Friday, October 26, 2012

Journey to Orthodoxy (part 2)

While I didn't mention it in my last post, I hope it is clear that the first stage in my journey to Orthodoxy was initiated due to a level of discontent with the tradition I grew up in. Here are some specific examples of  what seemed to be absent, under-emphasized, or over-emphasized in the non-denominational, evangelical tradition, given the general convictions regarding ecclesiology and pneumatology I had begun to arrive at.

  • Lack of authority and consequential divisions in the church 
  • Low sacramentology and view of creation
  • Low ecclesiology
  • Low view of tradition
  • Inadequate recognition of the implications of the Incarnation
  • A strain of Gnosticism in the church
  • A strain of 'moralistic therapeutic deism' in the church (with Christ's name pegged on)

There are probably other things, and if it's requested of me, I would elaborate on any of these (in the comments or elsewhere), but I'd rather not belabor the point of the catalyst to explore other denominations and traditions, and instead transition into that exploration itself, which will in turn illuminate some of these matters.

Given my general dissatisfaction with non-denominational evangelicalism, my inherited, inchoate Romophobia, and my admiration of the Reformers, I initially believed that some form of Lutheranism or the Reformed tradition would best address these issues for me. Around this time I also stumbled upon the work of David Bentley Hart -- specifically his writings for First Things magazine, a predominantly Catholic publication -- an Eastern Orthodox theologian who I found to be utterly brilliant. While I quickly read everything of Hart's I could find, not much of his material was on the subject of Orthodoxy as such, but his Orthodox sensibility while addressing particular topics exposed me to aspects of that tradition. Which put another option on the table for me to explore, though I didn't seriously consider it an option at first because of its remote and 'exotic'-seeming nature, which was so far afield of my own experience.

My investigation of Lutheranism and the Reformed tradition never went very deep, I should confess. I read a lot of Luther and some Calvin, as well as theologians from later centuries within those traditions, and I felt I had a fairly firm grasp on the main features of their thought and the traditions. But when it came to actually investigating the churches in existence today, the plethora of strains of Lutheranism and Reformed churches was a bit dizzying -- where do I start? I could quickly discard the liberal strains of Lutheranism, of course, but where to go after that? It was a bit overwhelming, and so I sort of stalled out in my exploration (to my discredit).

While the issue of 'church unity' essentially never even came up when I was growing up in the church, even when I became aware of it, it didn't interest me much. 'Church unity' is guaranteed because there's a mystical, invisible Church which consists of all those who belong to Christ. Why fret about it? It can't be thwarted, ultimately, after all. But eventually this very process, and the proliferation of divisions in the Protestant church it brought to my attention, did cause some consternation for me, especially in light of Christ's high priestly prayer in John 17.

This brought to the forefront the idea of a 'pre-denominational' church, which essentially both the Catholic and Orthodox claim to be, and seem to be the only ones who could possibly make such a claim. I was already somewhat familiar with the bare basics of the history of the Church, and so with the character of the Early Church, also in a very limited way. I knew that the Great Schism occurred in 1054. But if there was a pre-denominational Church, which was it? How did schism come about, exactly? Being familiar with much of the anti-Catholic polemic of the Reformation, as well as with having my own objections to the Catholic Church today, my first inclination was to suspect that Orthodoxy might uniquely, legitimately make this claim to being the original church. This suspicion was somewhat bolstered by my admiration for the Orthodox thought of David Bentley Hart. In my next post we will (finally) begin to look at Orthodoxy itself and see what drew me to it, as well as shine light back on what bothered me about my own tradition, but which I couldn't see except in the light of Orthodoxy.


P.S. It should be noted that this process I'm describing is more clean and simplified than it actually was, as there were many subtle factors, events, and ideas that contributed to me heading in this direction. I'm streamlining and simplifying to some degree to make the story manageable and coherent.

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