Blog Archives

Forced Choices: Eastern Orthodoxy vs. Catholicism.

Last week’s Forced Choice was our first blowout, without Greek trouncing Hebrew 63% to 37%. Since that is significantly higher than what we saw in our OT vs. NT poll, I have to think that people really do just like the Greek language better for some reason.

Today, we’re going to look in a different direction: Christian traditions. And, I’m going to eliminate all of the Protestant traditions, since I think that’s where the majority of you are probably coming from already. So, which do you prefer: Eastern Orthodoxy or Catholicism? And, as usual, feel free to leave a comment if you’d like. But, you don’t need to.

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Flotsam and jetsam (2/2)

  • This fun video explains the difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and England. Living in Scotland for a while, I quickly realized that these are important distinctions to get straight lest you accidentally tell a Scot that he/she is “English”.

What if I were to tell you that God’s mental states, too, were all in your mind? That God, like a tiny speck floating at the edge of your cornea producing the image of a hazy, out-of-reach orb accompanying your every turn, was in fact a psychological illusion, a sort of evolved blemish etched onto the core cognitive substrate of your brain? It may feel as if there is something grander out there . . . watching, knowing, caring. Perhaps even judging. But, in fact, that’s just your overactive theory of mind. In reality, there is only the air you breathe.

All this talk about civility is beginning to make me uncomfortable. Civility refers to courteous and polite behavior. But courteous and polite behavior is not, in and of itself, a religious value. At times, it is to be subordinated to other, more important values.

Orthodox Christians believe they have managed to preserve and pass down the traditions of the church from those days through the rest of the Ecumenical Councils, through the ‘great schism’ with Rome, despite pressure and persecution from Muslims, Crusaders, Communists and Protestants (!) without deviation; they see themselves as having faithfully managed Christ’s blueprint and agenda for his people to the present day.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/24)

Arminians affirm everything necessary for a fully evangelical soteriology; Calvinists require more.  Why?

I simply want to introduce you to a side of him that you may not know, and hopefully to persuade you that he does, after all, belong to the human race. And I want to do that by focusing on two of his close friendships.

I have been taught the historical-grammatical approach to biblical hermeneutics both as an undergraduate student and as a graduate student. It has been useful, but it always left me wondering how this approach allows for the Scriptures to be the book of the church rather than merely an open source. It was not until this last semester when I encountered the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer that my paradigm was shaken.

  • Denny Burk offers a lengthy discussion of the textual problem in Luke 23:34 and why think thinks many experts are wrong when they conclude that Jesus’ prayer “Father, forgive them…” was not original.

Synergism is not semi-Pelagianism

During the interaction with N.T. Wright at the last ETS plenary session, Tom Schreiner casually tossed out the all-too-common assertion that synergism is semi-Pelagian. Implicit behind the claim  seems to be the  idea that anything other than pure monergism is borderline heresy – it’s not quite rampant heresy (Pelagianism), but it’s really close (semi-Pelagianism).

There are both historical and theological reasons for rejecting this claim. Historically, we should at least recognize that semi-Pelagianism was a movement that arose after the time of Pelagius, primarily associated with certain monastic groups in the 5th and early-6th centuries, and condemned as heretical at the Second Council of Orange  (529). So, historically speaking, if you call someone a semi-Pelagian, you actually are calling him/her a heretic – not just a near-heretic.

Theologically, it is not true that synergists are necessarily semi-Pelagian. Here it is important that we define our terms. I understand the terms as follows

Pelagian: any system in which the human person is capable of achieving salvation entirely on his/her own with no divine assistance other than common grace (i.e. the grace necessary for any being to exist).

Semi-Pelagian: any system in which the process of salvation is initiated by the human person apart from any grace other than common grace, but in which the process of salvation is synergistically completed by the cooperative interaction of both divine and human.

Synergism: any system that affirms some kind of cooperative interaction between the divine and the human in the process of salvation

Based on these definitions, we can draw the following conclusions:

  1. Pelagians are not synergists since salvation is achievable by the human person alone.
  2. Semi-Pelagians are synergists since the salvation process requires the cooperative interaction of both divine and human.
  3. Synergists are not Pelagians and are not necessarily semi-Pelagian since it is entirely possible for one to affirm the cooperative interaction of both divine and human while still affirming that the process of salvation begins entirely with God’s salvific (not common) grace.

So, using these (admittedly cursory) definitions, we can say that a number of very prominent soteriologies are synergistic but not semi-Pelagian (e.g., Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Wesleyan, etc.). When theologians make blanket statements to the effect that all synergists are semi-Pelagian, they (hopefully unwittingly) question the orthodoxy of vast swaths of Christianity, including nearly all of the Church Fathers.

So, please take this as a plea to all monergists – please stop making the claim that synergism simply is semi-Pelagian. That claim is neither historically nor theologically correct.

Who are the “must reads” in theology? (part 1)

Brian LePort sparked quite the discussion yesterday with a question about “must read” theologians.

So what makes someone a bonafide “must read if you are serious about biblical/theological studies”? Who would you say is a must read, why, and what is your criteria? Also, is given “must read” always a must read (e.g. I don’t image Barth matters to those who spend their days in textual criticism or the Gospel of Thomas)? Is there anyone who is always a must read?

From there, the discussion ranged rather far afield, with most of the discussion focusing on whether people like Barth and Torrance qualify as must-read theologians. I commented early in the discussion and started to comment again toward the end. But, my comment got too long. So, I decided to turn it into a post of its own. Then that got too long. So now I think I’ll end up with a short series on what it means to say that someone is a “must read” theologian.

Reading the comments on Brian’s post, I was intrigued by how difficult it seems to be to keep separate the question of whether someone is a must-read because of their historical significance and whether they’re a must-read because of the inherent value of their theology. In this post, then, I’m going to comment on what I think makes for a must-read theologian in the former (historical) sense. Tomorrow, I’ll comment on what it means to be a must-read theologian in the latter sense. And, I’ll try to follow that up with a third post offering my list of must-read theologians (in both senses).

For me, determining whether someone falls into the former category (historical must-read) really has to do with the extent to which understanding that person is necessary for understanding a significant portion of Christian theology. For example, one simply must have some understanding of Augustine and Aquinas to have any real grasp of what’s been happening in Western theology pretty much ever since. The same would hold true in the East for theologians like Athanasius, John of Damascus, and Gregory Palamas (to name just a few). For me, people like these constitute the “giants” of theology – people we must read to have a deep understanding of entire Christian traditions. (This isn’t to say, of course, that their theology is necessarily better than that of other, lesser-known theologians; only that their theology has had a level of historical influence that places it in a distinct category.)

After these giants, there is a secondary level of historical must-reads, those people who are necessary for understanding their generation, and certainly had significant influence on later thinkers,  but never rose to the level of defining an entire tradition. In this category I would put people like Tertullian, Ambrose of Milan, Bonaventure, Melancthon (depending on how you understand his impact on the Lutheran tradition), and others. These are important figures and well worth studying in their own right. But, for me, they are only must-reads for people specializing in their era of church history or who want a more thorough grasp of the particular tradition they represent.

Much of the debate about theological must-reads, though, focuses on a third category – those people who are are still alive or who died fairly recently. This is a debated category because it’s nearly impossible to assess their historical significance yet. Personally, I would not categorize any living theologian (or even any of those who have died recently) as a historical must-read. I think you need to be at least a generation or two removed from a person before you have any hope of making that kind of assessment. Each generation has its larger-than-life theologians who are largely forgotten by later generations. (And, that’s not a knock against their theology. Every generation needs people to rise up and engage the theological task in ways that are meaningful for that generation. Most will not be talked about by later generations, but they still performed a valuable and needful task for the church.) So, for me, if you were alive and writing within the last forty years, you would probably not qualify yet as a historical must-read. Indeed, as we’ll see in tomorrow’s post, even forty years is barely enough time to make this kind of assessment.

So, my main must-read category is reserved for those who are historical must-reads, primarily those who are theological “giants” because they established a theological trajectories for entire traditions.

Flotsam and jetsam (10/19)

Flotsam and jetsam (10/18)

Flotsam and jetsam (9/7)

Flotsam and jetsam (9/2)

I’ve been out of town for a while, so I haven’t posted many links in the last couple of days. Here are some of the more interesting ones, just in case you missed them.

Flotsam and jetsam (8/30)

  • Glenn Beck’s rally has garnered lots of attention (see especially here). Probably my favorite so far is from a Slate.com article describing it as “the overall effect was large, vague, moist, and undirected: the Waterworld of white self-pity.”
  • iMonk has started on the three stream in the new evangelical coalition: the New Calvinism.
  • Paul Helm discusses the criticism that a pre-temporal covenant of redemption between the three persons of the Trinity opens to door to an implicit tritheism. Instead, he contends that the ideas of perichoresis and coinherence protect from tritheism, even while maintaining sufficient distinction between the persons to allow room for covenantal relations.
  • Carl Trueman reflects on the value of ministering in smaller churches.
  • William Black discusses the Scripture/authority article in most evangelical statements of faith and how they relate to the Orthodox understanding of Scripture and Tradition.
  • And, if you’re feeling the need to reorient your Monday, try this. Go to Google, type in “elgooG,” and hit “I’m Feeling Lucky.” That should get things turned around.
the overall effect was large, vague, moist, and undirected: the Waterworld of white self-pitthe overall effect was large, vague, moist, and undirected: the Waterworld of white self-pityy