Retractare: Part Three

Reappropriating Protestantism

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.

Theological Ellipsis, part two

An Ignatian Problem

St Ignatius of Antioch said, “If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Ep. Phil. Chapter 3).   This would become a problem in the 20th century.  The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad rightly resisted the “Sergist Compromise.”  They broke off from the established Orthodox Church (I might be mistaken, but I am fairly sure that ROCOR and ROCA were not in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate).   Now, one could argue that the Bolsheviks were Satan’s Incarnate Presence on Earth (funded by London Bankers and Wall Street, let’s not forget) and one had to separate.  Well, I agree.   At that point, though, the rhetoric is essentially the same as the Protestant who separates from a corrupt Papal church.

Here is the problem, though.  As ROCOR’s actions look a lot like schism, so do St Ignatius’ words apply or not?  Few would argue that St John Maximovitch is not going to inherit the Kingdom of God. This same problem was complicated when the Soviet Union fell.  Does the MP have grace or not?  The same people who rightly resisted the MP 40 years ago and still remain in the catacombs say no.   Others say yes.  How can the outside observer make a clear and informed decision when eternity is on the line?

Continuing that above thought:  the Old Rite in 17th century Russia resisted +NIKON because he tampered with the liturgy, and also for other substantial reasons.   They later resisted devil-worshiper Peter the Great.    In a very real sense these guys carried on the faith and tradition, yet on a surface level reading of Ignatius, they are schismatics and destined for hell.

Outside the Church…or just on the Front Porch?

Outside of a few passages from Augustine, the most famous line in church history must be St Cyprian’s “Outside the Church there is no salvation.”   The Orthodox scholar John McGuckin (2010:  263ff) says that other Church Fathers like St Basil held to a wider interpretation than what Cyprian allows.   Basil’s Letter to Amphilocus suggests that those who aren’t “in the church” aren’t necessarily deprived of the grace and the Spirit’s working in their lives.   Basil’s recommendation for receiving them into the Church suggests that he doesn’t simply view them as “going to hae-yul” until they “join.”   Yes, they need to repent, but not all non-Orthodox are on the same “pre-convert” level.

Does that mean I am in error until I join the Orthodox Church?  Possibly, but it also means I am not in the same category as the Arian, Nestorian, or Moonie.   It also means I can work faithfully where I am, leading my family into a deeper knowledge of Christ, reject Nestorian Christologies, etc.

The Current Scene—and Chaos

If I am outside of canon law and am, at best, an “irregular Christian,” it also appears that the Orthodox Church in North America is also highly irregular, if not uncanonical.  Wasn’t Ignatius’ vision “One city, one bishop, or at least one metropolitan”?  To be fair, I don’t know how the Church could have avoided that situation, what with America being a nation of immigrants and all.

That, and quite frankly it would be impossible to bring my family into the local parish.  The liturgy is almost entirely in Greek; there are seven people there, there is no sermon (contrast with the example of Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzus) and when I pulled into the parking lot I saw cars with pro-choice politicians’ bumper stickers.  Okay, so that last line doesn’t imply squat about Orthodoxy, but it does say a lot about what kind of local church I would be entering.

A Theological Ellipsis, part one


This essay is not meant to be an attack on Eastern Orthodox theology.  I have utmost respect for it.    It is merely documenting why I am cannot currently go this route.  Since it is not meant to be a rebuttal or refutation, it likewise cannot be critiqued as such.  I am not advancing a particular thesis nor am I giving a defense of Protestant distinctive.   A sharp Orthodox apologist could present numerous cogent objections to Protetantism and I probably wouldn’t have a good response to them.  Notwithstanding, I do think I have a few cogent reasons why it is difficult or impossible to go the Orthodox route right now.

I do not want to be like those who study a little bit of Orthodoxy and then devote their entire internet careers stalking Orthodox websites.  I really don’t have time fro the “blog wars.”  One wit has rightly described hell as “the comment section of a theological blog.”

As with Scripture, so with Tradition

One of the more popular arguments I had used against sola scriptura was that it demanded the premise that “Scripture interprets Scripture.”  The problem, though, is one of circularity.   How could one even begin the process?   One is assuming a priori that there is a given Scripture that interprets the less clear ones.  But who gets to determine which is the given and which the less clear ahead of time?  Unfortunately, I think, this same problem can be advanced against the Traditionalist approach.  While I don’t believe the Fathers “contradict each other” (at least not outright), one must admit that there are troubling passages.   Therefore, the same problematic applies:  which interprets which?  How do you know?       For example, St John Chrysostom says that the True Faith is found where the Bible is truly believed.  This, at least on the surface level, is a far claim from the standard traditionalist approach.   Who gets to determine how “the bible is truly believed”?   The proper answer is “The tradition.”  John Chrysostom, however, doesn’t say that (at least not in that passage).

You will see some internet Calvinists say that “Oh yeah, well the Fathers contradict each other.”  You can be sure of two things:  99.99% of internet Calvinists making this claim have never read the Fathers outside of some citation of Augustine.”  Secondly, they probably don’t know what a contradiction really is.  I don’t think the Fathers “contradict” each other, but there are some difficulties.   I don’t have my set with me right now, but here is an exercise.  St Athanasius said that the Son was the Father’s will, or act of willing.  Yet, later neo-Palamites will critique Rome for making the Holy Spirit an energy and product of Father and Son.  Here is what I mean.   Person is not nature; person is not operation.  Yet, it appears that Athanasius identified the person of the Son as an operation of the Father.

The blog’s themes

I am planning to post parts from an essay on why I will not be moving to Orthodoxy.  Those posts, hopefully, will be part of a larger series exploring Northern European religious and cultural distinctives (A “Baroque” Protestantisms, if you will).

Coming back, arriving at a different point

My older blogs dealt with what to some appeared, much to their consternation, as “Eastern” themes.  Many Protestant readers jumped to radically wrong conclusions about who I was and what I was getting at.   The truth they will find quite surprising.

This blog will explore real, legitimate beauty found in Northern Protestant expressions from the end of the 16th century to the time of J.S. Bach, give or take.