With regards to the book’s last chapter, “Constantine and the Culture Wars,” I write,
… LeMasters does a good job in acknowledging the line between principles of faith and morality on the one hand, and prudential judgments that may not be as clear-cut on the other. He does not give the impression of advocating any specific political program; indeed, he explicitly disavows such a project:
Religious groups that are strongly identified with politics risk becoming so entangled in debates shaped by interest groups that their distinctive witness is obscured. To give the impression of being merely a political party at prayer is a good way to make people think that the church has little to say to the world that the world does not already know on its own terms.
He does not use this as an excuse, however, to disengage from political life. He only highlights that in applying the teachings of the Church to our present, political context, we ought not to expect any concrete embodiment of our ideals, and we should be wary of any person or group that makes such a claim.
This is a point, I believe, worth dwelling on. (more…)
In The Word of Life, Tom Oden declared, “My mission is to deliver as clearly as a I can that core of consensual belief concerning Jesus Christ that has been shared for two hundred decades – who he was, what he did, and what that means for us today.” The Word of Life, Oden’s second systematic theology volume, is a treasure for anybody who wants to know more about the fullness and power of Christ.
Over at Juicy Ecumenism, Mark Tooley offers a write up that touches upon Oden’s conversion from theological liberalism to historic and biblical Christianity. Oden recently addressed the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in Baltimore from his home in Oklahoma City:
Oden remembered: “I was socialist, pacifist, Freudian theologian in search of a theological method.” He was also an existentialist who didn’t believe in the historicity of Christ’s Resurrection, thinking it only a “symbol,” and having a “clouded view of the historical Jesus” as interpreted by Rudolf Bultmann.
Being assigned to teach Wesley to seminary students was “Providential,” Oden said. “Going deep into Wesley” awoke within him an appreciation for understanding the Bible through the historic church community.
“It was lonely to be Methodist at ETS in 1989,” Oden smilingly recalled, noting he likely was the first United Methodist scholar to become an ETS member. His ETS membership was “looked at with a cold eye” in United Methodism at the time. Theologians Carl Henry and J.I. Packer helped situate him within ETS. (more…)
In The Mystical as Political, Aristotle Papanikolaou seeks to construct a political theology rooted in the Orthodox Christian conviction that all of creation, and humanity in particular, was created for communion with God. He begins by offering a helpful survey of political theory in the Orthodox tradition, focusing especially on Eusebius of Caesarea, Saint John Chrysostom, the Emperor Justinian, Vladimir Soloviev, and Sergius Bulgakov, inter alia (chapter 1). In the following chapters, he addresses the relationship between church and state (chapter 2); personhood and human rights (chapter 3); divine-human communion and the common good (chapter 4); and honesty, forgiveness, and free speech (chapter 5). In the process, and refreshingly for an Orthodox writer, he also engages Western theologians and philosophers — including William Cavanaugh, Jacques Maritain, Stanley Hauerwas, and Nicholas Wolterstorff, to highlight only some of the more prominently featured — acknowledging their genuine insights while, nevertheless, criticizing what he sees to be various shortcomings. The Mystical as Political represents a careful and irenic, though not uncritical, Orthodox Christian approach to political theology, ultimately offering a positive appraisal of liberal democracy and human rights. Although essential reading on the subject with much to commend it, it has several shortcomings of its own.
In particular, I hone in on “an overemphasis on the particular over against the general, the dynamic and the uniqueness of persons over against the static and the common nature of humanity.” As this is a continuing interest of mine and a subject I have explored in the past here on the PowerBlog, as well as elsewhere, my review is offered as open access to anyone who may be interested in the subject here.
I previously explored the subject of Orthodoxy and natural law here.
And Fr. Michael Butler lectured on the subject of “Orthodoxy and Natural Law” and “Orthodoxy, Church, and State” at Acton University this summer, my summaries of which can be found here and here.
Back in January, I was interviewed for the podcast Conversations On Orthodoxy. After some wonderful editing, the interview has recently been posted.
In particular, the focus of the interview is mostly on how I went from an American Evangelical upbringing to becoming a convert to the Orthodox Church. However, I wanted to link to it here because it concludes with some thoughts about my work at Acton. In particular, I talk about Acton’s vision for a free and virtuous society, its approach to ecumenism, and where I see my own research as an Orthodox Christian in the context of my work here and elsewhere.
As a small disclaimer, I would like to say that at one point it appears that I attribute dispensational eschatology to my alma mater Kuyper College, a school in the Reformed tradition (and therefore decidedly not dispensationalist). The sound bite in question actually is about my childhood church, but I did not make that clear enough during the interview, contributing to the mix up. Other than that, though, I think it turned out great and extend my thanks to Conversations On Orthodoxy.
Emperor Theodosius Forbidden by St Ambrose To Enter Milan Cathedral (Anthony van Dyck, 1620)
In the latest issue of Renewing Minds, a journal of Christian thought published by Union University, I examine two different visions of religious liberty. They are roughly analogous to the two versions of the “empty shrines” of secularism described by Michael Novak and George Weigel, respectively, as well as to the visions of the American and the French Revolution. One has to do with the freedom of the church from state control, and the other has to do with freeing the public square from religion.
After examining some of the premodern history of religious liberty, I pivot with a query about the relevance of Neuhaus’ law:
Given the developments since the sixteenth century, we might wonder if there is a secular corollary to that axiom from Richard John Neuhaus, “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” Neuhaus wrote this in 1997, and was talking specifically about orthodox doctrine within the context of the church. As he concluded, however, “Almost five hundred years after the sixteenth-century divisions, the realization grows that there is no via media. The realization grows that orthodoxy and catholicity can be underwritten only by Orthodoxy and Catholicism.”
As a devotee of neither Orthodoxy nor Catholicism but who is deeply concerned with orthodoxy and catholicity, I am inclined to wonder if Neuhaus’ Law, as it has come to be called, applies only to Protestantism. In fact, given the secularization that both Kuyper and Gregory point to in their own ways, it seems worthwhile to consider whether Neuhaus’ Law might be applicable outside the church, to the liberal political order as such. If so, the recognition that there is no via media might well apply to the purported neutrality of the secular state.
I conclude that these two visions of religious liberty are, in the end, irreconcilable: “We are faced then, with two competing and ultimately antithetical visions of religion and society. One is the way that leads to life and the other the way that leads to death.”
Metropolitan Siluan (Muci) of Buenos Aires, an Orthodox Christian hierarch, was the representative of the Patriarchate of Antioch at the inaugural mass for Pope Francis this week. Notes on Arab Orthodoxy has a personal reflection on the new pope from Met. Siluan (and links to the Spanish-language originals). The Orthodox bishop offers insights about the qualities of this “very easygoing” new pope from informal meetings and dinners he took part in. Met. Siluan:
At the table where the cardinals from Cuba, Ecuador, Santo Domingo, etc. were gathered, I wanted to know the opinions that they had of the pope. So each one of them agreed to answer the question: What are the qualities of Pope Francis?
I will share below some of the answers that I received. Some of it I already shared with [Argentine news station] C5N, who asked me to share some of what I experienced here.
One emphasized the fact that the pope is an organizer, who knows where and how to get something done, a man of great simplicity and mercy.
Another emphasized that the pope is a man who understands his surroundings well, who is generous, a man of words who knows how to speak without offending.
A third said that he is a humble man, who is transparent, honest, who knows things in Latin America who will know how to tell those who correspond from each of those countries what he will have to do. (more…)
Frank Schaeffer: Bachmann, Palin, Perry Use Religion Like Snake Oil Salesmen (2011)
Remaining Orthodox in a Secular World : A Sermon by Frank Schaeffer (2002)
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), has a story on FrontPageMag.com about Frank Schaeffer’s call for the Occupy Wall Street protesters to go after evangelical Christians. Schaeffer is the son of evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). Tooley:
A blogger for The Huffington Post, young Schaeffer is now faulting religious conservatives for facilitating Wall Street greed. He’s imploring the Wall Street Occupiers to “protest the root source of America’s tilt to the far unregulated corporate right.” For Schaeffer, the next logical step is to demonstrate “outside mega churches, Evangelical publishing houses, [and] religious organizations that lead the ‘moral’ crusades against women and gays and all the rest.”
The article, titled “Wall Street Occupiers Urged to Target Churches,” also describes Schaeffer attacking Roman Catholics as “likewise ‘fundamentalists’ who have ‘delegitimized the US Government and thus undercut its ability to tax, spend and regulate.’ So Catholic bishops, like evangelical mega churches, have also tricked their followers into voting against their ‘own class and self-interest.'” See the top video in this post for a sample of Schaeffer spleen.
In August, New York Times reporter Mark Oppenheimer interviewed Schaeffer about his new book Sex, Mom and God and said that that the author’s “break with conservatism, and with evangelicalism, came in the late 1980s.” But, as Oppenheimer described it in “Son of Evangelical Royalty Turns His Back, and Tells the Tale,” Schaeffer:
… had long been skeptical of many of his bedfellows. He found the television pastor Pat Robertson and some of his colleagues to be ‘idiots,’ he told me last week, when we met for coffee in western Massachusetts. Looking back, Mr. Schaeffer says that once he became disillusioned he ‘faked it the whole way.’
Schaeffer might be telling the truth, but remember he’s a self-confessed faker. One thing’s for sure — Oppenheimer didn’t do his homework.
The second, grainy video at the top of this post, shot in a Greek Orthodox church about six months after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, shows Schaeffer in his post-evangelical, pre-HuffPo culture wars mode — more than a decade after his purported “break” from the right. You hear him warning those in the pews about the threat from “the Islamic horde that now pours toward our frontiers” and hear him berating Protestants and Catholics for their soft “feminized” Christianity that won’t stand up to secularism, hedonism and a whole catalog of evils that might have been formulated by, say, Pat Robertson. Schaeffer wants a Christianity that isn’t wishy-washy, therapeutic and “sentimental” but has a “my way or the highway” ethic — a lot like the U.S. Marine Corps. In fact, he has found the alternative to America’s flabby faith: the Orthodox Church.
A tireless book promoter (see also the first five minutes of this longer video), Schaeffer spent a good part of the 1990s and beyond attacking Western Christianity for its many failures and novelties over and against the “pure and clean and perfect” Orthodox Church, into which he was received as a convert. The launching pad for much of this vitriol was his 1995 book, Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religions, which combined Orthodox triumphalism and cold-hearted sectarian vituperation and took it to new heights.
My Greek Orthodox parish was instrumental in bringing Schaeffer to Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1995 for a speaking engagement at a local high school that drew more than 1,000 people. The crowd included many curious Protestants who wanted to hear the son of the famous evangelical theologian explain why he had left the fold and converted to Orthodoxy. While in town, Schaeffer was interviewed on Calvin Forum, a public affairs program on the Calvin College educational TV channel. Indeed, the Reformed minister who interviewed him later was received into the Orthodox Church. Listen to Kevin Allen of Ancient Faith Radio interview former moderator of Calvin Forum, Robert Meyering, about the role Schaeffer played in his journey East.
What is Orthodoxy? According to Schaeffer, “it is the church that has maintained the worship, the sacrament, the truth, in its only pure form that can be found in the world today.” Problem is, in his current incarnation as scourge of the Religious Right, Schaeffer doesn’t say much about the Orthodox Church and his many years of (faking it again?) traveling the country as a Neo-Byzantine circuit rider. You see no evidence on his personal web page of any of those rants against the Catholic and Protestant enemies of Orthodoxy, nor access to a digital version of his tabloid Christian Activist newspaper that was frequently the vehicle for these attacks.
In Dancing Alone, Schaeffer decried the “Protestant debacle [embodied in the ecumenical movement] which has resulted in the disintegration of Western civilization, the acceptance of abortion on demand, the ordination of women, homosexuals and lesbians, the apostasy and heresy inherent in ‘liberal’ Protestant theology.” This was years after he “broke” with the conservatives and Religious Right? Here’s the contents page for the book on Regina Orthodox Press, the publishing house Schaeffer founded and which continues to sell titles like From Baptist to Byzantium and The Virtue of War.
Schaeffer’s Orthodox history might be inconvenient to him today because based on the Church’s teachings — sanctity of life, sexuality, marriage, a hyper-patriarchal priesthood — it looks a lot like the dimwitted “Taliban” Christians and “fundamentalists” that Schaeffer spends so much time denouncing of late. Then again, you can hardly go around advertising the fact that you spent years proselytizing on behalf of traditional morality if, today, you want to maximize your page views on HuffPo and get MSNBC producers to call you back.
IRD covered a speech Schaeffer recently gave in which he cited the Orthodox tradition’s reverence for “holy mysteries” as grounds for rejecting “the frozen being of belief.” But the mysteries of the faith in Orthodox teaching (indeed, the Christian faith rests on profound mysteries) do not provide a basis for a faith that changes, as he puts it, “like the weather.” He should go back and re-read his history of the Ecumenical Councils if he thinks that “anything goes” is how the Church does theology.
Years ago, it was obvious to some Orthodox Christians that Schaeffer had anger management issues. In a 1995 review of Dancing Alone, the scholar and essayist Vigen Gurioan said the book “oozes with the same moralism, instrumentalism and pragmatism that have contributed to the secularization and loss of catholic Christian consciousness that he condemns.”
Schaeffer, Guroian wrote, is at heart an individualist who has taken it upon himself to single handedly interpret the Truth and right all wrongs:
Schaeffer seems to have become Orthodox because the rest of America has gone wrong, and Orthodoxy is the best religious remedy for cultural crisis and moral malaise. At work here is not the catholic mind of the church but the romantic self that takes upon itself the task of reconstructing and arbitrating theological truth. Schaeffer intones “Holy Tradition” repeatedly when he passes judgment on the falsehood in others and claims truth for his own statements (“Holy Tradition says…”). But at center stage as arbiter and mediator of this so-called Holy Tradition is the “I.”
Schaeffer is still arbitrating the truth, but now from the left. Fair enough. That’s his choice. Although, inciting mobs to attack churches and publishing houses does sound a tad intolerant.
But the New York Times claim that the years of “faking it” among Christian traditionalists ended in the late 1980s, doesn’t hold water. Actually, his right wing, sectarian hate speech phase extended deep into the 1990s and 2000s, albeit masquerading in the rich brocades of Orthodox triumphalism. You wonder: Because Frank Schaeffer is such a good faker, could he still be faking it today? Is he a double agent in the culture wars, secretly going among the liberals at HuffPo and MSNBC until the time is ripe to once again expose the evildoers with new books and fresh tirades? We’ll have to stay tuned.
With Europe’s traditional moral framework – Christianity – under increasing attack, the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches are drawing closer in order to combat the forces of secularism and “Christophobia.” Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse looks at efforts to set aside long held theological disputes and forge a unity of action on social questions. Subscribe to the free weekly ANC and other Acton publications here.
With the Rise of Militant Secularism, Rome and Moscow Make Common Cause
By Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse
The European religious press is abuzz over recent developments in Orthodox – Catholic relations that indicate both Churches are moving closer together. The diplomatic centerpiece of the activity would be a meeting of Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kyrill of the Russian Orthodox Church that was first proposed by Pope John Paul II but never realized. Some look to a meeting in 2013 which would mark the 1,700th anniversary of the signing of the Edict of Milan when Constantine lifted the persecution of Christians. It would be the first visit between the Pope of Rome and Patriarch of Moscow in history.
A few short years ago a visit between Pope and Patriarch seemed impossible because of lingering problems between the two Churches as they reasserted territorial claims and began the revival of the faith in post-Soviet Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. The relationship grew tense at times and while far from resolved, a spirit of deepening cooperation has nevertheless emerged. Both Benedict and Kyrill share the conviction that European culture must rediscover its Christian roots to turn back the secularism that threatens moral collapse.
Both men draw from a common moral history: Benedict witnessed the barbarism of Nazi Germany and Kyrill the decades long communist campaign to destroy all religious faith. It informs the central precept in their public ministry that all social policy be predicated on the recognition that every person has inherent dignity and rights bestowed by God, and that the philosophical materialism that grounds modern secularism will subsume the individual into either ideology or the state just as Nazism and Communism did. If Europe continues its secular drift, it is in danger of repeating the barbarism of the last century or of yielding to Islam.
The deepening relationship does not portend a union between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Roman Catholics are more optimistic about unity because they are less aware of the historical animus that exists between Catholics and Orthodox. Nevertheless, while the increasing cooperation shows the gravity of the threat posed by secularism, it also indicates that the sensitive historical exigencies can be addressed in appropriate ways and times and will not derail the more pressing mission.
The cooperation has also caused the Churches to examine assumptions of their own that may prove beneficial in the long run. The meaning of papal supremacy tops the list.
On the Orthodox side the claims to a universal jurisdictional supremacy of the Patriarch of Rome have been rejected since (indeed, was a cause of) the Great Schism of 1054 (see here and here . That said, the Orthodox see the Pope of Rome as the rightful Patriarch of the Church of Rome and could afford him a primacy of honor in a joint council but not jurisdiction.
On the other side, the Orthodox do not have a Magisterium, a centralized Church structure that speaks for all the Orthodox in the world. This has led to some fractious internal wrangling throughout the centuries although doctrine and teaching has remained remarkably consistent.
It will come as no surprise for anyone to know that the Orthodox have difficulties with some of the claims made by the Catholic Church concerning the precise responsibilities and the nature of the authority associated with the Bishop of Rome. The Catholic Church has long recognized this as a basic difference between the Orthodox and Catholic worlds. The rise of militant secularism, however, and the cultural challenges this creates for Orthodox and Catholic Christians alike, have focused everyone’s minds on how they can cooperate to address these issues of ethics and culture.
Protestants have a stake in the outcome as well particularly as attitudes have softened towards Rome due in large part to Pope John Paul II’s exemplary leadership during the collapse of communism in the last century. Protestant ecclesiology has no real place for priest or pope which makes the nature of discussions between them and the Catholics or Orthodox entirely different. Nevertheless, as the soul denying ramifications of secularism become more evident, an increasing number look to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches for leadership.
The most visible ambassador for the Orthodox Church is Oxford-educated Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokomansk who runs the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church. Observers report that a deep respect and even genuine fondness exists between Hilarion and Benedict which has contributed to the recent thaw.
Both of them note with alarm the increasing attacks on the Christian faith in Europe and on Christians themselves in other parts of the world, a development they term “Christophobia.” Hilarion brought these points forward several years back when he first challenged the European Union for omitting any mention of the Christian roots of European civilization in the EU Constitution. That earned him considerable worldwide notice and he has become increasingly outspoken towards any attempts to silence the Christian testimony or dim the historical memory of Christendom.
From the Orthodox side it is clear that the leadership that deals with the concrete issues that affect the decline of the Christian West is emerging from Moscow. One reason is the sheer size of the renewed Russian Orthodox Church. The deeper reason however, is that the Russians have direct experience with the suffering and death that ensues when the light of the Christian faith is vanquished from culture.
Decades before the fall of Communism was even a conceptual possibility for most people, Pope John Paul II prophesied that the regeneration of Europe would come from Russia. At the time many people thought it was the misguided ramblings of a misguided man. It is looking like he knew more than his critics. We are fortunate to have these two leaders, Benedict and Kyrill, to help guide us through the coming difficulties.
Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox priest in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North and South America. He is president of the American Orthodox Institute and serves on the board of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. He writes frequently on social and cultural issues on his blog
Armenian Orthodox theologian Vigen Guroian’s The Melody of Faith (2010) seeks to provide an introduction to the basic dogmas of Eastern Christianity, harmonizing various Eastern Christian traditions (and making significant mention of a few Western ones) through continual reference to their writings, to their icons, and especially to their hymnody. The book, however, makes no claim to “constitute a systematic account of the Christian faith in the Germanic style of rational academic theology” (xi). Instead, Guroian muses,
It may be that theology is nearer in origin and character to music than to architecture, despite modern assumptions to the contrary…. In primitive culture, music is inherently religious, expressing basic beliefs about beginnings and endings as it is employed in worship of deity. Music originates at the well-spring of human emotions and expresses an experience of the numinous. (xii)
Ironically, as an American of German descent I cannot help but point out that the category of the “numinous” was first articulated by the German theologian and scholar Rudolf Otto. It may be that Guroian is so naturally ecumenical he has even unintentionally found something true and beautiful in that “Germanic style” he seeks to avoid. And, I must admit, his insight and approach are both imaginative and refreshing.
Indeed, despite the fact that four of the six chapters are revisions of articles previously appearing in scholarly publications, The Melody of Faith reads with a natural fluidity, at times more reminiscent of a devotional memoir than an introduction to theology. Yet, it maintains a clear focus, each chapter addressing a specific theme, moving from creation in the first chapter, to eschatology in the next, to salvation, to Mariology, to the Crucifixion, and finally to the Resurrection. The resulting whole is a sacramentally- and synergistically-oriented symphony of vibrant Christian faith and living tradition.
This sacramental and synergistic emphasis addresses several of the Acton Institute’s core principles, especially human dignity, human freedom, and human sin. With regards to sin, Guroian writes, “Sinning is an offense to God, but the state of sin is an illness that morally weakens the patient” (55). Consistent with traditional, Eastern Christianity, he emphasizes that sin is more than legal offense, humanity’s problem more than juridical guilt, but rather spiritual and physical sickness or corruption which leads to death. The cure is “divine therapy” or healing. According to Guroian, “Christ is the surgeon who removes the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:15) with the sharp instrument of the cross. And his body and blood are the medicine of our immortality” (55). Christ is the physician who operates; we are the patients who must willingly take our medicine, which we find primarily in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Indeed, “God has created [humankind] in his own image as a personal and free being” (16). Just as Christ was not conceived and all humanity was not saved apart from the consent of the Virgin Mary, we as individuals are not healed and deified by his gracious presence apart from our active participation either. Anything less would denigrate our dignity as bearers of the imago Dei.
The Melody of Faith does not seek to be comprehensive, but its success lies in its accessibility and ecumenical sensitivity. To the outsider looking in, Eastern liturgy and theology can appear confusing, even dissonant, but to many such concerns The Melody of Faith provides a fitting and elegant resolve.
A noteworthy quote on voluntary poverty from Thomas C. Oden. Oden has consistently articulated the concern that modern Christian theology is often tainted by political agendas, such as the radical elements of liberation theology. Here, Oden rebuffs the myth that a historic and conservative Christian theology has been anything less than strong in its identification and assistance in defense of the poor. Oden is a United Methodist theologian who is also an emeritus professor at Drew Theological Seminary. In addition, Oden is general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.
Some imagine that a high Christology necessarily tends to be neglectful of moral responsibility. Those who buy into the Marxist view of history tend repeatedly to sound this alarm. Insofar as such a distortion occurs, it is inconsistent with classical Christian teaching, where the assumption prevails that the confession of Jesus as Lord has insistent moral meaning and social implications. Christians who call for an identification with the poor do so out of a long tradition of voluntary poverty, which follows from Christ’s willingness to become poor for our sakes.