Honky Tonks or Incense?

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?”

Okay, so “outside the church there is no salvation…”

Roman Catholics are usually more vocal (and annoying) about this than Orthodox apologists (though, of course, the latter hold to the dictum as well).  The phrase in one form or another dates back to St Cyprian.  This phrase offends Protestants because the way it is defined excludes Protestantism from the true church.  Therefore, this means that Protestants are outside the Church.   Therefore, Protestants are “going to hell” (pronounced “hae-yul” if you are from the South).

So is this true?  Did God create Protestants simply to roast ’em forever?   Not quite.  This is an example of one taking a legitimate theological axiom–the church is the visible and physical focal point of salvation on earth–and making conclusions based on evidence a person cannot possibly have. Blessed Seraphim Rose warned against such scholastic reasoning.

My observations on St Cyrpian’s phrase:

1) Calvinists accept some form of it.   Calvin said somewhere you can’t have God as your father without the church as your mother.  Why then do Calvinists get upset when Orthodox say it?  Similarly, most Calvinists do not believe Orthodox (or Catholics) are “saved,” so why do they get mad when others return the favor?

2) It’s not entirely clear what St Cyprian “meant” by it.  Even in his own time this phrase did not always have “obvious” epistemological clarity.  Who’s in the church?  As St Augustine mused, it’s often hard to know.

3) Maybe it’s truer meaning doesn’t primarily deal with individuals at all.    Protestant and evangelical churches have a tendency to self-destruct over generations.   They simply don’t last.  Either they capitulate to modernism (and by their own admission have little or nothing to do with even the vaguest forms of Christianity) or they simply lose enough members and die, even if they maintain some form of a Christian witness.  Part of the problem is sola scriptura:  if it is ultimately “my interpretation of the Bible,” and there are 200 million of me, then there is inherently a self-mutating motion in evangelicalism.  Therefore, St Cyprian can be said to say, “outside the church, you cease to resemble a real church over the long run.”

4) I don’t think Protestants (particularly evangelicals) and Orthodox view salvation in exactly the same way.  For the Orthodox, as I understand it, salvation is not reduced to a one-time moment at a Billy Graham concert rally. Without the visible, apostolic church, you aren’t going to see the fullness of the faith.

5) On the other hand, the stupidest thing an Orthodox (or Catholic) can do is to go up to a Protestant and say, “Yup, you and your family are going to roast because you aren’t part of us.”  For one, you don’t know that.  The final judgment has not yet happened.  Secondly, you have effectively driven them away from Orthodoxy.  Good job.

Clark Carlton has a fantastic podcast on this topic.


But isn’t God in control?

This is my last statement concerning the non-debate I had with a Reformed Constitutionalist.   I don’t want to become bitter and focusing on these points will feed bitterness.

“But I’m just glad God, not I, is in control of my destiny.”

This was the final statement in my (non) debate with a Reformed Constitutionalist.  After I had thoroughly dismantled all of his use of Patristic texts, this is what he came up with.    As an argument, there’ snot much to be said for it.   I think the point was that he (or I, or you) as a human is weak and if his eternal destiny depended on himself, he would be lost forever.

Of course, there is an important truth here:  God is in control and we should never believe we are autonomous and that we don’t need God’s life-giving communion every second of the day.   Thta is a glorious truth–but like all heresies, it is not the whole truth.  God calls us to work with him (Philippians) and Paul didn’t think that his conversion experience in Acts 9 mean that he need not bother worrying because it’s all in God’s hands (1 Corinthians 9, “I pommel myself…lest having started the race I find myself disqualified).   The false teachers in 2 Peter 2:1 were explicitly identified as those who were bought with the precious (and presumably securing) blood of Christ–yet even then it says they had fallen away (see also Hebrews 10)

But what about John 6, 10, and Romans 8?  Doesn’t that mean anything? It does and I would be lying if I said I knew the whole answer or how to synthesize both sets of texts.   That, though, illustrates the problem with reading the bible through a lens foreign to the early life of the church and outside of the liturgical experience of the church.

Becoming, not imputed

If no single verse “proves” imputed righteousness, then perhaps no single verse “refutes” it.   Fair enough?  I’ll look at the most commonly used verse for imputed righteousness:  2 Corinthians 5:21.   “He made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (and for the record, this is not an anti-Calvinist post at all.  Many Calvinists do not hold to imputed righteousness.)  Let’s look at what the verse is and is not saying.

  1. There is nothing in the verse about Christ’s active obedience being transferred to our “account.”
  2. The language of this verse is not even “imputation” language at all!  I don’t have my Greek NT on me, but I am quite certain that the word used is a variant of ginomai (to become) and not logisthai (to impute, reckon).
  3. What is God’s righteousness?   Someone suggested “The Holy Spirit.”  I am not discounting that interpretation, and indeed I think I will come to something quite similar, but I have other reasons for just “playing it slowly” on that one.   Following something that Matthew Gallatin suggested:  the righteousness of God isn’t a static entity or “thing,” but the very life of God himself.   Without venturing into the scorched earth that is Greek semantic domain, I think this interpretation comes very near to the language of 2 Corinthians 5:21.  God isn’t saying he will pump some divine gas into us, but that we become part of his righteousness.  There is a dynamism at play, not a legal transfer.
  4. This is actually very close to the language of 2 Peter 1:4, where we become partakers of the divine nature.     Now, we need to get some concepts straight.    When we say we become partakers of God’s nature, we are not saying that we ourselves are subsumed under the essence of God. We are partaking of God’s essence, but through his energies.   Our partaking of God is neither hypostatic (per Christ and the union of two natures) nor is it essential (we do not become the very [incommunicable] essence of God), but energetic.
  5. But what is the life of God?  It is not God’s acts towards us?  Is not the life of God God’s energies?   As John Meyendorff writes, “The divine energies are not “things” differing from one supreme “thing,” God’s essence.  Grace is not something with which God rewards people, but a manifestation of the living God” (St Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality, pp. 122-123).

In conclusion, in becoming “the righteousness of God” (of course, all of this is focused around union with Christ, which we have not discussed here) we do not have some static entity transmitted to us, but are called to partake of the very life of God.   God in his acts toward us we know as God’s energies.  Since we do not see ourselves as becoming the very essence of God, we have to understand 2 Corinthians 5:21 as participating in the life of God.  Of course, God’s life as seen in his acting towards us is God’s energies.

Review of Crisis in Byzantium

Aristeides Papadakis (hereafter AP) sets out to solve a thorny theological problem. The problem has several fronts: 1) basic Trinitarian reasoning and 2) interpreting several apparent anomalies in some patristic texts. AP gives us a short overview of the brief career of Patriarch Gregory II of Cyprus. The immediate context was responding to the Council of Lyons where Byzantine Unionists sought Papal political aid against the Muslims in return for acknowledging several papal claims. The Unionists had interpreted “through the Son” to mean “from the Son,” with respect to the Holy Spirit’s origin. Secondly, the Roman Catholic Church clarified what it meant in the Filioque by insisting that the Father and the Son do not constitute a “double cause” for the existence of the Holy Spirit, which would have been absurd.

Thus, Gregory II’s response. AP gives a brief overview of the differences between Cappadocian and Augustinian Trinitarianism. For the Cappadocian’s the hypostasis of the Father is the unique cause and principle of unity of the Son and the Holy Spirit (83). The characteristic of causality is applied to the Father alone (also see Gregory of Nazianzus’s Oratio 34). AP notes, “What is said of the consubstantiality of the three persons cannot be said of their attributes–causality, unbegotteness, and procession. These are what differentiate the one from the other. These are their incommunicable modes of origin” (118).

The problem is that while most of the Fathers either reject Filioque or simply opt for the Cappadocian view, a few Fathers–Sts Hilary of Poitiers, Athanasius, Maximus the Confessor, and John of Damascus–appear to say things that look a little like a Filioquist view. Traditionally, Byzantine thought said that the Spirit is only from the Son in terms of an economic sending. He is from the Father a patre solo but from the Son in terms of the divine Economy. This was the view of St Photius. It was also the view of Gregory’s conservative Byzantine opponents. It’s essentially correct but it does not solve the hard questions raised.

St John of Damascus said that the Father “projects the Spirit through the Son.” Unionists took this to mean the Filioque, arguing that “through” means the same as “from.” Conservative Byzantines argued that “through” means “economic sending.” It was Gregory II’s genius to point out that both are wrong, and to show how both are wrong.

Gregory argued, contra the Unionists, that through doesn’t mean “from.” He also argued that the Filioquist interpretation renders St John Damascene contradictory for John elsewhere says in the same chapter that the Spirit comes from the Father alone. Finally, Gregory clinched the case against the Unionists by appealing to a Father the Roman West accepts as doctor and saint: Gregory Nazianzus. Nazianzus said that the “Son hath all the Father has except causality.” If the argument were simply up to the Fathers, the Unionists must bow out at this point, which in all likelihood they did.

But Gregory’s task was not finished. He had to answer his conservative opponents and also demonstrate what he means by saying the Spirit is eternally manifested in the Son. While St Photius was correct to say that John 15:26ff can only mean an economic sending of the Spirit, one must be honest and realize that is not what some fathers like Damascene meant. Nor does that show the relation between Son and Spirit.

Gregory argues that the Spirit exists from the Father but has existence through the Son. The former denotes mode of origin. The latter denotes the eternal manifestation. The former is the internal life of the Trinity. The latter is the external self-revelation of God (123ff). Thus, God exists not only in his essence but outside his essence. It is not the internal essence that is revealed but rather the divine life. Further, the Spirit goes forth and shines in the Son independent of mode of origin.

In saying all of this Gregory II anticipated St Gregory Palamas. The divine energies is God’s sanctifying grace which comes from the Father and from the Son in the Spirit (127). AP notes, “This manifestation, however, Gregory hastens to emphasize, is separate from God’s person and essence, for the divine is alone participable through its energies and manifestation. That is to say, God is unparticiable apart from his external revelation, or energies, or charismata, through which he is exclusively known. Otherwise, Christ, in breathing on his apostles, would have given them the very essence and hypostasis of the Spirit (127-128).

Conclusions and Reflections:

  • St Photius’s essential insight remains correct and the Cappadocian view is vindicated, yet Gregory II complements it by pointing out the eternal relation between Son and Spirit.
  • By pointing out the eternal relationship between Son and Spirit, AP/Gregory II has given us a strong argument to modern day liberals who actually use the denial of the Filioque to argue that men (presumably pagans, Muslims, or Jews) can receive the Spirit without Christ. Denying the Filioque in no way entails that, for as Gregory points out, Christ always and eternally manifests the Spirit. You can’t have the Spirit without Christ. (Incidentally, this is a strong counter to Gerald Bray’s argument in The Doctrine of God).

One other word: This book isn’t the easiest book to read. AP often moves back and forth from historical analysis to theological reflection, with little or no warning to the reader. Secondly, unless the book is read in one or two sittings (not an easy feat!), many theological insights that were mentioned on pp. 80-125 will be missed or forgotten by the end of the book. Fortunately, AP does give a helpful summary in the last chapter.