February 19, 2005

Five questions: Orthodoxy or orthodoxy?

or The Xanthikos Shorter Chatechism

Commenting on my recent dialogue with Nathan, Karl pointed me to this post: Xanthikos: Follow the Threads. In it, the blogger testifies to his experience with Eastern Orthodoxy and then challenges his readers to consider five "vestiges of Holy Tradition," contained in most expressions of Christianity, as to whether they demonstrate or lead to the primacy of Eastern Orthodoxy over above other Christian traditions. He offers these vestiges in the form of five questions; my old friend Karl expressed an interest in how I would answer these questions. So here goes. (Please keep in mind I've had two tests this morning and I'm a bit strung out on Actifed.)
You know that the Holy Scriptures are inspired by God. How is it that we have received the sacred texts? How were they defined and passed down to us?
I don't suppose you're interested in having me to trace the formation of the Old and New Testament canon, right? Plenty of intelligent, Godly, fruitful people have done that and not reached the conclusion that the process requires that Eastern Orthodoxy be the only valid form of Christian witness. The canon was, for all intents and purposes, closed long before the Schism. In fact, most scholars would agree that Jerome, a Latin father, was the one who closed it for all practical purposes. The question of the inclusion of the Apocrypha is an important one, but overall the thread you're tracing here leads back through the Western church to pre-Schism, catholic (small "c") Christianity.
You know that the Nicene Creed witnesses to the truths at the root of Christian faith and identity. How is it that these things teachings were won and preserved for us?
God used a lot of ordinary people, and a few extraordinary ones, to bring it together. They came from both sides of the East-West divide. There were more than a few shady dealings and political power plays that were unworthy of Christ. In the end, the truth about God prevailed, as it always does. I join with you in affirming belief in and acceptance of the Constantinopolitano-Nicene Creed--in its original form, by the way. All the theological justifications aside, I see the filoque controversy as being a primarily political one. I'm more than willing to toss it.
You know that Christ was both fully Man and fully God. How is it that the Church meditated upon this mystery? The complexities here are enormous: how is it that we arrived at any ‘orthodox’ consensus whatsoever?
Tertullian's formula, "One peron, two natures," gradually won acceptance across the breadth of the church as people came to see the logical outcomes of Arianism. Incidentally, you know Tertullian--another Latin-- was a Montanist when he came up with that, right?
You believe that Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Spirit, but yet that these three are all One God. How is it that we are given to believe in such an apparent contradiction? This is not explicit in Scripture, after all: when and how was this defined?
Tertullian, that old heretic, is responsible for this one as well. And you know that his statement "one essence, three persons" is almost impossible to translate effectively from Latin into Greek? And that language difficulties such as these were as much a cause of the Christological controversies as any other factor?
You believe that God’s power is present in the Eucharist and in Baptism. Why do you believe this if it is nothing but a ‘mere’ symbol? From its very beginnings how did the Church understand the mystery and power of God’s hand in the sacraments?
You're basing this question upon a distinction that is increasingly disappearing among evangelicals; there is a well-documented movement towards a more sacramental understanding of the Lord's Supper and baptism, and of life in general, at work among evangelicals right now. In other words, I don't believe they are "nothing but a 'mere' symbol." Sacramental theology is not unique to Eastern Orthodoxy.
I submit that if you follow these threads in prayer and study you will find that in the end they will lead you to Orthodoxy. I found, as one among countless thousands, an incredible joy in the discovery.
And I submit to you that following these threads leads not to Orthodoxy but rather to orthodoxy. It proves the point that God uses people of many theological traditions and ideological bents to preserve truth and shape his church. Or, as I suspect someone is about to tell me, have I completely missed the point of these five questions?


At 2:43 AM, Blogger Hannah Im said...

I'm new to your blog, NeoTheo,and I like it. I enjoyed this post and follow your reasoning, though I don't recall Tertullian being a Montanist at the time you mention. I can see where the Othodox church is coming from, but don't buy their conclusion. Isn't it a bit anachronistic to equate the modern Greek church with Nicea?

At 6:36 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Thanks for dropping by, DB! I'll check my facts regarding Tertullian. I agree with you that it's anachronistic...so obviously so that I think I must be missing the point. Karl is on an extended sabbatical from blogging, but I hope he'll show up soon. Alterntely, I ought to email the original author of the five questions and get his take.

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Manders said...

Mmm. Well-said, sir.

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Doug said...

Hi Daniel, I appreciate the link and your interest in my post. I'm an occasional reader of your blog as well. Though I'm not much of a skilled debater, I hope to have the chance to write up a response to your post in the day or two. I'll post my response on Xanthikos, but let you know when it's live.


At 10:10 AM, Blogger Mark Hunsaker said...


As a new reader, I was very interested to see your thoughts in response to those questions.

Very cool, well reasoned, and might I say faith-rooted answers.

Your conclusion, that we are being called to orthodoxy (little "o") is outstanding.

One aspect (which I run into a lot in my circles) that I think the American Evangelicals are dealing with in this category is the trend of Dispensationalism. Huge numbers of Evangelicals are finally being exposed to the departure from orthodoxy that Dispensationalism represents, and are starting to return.

Great blog.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Manders, thanks! I always appreciate affirmation and encouragement from the Reformed camp. =)

Doug, I'd intended to email you to let you know I'd posted this; please forgive me for not doing so. I'm glad you found it. I hope I didn't come across as looking for a debate; rather, like you, I'm just another human being trying to know Truth through all the different ways he presents himself to us. I'm not content any longer with just the little bit of Truth that makes me comfortable or that fits my worldview. I want all of him, and I'm willing to run down any leads he gives me as to where I might find that which I lack. I look forward to reading what my thougths and the Holy Spirit stir up in you!

Mark, thanks for your insight. I agree wholeheartedly that the weakening of Dispensationalism is encouraging many younger evangelicals to begin to reclaim some of what we surrendered to the Enlightenment. A blessing of postmodernism--would you agree?

At 3:44 PM, Blogger Antony Hanson said...

I have a question. It's a question I've had for a long time, but have been afraid to ask. But fater reading this blog I thought perhaps this is the time and place to finally ask it. If I am wrong, than kindly just ignore me.

I am seriously curious about Eastern Orthodoxy. What I know about it seems to be very deep and rich. But there is something that really bothers me. Something I have seen on more Orthodox blogs than I can count now. My question is this: Why is it that the Eastern Orthodox seem (at least the E.O. in the blogosphere) to have to prove and defend the "primacy of Eastern Orthodoxy over and above all other Christian traditions"? Why is it that that seems to be SOOOOOO important to them? I may be really curcified by saying the following, but the tendency that I have observed is not attractive. It reminds me way too much of the fundamentalist churches of my youth who were smugly defendant of themselves as the guardians of THE truth.

Sorry I felt like I had to say that.
Peace to all.

At 5:24 PM, Blogger Doug said...


If Daniel will permit me to offer a reply to your question in his space… I understand what you’re talking about. I’ve also observed what you’ve observed. And I’m sure that I’m probably guilty of it too.

To some degree, I’m sure that this tendency to argue that one is right is rather basic to human nature. When we’re given something that we believe is Truth, we tend to want to hold on to it, to hold it up for others, and to defend it. In some respects, I suppose I would say that this is commendable. After all, we should never shrink from standing up for Truth. On the other hand, we shouldn’t make the mistake of imaginging ourselves to be something we’re not called to be, or of falling into some kind of hurtful pride through the apologetic endeavor. Truth is its own defense, after all. It needs no other defender. If it really needed a defender in order to be true, it wouldn’t be Truth.

That said, I don’t think that this tendency is limited to Eastern Orthodox blogs or bloggers, but can be found with plenty of Roman Catholic or even Lutheran or Calvinist bloggers too. But I think your implication is correct, that this attitude doesn’t show up so much with other Protestant Christians online. Why? The Orthodox perspective, as the Roman Catholic perspective and certain more classic incarnations of the Calvinist or Lutheran perspectives, is not ecclesiologically relativist in nature. The Protestant tradition I was raised in eschewed all manner of liberal or secularizing relativism when it came to what it perceived as the core issues of the Christian faith, but at the same time it embraced an ecclesiological relativism, born out of Enlightenment and the ‘modern’ age, which in the end I came to believe was false.

In response to your question, then, I would say that two things are at work: 1) You have some very zealous converts out there who sometimes (Lord have mercy) make the mistake of imagining that they are christened defenders of the faith, charged with the duty to defend Orthodoxy from all rhetorical attack at all costs; and 2) With Orthodoxy, you’re also talking about a pre-denominational Church that doesn’t understand ecclesiological relativism, or buy into the concept of a “mere” Christianity or a disembodied Church.

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Antony Hanson said...

I thank you for this gracious response. I agree with many of your points, especially that this tendency is basic to human nature, and that it is found in many places, not just on Eastern Orthodox blogs. I recoil at it wherever I find it.

What you write leads me to other questions then, if I may. If the Orthodox view most protestants (or is it all non-Orthodox Christians?) as "ecclesiological relativists" who accept a "mere" Christianity and a "disembodied church" (your terms, all of those), how then do most Orthodox Christians really view the faith of other Christians? Do they view it as a "lesser" faith, because we are not a part of the what they wholeheartedly believe is the "right" church (And you DO believe it is the "right" church. If you didn't, you wouldn't be Orthodox, now would you?). This is the impression, right or wrong, that I get from some Orthodox. That I am, in fact, a "lesser" Christian, and there is a certain "patronization", if I may use that word. "If you would just see that THIS is the truth."

I have come very far from my Evangelical, Fundamentalist roots. These days I consider and call myself "post-evangelical" and "Post-protestant", and (small c) catholic. I affirm the historic creeds as the essentials of Christian faith for all times. BUT, I guess if you don't understand a "mere" Christianity, then I don't understand the concept of all truth being posited in a single ecclesiological entity, no matter how ancient and venerable. Or do I interpret Orthodoxy wrongly in this? In my view, it is still a "human" institution, as any and all churches and traditions are.

Orthodox Christians are my dear bothers and sisters. I am just wondering if I am theirs.... Or, if they are being totally honest in their hearts, am I something less.... That is the impression, intended or not, that I am often given.

Thanks to Daniel for letting me express these thoughts, and once again for a gracious response Doug. Peace.

At 1:35 AM, Blogger Doug said...

Okay, I've got a response for you over at Xanthikos. I apologize for its length. You'll likely find plenty of fodder for further argument in it, but I should warn you that I have little endurance for this kind of back and forth. Even so, perhaps I'll learn something from your perspective and perhaps you'll learn something from mine. It's difficult, though, as I suspect that we're talking different languages here at times. Anyway, God bless!

Oh, and Arlen, I'll try to answer your question as best I'm able, either on your blog as a comment or by email.

At 6:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I thought that Doug's questions encouraged readers to look at a cloth fabric that God made into something special. Unfortunately you see only small threads out of place. What about the face of Orthodox Christianity standing before you?

God doesn't make little 'o's to fight over. He makes real persons and BIG O's, and mercifully clothes them in a fabric that cleverness cannot unwind.

We must face ontic realities with the awe they deserve. Read Matthew 25 and Romans 1 for our need of such discernment. You dissemble the church to your own peril. Yes, it's a mystery, but more real than your car.


At 9:36 PM, Blogger DesertPastor said...

Nice piece, Daniel. And well articulated.

I'm a little surprized that Karl didn't ask you to respond to questions a bit tougher than these. Perhaps, from his unique perspective, each led to a natural conclusion in favor of "O"rthodoxy. I'm just not seeing that however.

btw -- how long has it been now since you've been stateside, and how are your little ones doing?

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Karl Thienes said...

"I'm a little surprised that Karl didn't ask you to respond to questions a bit tougher than these."

I have in the past. In the context of how my question arose, I thought it would be interesting to see how he would address the questions Doug posted. I wasn't trying to trip Daniel up or give him a "challenge"--I was simply curious to see how he might think through the questions. Not surprisingly, his falling back on Tertullian is a little disappointing. I would have thought Daniel would be a little bit more up to date on his church history! *wink*

"Perhaps, from his unique perspective, each led to a natural conclusion in favor of "O"rthodoxy...."

If you take into account other aspects of "orthodoxy", I think they do. I've addressed one element of this over at Doug's blog in the comments.

At 8:08 PM, Blogger DesertPastor said...

Karl, I've just recently been catching up on this discussion. In reading through the exchange, I was struck by the notion that by as early as the second century, primitive Christianity was already slipping into heresy. Well, 1) primitive Christianity was already struggling with heresy before the second century came around, and yet 2)despite these challenges, Christianity remained amazingly in flux. In part, I've tended to attribute this to the early church's reliance on the Holy Spirit -- a phenomenon which didn't entirely disappear but which was significantly tempered and managed by the Church's emerging ecclesiology. This may have muddied the waters, so-to-speak, in our attempt to distinquish ancient orthodoxy from ancient "O"rthodoxy.

At 9:13 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

I apologize for my absence these last couple of days, friends. I need to find a seminary that doesn't cut in on my blogging so much! =)

DP, we've been Stateside since early November, and we're just now beginning to feel "settled" here in Waco...which, I suppose, is why we'll be moving again soon. We are in the final stages of "negotiations" (that seems like the wrong word, but you know what I mean) with a church that seems like a wonderful fit for us and will offer us significant help to finish seminary. It's a bit scary--it's quite a bit bigger than our last church--but it seems to be God's will. Or--how does Luke say it?--"It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us." =)

Karl, I'm so glad to have you in this discussion. I think, for the sake of simplicity, that I'll keep my theological responses over at Doug's blog, but... "Falling back on Tertullian?!?!" Since when is the fact that he provided the key Christological and Trinitarian formulations in question?

Friends, you all bless me so much. Thanks for being a part of my life!

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Karl Thienes said...

"In part, I've tended to attribute this to the early church's reliance on the Holy Spirit..."

You still see this in Orthodoxy today. We have no pope to tell us what to believe and we don't rely on our own individualistic interpretations. Orthodoxy was and is the only truly conciliar communion, where truth is determined in community when "it seems good to us and the Holy Sprit" (Acts 15)....

"Since when is the fact that he provided the key Christological and Trinitarian formulations in question?"

Because he wasn't alone in this. By a long shot. :)

"I'll keep my theological responses over at Doug's blog"

Sounds good. I've responded to your comments over there already! :)

At 10:47 AM, Blogger Daniel said...


"'Since when is the fact that he provided the key Christological and Trinitarian formulations in question?'

Because he wasn't alone in this. By a long shot."

Since you and I are both short on time these days, I'll concede that one to you as obvious and leave it at that. =)

At 4:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christian Century
May 18, 2004

Those Lucky Orthodox

THOSE LUCKY ORTHODOX: There are good reasons why Western Christians have difficulty communicating with Orthodox Christians, says Ellen Charry(http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3664/is_200404/ai_n9348839). The East had no Pelagian controversy, so the Orthodox could pursue the perfection of monasticism unhindered; theology never became scholasticized there, so they don't have the West's preoccupation with theological method: they experienced no reformation, so doctrinal differences are not for them the engine that drives institutional maintenance; and they never had to confront modernity, so doubt about God never shook their theological verities. Salvation for the Orthodox was never seen as an individualistic escape from hell, but as participation in God's restoration of the world, just as it had been understood in the patristic era. Orthodox theology is not captive to the academy; it is directed toward the life of the church, especially prayer and worship. Without having gone through the Enlightenment, the Orthodox are more confident about the human possibility of knowing and obeying God, and of God's restoration of the world (Theology Today, April 2004).

At 12:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am an Orthodox catechumen, coming from an evangelical dispensationalist perspective. I, however do not hold to the same view of many of my Eastern Orthodox blog fellows. There are many theological and historical reasons why I cannot support this perspective.

Your comment about fundamentalist evangelicals being like many of the Orthodox bloggers out there is actually quite astute. In fact, the Orthodox Church in America in recent years has been experiencing a surge of converts, mostly from, you guessed it, evangelical protestant fundamentalism. Being disillusioned by the theology (and partially rightly so) of their former church, they cling to Orthodoxy and feel that they must defend it to the death. The problem is not with their ecclesiology, but with the thing that is central to all orthodox theology: love.

Unfortunately, though this group is a small minority within Orthodoxy in America in general, they are quite vocal. They are young in the faith, (as am I.) so please give them charity, but please don't accept their position as "the Orthodox perspective."

In fact I think that you may find what the Ecumenical Patriarch said when he addressed the Roman Catholic Church to be particularly relevant to this discussion.

All that being said, I will leave you with a comment my priest told me when we first talked. He asked me if I had been online. I said "yes." And his reply was, "DON'T! You might as well look at pornography." So, my advice would be to go to an Orthodox church and ask the priest your questions. If they're the same as on the net, go to another one until you find one who seems to embody the love that they profess, believe me they are out there.


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