An olive branch to my Orthodox friends

I know I seem critical of Eastern Orthodoxy and I make no bones about that.   I do believe with regard to the believer’s confidence it casts doubt on the finished work of Christ and the down-payment of the Spirit (Listen to this interview by Fr Thomas Hopko.   One gets the impression that Christ might not be enough to save the believer.

Kevin Allen: Father, there are evangelicals who are listening out there, and they are saying, “You know what? These Orthodox, they have no idea whether they are saved or not, even if they have lived a righteous life, and they have spent all their time on their face prostrating, and tears, and everything else.” What you are saying is, you never know.

Fr. Thomas: Yes, I would say that is absolutely true, and the evangelical is completely and totally wrong. But I would say the evangelical is right if their answer to the question, “Are you saved?” is “Yes, absolutely, as far as God and the blood of Christ,” but to say that I can be saved, simply by saying that I accept Jesus as my savior, is blasphemous.

To put it mildly, that’s problematic.  But back to my main point.  It was because of the Orthodox guys that I read through the entirety of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Second Series).   I cross-referenced what they said with what Seraphim Rose said, noting both agreements and disagreements (anybody want to laugh at Rose on creation after reading Basil’s Hexameron?).  Perhaps more influentially, it was the outlaw priest Fr Matthew Raphael Johnson who really got me reading the fathers.   I am saddened that The Orthodox Nationalist is no longer broadcasting.  Those were some outstanding podcasts and his articles are well worth your time.  And for the record, I largely accept his apologetics proper

Rev. 20: Some hermeneutical conclusions

Introduction

We will begin with the various methods taken to interpret Revelation 20 and then see how they impact upon the actual exegesis.

Idealism:  This is the easiest and nowadays most common (esp Reformed) approach to Revelation.  Its strengths is that it recognises obviously symbolic themes in Revelation, and depending on the imaginative powers of the commentator, one can find some very fine applications for sermons.   However, this approach seems more appropriate to the worst of Plato than it does to a linear, Hebraic model.   For all of its symbolism, Revelation 20 identifies itself as a prophecy, meaning things will happen in space-time. With regard to Revelation 20, it usually has that chapter recapitulating earlier chapters, so that it does not follow sequentially from chapter 19 (for if it did, premillennialism would entail).  This view entails another problem:  if Revelation 20 recapitulates earlier sections, and if Satan is bound right  now in the Church Age so that he may not deceive the nations, then how do we account for Revelation 13 where Satan is said to be actively deceiving the nations?

Historicism: This is the standard Reformed approach.  It identifies the office of papacy as Anti-Christ.  It has some very interesting and insightful readings of church history that are worth consulting.  While I have no problem morally identifying the papacy as Anti-Christ, it does seem that a future New World Order model can just as easily fit the bill.  It should be mentioned, though, that earlier commentators in the first three centuries of the church, while they were premillennial, were historicist premillennial (thus seeing seven ages in the church).  I just don’t see the Reformational historicism taking into account the syntax of Revelation 20.

Preterism, whether full or partial:  Preterism does a better job of the Olivet Discourse than it does of Revelation.   The this generation argument is fairly straight-forward.  Partial-preterism has more logical problems in the book of Revelation:   on what grounds do we say that most of the book is already fulfilled but the bodily second coming and final judgment isn’t yet fulfilled, especially when there are no indicators in the text that such a transition is warranted.

Futurism:   If the book of Revelation is read literally and straightforwardly, it’s conclusions may be bizarre but they aren’t difficult to understand.   You don’t have to worry about which symbols mean which.  Arbitrary assignations of meaning to various symbols is kept at a minimum.  The greatest strength is perceived by some to be the greatest weakness.   A sequential reading of Rev. 19-20 necessarily entails premillennialism.   Some of the implications, though, bother some people.  I have to ask, though, if this is the biblical data then we are bound to accept its conclusions.

Tagmati

1 Cor. 15:23 represented a problem for me.   It can be read to support either an allegorical millennium or a premillennial construction (if pressed on the former, it could render a postmillennial reading).  True, tagmati does denote military orders and squadrons.  As it stands, the text reads, “But each in his own order:  Christ the firstfruits, then (epeita) those at his coming, then (eita) comes the end.”  My problem is that I had divorced this passage from the verse that came before it:  “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”  The tagmati in verse 23 qualify the “all shall be made alive” in verse 22.  It tells in what order (or literally, in what platoon) each shall be resurrected.

Karl Barth used verse 22 to teach (or at least imply, since he denied he ever said that) universalism.   As it stands it is hard to argue with him.  Verse 22 does say all shall be made alive, but verse 23 tells how.

Did the Church Fathers teach theonomy?

These kind of questions give Eastern Orthodox apologists all the ammo they need against Calvinists.   The problem with the post-Bahnsenian theonomists is that they will scour church history for examples of “theonomy.”  Rushdoony really wasn’t as bad on this point as people will think (more later).  In order to prove church history is on their side, Young Turk theonomists will read church history sources and look for guys teaching theonomy.  The question then becomes, “What does theonomy mean?”  Does it mean some form of God-oriented social order which takes account of the law of God?  If so, then most everybody in church history is a theonomist.  It’s hard to see why Bahnsen even got in trouble.  Heck, RTS-Jackson even believes that (kind of).

That’s cheating, though.  Joseph Farrell has pointed out that everyone, even the pagans, believed in theo-krasia.  But theonomists will quickly rebut, “We see church fathers employing the judicial laws as still valid.”   Technically, that’s true.   They did employ some judicial laws.  My question is “Did they adopt the Bahnsenian hermeneutics that the judicial law in exhaustive detail is binding”?  The answer is clearly no.  Eastern fathers have a theoretical antinomian streak (2nd Commandment, anyone?  footnote1).  True, we do see some fathers like Gregory the Great arguing for the Sabbath, but that’s unremarkable on anyone’s gloss.

The problem is that Church Fathers were more interested in Christology, Trinity, and monasticism than they were in the social functions of the law of God.  To read otherwise is to commit the worst of anachronistic fallacies.

Footnote 1:  There actually might be more of a parallel.   Theonomists for the most part reject the practical applications of the 2nd Commandment, too!

Speak you of Barth?

Usually about twice a year I decide to read huge sections of Karl Barth.  Yes, I know.  He is the bad guy of Reformed theology.   It’s not so much I don’t like Barth, but even where he is wrong I have no clue what he is saying.  I think he is important to read for several reasons.  He shaped modern Protestant theology, for better or worse.  The older Reformed fathers felt obligated to read and respond to Bellarmine even centuries after the latter’s death, and the implications of Bellarmine’s theology are far more terrifying than Barth’s:   If Bellarmine were correct, then Protestants are obligated to let themselves be purified by fire and sword.   The least we today can do is give Barth a fair reading.

Beer Journal: Entry 1, Sierra Stout

Not really a deep theological topic, but it should prove interesting.   Today’s beer is Sierra Nevada Stout.  The first Sierra Nevada I had was a Pale Ale, which wasn’t bad but I am not much for lighter beers.  I like heavy and dark beers.

I wasn’t expecting just how dark it would be.   It was almost too stout (of course, such a thing is impossible).  Very good start to the taste but kind of “burnt” at the end.  8 out of 10 stars.

What the image/likeness schemata isn’t

I just finished translating Genesis 1 from Hebrew this afternoon.   I had to look up the words for “image” and “likeness” because they aren’t normal Hebrew vocab nor had they yet appeared in the narrative. It reminded of an earlier theological issue:  image and likeness.

Unique to the Eastern Orthodox scheme is their insistence that we are created in the image of God but have not yet achieved his likeness.  Indeed, as one succinctly summarizes, they are not two ways of saying the same thing.  As one more scholarly venue notes, we already have the image of God but not his likeness.  The more we are deified (theosis) the more unto the likeness we pertain.  This scheme encompasses both grace and works.   We have the image by grace but we achieve the likeness by works (and so allow James 2 its full force).

What are we to make of this?  Admittedly, it’s a very nice construction.  Despite their usual antipathy to logic, it is very logical and depending on which Father you are reading, it can be very beautiful.  I have to wonder, though, if that’s what Moses is really talking about.  Hebrew poetry and idiom lives on parallelism.  One line or clause will expand or repeat the idea of the previous clause, or it will contrast it.  Such a comparison/contrast goes like this:  A/’A, or A/~A.   What Hebrew thought does not do, however, is go A/B within the same unit of thought.    Indeed, it would no longer be parallelism if it did.  This doesn’t mean the image/likeness scheme is wrong, per se, it just means that Genesis 1 doesn’t teach it.

There are other historical and theological issues with it.  It seems no different than medieval semi-Pelagianism.  Indeed, it seems a lot like the post-medieval nominalism of Gabriel Biel (which is more than ironic since many try to tag that onto Luther!).   Of course, that, too, doesn’t mean it is wrong; it is just an observation.

An extended meditation:  man’s problem is not ontological, but ethical.  It was the devil who recommended to Adam that he could transcend his current human limitations.