Response to Orthodox Bridge on Charismatics

Even though I plan to criticize Orthodox Bridge (hereafter OB) in this post on charismatics, let me begin with a few words of appreciation:

  1. Despite their best efforts, this post actually was a “bridge” of sorts. One sees several areas of overlap and potential for dialogue.
  2. Their take on charismatics is infinitely superior to Macarthur’s shrill hatchet-job.

My main issue with their post is they water down their strongest arguments for the continuation of Jesus’s Kingdom Power.  But more on that in a bit.  What is their goal in this essay?

Initial Thesis:  One of the main debates between the modern Charismatic movement and traditional Orthodox Christianity is over which better represents the Christianity of the Apostles’ era.

Is there really a debate?  I honestly don’t know.  How many charismatics are even aware of the Orthodox Church?   The author then further clarifies his task:

(2)  both Orthodox Christians and modern Rationalists see the modern charismatic movement as unreliable in its claims of miracles, because they see those claims as originating in the witnesses’ psychological phenomena, rather than as accurate depictions of material phenomena.

Really?  This is an interesting assertion.  Maybe with some premises it could even be an argument.

Unfortunately, this essay continues the same line of self-praise that we expect from OB:

The Orthodox Church’s teachings are those of the Ecumenical Councils, Scripture as understood by its Tradition, the Church Fathers, and its saints.

Getting them to define the content of that tradition is another question.  Let’s pretend the question is “What is 6+6?”  They will answer by saying “6+6 = 7+5.”  Quite true, but not very helpful.

He then offers several areas of overlap:

1) Belief that the world would end in Jesus’s lifetime?  or at least our current generation.  Well, yeah.  I hope Jesus comes back soon.  And I hope that you hope it.  It’s rather hard to have a Christian ethic that doesn’t take the Parousia seriously.

But then OB drops the ball:

they do not share the practice of some Charismatics of proposing a date by which the Second Coming would occur.

Do Charismatics really do this?   I think the author has confused charismatics with some American fundamentalists.    He even cites Hal Lindsey.  This is embarrassing.  Lindsey is a critic of Charismaticism!

2) Speaking in Tongues.  He writes, “It’s important to note that in this incident, the Apostles were not babbling nonsense, but rather speaking other languages coherently.”

This is an uncharitable reading.  Evidently one is either “speaking another language” or “babbling nonsense.”  He has poisoned the well.  But fortunately, he is wrong.  When Paul says “if I speak with the tongues of men and angels,” does the “angels” refer to a human tongue or an angelic tongue?   To be sure, he mentions that verse but brushes it aside and says Paul believed tongues inferior to prophecy.  Yes, he did.  So what?

OB then lists some horror stories and concludes,

“Can any sober Orthodox Christian possibly confuse these dangerous psychic games with the gifts of the Holy Spirit?!”

Again, more poisoning the well.

3) the third overlap is “informal styles of worship.”  This is a half-truth.  But quite wrong on some levels.  Are charismatic Anglicans or even Roman Catholics engaged in “informal styles of worship?”  Not likely.  Or even some Reformed bodies like my own, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  While not formally charismatic, it does allow for it as adiaphora, but our worship is quite structured.

4) The final overlap is the belief that charismatic gifts are widespread. This is a bit more difficult to pin down.  It can mean several things:

4a) Should there be the expectation for Jesus’s Kingdom Power in the church today?  I think we are obligated to answer, “yes.”  But whether they are actually evident or not is a completely different logical issue from whether they should be evident.

4b) Are there in fact widespread instantiations of Jesus’s Kingdom Power?  I think there.  I can even give examples.  Even a few from my own life.  But they won’t work because I, a schismatic, am not part of the true church.

OB notes “A common view in Orthodox tradition about the gifts is that they were frequent in the Apostles’ time, but then became severely restricted.”  Well, kind of.  I have to say with all due respect to Chrysostom, they were quite frequent.  In fact, why even call men “Thaumaturge” if they weren’t?  Or maybe they did become restricted in some places.  So what?

But here is the most damaging claim,

While the Orthodox Church considers the gifts less widespread, according to Bishop Ignatius, they exist in Orthodox Christians “who have attained Christian perfection, purified and prepared beforehand by repentance.

In other words:  only those in the Orthodox Church can work miracles.  But this raises a huge epistemological question:  What of those who aren’t in the Orthodox Church (TM) but can work miracles?  Remember, according to the above claim, only the Orthodox ascetic can work miracles.

4c) They are actually empowered by devils.

4d) They are empowered by God, but only because he is leading them to the church.

4e) They are fake.

Let’s look at the first one (4c).  What evidence do we have that the demonic is at work?  Very little is forthcoming.  Further, it’s odd that Satan would be furthering Jesus’s kingdom.  In fact, we can dismiss (4c).  It makes no sense for Satan to cast out Satan, heal those under Satan’s bondage, or prophecy to the edification of the church.

But what about (4d)?  This is a nicer claim but still problematic.  First of all, it contradicts Bishop Ignatius’s claim, so one or the other is wrong–but both are not right.  More obviously, if he is leading them to the Orthodox Church, few very of them actually make it there!  In any case, (4d) is simply an assertion and need not be taken any more seriously beyond this point.

What about (4e)?  This is the official position of the Humeans at Puritanboard.  But it is so easy to refute I need not bother with it here.

Conclusion

This is one of OB’s better posts, but it is still plagued by the logical sloppiness we have come to expect.  In looking at the works cited (37 endnotes in all), there is NO interaction with the leading Charismatic and Continuationist scholars today.  One would have expected to see works by James K. A. Smith, J.P. Moreland, John Wimber, N. T. Wright, Sam Storms, and Wayne Grudem. Nothing.

Towards a Western Trinity

This isn’t new.  I’m moving some old essays to this site.

In Robert Arakaki’s “Plucking the Tulip,” while the majority of the piece dealt with “calvinism,” he did make some comments on why the Eastern view of the Trinity is more preferable than the Western view (and with what the Filioque entails).

In this piece I evaluate the shortcomings of Augustinianism and the inadequacy of the Eastern essence/energy distinctions.  I conclude with some suggestions on moving past the impasse.

This is the final part both of Arakaki’s “Plucking the Tulip” and my response to it.  The response was delayed because I actually thought this part of his critique was very good.  I have demonstrated my own reasons why I find his critique of TULIP to be unconvincing.  I had to wrestle and think through these issues much more than on soteriology.   Indeed, when I was looking into Eastern Orthodoxy, it was the Trinitarian issues that had the most “pull.”   Western theologians today, at least in the Evangelical world, have done a terrible job in presenting a Western view of the Trinity that understands the East’s concerns (or presenting any view of the Filioque, period.  It is a mark of deep and deserved shame on American Evangelicalism that Karl Barth has the most thorough, recent defense of the Filioque).   This is one of the areas where new thought is actually possible.

I must begin by repeating the now-common refrain that there really isn’t as big as gap between East and West on the Trinity as once was thought.   This is undoubtedly true in the earlier Patristic eras with greater differences coming to light as the first millennium ended.  Certainly, there is a marked divide between later figures like Aquinas and Palamas.

Arakaki begins by noting Calvin’s Western roots.  He writes, “Unlike Eastern Orthodoxy which draws on a wide range of Church Fathers,Western Christianity in both its Roman Catholic and Protestant forms depends heavily on Augustine of Hippo” (Arakaki 12).

Mr Arakaki tries to connect predestination with the Western view of the Trinity.  He writes, “This is because theology (the nature of God) and economy (how God relates to creation) are integrally related” (14).   Mr Arakaki is correct to note that double predestination is not unique to Calvin.  As the former Orthodox theologian Joseph P. Farrell has noted, double predestination is an inference from absolute divine simplicity (Farrell, 332 passim.), and almost all medieval Western theologians held to this model of simplicity. Further, Arakaki’s claim that God’s nature is related to God’s economy is absolutely correct.    He notes that his Eastern view is the Cappadocian one, grounding the monarchy of God in the hypostasis of the Father.   Following Metr. Zizioulas he states that such a position emphasizes the person over the nature.  God exists through his mutual love.   To borrow Zizioulas’s famous title, “Being is Communion.”   There is a certainly a truth to this.

Mr Arakaki contrasts this with the Augustinian view.  His summary of Augustine is by and large correct, and I won’t belabor the point with more quotations.  He quotes sources on Augustine to the effect that Augustine emphasized the nature over the person.  Arakaki then notes difficulties with the West’s view:  “the Father is God, the Son is God,the Holy Spirit is God; but the Son is not the Father, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit; but there is not three gods but only one God” (16).  Obviously, such a view is unsatisfying.  It is not surprising that one infers the Filioque from such a construction.  Indeed, if the above is problematic, then it appears that the Filioque is also problematic.

A High-Church Reformed Response

It must be first noted that Western theologians do in fact have a response to Mr. Arakaki.   How can one claim that “The Father is God/The Son is God/The Spirit is God/There is one God”?   Western theologians could make this claim work by positing a “relations of oppositions.”   I am not going to take that route.  I have my own questions about such a model.  I only mention it to say that there are cogent, rational alternatives to his presentation.

Mr Arakaki has certainly placed his finger upon the Western problem.  Indeed, it is a pressure point.   In fact, even more problems could be adduced.   We shan’t mention them here.   In order to respond to Mr Arakaki, I will flesh out the Eastern view a little more, drawing upon perhaps its most forming theologian, Gregory Palamas (as interpreted by Vladimir Lossky).  According to Lossky, “The Father is the sole monarchy of the Godhead,” but this isn’t subordinationist because “terms such as procession and origin are but inappropriate expressions for a reality alien to all becoming, all process, all beginning” (Lossky, A l’image et a la ressemblance de Dieu, 78, quoted in Jenson, 152). This point shouldn’t be passed over.   This is in line with the Eastern emphasis on apophatic theology:   we have knowledge of God by negation.  At its most basic it denies any knowledge of the divine nature.  Rather, we know God by his energies.  (Much more could be mentioned and Orthodox philosopher David Bradshaw’s outstanding work, Aristotle East and West, will fill in any lacunae in my narrative).

Palamas on the Essence/Energies

Not only does Palamas see that God has an ousia (I understand the fine nuances between ousia, substance, and essence; in the following I will use ousia as roughly synonymous with essence), but “God also possesses that which is not substance” (Palamas, Chapters 135, quoted in Sinkewizcs, 241).  Yet Gregory is clear that this is also not an accident, of which one does not admit in God.  Palamas calls this entity which is neither substance nor accident an “energy.”  Elsewhere he calls it the “arche of deity” (Triads 3.1.29).  This is crucial for his view of the spiritual life.

In one of Palamas’ more brilliant moves, he notes the Western view of divine simplicity (God’s essence is absolutely simple, admitting of no distinctions) and how impossible it is for deification:  If God’s essence is absolutely and immutable, how exactly can the saint participate in it?  If the saint participates in the essence, then the saint is absorbed into the essence.   If the saint participates in “created grace,” then he is participating in a created medium and not in God.  Admittedly, it’s a brilliant move.

One should keep in mind that Gregory likely holds to something similar to divine simplicity.  He is careful to note that God is “according to the ousia beyond ousia” (ibid).  What he likely means is something like Plato’s beyond being or hyperousia (Republic 549b).  If this is in fact what Palamas means, and I think it is, then he is not as far removed from the West as one might think.  The only difference, it seems, is that he adds a tertium quid to the equation:  the divine energies.

Lossky’s problem points back to Gregory Palamas. Palamas employs the Cappadocians, but with a subtle difference. The saints, for Palamas, participate in the divine energies, but not in the divine ousia, deity sheerly as such. The problem, though, is that the Cappadocians were a lot more flexible than Palamas in their use of terms. Their use of the term ousia (Basil probably excepted) does not suggest anything other than the divine life. As Catherine Lacugna says, whom Mr Arakaki quotes elsewhere with approval, “God’s ousia exists as Father, Son, Spirit.  The three persons do not have a common ousia; they are the divine ousia…Further, as Rowan Williams points out, the doctrine of the Trinity means the identification of ousia with energeiai” (LaCugna, 192, quoted in Letham 249ff).  Here is the problem for Palamas: “It is one thing to say that abstract deity is itself always the same quality, as the Cappadocians did; it is quite another to say that deity taken as God himself is a static essence. Ironically, Orthodoxy is here driven to a bluntly modalist doctrine: God himself is above the biblical narrative, which applies only to his energies (Jenson 153).  Jenson’s comment needs to be fleshed out:  we can only identify God by his self-identifying in the biblical narrative–the persons arising out of the narrative.  But on Palamas’s gloss what can we even know of the Persons?  He seems to intimate that this “energy(ies)” is above the gospel narrative itself (Triads 3.1.10-13; 3.1.16-19; 3.3.26-27).   Perhaps most disastrously, Orthodoxy has a tendency to “reify the energies, the moments of the divine life, and at least in the case of the Spirit, the energies replace the person in the historical actuality of salvation” (Jenson 157).

Further, it appears that Orthodoxy is in danger of what (ironically) Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart calls the “pleonastic fallacy.”  According to Hart, this fallacy claims “the fallacy that says that—since there is an infinite qualitative distance between the ultimate principle of all reality and the world of “unlikeness” here below—it is necessary to posit a certain number of intermediate principles or “hypostases” in the interval between the two in order to bridge that distance” (Hart).  While this fallacy was initially pointed out against neo-Platonists and Arians–and I have no intention of saying the Orthodox are the latter!–one cannot help but see certain similarities.  On such a gloss we see an apophatically unknown God who is made knowable–not by the persons, mind you, because Lossky says the terms for hypostatic differentiation are only “inappropriate expressions”–but by some other tertium quid, the energies of God.

Further, we can only have an indirect knowledge of God.  Granted, we aren’t knowing God through a created medium, pace Roman Catholicism, but it is still a medium nonetheless. We do not know God as he is but only through the energies.  If this knowledge is indirect knowledge, then how do we know God’s essence?   As Robert Letham remarks, “If the divine essence is unknowable, how does Gregory know it” (Letham 249)?

Given Orthodoxy’s commitment to a relational ontology, one must ask how this is even possible if we only relate via the energies and not the persons, as it appears Palamas says.  Further, we must note Arakaki’s earlier claim:  “This is because theology (the nature of God) and economy (how God relates to creation) are integrally related” (Arakaki, 14).  I agree, but if all we can know are God’s energies and not his ousia, as Basil says (Letter 234), then one wonders how such a claim is even possible.   If the ousia is hyper-ousia and beyond our knowing, which was Basil’s point against Eunomius, then we may be allowed to hope that that theologia and economia are integrally related, but that is only a guess.  By definition, we can’t know that.  As Robert Letham remarks on Palamas,For all of the problems of the Filioque, it at least attempts to say that what is true in ontology is true in economia: The Son is the giver of the Spirit in history because he is a giver of the spirit in ontology.

Putting the Filioque at the End

Let’s assume that my (and Jenson’s) critique of Palamism holds.  Even so, that does not prove the Filioque is true.  This is not a problem, though.  As of now, one can affirm what the Filioque is trying to get at (God is not dissimilar in ontology and economy; the economy reveals the ontology) while seeking to work past difficulties inherent in the project.

At the risk of horrifying everyone both East and West, I will expand (and correct)  Hegel’s “I-thou/Master-slave” analogy.  This does not mean I agree with all of what Hegel says.  I think he is more insightful than people realize, but he is also wrong on a number of points.  The present use of him is simply an analogy. I am not endorsing his ontology.

If you and I are to be free for one another, each of us must be both subject and object in our discourse. If I am present, I am a subject whom you have as my object. But if I am not an object for you as subject, if I somehow evade that, I enslave you. I am not reciprocally available to you (Jenson 155).

How then, can this mutual availability happen? How is an I-Thou relationship possible without becoming a struggle for power? (Jenson notes with humor that postmodernism carried out this program under a tutelage of horror!) Following Jenson, in perhaps a mildly Augustinian strain, we can note, “there is freely given love…a third party in the meeting of ‘I’ and ‘Thou. Thus, if you and I are to be free for one another, someone must be our liberator (okay, granted this isn’t the best term–JA)…If I am to be your object and you mine, so that we may be subjects for each other, there has to be one for whom we are both objects, and whose intention for us is our love for each other. The theological conclusion is obvious.

Still, it does not fully answer the Filioque debate, at least not here. We can tentatively  toward a Western answer. The debate over the Filioque is misplaced. If God is indeed the God of the future, and we see Cappadocian hints of an ever-forward moving futurity in God, then does it not make more sense to see the better question as “The Spirit is the End and Goal of all God’s ways”? East and West debate over the beginning Archimedean point when they should be discussing the divine goal as the Spirit’s Archimedean point” (157). Quoting Pannenberg again, “The fault of the Filioque is that the true Augustinian insight that the Spirit is the fellowship of the Son and Father ‘was formulated in terms of relations of origin’” (Pannenberg, I: 347, quoted in Jenson, 157 n. 67).  Seen from this light, the East-West debate is simply two sides of the same coin.  Neither side tries to rise above the problematic.

On What Can We Agree?

I certainly agree that Augustinian triadology is simply inadequate.  It solves many problems but at great costs.   While I think the Orthodox concept of the divine energies is problematic–and I’ve only touched on one aspects.  I think there are more damaging criticisms available which I won’t pursue here–to the degree that Orthodoxy talks about the “divine light” I can appreciate.  I realize that Orthodoxy sees the two terms as synonymous.  I do not.  My arguments challenge a concept of the divine energies but not the divine light.  There is no reason why on a post-Augustinian gloss that one cannot appropriate the divine light.   Protestant biographies abound with saints who experience the divine light–glory–of God.  The Covenanter John Walsh was known to be surrounded by light while he was praying.   Even the modern Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, recalls an instance when he was flooded by divine light in language quite similar to that of Eastern Orthodox stories (Pannenberg).

In conclusion I agree with what the Filioque is trying to say.  God is not dissimilar in mission as he is in ontology.  Further, while God is transcendent we must be careful in positing that God’s essence is so radically other that we have no consistent way of saying how we can know God.  But even granting Eastern criticisms, we must confess that the East is not the way we should go.  Their Trinitarianism, while consistent and occasionally beautiful, comes at too great a cost.  If pressed hard enough we are left with a frozen view of God (to borrow Jenson’s phrase) above the biblical narrative–and such a view tends toward agnosticism (since we can’t know God as he really is).     Even worse, and in line with some other Orthodox critiques of Palamism (Moss), it’s hard to see on an Orthodox gloss how we can even have a “personal” relationship with God if the persons, too, are hyperousia and our only manner of communion is through the “energies.”

Which Way the West?

It is often remarked that Protestantism is divorced from the early church, that it can’t look back to church history and find itself.  What does one make of this claim?  Admittedly, it’s hard to find the location of First Presbyterian Church, Jerusalem.  Certainly, Protestants must acknowledge the hard work of the ancient church(es) in working through canonical, Christological, and Trinitarian issues.  We stand upon the shoulders of giants.   However, since Protestantism does not claim an infallible tradition, nothing significant is sacrificed when Protestant theologians began to admit that their tradition erred in formulation et al in years passed.

Further, nothing is lost in admitting that previous models of metaphysics may not have been the best to work with.  This does not mean jettisoning the hard work of the early church(es).  It does require a critical receiving of texts and positions, asking what light can they shed on our current situations, and cautiously moving forward.  Rowan Williams has cogently suggested that we saw such a handling of philosophical issues in the Nicene crisis (Williams 2002).  According to Williams’ reading, Arius conservatively employed a number of respected (if pagan) philosophical traditions which compromised the biblical narrative of the Son’s being with the Father. It was to the Nicene Fathers, Athanasius and Hilary, to “deconstruct” the older metaphysics around a new terminology that was more faithful to the biblical narrative (Farrell 184; cf. Hilary, De Synodis 76).

When one reads the Filiioquist debates, especially between two competent debaters, one has to admit that both sides make good cases.  I think there is a reason for that:  both sides are operating off of the same problematic: the Person(s) as causing the origin of another Person(s).   Either side, as Sergei Bulgakov noted with great clarity, must inevitably result in some dyad:  either Father-Son + Spirit or Father + Son/Spirit.  The triad has been lost.

It is to the credit of some recent theologians like Pannenberg and Jenson that they can find models to speak of the Trinity in a way that does not inevitably reduce to some form of monad + dyad.  Indeed, Panneberg can speak of mutual reciprocity, “the divine consciousness existing in a threefold mode,” and “each of the persons relates to the others as others and distinguishes itself from them” (Pannenberg 1991, 317; contra Robert Letham, Pannenberg is not advocating, at least not here anyway, three centers of consciousness, which would fall prey to some form of social Trinitarianism.  Pannenberg’s language is very clear:  a consciousness existing in a threefold mode is still one consciousness, one subject).

My own essay does differ from traditional Protestant proposals.  I do not hide that fact.  I hope I have demonstrated the truths behind the Filioque and what it means for our knowledge of God, even if I demur from the confessional formulations of it. It must be admitted that Calvinism’s Trinitarianism (to the degree that such an entity exists) stands or falls independent of my own formulations (and vice-versa).  Calvin did not write much on the Trinity for the simple fact that he didn’t have to.   Roman Catholicism did not differ from him on that score, so there wasn’t a point.  Calvin’s later doctrine of autotheos per the Son did raise some concerns, but even Catholics like Robert Bellarmine conceded that Calvin was largely in the “Tradition” on this point (Bellarmine 307-310, quoted in Letham 256).  I depart from Calvin in terms of language but hope that my own conclusions are not too far removed from his.

Works Cited:

Arakaki, Robert. “Plucking the Tulip,” http://orthodoxbridge.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Plucking-the-TULIP4.pdf (accessed 6 January 2014).

Basil the Great.  Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers vol 8.  Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publ.

Bellarmine, Robert.  “Secunda controversia generalis de Christo,” Disputationum de controversiis Christianae fidei adversus haereticos.  Rome, 1832.

Bradshaw, David.  Aristotle East and West:  Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom.  Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Bulgakov, Sergei.  The Comforter.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2005.

Farrell, Joseph. P.  God, History, and Dialectic:  The Theological Foundations of the Two Europes and their Cultural Consequences.   Seven Council Press, no date.

Hart.  David Bentley.  “The Lively God of Robert Jenson.”  First Things.  October 2005.  [Accessed 10 January 2014].

Hegel.  GWF.  Phenomenology of Spirit.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Jenson, Robert.  Systematic Theology vol 1.  Oxford University Press, 2001.

LaCugna, Catherine.  God for Us: The Trinity and the Christian Life. San Francisco: Harper, 1991.

Letham, Robert.  The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship.  Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2004.

Lossky, Vladimir. A l’image et a la ressemblance de Dieu.  Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1967.

Moss, Vladimir.  “Romanides on the Holy Trinity.”  http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/articles/410/romanides-holy-trinity/ [accessed 13 January 2014].

Palamas, Gregory.  One Hundred and Fifty Chapters. ed. Sinkewicz, Robert.  Toronto:  Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1988.

——————-.  Triads (Classics of Western Spirituality).  Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart.  Systematiche Theologie.  Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1988-1993.

—————-.  “God’s Presence in History.”  http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1710.  [accessed 10 January 2014].

—————-.  Systematic Theology.  Trans. G. W. Bromiley.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.

Plato, The Great Dialogues.  trans. W. H. D. Rouse.  New York: Signet Classics, 2008.

Williams, Rowan.  “The Philosophical Structures of Palamism,” Eastern Churches Review 9 (1977): 27-44D.

—————.  Arius: Heresy and Tradition.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Zizioulas, John.  Being as Communion. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997.

Vindicae Torrance Contra Orthodox Bridge

Normally when I respond to Orthodox Bridge, I am trying to refute them and vindicate Reformed theology.  This post will be different.  Orthodox Bridge, in a move completely out of character for them, examined a high-profile Reformed theologian’s work. I encourage you to read the piece.  True, it does have all of the flaws of an OB post, but it is also quite informative and comes close to getting to the “real issues.”

I say they “came close” to the real issues.  They did not address them. Orthodox Bridge doesn’t like talking about prolegomena, Revelation, or the Doctrine of God.  And that’s where Torrance is most powerful.

We can spend all arguing over Election vs. Works-Righteousness, but what’s the point? I think this topic highlights the fundamental epistemological and ontological differences between the two streams of thought.  Much of the article is informative and needs no interaction on my part.  So let’s begin:

Arakaki is interacting with a Participatio issue on Torrance.

He was also critical of certain elements of Reformed theology, at least of the Dutch variant.

(and he goes to mention Torrance’s rejection of Limited Atonement stems from his Scottish theology.)  Several problems here:  LA wasn’t a Dutch innovation.  It has strong British and even Scottish elements.  

Arakaki writes

 

I would argue that the Nicene Creed emerged out of the interaction between the regula fidei (rule of faith) handed down by the bishops and the Church’s reading of Scripture, that is between oral tradition and written tradition.  I noticed that Torrance made no mention of oral tradition in his essay.  This is a significant omission because it is in oral tradition that the sense of Scripture is preserved.  If one looks at the early patristic writings, e.g., Irenaeus of Lyons, one finds that the rule of faith (creed) was derived from oral tradition, not from Scripture (Against Heresies 1.10.1).

 

First of all, Arakaki isn’t “arguing” anything.  He is asserting.  An argument has defensible premises leading to a conclusion.  Secondly, Torrance didn’t mention oral tradition because oral tradition is impossible to empirically verify. What would have been the point of such a discussion?  Orthodox apologists are big on telling us the “that” of Oral Tradition.  They have never proven the “what” of it.

The appeal to Irenaeus doesn’t alleviate the problem.  If Oral Tradition is simply “the rule of faith,” then a number of key distinctives are ruled out:  iconostasis, incense, prayers to Mary, etc.  I am not saying these are wrong, mind you, but if Oral Tradition = Regula Fide = something like early Roman baptismal creeds, then the above distinctions cannot be part of Oral Tradition.

Arakaki is bothered that Torrance doesn’t view the Nicene Creed prescriptively with regard to the teaching authority of the bishops.  He notes,

So, as much as Torrance is sympathetic to the Orthodox Church’s position, he does not seem to get it at certain significant points of doctrine and polity.

My initial reaction is “so?”  You’ve merely illustrated a difference.  You have not demonstrated Torrance to be wrong.

Torrance on Justification

Arakaki quotes Fairbairn on Cyril defining the Protestant view of justification as

The challenge here lay in finding in Cyril the Protestant understanding of justification as a passively received righteousness and sanctification as a cooperatively produced holiness/righteousness (Fairbairn p. 126).

This isn’t entirely true of Torrance’s position.  Torrance, given his Barthian view of revelation, sees both objective and subjective elements in Justification. The objective element is Christ’s work on the cross.  The subjective element is the faith of Christ in his life, which presents itself to us in an objective manner.

Maybe Torrance is wrong on here, but it is a glaring oversight to ignore Torrance’s most important essay on the topic (“Justification in Doctrine and Life,” in Theology in Reconstruction, pp. 150-168).

Divine Energies

Not surprisingly, Torrance rejects the essence/energies construction.  Arakaki, by contrast, follows the Palamite claim that  while God is unknowable in His Essence, we can know God through his Energies.  Now we are at the heart of the disagreement.  

For Torrance, not only is such a claim unnecessary, it is wrong and un-Athanasian.  To be sure, Arakaki is bothered by Torrance’s pitting Athanasius against other Fathers, but so be it.  Torrance argues that we can know God.  Per Athanasius, there is a mutual relation of knowing and being.  Christ’s being homoousion with the Father means that he really gives knowledge of God to us.  God really communicates himself to us.  He doesn’t hold anything back.  Our knowledge of God is rooted in the eternal being of God himself (Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, 59).  If Jesus really gives us knowledge of himself–indeed, he gives us his very self–and if the Logos inheres in the very being of God, then how can we posit an unknowable gap in the knowledge of God?

Here is another way to state the problem:  Is God the same God in his modes of origination as he is in his modes of revelation?  If yes, then that is Torrance’s position.  If no, you might not have the Christian God.

Didymus rebuts Basil’s distinction between the energies/operations of God and the immediate activity of his being…for it would damage a proper understanding of the real presence of God to us in his Spirit” (Torrance 210).

The Monarchia of The Trinity

What is the causal anchor point of the Trinity?  Does the monarchia refer to the hypostasis of the Father (per Basil and later EO teaching) or does it refer to the Triunity of God?  This is the key moment where Torrance wins the debate.  Well, I say wins the debate.  Arakaki doesn’t really argue the point. But here is the problem:

In order to rebut the charge that their (i.e., the Cappadocians) differentiation between the three hypostases implied three divine principles, they shifted the weight of the term “Cause” onto the Father. This had a damaging effect of seeing the Deity of the Father as wholly uncaused but the deity of the Son/Spirit as eternally derived or caused.  Further, they cast the internal relations between the three Persons into a consecutive structure or causal chain of dependence, instead of conceiving them (like Athanasius) in terms of their coinherent and undivided wholeness (Torrance 238).  Gregory of Nazianzus was probably closest to Athanasius in that he could speak (if somewhat inconsistently) of the deity as Monarchia.

Torrance: “The Cappadocian attempt to redefine ousia as a generic concept, with the loss of its concrete sense of being as internal relations, meant that it would be difficult if not impossible for theology to move from the self-revelation of God in his evangelical acts to what he is inherent in himself.  If God’s Word and act are not inherent (enousia) in his being or ousia, as Athanasius insisted, then we cannot relate what God is toward us in his saving relation and activity to what he is in himself” (246).

Assessment

 

One of Torrance’s greatest shortcomings was his failing to understand or take seriously the conciliar nature of Orthodox theology.  This failing seems to apply not just to Torrance, but to other Protestants as well.

 

And these are assertions, not arguments.  I need not take them seriously.  What you would need to do is a) prove that your approach is correct and b) then show how the Protestant approach entails logical self-refutations.  

 

Until Protestants grapple with the ecclesial and conciliar dimensions of doing theology, theological dialogue between Reformed and Orthodox Christians will be hampered by misunderstandings and people speaking past each other

 

Until EO apologists like Orthodox Bridge move beyond surface-level assertions, theological dialogue will be hampered and we will speak past each other.  Remember, a bridge is a two-way street.  Methinks–in fact, meknows–that Orthodox Bridge has no intention of learning from Protestants in form of correction.  Given their identity as having the fullness of faith, what could they possibly learn from us schismatics?  

 

Protestant theologians need to engage in a critical scrutiny to theological methods, both theirs and those outside the Protestant tradition.

 

Orthodox theologians  need to engage in a critical scrutiny to theological methods, both theirs and those outside the Orthodox tradition.

 

For example, Reformed Christians need to discuss with the Orthodox the importance of the Ecumenical Councils and the patristic consensus for doing theology.

 

You first.  This is a two-way street.  Where are you wrong that we can help you?  If you are not willing to admit that, you are dishonest.  You don’t want dialogue.  You want converts.  That’s fine.  Just say so in the first place.  You see, you can’t say that.  Your tradition is infallible.  

 

All too often one finds Reformed theologians who are quick to stereotype Orthodox Christianity or who fail to read the church fathers in their historical context.

 

All too often one finds Orthodox theologians who are quick to stereotype Reformed Christianity or who fail to read the church fathers in their historical context

On Orthodox Bridge’s Recent Switch

Since this blog is less polemical as my other ones, I try not to attack other traditions.  And this post isn’t an “attack.”  It is a critical observation, though.  A very critical one.

As readers know from past experience, I was very harsh with the old website Orthodox Bridge.  They deserved it.  They deserved it because they advertised their site as a “bridge” for Reformed and Orthodox to meet and understand each other’s tradition.

What actually happened was that Reformed were supposed to comment on how ignorant they were of EO and start getting a conversion story ready.  When I started pointing out that the High Reformed Theology never believed what they said it believed, they got mad

But still, the site had a wide readership but not a wide interaction.  If you go back and read the old posts (or better, don’t; just look at the number of comments) you will find a common theme.  Where I am allowed to comment, the comments will range from 50-300 (and most of them aren’t even by me, since I was usually outnumbered 10:1.   By the end of those conversations I would be “banned” or blocked.

And then the next 5 posts would have about 8 comments total.  I was the only reason that site was remotely interesting.

Now Ancient Faith is hosting that site.  I’m not sure if that is a good or bad move.  Mind you, at the end of the day I don’t really care. The good news for the site is that Ancient Faith is a top-notch media outlet and it will get more viewers.  And admittedly, the new look is aesthetically pleasing.

The problem is that the site is aimed to bridge the gap for Reformed readers.  How many Reformed readers go to Ancient Faith?  Well, a few certainly do.  But how many Reformed readers who are sympathetic to both Geneva and where Orthodox come from and wouldn’t mind clearing up some straw men?   Very few.

But they were never welcome in the first place.