Monday, January 5, 2009

And furthermore...

There is a theology (a Western doctrine) that happens to get under my skin more than any other. I have grown up with it; it was absorbed into me with every moment I lived as a Protestant, and offers to me the strongest proof of atheism that I can imagine.

I was fortunate - at least, I consider myself fortunate - to have met through his books one George MacDonald, a man who could not abide said soul-destroying theology and who lost his job as pastor because of it. I never heard his sermons, but I devoured his fantasy, I ate up whole his romances, and in so doing I absorbed the antidote to the above poison.

Faithful readers to this blog will have noted that I do not like proof-texting or the point-by-point arguing of a thesis. I am much more comfortable dealing with ideas. Here is one other who in similarly dealing with ideas expresses with eloquence how I feel also.

But why do men hate God? They hate Him not only because their deeds are dark while God is light, but also because they consider Him as a menace, as an imminent and eternal danger, as an adversary in court, as an opponent at law, as a public prosecutor and an eternal persecutor. To them, God is no more the almighty physician who came to save them from illness and death, but rather a cruel judge and vengeful inquisitor.

You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose. Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God's vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator.

Do you see, then, that Western theology teaches that our real danger and our real enemy is our Creator and God? How can we have faith in someone who we detest? Faith in its deeper essence is a product of love, therefore, it would be our desire that one who threatens us not even exist, especially when this threat is eternal.
- Archbishop Lazar Puhalo.
- V.


Anonymous said...

Archbishop Puhalo is certainly eloquent but God he wishes did not exist is the very One revealed in the pages of Holy Scripture. The God who first loved us who were born "children of wrath".

V - you and I have discussed our differences. You like to deal in ideas I like discuss issues point by point.

You frequently speak out against Western doctrine. You are also uncomfortable with proof-texting (citing passages from Scripture).

What role, then, does Scripture have in your life as an Orthodox Christian? What role does it play in the life of any Orthodox Christian?

We who 'proof-text' do that to demonstrate that our ideas are not our own. So, where do your ideas come from? I am almost certain that you would happily cite Basil and other Fathers - you have cited MacDonald. What role does Scripture play here?

Anonymous said...

I remember the time just before I became Catholic and the great conversion of heart that I experienced. It is seared into my memory. It is a personal experience so it carries no theological weight.

I had been thinking of a time in Evangelical history when preachers were quite likely to invoke the fear of the wrath of God, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom", and was thinking that lately all we had was the "Jesus loves you" kind of message, and I thought that perhaps that was the problem in churches.

My own experience ultimately was a vision, I believe from the Holy Spirit, very brief but overpowering, of the magnitude of the love of God. It was so vast, so pure, and so directed at me, that my own reaction was an immediate desire, like Adam in the garden, to run and hide. I wanted to pull the rocks over me, I felt that impure and dirty and sinful in the presence of that love. No message about the wrath of God could move me to really see myself as I was in the way that vision of God's love did.

So I have never since worried about a lack of fire and brimstone in the message.

Anonymous said...

Stephen, if I may take the liberty here, I think that by Western doctrine, many Orthodox see the Catholic Church as the mother-ship of that doctrine, the source, if you will, from which root much of Reformed doctrine has sprung. v can correct me if I am wrong on that, but I believe the East often sees Protestantism as the philosophical descendant of Catholicism, despite what we see as vast theological differences.

This subject is probably at the heart of that view, or close to it. To get an even stronger perspective on it, here is a link from a Dr. Kalomiros in a speech from 1980. Well worth reading, although I think ultimately he is wrong in a couple of premises, he presents the case well.

On the other note I remember listening to personal testimony of a former Presbyterian pastor, now Catholic, Marcus Grodi. He mentioned that when preparing sermons and encountering a difficult or complex passage of Scripture (what we Catholics sometimes affectionately call our Family Album), he would refer to some of the many theological texts he had in his study library. What he noticed one day was that he would reach for the ones that he already agreed with. Essentially he was seeking confirmation, not information, and he was operating from a pre-set tradition, a particular "interpretation" of Scripture. What he had thought was teaching Scripture, was really teaching a particular view of what Scripture meant, and that if he was seeking truth, he was still no further ahead than the Baptist down the street or the Pentecostal across town. From there he began to realize that he needed an authority to determine what interpretation of Scripture was the correct one, an authority outside of Scripture itself.
The enlightenment of the Holy Spirit? Everyone else claimed that too, with varying results.

That, of course, undermined Sola Scriptura, a teaching that he found was itself a Reformed tradition, not in Scripture.

The point is that everyone, whether they admit it or not, is using a tradition they have been given. The real question is, by what authority?

V and E said...

So we see that God is not just, with the human meaning of this word, but we see that His justice means His goodness and love, which are given in an unjust manner, that is, God always gives without taking anything in return, and He gives to persons like us who are not worthy of receiving. That is why Saint Isaac teaches us: "Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright, His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. 'He is good,' He says, 'to the evil and impious'".

Beautiful. Encapsulates well the unfolding revelation of the nature of God and His love for us.

Thanks for the link, Les.

- V.

Anonymous said...

I would only add, v, that I do not agree with Dr. Kalomiros that the entire theology of the Catholic Church has taken this pagan error as its own. I read this article well before I became Catholic and I agree whole-heartedly with the theology presented. If I thought for one minute that he was right about the Catholic Church, I could not any longer be Catholic, nor would I have become Catholic in the first place.

Are there men in the Church who tend or trend in that direction? Clearly. Are there elements of Protestantism that lean heavily in that direction? Yes, and sorry Stephen, I think Calvinism is one such. Is there in fact a Western pop-culture understanding of Christianity that uses that erroneous notion of God as necessity, a punishing God, a hateful God, the real source of evil? Absolutely.

Indeed, as recently as Pope Benedict's much misunderstood Regensburg address, that created such a furor in the Islamic world, he spoke against that Hellenization of the faith, that creates the dichotomy of spirit and matter and lifts man's eternal spirit as somehow a necessity beyond the eternal contingency of being sustained by God, for its very existence.
What he was showing was the two erroneous extremes, from the Islamic idea of a capricious, vengeful God to the Western Hellenistic pagan idea of a pure necessity, that undergirds much of the philosophy of western science.

Anonymous said...

Les - thank you for sharing from your own experience. While I do believe that there is a need for more preaching on the wrath and justice and holiness of God, it would be unfortunate (and even tragic) if this were all we preached.

The law is meant to be our schoolmaster bringing us to Christ and stopping our mouths before God [Romans]. A proper grasp of the attributes of God helps us to recognize the dilemma in which we are in... and it is against that backdrop [human sin confronted by divine justice] that the grace and love of God stands out so gloriously.

Fear may be the start of wisdom but never the end - when I come into the presence of God it is not to dwell on His wrath and anger... rather I come to search out the unsearchable riches of the glories of His infinite majesty and love. And it is for this that I am [like yourself] eternally grateful.

...Like that Presbyterian pastor I also go often to my bookshelf for help. If you visit my blog you will find that I speak of the influence of three men in particular: Muller, Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones. When I have a question I don't read from Arminius or Ware or Swindoll for example... I usually go to Lloyd-Jones, Spurgeon and Owen. I, too, value tradition.

However, what convinced me of the soundness of their writings and truth of Reformed/Calvinist theology was not the writings of these or any other men - nor was it the influence of seminary or family members or friends. Rather, I reached the conclusions I did by reading Scripture.

There was a time when I hated Reformed theology with a passion - but I have always believed that Scripture must have authority over my mind and conscience, and in my mind there was no mistaking what I was reading.

I do not expect to convince you or V of the merits of Calvinism/Reformed theology. I don't blame you for reacting against its doctrines and teachers - some of them (and many especially in our day) have misrepresented Scripture and God. For me, however, there is no escaping the truths laid out for me in the pages of the Bible...

This is the God described by the Psalmist as a God who is angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 7). Remember even how Jesus said we are not to fear even death but the God who after death has power to send us to hell (Luke 12:5). I believe in the wrath and anger of a good and holy God only because of what Scripture teaches... and I can tell you I would never have accepted the teachings of election (etc.) if it were not for what I find in Romans 9 and John 17 (and John 10) and 2 Timothy for example. If I could have picked a tradition or teaching I would not have picked something even remotely related to Jean Calvin – but here I am and I have to confess the more I understand it the more I love it, and the more I love the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob who is so gracious in electing and saving those who belong to Him.

I apologize for this lengthy reply. I’m not trying to engage in debate... I only hope to be able to explain a little of my position and the role that Scripture has played in my life.

One additional note: I find myself often defending 'Calvinism' - the label is convenient, but I do not consider myself a Calvinist. I consider myself a Christian. I accept the 5 points of Calvinism, but I find my own theology far more in keeping with Owen and Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon than some of the more contemporary exponents of the doctrine.

V and E said...

When I read "Fear may be the start of wisdom but never the end" I think of St. Antony's quote: "I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear."

- V.