Thursday, January 21, 2010

The ESV Study Bible on Eastern Orthodoxy (Part 1 of 2)

Have ya'll heard the buzz on the new ESV Study Bible? It's the new cool thing in the evangelical world.


I have been hesitant about study Bibles since I started undergrad and my theology and Bible professors warned us against using a study Bible, lest we get the impression that the study notes were as inspired and authoritative as Scripture itself. Nevertheless, when Isaac brought home an ESV Study Bible that he picked up with a deep discount at the Evangelical Theological Society Conference in the Fall, I was intrigued.

Turns out I love it. I already loved the ESV translation, and this big satisfying book is filled with interesting features. I was intrigued by a section in the back called "The Bible in Christianity", which examines Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Liberal Protestantism, Evangelicalism, etc. The section on Eastern Orthodoxy is the most direct discussion about Orthodoxy from an Evangelical perspective that I have found. Since I've been laying out Orthodoxy as presented by the Orthodox, it's good to see how Evangelicals see things.

The article first lays out the historical background of orthodoxy, then moves into the positives, the points of agreement, frequent misunderstandings, and points of disagreement. Finally they ask the question, "Compared with Rome, how far away from Protestantism is Orthodoxy?" Fascinating. I'm leaving the points of disagreements and the comparison to Rome for the next post.

First off, the positives. I'm just putting in bullet points summaries rather than the full paragraphs. 

Positive Elements of Orthodoxy That Evangelicals Can Learn From
  • Emphasis on the Trinity in liturgy and worship
  • Union with Christ and God (great balance to evangelicalism's judicial aspects of this doctrine)
  • Freedom from Enlightenment Controversies (the supernatural wasn't ever questioned as much in the East)
  • Unity of Theology and Piety (in contrast to the evangelical split of theology being developed in institutions, often far away from lay pietism)
Agreements between Evangelicalism and Orthodoxy
  • All statements about the Trinity and Christ from the ecumenical councils
  • The authority of Scripture
  • Most essential doctrine - sin, the fall, the death and resurrection of Christ, the Spirit, Christ's return and the final judgement, heaven and hell. Emphases are different, but the basic beliefs are the same
  • Faith as a gift of God, not attained by man
  • Union with Christ is similar to sanctification and glorification in the West
  • The Orthodox ideas about the unity of the church, the parity of bishops (and the rejection of the sigular authority of the Pope) and the equality of church members are close to that of post-Reformation Anglicanism
Significant Misunderstandings
  • Evangelicals often see the use of icons as being idolatry. This is the ESV's commentary on this: "The Second Council of Nicea emphaticall denied that icons are worshiped. Following John of Damascus, it distinguished between honor given to saints and icons, and worship owed to the indivisible Trinity alone. Icons are regarded as windows to the spiritual realm, betokening in the the church's worship on earth the presence of the saints in heaven. moreover, the idea of image is prominent in the Bible."
  • icon
  • Many would see there as being a significant difference between Orthodox and Evangelicals on the issues of Scripture and the traditions of the Church. In reality, both agree (at least, the theologians agree!) that scripture and tradition are important. The real issue is - which has the final, decisive word over the other? 
  • The Orthodox often misunderstand Protestant teachings on predestination and see it as fatalism, when in reality the Protestant explanation of predestination still fully believes in human will and responsibility
  • Some Orthodox argue that Protestants discount the church's importance in salvation. This is not true of classic Protestantism, which fully believes in the importance of the church. While this view is pervasive in the individualistic emphases of our generation and certainly can be seen in some areas of the church, it is not what Protestantism teaches. 
I thought this section was great and was so encouraged by some of the understanding and acceptance of Orthodox positions. More later.... the next section was harder for me!


    D Paizis said...

    Very interesting and erudite comments. My standpoint has always been: Would Christ have allowed His Church to flounder for a millenium and a half, until Protestantism emerged to save It? Where the Protestants have erred is in not returning to the original Church of Christ and their translation of the much later Masoretic OT text instead of the Septuagint. What has happened to the Mystery of God? D Paizis

    Kacie said...

    Exactly, I completely disagree with that particular perspective of church history. I absolutely do not think that the church was foundering for a millennium and a half.

    PresterJosh said...

    "The Orthodox ideas about the unity of the church, the parity of bishops (and the rejection of the sigular authority of the Pope) and the equality of church members are close to that of post-Reformation Anglicanism"

    Does it go into much detail about this? As stated, it doesn't sound very convincing to me. The idea of a sacramental hierarchy is essential to Orthodoxy. Only the (small) Anglo-Catholic wing of the Anglican church seems to approach the Orthodox position on these issues.

    Kacie said...

    Well, a sacramental hierarchy is present in some form or another in Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, etc. Baptists and independant churches are different, but the structured part of Protestantism very much believes in hierarchy, the importance of being a linked body, accountability, etc. When compared to political structures the Catholic model compares somewhat to a kingdom, because the Pope is directly accountable to God. Eastern Orthodoxy and the Protestant structures listed above would follow sort of a Republic model, a bit like the US now. Baptists and independents would be more like a pure democracy.

    PresterJosh said...

    Sorry if I wasn't clear. I agree that hierarchy is present in Protestantism. But Protestantism doesn't regard the hierarchy as sacramental.

    In Orthodoxy and Catholicism, the tripartite hierarchy (Bishop, Priest, Deacon) is sacramental, because it is conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders (Ordination). And those who are not ordained are incapable of performing most sacramental acts like Eucharist, Absolution (Confession), etc.

    In classic Protestantism, hierarchy is seen as an organizational necessity, but not something marked by a strong distinction between the ordained and unordained.

    To take a concrete example, in Lutheranism, while communion would ordinarily be consecrated by a priest/pastor, in times of need a layperson could consecrate communion. In Orthodoxy and Catholicism, a layperson can never consecrate communion, because there is an essential difference between an ordained person and a non-ordained person.

    Does that help clarify what I meant?

    Kacie said...

    You're right, PresterJosh, sorry I misunderstood. In classic Anglicanism this hierarchy is also treated as sacramental, but not in most of Protestantism. I think the communion example is a little flawed because the greater division there is the disagreement about what communion/the Eucharist actually is.

    In any case, I agree with you that that sacramental treatment of that particular model of heirarchy is much closer between Catholic and Orthodox beliefs.

    However, the idea of what unifies the church is where I think Evangelicals and the Orthodox agree. To quote "The Orthodox Church" by Bulgakov:
    "Accordingly, there are two types of church unity, the Eastern Orthodox type and the Roman Catholic. According to the first, the Church is one by virtue of its unity of life and doctrine... For the Roman Church, where a sort of assimilation of Roman law and Christianity is realized, the ecclesiastical organization possesses decisive value.... Orthodox unity, on the contrary, is realized in the world in a diffuse manner, not by unity of power over the entire universal Church, but by unity of faith, and, growing out of this, unity of life and tradition, hence also the apostolic succession of the hierarchy."

    I find that quote interesting - it seems as though on the bottom line question of what unifies the church, Evangelicals and the Orthodox agree. I wonder how a discussion on the question of apostolic succession of the hierarchy would go between the Orthodox and Evangelicals?

    PresterJosh said...

    I agree with you that the bigger disagreement is about what the Eucharist is. I happen to think that the sacramental hierarchy ties into that quite closely, but maybe that's a discussion for another time. :-)

    Togenberg said...

    -Certainly many Evangelicals do not believe in predestination, no?

    -"lest we get the impression that the study notes were as inspired and authoritative as Scripture itself" That's really cool that they did that. I wish someone had told my grandparents that about the Scofield Bible.

    -While not experiencing the Enlightenment and its discontents I wonder how Orthodoxy has reacted to Modernism, science and positivism, evolution and the like?

    Isaac said...

    Hey D Paizis,
    You said, "Where the Protestants have erred is in not returning to the original Church of Christ and their translation of the much later Masoretic OT text instead of the Septuagint."

    While it’s true that most Protestants favor the Masoretic text (MT), we also do respect and use the Septuagint (LXX) in text critical work. We try to find the most likely original reading through comparing all the extant texts. I feel like I need to say here that these texts do usually agree, there are just differences in some places. As to the exclusive use of the LXX, I find this view flawed for at least two reasons:
    1. There is not really a singular LXX text. That is why we speak of “text traditions.” There are some differences between different LXX texts. So, if we’re going to be exclusive, which one should we use?
    2. The New Testament does not quote exclusively from the LXX. Sometimes the NT uses other versions when it quotes the Old Testament. This seems odd especially when we remember that the NT and the LXX were both written in Greek. So, if the Apostles weren’t exclusive LXX users, why should I be? If this last point seems too “sola scriptura” for my EO brothers, I would add that the fathers don’t quote exclusively from the LXX either.

    Kacie said...

    Togenberg - yeah, that's what I thought, and what I briefly mentioned in my next post. I was surprised how often the author of the article seemed to assume that a reformed position was THE evangelical position.

    As for the questions about how they react to the questions of modernism, it seems like they are just beginning to put together succinct thoughts. I found some interesting articles about those hot-button issues on the Orthodox Church of America's website:

    Togenberg said...

    Welcome Commenter Isaac! Your articulate and detailed response demonstrates your current profession. :)

    Kacie, you can call me Troy (I forget that it says 'Togenberg' (name of my first dog)).

    I'll check that site, ty

    Kacie said...

    Will do. Wasn't sure if you wanted the alias Togenberg in the blog world, or if Troy was okay. :)