Tag Archives: Ecumenical_dialogues

If all theology is Christology, how wide the divide? A reflection on Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy (part IV of IV)

Ukranian Lutherans use a  revised version of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Pic from here.  Read more here.

Ukranian Lutherans use a revised version of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Pic from here. Read more here.

Part I

Part II

Part III

There is much that Eastern Orthodox persons say that seems to make a lot of sense to me.  For example, when a priest and monk named Father Patrick says “the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world regardless of the choice of Adam because He must take as His own that existence that is really dead in itself”, it naturally appeals to me at one level (for without faith in God, we do not have the “life that is truly life”, that is, eternal life, but only a life which is a shadow of that which God intends for us) but on another level causes me to ask the kinds of questions that I have been asking, questions like: “Why would Adam and Eve not have had and grown in eternal life had they not sinned? – not by “nature”, but by grace?”

What I think lies behind my questions from the last post  – the one dealing with how man is able to choose to grow in fear, love, and trust in God – is the Augustinian/Lutheran view that Adam and Eve fell before they actually ate the fruit, and this fall was absolutely disastrous for both their free will and mankind.  In fact, we see that this infection that results in evil action is passed on to all of their ancestors, resembling Adam and Eve as regard their “image”:  In Adam we have all been one / One huge rebellious man / We all have fled that evening voice / That sought us as we ran”.  If this makes you want to run at some level, please take the time to see this post about this article from Pastor Weedon and the discussion that follows – one must not attribute to the Lutherans the Calvinist idea that God imputes Adam’s sin to us, for we are all responsible for our actions that do not derive from full fear, love, and trust in God (man’s ignorance God is in fact a culpable ignorance – but as Paul reminds us, it is to precisely such as these that He is merciful)

In any case, one might think that this could be amenable to EO sensibilities – after all, according to their way of thinking, just as God is several persons sharing a common essence, “man” likewise is best thought of as several persons who share a common essence.  Since the essence of man and God is analogous in this fashion, it seems to make sense to me that due to the infection of sin in our first parents, our actions will reveal that what was true of the head is certainly the case for other human persons as well!   As one man put it: “inasmuch as human nature is indeed unique and unbreakable, the imparting of sin from the first-born to the entire human race descended from him is rendered explicable”.  As Cyril of Alexandria said: Explicitly, as from the root, the sickness proceeded to the rest of the tree, Adam being the root who had suffered corruption* and “For the whole nature of man became guilty in the person of him who was first formed; but now it is wholly justified again in Christ.” (Homily 42 on St. Luke)

Another point I need to clarify. If I understand my EO brothers correctly, human nature is already being made incorruptible via the incarnate Logos (could this be connected with the “pistis” in Acts 17:31 perhaps?)  Therefore, let me ask another question:  since we are now living on the other side of the incarnation where Christ actually has united himself with human nature are we now capable of doing even more than Adam and Eve while on earth – perhaps reaching a state of not being able to sin?  If so, this would seem to be highly problematic!

At the same time, it is one thing to talk about this as being a theoretical possibility that seems to be a logical deduction of the “system” and the actually reality on the ground – especially as this reality is held in check with Scriptures like those in I John 1 (in order to be EO, must one believe that Mary would not have been able to take this statement as her own?)  If the Eastern Orthodox will allow this Scripture to stand in its simple meaning – i.e. that all of us Christians will sin until the end** – it does not seem unreasonable to me that they might also be open to seeing what Lutherans, standing on Augustine’s shoulders in particular, see:  namely, that we sin in all our good works….

In sum, I hope for some progress in understanding one another’s respective viewpoints here, because I think that we can both see, as I mentioned in my last series on free will, that there exists a kind of theology that seems to want to talk primarily in terms of man’s virtues and nature apart from Christ (even if their official prayers and liturgies are usually better).

Here I repeat what I said near the end of that series: “But is this not to side with the fall, and to let philosophy trump theology?  Can fallen man do anything that is good?  Imperfectly to be sure – and judging by people’s external actions there are definitely some persons I would prefer to have as neighbors vs. other ones!  But perhaps we ask: can some actions by some fallen men be more pure than others?  Do some have a better standing with God because of their particular actions and/or the habits they have developed?  Well, maybe the real question we need to ask here is this: why do we want to know these things?  To what end?  It seems that it should be enough to say that God is the source of all goodness and fallen man is the one responsible for all evil.  Even if God were to do a perfectly good work in fallen human being, he, when made conscious of this fact, would take credit for it and be proud of himself – or at the very least, take credit for actively choosing by their own free will to not reject God’s work in them.  In sum, the glory must remain Gods!”

On the other hand, when it comes to the defining matter being able to stand justified before Him, why not simply confess that all is by grace and “what do we have that we have not received”?  That way He gets all the glory for our regeneration and we get all the blame for our degeneration?… (lack of faith, fear and love of God)”

It seems fitting to me to close this series with the some of the words of St. Paul that follow the passage that has been contested among us in the book of Romans (that is, 5:12):

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And to that, I know we will all say “Amen”!  Lutherans would also be very keen to connect the importance of oral proclamation (Romans 10:13-17) with this passage.  Isaiah 55: 10 and 11 is one of our favorite passages here:

           “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
            And do not return there without watering the earth
            And making it bear and sprout,
            And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;

            So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
            It will not return to Me empty,
            Without accomplishing what I desire,
            And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

I hope to some degree this series has been helpful to you.  Please feel free to keep it in mind and to comment at any time in the future.

Blessings in Christ,



* Again, I am aware that when I see the word “corruption” I am perhaps reading it with my own set of presuppositions intact.  Perhaps most (all?) Eastern Orthodox persons will insist that this quote from Cyril of Alexandria that I think fits with our view really does not?  Here are some things that the EO apologist Perry Robinson said to me in a conversation many years ago (in response to my views and questions – the statements are not necessarily in the chronological order he made them):

“Sin is the personal employment of a nature against the proper end and goodness of that nature. That is sin is dialectical-it opposes person to nature. Sin is in the use, not in the nature. This is why sin can’t be inherited while the disorder within the nature that it causes can. This is corruption ….  I do not know how sin can be an accident of human nature since sin is personal and not natural. Sin is a way a person wills. Sin is in the use, not in the essence. Here you seem to be confusing corruption with sin. [elsewhere he said: “…. Part of what you need to do is to explain how corruption isn’t the same thing as sin”]  Man could only be “spiritually dead” if he lost the imago dei, which I deny. Humans are spiritually lost. I also deny that divine sacramental efficacy is limited to Word and Sacrament because Christ gathers together all of creation into himself in the Incarnation and fills all things. Sacraments aren’t tools or “means.” If they were, the humanity of Christ would be too, which is a denial of the Hypostatic union. The union is personal, not instrumental. Consequently I am not a big fan of sacramental Nestorianism or Eutychianism ….Is sin natural or personal?  Are natures and persons the same? If sin is natural, then it will not be possible to make sense out of passages like Heb 4:15, which indicate that Jesus took on our corrupt nature for it would imply that Jesus was a sinner”.

I note that we do not say nature and persons are the same, we do not believe sin is now the essence of human nature, and we do not insist that the loss of original righteousness (no desire for true spiritual things) is synonymous with the complete loss of the image of God – something that we also do not insist occurred.  Rather, it is true that in fallen man this image is lost… but he still has some residue of his origin within him.   Therefore, in Luke 3, Adam is called “the son of God” and in Psalm 82:6 Jesus says ”You are gods, all of you, sons of the Most High.”  Man’s “relation” to God was that he was specifically created to be something different than the rest of creation.

As for the points about Nestorianism, here is something I said a few weeks back on another post directed towards persons of the more Reformed persuasion: “You agree that Christ is 100% God and 100% man?  Good.  Now, what does this mean?  Is the flesh of Christ life-giving in and of itself – not just some pipe through which divine operations flow – because it is united to the divine nature in the personal union?   And does this mean that the whole Christ – 100% God and 100% man – dwells within you – really and truly?  When Jesus says “I am the vine, ye are the branches”  does this mean that we are just some pipe through which divine operations flow, or are we truly united with God?”

** Here we also think of Romans 7: It is a real infection that Paul deals with and that actually is a driver of his actions, of whom he alone is responsible.  At the same time, the man he knows he really is – the “new man” – does not agree with these actions. Sin controls him to a degree, but ultimately does not have authority over him.


Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Uncategorized


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If all theology is Christology, how wide the divide? A reflection on Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy (part III of IV)

Salvation, understood in its broad sense, also consists of the sanctification, or what Lutheran theologian Jordan Cooper is calling "Christification", of the Christian man.  That said, Lutherans do insist on distinguishing, not separating, justification and sanctification.  Picture is from the paper located here.

Salvation, understood in its broad sense, also consists of the sanctification, or what Lutheran theologian Jordan Cooper is calling “Christification”, of the Christian man. That said, Lutherans do insist on distinguishing, not separating, justification and sanctification. For more about this picture and sanctification, see here.

Part I

Part II

Before launching into this post, let me quickly deal with some common questions and misapprehensions about confessional Lutherans:  while Lutherans do accept theosis, we are nevertheless eager to make some important distinctions (see this post from Jordan Cooper and this paper from Kurt Marquart for more).  And yet while we do make these distinctions, note that Lutherans do not believe that any human being will be finally justified who has not begun to be sanctified (see my post here – “Lutherans as weaker brethren?” – for more that helps explain this).  Finally, realize that Lutherans did not fight against monasticism per se, but monasticism of a particular kind (see here for more of my thoughts on this).

With that behind us, let us take a look at some words that the Eastern Orthodox blogger Father Aidan Kimel recently wrote:

Paul can even include faith in the list of the fruit that is borne by the Spirit of Christ (5:22), suggesting that the act of trust does not have its origin in the human being… that act springs from the proclamation of the risen Lord. It is incited by the preached message (Gal 3:2; Rom 10:17)….so faith itself is existentially impossible for a humanity enslaved by the powers of sin and death. Trust, too, is a grace of the apocalyptic invasion. If we think that we have believed in Christ by our own power and autonomous decision, then perhaps we have attended one too many revivalist tent meetings. We are not righteoused by our faith in Christ; we are righteoused by the faith of Christ… I am reminded of St Gregory of Nazianzen’s famous saying “For that which he has not assumed he has not healed.” Surely this assumption must include the diseased human will, which is healed, purified, liberated, and sanctified through our Lord’s obedience unto death.

(yes, there are many ellipses here!  Please go to the entire post to read these words more in the context Father Kimel wants you to read them in)

Now, with those words ringing in our ears, let us go forward…

I have heard EO Christians say that “the divine power of incorruptibility is present within the image of God”.  I have also heard the words “’grace’ is God’s own life manifested and active in creation”.  Another person said that “to-day [Christ’s divinized body] is mingled with us, it dwells in us and, naturally, it enlightens our souls from within” (see here)  Finally, a well-known Eastern Orthodox convert named Perry Robinson told me once that “Christ gathers together all of creation into himself in the Incarnation and fills all things”.  While with the EO, Lutherans reject the strict dichotomy of “nature” and “grace” promulgated by Rome – that certainly has relevance as regards statements like these – I must admit that all of these ideas prompt me to ask “what does this mean – especially right now?”  As regards Adam and Eve before the fall, it seems I can easily comprehend what is being said here.  That said, do these words simply mean that God puts the salvation in us which we consequently – in, with, and through Christ – “work out”?  Does it mean that we, from our hearts can assert with the Apostle Paul – without any qualification – “what do we have that we have not received”?    

For the Lutheran’s part, our confessional documents quote Martin Luther saying the following:

“When the Fathers defend free will, they are speaking of this: it is capable of freedom in this sense, that by God’s grace it can be converted to do good and become truly free, for which it was created in the beginning. (WA 2:647, quoted in Article II, Free Will, 23)

There is more to be said about the Lutheran view here, but I would like to focus on the Eastern Orthodox viewpoint regarding these things.  In attempting to do so, I know that the following barrage of questions might seem a bit of excessive, but I question the way I do because I do not want to carelessly dismiss the EO viewpoint based on a misunderstanding.  From what I think I do know about it, it seems to me that it is difficult to grasp and easy to caricature.  I know many persons miss the full picture of the confessional Lutheran viewpoint and its subtle nuances.

What do the EO believe about this issue of free will and the unbeliever’s conversion to God?  While all persons in this world certainly live and move and have their being in God and cannot operate apart from His power, do they believe that all of the persons following Adam and Eve that want to choose what is good do so because, by God’s grace, their free will has been led and enabled to do so?  Is this fundamentally why they, led by the Spirit, choose to grow in fear, love and trust in God with their own free powers?  In other words, do they do what they do because they have already been given a measure of Christ’s salvation (see John 17:3), i.e. “graced” with some kind of implicit or explicit knowledge that lives – eternally lives! – in, with and through Christ alone?*   Note that by stating things in this way, I do not mean to imply that they could not have – incomprehensibly! – rejected this gift at the time it was given to them or that it could not also be subsequently lost.  Even if it were possible that grace might conceivably be irresistible in this or that circumstance, it is certainly not irresistible throughout the whole of any Christian’s life.

If you are EO, how does this sound so far?  I ask all these questions because I wonder if the spiritual power provided by the promise of God’s incarnate Messiah – and this promise’s actual fulfillment in time – is the power that must be behind – the source of – all man’s spiritual powers.  Is the promise of the Christ – that event in which human nature would be and was taken up into the Son of God, the second member of the Trinity – somehow already the possession of the person who subsequently chooses the good?  Or, alternatively, did all those following Adam and Eve have the ability to choose to grow in salvation because they had already chosen it previously – without any divine assistance to get them started – when it had hitherto been offered?  In other words, even though some EO talk about how the “inescapable condition” of natural man is that he is “captive”  to sin, corruption, disintegration, darkness (ignorance) and death, the fall was not really quite as drastic as this language might suggest to some of us?  Is the key simply that an unbelieving person may want to choose the true God and all those things that come with Him but he is not able to complete this action without God’s help?  In other words, when it comes to man’s initial conversion to God – his “regeneration” – do we ultimately say that the human soul’s own powers are able to produce [what would seem to amount to] a good choice that wins God’s acceptance – albeit only with His assistance?

If this latter formulation does not sound as good to the former one, then I think there may be room to do some business (and yes, if you think the way I have framed this whole issue is unfair please say so!).  I say this because in that first case we seem to be talking about salvation by Christ alone – due to His incarnation and all that flowed from that – as the “justifying factor” – where He “frees us from death and corruption and justifies our life and existence” as one commentator told me.**  Here further questions will certainly arise though, and some of those questions would be the following: What role does faith in Christ – whether it be implicit or explicit – have in all of this and what, fundamentally, is this faith that is the power unto salvation (Rom. 1:17)?  Or is faith in Christ not an absolute necessity for salvation?  If it is not, why is it not?  If it is, what is the nature of this divinely-given faith in Christ required for all of this, whether we speak of pre-incarnation or post-incarnation human beings?  Again, to emphasize, in what way does the life the EO speak of here relate to the faith that Paul talks about as the power unto salvation for all who believe?  Is it through faith in God’s promises and their effects that our will is animated and energized to work out the salvation God has already worked in us?

To approach this from a different angle: Truly if the Holy Spirit convicts all people of sin for not believing in Jesus Christ (John 16:8) this presumes them having some knowledge of God’s acting in the world through His Son.  But how?   Do the Orthodox insist that there is some kind of knowledge all men must have of Christ apart from hearing the oral communication about Jesus?  Or, are persons simply responsible (and perhaps culpable!) upon their hearing of the self-authenticating word of God, when His Spirit testifies in their hearts that it is true?  In what way are the oral and written forms of God’s words “living and active” – “spirit and life” – in Orthodoxy – especially as regards the issue of initially turning persons from darkness to light?

Again, on the other hand, perhaps my asking questions like this is not the way to go if we are to better understand one another.  Perhaps what is simply being said here is that Christians need to talk about how this genuine spiritual life – this life of divine power and pardon – can simply be obtained by the powers of free will present in the unbaptized and/or unbelieving.  If you are EO and that is what you think Christians should believe, I wonder whether you can nevertheless identify to some degree with what I have written with here at all…

Or perhaps in all of this there is something else I should consider that I am missing entirely.  If so, please raise your voice!

In the next post we will try to wrap up some of the things we have discussed in this series.


*There are those who have a lot of knowledge of the Bible and even its salvation narrative, but not a living knowledge, formed by trust. In other words, having the most basic outlines of this knowledge in embryonic form is necessary but not sufficient – the component of personal trust in another must be present.

**Of course this point is critical for Lutherans, because although sin does not destroy our good nature, it does infect it such that we not only “cannot do what is natural for us” but we don’t want to!  “Willing” is still natural for us of course, but the poison of sin affects us such that fallen man does not desire or will to desire or desire to will (etc.) what is good and right and true, namely trusting, loving and fearing God as He created us to!  It really is a “captive” and “inescapable” condition in just this way.  As such fallen man, or “Old Adam”, can only be contained – and increasingly killed spiritually – by the Word of God that is Spirit and life.  This is the Word Paul talks about in Romans 10:17 that creates faith.

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Posted by on October 4, 2013 in Uncategorized


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If all theology is Christology, how wide the divide? A reflection on Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy (part II of IV)


Part I

In the previous post, we saw that Eastern Orthodox writers are able to talk about how fallen man is “captive” to sin and sin is an “inescapable” condition.  But if they use language like this, why do they insist that man has a free will and can choose to cooperate with God in one’s initial conversion?  I will try to get to examining this specific question in what may seem initially to be a “round-about way” – although I hope my reasons for proceeding in this way will become clear as we go along.

For the Eastern Orthodox, I understand that man’s immortality is a product of the Resurrection of the incarnate God-Man Jesus Christ, and is not due to any “natural inescapable immortality of man”.  Here I think of words that we speak in our traditional Easter Vigil service: “This is the night when all who believe in Christ are delivered from bondage to sin and are restored to life and immortality”.  Going along with this, they would also say that man’s nature is not “grounded in God’s eternality” by virtue of creation, but rather is only by virtue of the Incarnation.  Here is where I think it makes sense to think about what I said in my last post (in a footnote):  had Adam and Eve constantly looked to the Word, which was the way God intended for events to transpire, i.e. it was to be the “normal or regular course of things” (in other words, it was “natural” in this sense, not in a nature/grace-dichotomy sort of way), they would have not died.

That said, here is how one EO commenter put it:

In order to truly actualize incorruptibility within human nature, there must be a person who is incorruptible already, and thereby actualizes this divine power within human nature. Anyone who lacks actual incorruptibility will not have the power to use human nature perfectly, thereby uniting it to incorruptibility. Thus, a divine Person is needed in order to give human nature a stable participation in God’s incorruptibility. This person must live each stage of human development—birth, life, death—to unite all of human nature to God. And in order to complete this process and make human nature predestined to move towards a final state of incorruptibility of soul and body, He must inaugurate a fourth stage of human life: resurrection….  So even if the fall had never happened, an Incarnation of the Word was needed. Otherwise, human nature would not have been recapitulated by an incorruptible Person who would unite it to God. And without this, there would always be the possibility of a fall into corruption.”

How are these views supposedly different than those of Western ChristendomAccording to some of the Eastern Orthodox persons I have spoken with, “Westerners say ‘yes’, man is naturally immortal, at least his soul is… The soul does not obtain eternality (more technically averternality) through the Resurrection [as it does in Eastern Orthodoxy], but like the angels, is, in its very creation, rooted in God’s eternality.”  Further, one EO said to me “Adam was created neither immortal nor mortal, but with the potential of becoming immortal; that, because of separating from God, Adam became mortal and that mortality is transmitted to his descendants.”

From our standpoint as Western Christians of the Lutheran variety, I certainly think we also should question this notion of souls being eternal by nature.   That said, I am at a loss to understand how death – which is a curse, an enemy, and not a part of the original plan – can be conceived of as a “stage of human development”.  And if the fall had never happened (yes, I am playing “what if”), why would a resurrection, a “fourth stage of human life”, been needed?  Would this be “resurrection” in a different sense?  In any case, I am sure that many pious Lutherans believe that Jesus Christ would have become incarnate even if the fall had not occurred (this is interesting fodder to ponder!).  However, I do not see why this absolutely needed to occur either for God to truly show His love for us or for us to be able to depend on Him fully – if some would insist on this.  In sum, I think this belief is a very pious and comforting one, and perhaps I should have no problem with anyone being confident of these views.  However, I think that problems would arise for myself and others if these views were imposed on other Christians as being necessary for salvation.  We do uphold St. Gregory of Nazianzus’ dictum that what was not assumed, was not redeemed”, but, as can be seen from above, do not see things in quite the same way here.

All that said, all of this seems to make more sense to me if I put it this way: in light of the fall, it was God’s move to redeem man by becoming man, and part of this meant that new “spiritual bodies” and the fullness of eternal life would be given to believers through, in part, His incarnation and resurrection.  If I am thinking about this rightly, this would perhaps also be why, until the Promised Christ actually came in the flesh, believers who had died were not in heaven with God but in the “holding tank” of “Abraham’s bosom”.  Evidently, it was not until Christ was resurrected that human nature was able to be prepared to “assume” (or, from our perspective, “re-assume” ?) this quality that it was made for.  In addition, I think it is possible that this view might help explain the Scriptural teaching that unbelievers will suffer for eternity in hell – not because their souls are necessarily immortal, but because God is not the one who destroys relationships (the eternal life which is love) – or takes any pleasure in their dissolution.  He is rather the One who renews them, and hence gives all men a share in His life by uniting Himself to man in the deepest possible way.  It is a quality of sinful man that he destroys relationships, not God, who is holy (see Hosea 11)

Please note: I know that we still have not talked about why EO believe we can cooperate with God in initial conversion, but I promise that we are getting there…  More background is necessary, I believe.

Lutherans are apt to get uneasy with the “God became man that man might become God” language of Athanasius.  However, as the Lutheran pastor Will Weedon puts it, if we say “God became a child of man that man might become a child of God….”, much of our discomfort disappears.  In any case, as noted already above, it seems that both Augustine and the Eastern Orthodox, for example, believed that Adam and Eve, while able to not to sin, were to eventually, by God’s grace, become those who were not able to sin.  Further, in Augustine’s view, Adam was not made instrinsically immortal, but could die or not die depending on his response to the command of God (perhaps we could say that eternal life was “conditional” only in the sense that they needed to continually live from the life-giving words of God!) 

I think that the traditional Lutheran view is similar to this, although I would want to nuance it a bit (see ** from the first post in this series), and I think this fits with the Eastern Orthodox view as well – namely that Adam and Eve would have only been and continued to be immortal – reaching the highest heights of what they were capable of – by participation in God’s grace (as one EO commentator said: “where ‘nature’ is synonymous with ‘essence,’ we are naturally immortal because immortality does not belong to our essence but is given to us by the grace of God”).  That said, the key question here, of course, has to do with the abilities of fallen man.

And that discussion will be coming in the next post in a couple days.

NOTE: this post originally said: “I will try to get to answering this question in what may seem initially to be a “round-about way”.  I did not want to say that.


Posted by on October 2, 2013 in Uncategorized


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If all theology is Christology, how wide the divide? A reflection on Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy (part I of IV)

Cyril of Alexandria: Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, or both?

Cyril of Alexandria: Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, or both?

Please note: these posts are a bit longer and contain high-octane theological reflection meant to spur on constructive dialogue with Eastern Orthodox Christians.  If you can make it through post I of IV, I think there is a good chance you can make it through all of them.  If you are Lutheran, please note that in these posts – for the sake of making conversation – I am trying to “speak Eastern Orthodox” to some degree while being faithful to Lutheran theology.

Lately in the blogosphere, I have noted some conversations that might be of some real interest to both Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran Christians.  Al KImel, an Eastern Orthodox convert, has just finished a series trying to introduce the importance of Martin Luther to Eastern Orthodox Christians.  On the other hand, in response to calls to commune infants from some Lutherans, other Lutherans have been re-visiting what the 16th c. reformers had to say about the topic (see here).

There are no doubt very real differences.  That said, it still make sense to me that Lutherans and Eastern Orthodox (EO) Christians might try and explore more deeply what they have in common.  From what I understand, most high level Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic dialogue consists not so much in efforts to understand the Scriptures and the early Church Fathers, but rather efforts to harmonize Thomas Aquinas and Gregaory Palamas, as well as the notions of essence/energies and nature/grace.  Any Eastern Orthodox thinkers who are willing to explore a different approach are invited to listen in to what I have to say here (reading this short series I did on the work of John Kleinig might be the best first step).  After all, it seems to me that Rome is quite unwilling to re-consider many of the errors that have set or set them at odds with the rest of Christendom (purgatory, indulgences, works of supererogation, masses for the dead, forced divorce of married clergy, communion only in one kind, etc.)…  Further, from my perspective, it seems that tying the infallibility of the Church to one office presents the greatest of problems.

I’ve tried doing a bit of dialogue already.  I bought my [I know theologically suspect] Orthodox Study Bible way back in 2001, and have been paying some attention to Eastern Christianity ever since.  Some time ago, I had an interesting conversation with several EO gentlemen on a well-known EO blog.  It was a very helpful and educational conversation for me, and I was surprised at how many things we seemed to agree on.  Not too long ago, I revisited that conversation and did some reflecting on it, and this short series of posts are a result of that reflection.  Most of the quotations I share below explaining EO perspectives are from the various gentlemen who participated in that conversation, who I am assuming know of what they speak.

When it comes to finding out where the Church is, Lutherans insist that this is done by recognizing where the Word is purely preached and the sacraments rightly administered.  On the other hand, the Eastern Orthodox are more likely to locate the Church in its hierarchical organization (although I have heard Orthodoxy is not an “organization with mystery” but “mystery with organization”) – finding it by locating the Apostolic Ministry specifically as regards its historic “Apostolic Succession”.  It seems to me that the impulse to do just this is fully Christian in many ways – good, right and salutary.  As I have written elsewhere: “ Ideally, the Church should not only be a vehicle for faith but an object of faith, as Richard John Neuhaus once put it”, even if the EO view  simplifies the picture too much (see the two-part series here for more explanation).  In any case, I think so long as our Eastern Orthodox brothers would not insist that one must believe the office of bishop is distinct from that of pastor by divine rite, this impulse, again, is wholly commendable. 

Lutheran theologian David Scaer: "All theology is Christology".

Lutheran theologian David Scaer: “All theology is Christology”.

So what is the core reason I think that we might actually have more in common than we have hitherto supposed?  The answer lies in Christology.  This is something, through Cyril of Alexandria, I have been informed we share.  Especially if “all theology is Christology”, as one of our theologians has said, it seems to me that this demands a closer look..

In addition to concerns about the Eastern Orthodox view of original sin, Lutherans are often critical of the Eastern Orthodox view of salvation, which we see as minimizing the central importance of the sinner’s justification before God – the certainty given in the promise of forgiveness, life and salvation even for those who know themselves to be the enemies of God (see Romans 4:5 and 5:6)!  Using a text from the book of Revelation, we like to point out that the Lamb of God was “slain from the foundation of the world”.  The Eastern Orthodox, on the other hand, want to stress the centrality of the incarnation, and, we aver, take their eyes of the cross of Christ.

At the same time, it does us well to remember that Lutherans were not inattentive to the argument of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, who claimed that what was not assumed, was not redeemed”.  In other words, Christ needed to take on a human nature to the fullest degree, otherwise we could not have been saved.  And because the human nature that Christ took on was sinless, in the Formula of Concord it is argued that while our humanity is fallen, strictly speaking, we must say that it is still good – the good creation of God.  Talk about man’s “essence being sin” is loose talk, even if given our abject blindness to man’s current spiritual state it is appropriate hyperbolic speech (as I recently pointed out here, man perpetually underestimates the depth and seriousness of original sin – and his sins to boot.  That a ‘Great Divorce’ on God’s part would actually be justice does not even seem to occur for many modern persons claiming Christ”)  I also note that for the Eastern Orthodox, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ go hand in hand with his incarnation, and if “penal substitution” should not be understood exactly as Anselm understood it, there certainly is language in the early church fathers that speaks of some kind of atonement for sin being accomplished at the cross (not to mention in the Gospels, Epistles, and book of Isaiah!)

Further, as regards the unity that we share in Christology, I am quite certain that both steadfast Lutherans and Eastern Orthodox would balk at the Roman Catholic insistence that we can’t say that human beings are children or sons of God by nature because that would be pantheism.*  In other words, we  both have difficulties with the way Rome wields the categories of “nature” and “grace”, thinking that they separate these ideas in ways that create many theological difficulties.**  (for example, as I pointed out in my previous series, the category “nature” would not be synonymous with “creation” for the reason that talking about things according to “nature” seems to imply an autonomy of the particulars in the cosmos that is not implied with the term “creation” – likewise “grace” cannot simply be equated with either  “supernatural” or “new creation”). 

So, what does this mean?  As I understand the Eastern Orthodox conception of man in his original state, though his goal was to be unable to sin – to reach the likeness of Christ by actualizing his “participation in God’s incorruptibility” – he was at his creation only able not to sin*** but failed in this task.  The background here, according to the Orthodox, is that man only had a “gnomic will” which meant that he was capable of misusing his natural powers (at the same time, this fact does not mean that Adam in his original state would not have been in a “state of grace”), and this gnomic will was only to be a temporary condition.  To say all of this in a slightly different way, mankind never reached their goal of a “stable participation in God” from their original state of an “unstable participation in God”, where they could “misuse their natural will and alienate themselves from grace”.  With the fall, all persons were infected with the curse of physical death, and were “alienated from the Image of God that was the blueprint for their human nature”.  That said, they also insist that man continues to have a free will after the fall – his image or “logoi of creation” remains, as does man’s own “energies or essence”.  And yet, in spite of the fact, some Eastern Orthodox Christians seem simultaneously willing to use language like this: “[since our mind has been darkened, man is now] captive to corruption, darkness (ignorance) and death” and “sin is the normal and inescapable condition [of man]”.

Now all of this language seems to make some real sense to me and be acceptable… but am I reading the words the same way that an Eastern Orthodox Christian might read them – or, ever hopeful,  attributing a Lutheran meaning to these words?  And why do the EO insist that even if Adam and Eve had not sinned the incarnation needed to happen?

There are questions I will be addressing more in future posts in this series.

Part II


* I think I have also heard Lutherans say that we can’t call human beings children of God, but from our tradition, it would be because this is reserved for believers, not fallen man in general.  Interestingly, the Scriptures go so far as to say we are all not just sons of God, but gods ourselves.  But it does not shy away from calling all men sons of God either, as Paul points out to the Athenians in Acts 17:27-29.

**Regarding man’s relationship with God before the fall, I know that St. Athanasius said that we were naturally mortal (not naturally eternal – only God is self-existing!) due to our being brought from nonexistence into existence, but I would ask persons to consider the following: it seems to me that Adam and Eve had “eternal life” at that time even as there was still more of that eternal life to be had – i.e. the goal of not being able to sin – i.e. “becoming like God by grace”, i.e. “incorruptibility”.  It seems clear that this is “human nature” as God intends it and planned it to be according to his Image – being created innocent and being with God Adam was not subject to death!  The implications of this however seem to be that we cannot say physical death is “natural” to man in any sense – unless we want to define life and humanity apart from God!  But is that not what sin is all about – isn’t acting on a definition of this sort the reason we have physical death (little “d”) and spiritual death (big “D”) as well?  In other words, in the beginning, Adam and Eve were attendant on God at their creation, and for them not to be would be “unnatural” – rather, they made themselves unnatural.  Again, [physical] death is not “natural”, or normal – God did not create us for this reason.  This is why, had Adam and Eve constantly looked to the Word, which was the way God intended for events to transpire, i.e. it was to be the “normal or regular course of things” (in other words, it was “natural” in this sense, not in a nature/grace-dichotomy sort of way), they would have not died.

*** Other questions that will eventually arise here: was Christ in the temptation able to sin?  Did He limit His divine powers to make this possible?  Can we insist otherwise?  Can we insist that Satan’s being kept “far from us” is not a contributing factor as to why we will not be able to sin in the next life?

Cyril pic:

Scaer pic:


Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Babies in Church (part XI): “Trust in God, trust also in me” – and also these men (b)

"...those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies... none shall make them afraid.” -- Zephaniah 3:13

“…those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies… none shall make them afraid.” — Zephaniah 3:13

Here are the preceding posts in this series: I, Can adults be saved? ;  II, Word or the Church? ; III, The unattractive body, IV, Miraculous, ordinary, conversational experience ; V, The arrogance of the infant (a) ; VI, The arrogance of the infant (b) ; VII, The “Church-speak” that we need ; VIII, Judge your mother, o child (the tragic necessity of the Reformation) ; IX, Divine revelation and infallible human opinion [!?] ;

X, “Trust in God, trust also in me” – and also these men (a)

Jesus said to His Apostles, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16) – and we know we are to not doubt God’s words.  Just because some who are put into positions of authority by God get terribly “off message”, flying “off the rails” (see Matt 5 [“you have heard” and “but I tell you”], 16, 21:25, 22:29, 23:16-22 ; Mark 7:11-12 ; Luke 6:1-11 ; John 5:33-34,39), does not mean that we should think God has no interest in using formal offices – even in spite of their misuse! (see Matt 23:2) – and has not set up a very structured way of handing on testimony that can be relied on.

For in these persons – in whom God has put His trust – we find the preferred way of “verifying” the Church’s claims for ourselves.  In other words, we should, first and foremost, be talking with these persons in authority, who in fact will often be aware of objections to the historical testimony that they bring (having perhaps doubted it themselves)!   When we find ourselves confronted by factual evidence, which on the face of it at least, looks like it should throw our current understandings of our heritage into doubt… the wisdom and discernment of these persons is needed as these facts and accompanying claims are honestly weighed and dealt with.

Now, it is true that – in reaction to the claims of “Enlighten[ment]ed” man – we might be tempted to see this whole matter of God’s divine revelation as not being so grounded in “human” and “earthly” (“worldly”?) things.  Is not the reliable knowledge that we have about math, some science, and certain historical events, for example, at the very least distinct from the reliable knowledge – the divine revelation – that comes from above in the power of His Holy Spirit?  Are not such distinctions absolutely necessary in order to safeguard that which we hold precious and true?

But we must remember what it is that God has safeguarded for us to know (see Luke 1:4, see Phil. 3:1 as well).  In history, he has simply safeguarded the Apostolic deposit –which is simply knowledge – by causing His Church to write the Scriptures, and to further recognize these as His own words (there are key books we know the *entire early church* to have recognized).  Therefore, we must be careful here, for just because something that was revealed by God Himself in an unusual course of human events (for example, as He did with the disciples with His miracles, His transfiguration, His resurrection and the meaning of these) – as opposed to being the kind of knowledge that is gained during the regular course of human events – it does not make it anything different in terms of it being real knowledge that all men can, should and must know.*  For example, the resurrection, after all, would seem to be the ultimate way the true religion is “materialized”, following closely on the heels of the incarnation (again, see Acts 17:31)

No – we cannot fail to realize that faithful people go hand in hand with the evidence – in that they reliably bring forth the objective “good news” (the faithful /true/trustworthy sayings and reports!) – that which comes to us from outside of ourselves – into the present day.   They do not give the Word its power, but their presence is important and cannot be separated from the message’s proclamation: and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (II Tim 2:2) andjust as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts (I Thes. 2:4 ; see also I Timothy 1:12, 3:11 ; Isaiah 8:2 ; I Cor. 4:2 ; II Peter 1:16 ; Proverbs 12:22, 13:17, 25:13 ; Daniel 6:4 ; Luke 16:11, 19:17 ; Titus 1:9 ; Acts 16:1).

Evidently, Jesus, for example, was at times exempt from this otherwise unavoidable reality (as He did not receive all His divine revelation from parents and teachers): “Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved” (John 5:34) – while others were to hear John the Baptist – “unauthorized” though he may have been! – as we are to hear others today (see John 5:33)

And by the grace of God, among men, those Christians who spend much time learning the Word of God and the Church’s past are the most reliable of men.**  These are the persons we look to when we know we are in desperate need of help.  We look to those who speak the truth and also “speak” the love that God gives them to share with their neighbor.  We look to men who are honest about the “little truths” of everyday life and about their own sin in particular – and, fearing the Lord, are ready and eager to be corrected when wrong.   We look to those who are honest about human nature in general (and if blessed to have such knowledge, honest about the very real helpfulness and real limits of various kinds of scientific methodologies).   We look to persons who are very aware that it is their responsibility also to humbly, patiently, and firmly correct the errors of others – and that repentance and reformation are always needed among God’s people, starting with themselves.  We treasure and pursue those who welcome “interruptions” from those in need and are eager to forgive and give persons the grace of God.  And we look to people who are willing to seriously listen to those who do not embrace them, who  try and understand what they say, and do their best to accurately represent the views of these to others.  We are drawn to those men of God who are honest about the challenges they see with God’s words and events from the past that deeply disturb them and all human beings sensitive to the value of human life.  We are especially impressed when we find people who seem to embody all of these traits.  We are attracted here because we know that the wisdom found among the godly is wisdom more profound or reliable than that of the worldly wise“Wisdom is justified by all her children” indeed – God is most definitely not blasphemed because of them (see also this post from Rod Dreher from yesterday, which dovetails nicely with this post. Update: and this one)

And like children, we to can recognize this character and love – this love of the Truth, truth, and each human being (see here, which I linked to in the beginning of part I).  For every one of these that falls into sin and doesn’t get up, there are many more we are confident will never surprise us and never do – because we know and knew them to be those whom we can trust (imperfect though they be – see the “Cretan’s paradox” issue dealt with here) as regards important matters current and past.  And even as some amaze us, we come to be amazed still more by others – and in turn trust them even more than the others. 

To be a Christian is in fact to trust in men more than one’s non-Christian fellows.  In trusting in those who trust the Father, we trust in the Lord indeed – and we are blessed in realizing that authority ultimately goes hand in hand with love, faithfulness, service, beauty, and all things. 


*-I note that the world is *very confused* about what knowledge is.  Among the elites, there exists an unwarranted trust in many kinds of scientific “knowledge” that are anything but.  On the other hand, their conceptions of what knowledge is are very constrained, anemic, and impersonal.  For example, they might not think that your knowledge of your family’s history is really knowledge if you can’t prove what you know to them (perhaps you even have some tangible evidence but it does not satisfy them).  Nor would they consider your knowledge that you are in a stable marital relationship with a spouse, for example, to be something that you or anyone else can rely upon to any real extent – it is not something that qualifies as knowledge.   Further, we should also point out that some knowledge is dangerous – and some things need not and simply should not be doubted.   Truly, while some knowledge can be created through doubt, much also comes through and from persons we trust, present and past – and which often is able to be backed up with good evidence and reasons (when do new methods and principles that seem to “work” trump what we know from persons and their purposes throughout time?)

**-There are those who have a lot of knowledge of the Bible, but not a living knowledge, formed by trust. In other words, having the most basic outlines of this knowledge in embryonic form is necessary but not sufficient.

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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Babies in Church (part X): “Trust in God, trust also in me” – and also these men (a)

Reliable (and living!) content passed on to reliable men

Reliable (and living!) content passed on to reliable men

Here are the preceding posts in this series: I, Can adults be saved? ;  II, Word or the Church? ; III, The unattractive body, IV, Miraculous, ordinary, conversational experience ; V, The arrogance of the infant (a) ; VI, The arrogance of the infant (b) ; VII, The “Church-speak” that we need ; VIII, Judge your mother, o child (the tragic necessity of the Reformation) ; IX, Divine revelation and infallible human opinion [!?]

Another conversation with Roman Catholic apologists has given birth to a new entry in this series.  I’m not sure if that conversation is over or not, as my last posting is still pending approval after 5 days… (its hard to not want to try and interpret that!)

When it comes to trusting God (not loving Him!), children are tops.  How so?  Click here if you’d like to have a clue to where I am going with this post…

Psalm 146:3 says “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”  As Christians there is no doubt that we are to put our full trust in God.  He alone is to be the Object in which we hope. 

When we are brought to faith and sustained in that same faith, He is the One to whom we look.  Him and no other!  It is by His Holy Spirit that He calls us, enlightens us, and sanctifies us through His word and sacraments – His “means of grace”.  When we hear His word preached we recognize its truth – and the power that it has to transform not only us – but the world.  It is even, as some say, “self-authenticating” (and it doesn’t matter if Mormons, for example, say the same about their false message).  In addition, those mature in the faith readily recognize this message vis a vis imposter messages – even if an “angel of light” performs the greatest of miracles to support the errors they bring, these faithful stalwarts will not be moved! (see Deuteronomy 13! –they are only interested in the “many infallible proofs” [Acts 1:3, see also Acts 2:22,32-36, 13:34 ; I John 1 ; and I Cor. 15] Jesus did that fulfilled OT prophecies about Him and further bolstered the OT-confirming message He brought)

So we put our emphasis here – on the Word God alone brings and uses!  We put all our eggs in this basket.  Period!  This is the faith we know and proclaim, and it is good, right and salutary to talk this way – these are, we believe “God’s talking points” (aside: to see some Evangelicals beautifully emphasizing and explaining some other doctrines Luther brought to the fore, see Jono Linebaugh and Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, discussing Law and Gospel here)

That said… there is something else to be said, even if it is by no means to be made an emphasis in our formal theology.  That thing is that there is no denying that the Church *is* the means of the means of grace!  (note this interesting fact to: we are happy to accept the prophecy made about the “second Hus” as regards Luther even as, when it comes to the matter of determining Church teaching, we hold tenaciously to Luther’s words vs. ”enthusiasm” in the Smalcald Articles).  We cannot eliminate people from the equation, even if they, as the messengers, are often happy to quietly step aside and get no credit!  They are, as one RC apologist puts it “Formal Proximate Objects of Faith”.*  There might seem to be the rare exception of course – like Paul being directly encountered by the living Christ – but note that even here he was sent to Ananias for additional instruction and baptism (note as regards visions God still seems to do this today)

And it has always been so.  Many of us are “cradle Christians”, blessed with the gift of faith early on in our baptisms, nurtured with good words from our earliest days.  We were fed these Spirit-and-life words that transform and reform (see I Thes. 2:13: “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers”).  And of course many of our parents found themselves under the care of reliable men who were appointed to pass on that message – that tradition – from runner to runner.

So who am I really trusting then?  This is how I would put it:  I trust God, by the power of His Holy Spirit, through the words spoken by the Church, which is in line with the Church of the past (particularly “Apostolic Fathers”), which is in line with the Apostolic Deposit in the Scriptures, which is in line with the Old Testament prophets.  And it’s not necessary that I doubt any of these things at all – it is good, right, and salutary to rest in this trust – this trust that is confirmed in me every time I explore the past (whether by the evidence of books of the primary and secondary sort or just living flesh and blood persons I speak with “in the know”) – not necessarily out of any skepticism (anyone else see the problem with the statement “trust but verify”?), but rather out of simple curiosity and a desire to better know the heritage that belongs to me and those who surround me.

For there is a heritage.  A “flesh and blood” heritage that is not only the flesh and blood of God offered at the altar.  Yes, I also mean the “flesh and blood” of reliable eyewitnesses who were the means of the means of grace!  The trustworthy men who were unavoidably part and parcel of this whole saving action of God (even if He *can* bring persons to faith through those true words that are spoken by a lying non-Christian if He so desires).  It is not that “doubting” Thomas had no evidence for faith.  His fellow disciples who brought the testimony of the resurrection were part and parcel of that evidence – that evidence that is in turn inextricably bound up with the powerful Word the Holy Spirit speaks.  On the other hand, saying that the disciples “add to the message” would also not be accurate. 

In the book of Acts especially, God, in the power of His Holy Spirit, proclaimed the resurrection as proof to all men through reliable and trustworthy eyewitnesses – and both the fact and the meaning of this event are objectively “good news” and truth for all persons – whether they are accepted as this or not.  Indeed, the disciples had this knowledge – perhaps something akin to what certain philosophers (of the analytic type) call “justified/warranted true belief” – what they said said is true knowledge whether one uses historical methodologies to verify it or not!  Just because a person may not have inquired further, learning more about these eyewitnesses, their mission, and their claims does not make what they said anything less than reliable knowledge that God means for all persons to have via His reliable messengers! 

The same holds for today – just because a person may not spend serious time listening to and speaking with those who have carried that testimony into the future does not make it anything less then reliable knowledge that God means for all persons to have via His reliable messengers!

I am speaking about the succession of the Apostolic message, carried forward primarily, although not exclusively, by the continuing Apostolic ministry. 

Part (b) coming tomorrow

*-Just one example:  Exodus 15:31 says, “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”

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Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Uncategorized


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