefits and victory are mine simply by believing and trusting in him. My only problems were along the lines of the New Perspective. I seriously doubt(ed) this was the first thing St Paul had on his mind when he wrote Romans. Sola Fide is a very good response to bad Catholic theology. This is where logic would have helped a bunch of Reformed bloggers: saying that this isn’t the first thing on St Paul’s mind is not the same thing as saying “I don’t believe in sola fide.” Yet, on pretty much every Reformed website this nonsense is parroted.
I have problems with imputation language, but on the whole I can affirm sola fide.
Solus Christus: Christ alone saves. I don’t see how Orthodoxy has a problem with that. Even the high emphasis on Mary and her intercessions technically do not negate this doctrine. Interceding for someone in prayer is not the same concept as mediating your merits on his or her behalf. One may say it is wrong to ask departed saints to pray for us, but even then that is not the same thing as the merits of Mary and the saints.
Soli Deo Gloria: I really don’t know who would disagree with this statement.
Reappropriating a Lutheranism
This one is a bit tougher. In my Reformed days I was a stern critic of many Lutheran distinctives. I will give my initial impressions on the ones I have found most troubling:
Law-Gospel: I have to admit I find this to be a strained reading of Scripture. I think it is more consistent to see Scripture as “promise-fulfillment.” I am open to hearing good arguments in its defense. Back in the day the only arguments I heard were from Gnostics at Westminster Seminary in California who repeatedly told me I was going to hell for not believing them. This made it hard to be friendly to Lutheran distinctives.
Two-Kingdoms: Many adherents of Two-Kingdoms today, and with this phrase I will include a belief in “law of nations” and “natural law,” are using this language while forcing it around the ideology of modern liberal democracy, an ideology likely hated by the original Reformers. Two Kingdoms, if nothing else, means Two Kingdoms. Historically, it likely meant a godly monarch protecting the people from the papacy (Oberman 2006). I don’t have a problem with that. If by that, however, one interprets the Westminster 2k doctrine, then I will fight it tooth-and-nail.
What of key Orthodox distinctive?
The Filioque: This is a tough one for me. I still have problems attributing causation to the Son. On the other hand, it is beyond dispute that many pre-schism Western fathers did use language that sounded a lot like the Filioque, and I was never convinced that “they were simply talking about economy.” Perhaps they were, but that remains to be proven. And these guys are considered saints and venerable.
Icons: Lutheranism does not have the iconoclasm that Calvinism has. True, Lutheranism does not venerate icons, but truth be told, neither did I. The point is that one’s view of icons also presupposes a certain Christology. That’s why I am not an iconoclast.
Photian views: I really don’t know what other category to label this than “those things I learned and embraced from reading Joseph Farrell.” We are talking about a strong person-nature distinction, rejection of original sin (based upon previous distinction), etc. I probably need another essay explicating that. Long story short, I think it proves too much.
This is not a refutation of Orthodoxy. There are many bad, bad critiques of Orthodoxy out there. Hopefully, this is not one of them. It is not a critique. It is simply an essay demonstrating some difficulties I have with currently joining an Orthodox church. While I am no expert on Plantinga, I think I am epistemologically warranted in not joining the Orthodox church at the moment. I say nothing about future contingencies.
Ignatius of Antioch. Epistle to the Philadelphians.
McGuckin, John. The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
Oberman, Heiko. Luther: Man Between God and the Devil. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.