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Patristics for Baptists?

Orthodox Observations on a Recent Debate Among Southern Baptists

Church Fathers

Reformed theology has been making inroads in unexpected places.  Christianity Today, in a recent article, reported on a surprising trend among Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) pastors.  A 2006 survey found that only 10 percent of SBC pastors overall identified themselves as “five-point Calvinists.”  However, a 2007 survey found that a surprising 35 percent of SBC ministers that graduated recently from SBC seminaries identified themselves as “five-point Calvinists.”

This has spurred a pushback in the form of a theological statement: “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”

Article Two: ‘The Sinfulness of Man’ contains an explicit rejection of the Reformed doctrine of total depravity:

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned.

This statement is very close to what the Orthodox Church holds to regarding the human condition.  Timothy Ware in his well known introductory work The Orthodox Church wrote:

Orthodox, however, do not hold that the fall deprived humanity entirely of God’s grace, though they would say that after the fall grace acts on humanity from the outside, not from within.  Orthodox do not say, as Calvin said, that humans after the fall were utterly depraved and incapable of good desires.  They cannot agree with Augustine, when he writes that humans are under ‘a harsh necessity’ of committing sin, and that ‘human nature was overcome by the fault into which it fell, and so came to lack freedom.  (p. 223)

The Missing Factor – The Early Church Fathers

What I find striking about the theological debate described in the Christianity Today article is the lack of awareness of the early church fathers.  Only one was mentioned, Augustine.  Augustine is a very well known church father but he was not the only one.  One of the weaknesses of Western Christianity is the narrow provincialism that resulted in reliance one just one theologian when there was a far richer theological heritage to drawn on.  Eastern Orthodoxy draws on a richer and broader theological tradition.  In an age of rampant hero worship, why are direct disciples of the Apostles not given the attention and respect they deserve?  I am sure there are many thoughtful and scholarly SBC pastors and seminarians who would be open to investigating what the Apostles taught their disciples.

Who are the Early Church Fathers?

The term “church fathers” refers to a particular group of early Christian leaders.  Not anyone who lived long ago is a church father.  For Orthodox Christianity a church father is someone whose teachings are in line with the teachings of the Apostles and who lived exemplary lives.  Because the early Christians believed strongly in a traditioning process – remembering and preserving the teachings of the Apostles – they viewed the church fathers as people who could exposit on the genuine meaning of Scripture.

Just before he was to die, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:

Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.  (II Timothy 1:1-14, NKJV)

For a long time Timothy was Paul’s assistant and pupil, soon he was going to graduate becoming Paul’s successor in the ministry of gospel preaching and church planting.  For that Timothy had to be ordained or set apart to the ministry of bishop.  Paul reminds Timothy of that momentous occasion when Timothy was made bishop of the church of Christ.

And the things you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.  (II Timothy 2:2, NKJV)

The translocal authority of the bishop can be seen in Timothy’s ordination.  At Timothy’s ordination he was given the responsibility to pass on the Christian Faith to future generation of pastors.  He was also given the responsibility to make sure that future bishops would make sure that right doctrine would be taught.

The job of the bishop is different from that of a local church pastor.  A bishop inherited the authority of the apostles; he did not claim divine inspiration like the original apostles but he continued their work of shepherding the larger church.  The local pastors (priests) served under the bishops.  The bishop leads the church through the grace given by the Holy Spirit (see II Timothy 1:6).  It is also important that we keep in mind that Pentecost, Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, began in Acts 2 and flowed on continuously guiding the church into all truth.  As we study church history we find that Christ has been faith to his promises to the Church, never to abandon her but to faithfully uphold her in truth and grace.

It is important to keep in mind that at the time Paul was writing this letter to Timothy, there was no New Testament yet.  What Timothy and the other pastors had to rely on were the handful of letters they received from Paul, their memory of Paul’s oral teachings, and the Old Testament.  The collection of books and letters known as the New Testament would not come together until at least two centuries later.

Many, if not the vast majority, of the early church fathers, were bishops.  Some of the well known church fathers include:

Ignatius of Antioch – A disciple of John the Apostle, he died around the year AD 100.  Tradition has it that he was one of the children Jesus took into his arms and blessed.  Ignatius served as the third bishop of the city of Antioch, the same city that sent out Paul and Barnabas as missionaries (see Acts 13).  He wrote six letters that give valuable insights into the beliefs and practices of the Christians shortly after the original Apostles had passed on. His letters can be found in the Apostolic Fathers.

Polycarp – Another disciple of John the Apostle, he died a martyr’s death at the stake in AD 155.  Polycarp stressed the importance of memorizing and passing on the teachings of the Apostles.  The account of his martyrdom became a very early classic and can be found in the Apostolic Fathers collection.

Irenaeus of Lyons – A disciple of Polycarp, he served as bishop of Lyons in Gaul (France).  He was a missionary bishop overseeing a church on the frontiers of the Roman world.  He is well known for his Against the Heretics which he wrote to combat the heresy of Gnosticism.  He also wrote On the Apostolic Preaching.  He died around AD 202.

Athanasius the Great – He served as bishop of the city of Alexandria, one of the great cities of the Roman Empire.  He played an important role in combating the heresy of Arianism which denied the divine nature of Jesus Christ.  He wrote the well known theological classic On the Incarnation and participated in the first Ecumenical Council in AD 325.  He died in AD 373.

Basil the Great – He served as bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (modern day Turkey).  He wrote On the Holy Spirit against those who denied the divine nature of the Holy Spirit.  He died AD 379.

One common mistake Protestants make is to assume that because he lived long ago, Origen was an early church father and looked up to by Orthodox Christians.  His brilliant scholarship and enormous productivity in theological research would undoubtedly earn him a position in today’s leading seminaries.  But because of certain questionable aspects of his teachings, he is not recognized as a church father by Orthodox Christians.

Reading the church fathers is far from an easy task but will be rewarding for those who want to have a well grounded understanding of the Christian faith.  It is important to keep in mind that the term “church fathers” is a short hand expression for a theological movement that spanned several centuries, spanned both the eastern and western parts of the Roman Empire and even extended outside the Roman Empire.  A good starting point for those not familiar with the early church fathers is Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition vol. 1.

The Early Church Fathers on Free Will

When it comes to doing theology, Orthodox Christians ask: What was the general consensus of church fathers?  The early Christians did theology conservatively.  Rather than attempt to come up with a creative solution, they sought an understanding grounded in Scripture and in line with the understanding of Scripture taught by the Apostles’ successors in ministry, the bishops.

A study of the early Church shows a broad theological consensus existed that affirmed belief in free will.  J.N.D. Kelly in his Early Christian Doctrine notes that the second century Apologists unanimously believed in human free will (1960:166).

Justin Martyr is known as “The Philosopher.”  He was not part of the ordained clergy but was a teacher much in the fashion like today’s university professors.  He wrote:

For the coming into being at first was not in our own power; and in order that we may follow those things which please Him, choosing them by means of the rational faculties He has Himself endowed us with, He both persuades us and leads us to faith (First Apology 10; Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. I, p. 165).

Irenaeus of Lyons affirmed humanity’s capacity for faith:

Now all such expression demonstrates that man is in his own power with respect to faith (Against the Heretics 4.37.2; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I p. 520).

Cyril of Jerusalem was patriarch of Jerusalem in the fourth century.  Jerusalem was one of the spiritual centers and preserver of the ancient Christian tradition.   In his famous catechetical lectures, Cyril repeatedly affirmed human free-will (Lectures 2.1-2 and 4.18, 21; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series Vol. VII, pp. 8-9, 23-24).

Gregory of Nyssa, a well respected teacher in the fourth century, taught in his catechetical lectures:

For He who holds sovereignty over the universe permitted something to be subject to our own control, over which each of us alone is master.  Now this is the will: a thing that cannot be enslaved, being the power of self-determination (Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism).

John of Damascus, an eighth century church father famous for his Exposition of the Catholic Faith, wrote the closest thing to a systematic theology in the early church.  He explained that God made man a rational being endowed with free-will and as a result of the Fall man’s free-will was corrupted (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series 2 Vol. IX p. 58-60).

John of the Ladder, a sixth century Desert Father, in his spiritual classic The Ladder of Divine Ascent wrote:

Of the rational beings created by Him and honoured with the dignity of free-will, some are His friends, others are His true servants, some are worthless, some are completely estranged from God, and others, though feeble creatures, are His opponents (1991:3).

What is striking is that the Calvinists’ doctrines of total deprativity and double predestination were not taught by the early church fathers.  The distinctive teachings of the Reformed tradition have their roots in Augustine of Hippo and the influence of medieval Scholasticism on Christian theology in the Middle Ages.  This points to Calvinism (Reformed theology) not being part of the historic Christian faith, but a novel theological system invented by John Calvin in the 1500s.

An Invitation to Baptists to Read the Early Church Fathers

Christians who are by temperament conservative find a certain appeal in the early church fathers.  They are repelled or disturbed by innovative doctrines that push the boundaries too far.  One of the criticisms that Orthodoxy has of Calvinism is that it teaches novel doctrines like total depravity and double predestination.  What John Calvin and his supporters did was to take certain ideas taught by Augustine and push the boundaries of these teachings in unexpected directions reaching unprecedented conclusions.

Many Protestants, including Baptists, have long been unaware of the rich heritage in the early church.  This is probably due to the mistaken belief that there took place a massive apostasy early on and that the Christian religion fell into deep spiritual darkness until the Protestant Reformation.  Ralph Winter has labeled this view: the Blinked Off/ Blinked On or BOBO theory of history.  The leading scholars in church history reject this view of church history.  The BOBO theory of church history also contains disturbing theological implications.

We invite Baptists to discover the rich heritage in the early church fathers.  We are sure that this will help them move their faith and practice closer to the historic mainstream, and protect them from doctrinal innovations.  We pray that they will find many unexpected treasures in the early church fathers and in the history of the early church.

Robert Arakaki

See also: “Why Do the Baptists Rage?” by Vincent Martini in On Behalf of All (19 June 2012).  This blog posting is written by a former Southern Baptist seminarian who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.  It provides an insightful analysis of the implications involved in this emergent controversy.
Southern Baptist or Semi-Pelagian” by Doug Beaumont in Soul Device (19 June 2012).  Written by an open minded Baptist seminary professor, this article has a pingback to an OrthodoxBridge blog posting.
 “From First Baptist to the First Century” by Clark Carlton a former Southern Baptist seminarian who converted to Orthodoxy.  This is his personal story of his journey to Orthodoxy.


  1. John

    I had heard that yesterday and today the SBC was meeting and it was going to be a showdown of Calvinism vs Arminianism with the Arminianins being the aggressors. This from a Southern Baptist pastor. Id be interested to see what gets reported on that over the next few days.


    • Joshua Torrey

      I am an Elder at a SBC church in Texas. I was at the convention and there is definitively some anxiety building within the non-Calvinistic (they never call themselves Arminianins) leadership.

      I am currently Calvinistic (tending towards Molinism) and a closet Reformer (had my infant girl baptized this year) but see immense value in the early writings of the church. I personally own the 4 volumes of the Philokalia, the OSB as well as multiple items from the Popular Patristics Series. I’ve read through three of Bishop Ware’s books and frequently check my copy of Pomazansky’s Dogmatic Theology while study specific topics. All Western Denominations would do well to return to study the roots of Christianity but what most Eastern Orthodox people don’t realize is that we’re struggling to get them into the Holy Scriptures on a regular basis let alone into any extra curricular reading. The individualistic mindset is killing us not only in our ecclesiology (I have read through a lot of the comments below and desire not to enter that conflict…. 🙂 ) but in our personal study of Scripture (the irony is funny until it becomes serious).

      The number of things Protestants have gotten wrong and perverted beyond the intent of the original Reformers is embarrassing. The number of fractions and controversies these perversions have caused is a shame to the Holy Spirit continually. Call me an optimist but I’d love to see renewed discussion (as well as admissions of mistakes, false representations and errors) between the truly Reformed and Orthodox to celebrate and sharpen each others faith.

      • robertar

        Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!

        You certainly have an interesting background. Just wondering, I thought SBC churches only have deacons, no elders. Or is your church an exception?

        When I read your observation about Protestantism’s tendency to divide and form new denominations, I thought you might be interested in reading my posting Protestantism’s Fatal Genetic Flaw.


        • Joshua Torrey

          The Baptist Faith & Message (which the SBC ascribes to) affirms both Pastors & Deacons. However within the “local autonomy” of the church they can utilize whatever structure they want. I would argue we’re not genuine Biblical Elders but we are held to the Biblical qualifications and are responsible for extensive teaching (sermons, Sunday school and discipleship). So while not an exception we are minority.

  2. Canadian

    Good stuff, Robert.
    An important thing to highlight for Calvinist’s is that the church father’s did not believe in free will because of the anthropology of fallen man, but preserve it through proper Christology. Look at these gems from the 6th Council:

    “And these two natural wills are not contrary the one to the other (God forbid!) as the impious heretics assert, but his human will follows and that not as resisting and reluctant, but rather as subject to his divine and omnipotent will. For it was right that the flesh should be moved but subject to the divine will, according to the most wise Athanasius.”

    “For should we say that the human nature of our Lord is without will and operation, how could we affirm in safety the perfect humanity? For nothing else constitutes the integrity of human nature except the essential will, through which the strength of free-will is marked in us; and this is also the case with the substantial operation.”

  3. Outlaw Presbyterian

    Regardless of who wins the showdown, ironically Calvinism has been quite good for SBC life. Here’s why. Ten years ago if you walked into an SBC “book”store, the most profound item would have the title, “How to raise positive kids in a negative world.”

    Calvinism forced Baptists think, for the first time in fifty years, in something resembling a systematic manner. This means that the theology section in Lifeway stores now had deep resources for the first time ever.

    On another note: Total Depravity does not mean utterly depraved. From the latin word “radix,” it means that sin touches the “root.” It means that any good work I do before God will not freely escape the taint of sin. It does not mean that sin is exercising some robotic force over me.

    Correspondingly, few Calvinists deny the reality of the will and free agency. While different from the Fathers, it is NOT the same thing as denying a real, volitional will. The terminology “free” will is not used because as any Freshman in a philosophy class knows, the term “free will” is about as vague and imprecise as one can imagine.

    • Canadian

      The problem is, though, that total depravity is said to be a condition of fallen nature. Does “sin touches the root” of our nature which Christ assumed? Why did every good work of Christ escape the taint of sin if depravity is inherent in fallen nature?

      Calvinism denies that the fallen human will is operative in relation to God. If this is true, then Christ’s fallen human will was not operative in relation to God, which is what many monothelites thought. Did Christ’s human will need monergistic regeneration to get it to operate in relation to his divinity? Was Christ’s human will naturally in opposition to God as Calvinism holds our will to be? Did Christ have free human will?

      • John

        Does this have to be a problem for the Calvinist? I ask since their view of salvation is primarily external/forensic. In such a theology does it really matter that “what is not assumed is not healed”? It seems to me that Christ need not have everything in common with man, so far as his human nature is concerned, if the focal point is that he bear the wrath of God on the cross for our sins.

        I am quite sure I am ignorant on these matters as they relate to Calvinism. Please correct any of my misunderstandings. Thanks.


        • Canadian

          Calvinists, however, claim Chalcedon.
          The hypostatic union cannot be forensic, so this backs them up into Nestorian tendencies. For them there can be no interpenetration of energies even in Christ. The human and divine are ultimately seen to be in opposition. My point is that Chalcedon states that he assumed our nature and joined it to himself “without change” so he did not alter what he assumed from Mary alone. He did deify our nature but did not alter it or change it to get it to freely follow his divinity as in Gethsemane. So how can we be depraved by nature? If Christ did not assume exactly what we are by nature as it was in his mother (not depraved), there is no salvation. As Perry Robinson has often said, both Pelagianism and the Reformed are monergistic, the former, man operates only by nature and in the latter, man operates only by grace. Christology reveals them both to be inadequate.

          • Outlaw Presbyterian

            If there is a communication of attributes, is it one-sided or two? If two, in what manner do the human attributes “communicate” to the divine nature?

            This is why guys like McCormack argue that patristic Christology, while superb, does run into difficulties.

          • Canadian

            The divine becomes human and the human becomes divine. The interpenetration of energies means that both natural energies are operated freely by the Word. He saves as both God and man, not just as God. He wills and performs our salvation both as God and as man. The human hand heals, the human foot walks on water and human flesh shines brighter than the sun. The eternal Word dies and suffers. These things do not occur because of a unilateral communication from one nature to the other, but each nature subsists with it’s own properties in the person of the Word. So the divinity of course cannot be elevated as the humanity is, but neither nature is changed BY or INTO the other nature in the union.
            Divinity and humanity MUST have a reciprocal participation, both natures contributing that which is natural to itself in the actions of God the Word.
            His divinity performs miracles through the flesh and his humanity performs it’s activities not merely in a human way but divinely as God. His flesh is worshipped and brings salvation, not as mere flesh but as the deified flesh of the Word.

            See John of Damascus On the Orthodox Faith book III ch 4-19.

        • Outlaw Presbyterian

          I don’t know if I would say “primarily forensic.” True, in popular presentations of Calvinism, this often comes out. However, as Alister McGrath and others point out, the forensic element is rooted in the union with Christ.

          The emphasis on Forensic is prominent because of the lexical semantic domain of *dikaioo.*

          Another reason why it is prevalent is because of the overwhelming scriptural passages that attest that Christ died for *our sins.* What is sin? It is defined as “the transgression of the law.* Hence, legal. Hence, forensic.

          • John

            Could have sworn in both Greek and Hebrew sin was “missing the mark”…

      • Outlaw Presbyterian

        I am familiar with all of the arguments. I advanced what you just said for five years or so. And you might have a point. The purpose of my reply, however, was this:

        1. Maximus or no Maximus, Orthodox will have to do a better job of exegeting Ephesians 2:3 than Calvinists, Christ’s fallen nature notwithstanding.

        2. Calvinists do not deny free will. We just don’t use the term because it has about 6,048 different meanings. Moral agency is much better. And for laughs, Calvin affirmed something akin to free will in his Commentary on Acts 2.


        1. Legal categories in the Bible are inescapable. 1 John says sin is a transgression of the law. that’s legal language. And when we combine that with the hundreds or so texts that say Christ died for our sins, well–there is forensic atonement for you.

        2. Calvinists like Thomas Torrance affirmed “assumed…healed.”

        • Karen

          Outlaw, I could be wrong–I’m not a trained scholar or philosopher–but it seems to me the “forensic” categories of the Scriptures are restricted to talking about the relationship of the New Covenant in Christ to the Law of Moses, not to the more secular, humanistic understandings of “law,” as a thing unto itself, that the Reformers anachronistically read into the Apostle Paul’s meaning and superimposed over the OT. The NT tells us the Law of Moses had a particular purpose–that was to lead the Jews to Christ (thus there were ceremonial as well as moral laws, all pointing to Christ, and by NT definition, “imperfect” and “incomplete” and powerless to save). The Orthodox understand the Law to be fulfilled in Christ, not because He took the punishment the Law required in a modern criminal penal “eye-for-eye” sense in our place, thus (it is alleged by Penal Substitutionary theory) balancing the cosmic scales of “justice” (this very image of “justice” is taken from pagan religion, not the biblical revelation), but because He obeyed it perfectly as Adam did not and also superseded it (e.g., forgiveness, not condemnation, is uttered from the Cross, enemies were to be loved as well as friends, lust and unrighteous anger are condemned along with adultery and murder). There is no indication as the Reformers taught (correct me if I’m wrong) that the Israelites were saved by obedience to the Law of Moses whereas the New Israel is saved by “faith” (alone) in Christ. The OT states clearly also that the righteous “shall live by his faith,” and the NT is clear that it is Christ alone Who saves both those in the OT and in the NT, and all by their faith (either looking forward or looking back to Christ). And the NT is clear that a saving faith is not “alone,” but has works and that the Christian is bound to the moral law–in fact, He is bound to obey the Law of Christ Himself that surpasses the righteousness required by the OT Law of Moses. It is equally clear that human beings cut off through blindness and unbelief/rebellion from a saving and vitalizing union with Christ are incapable of fulfilling the Law as God requires, but that those who are united more and more fully to Him in His Church through faith and active repentance (which implies baptism and complete participation in all aspects of the Church’s life) are rendered more and more capable, through their increasing capacity for receiving the grace of Christ (which is also the result of a work of God’s grace) of fulfilling the demands of the Law of Christ.

          Orthodox would not deny that our salvation in Christ has a forensic implication in the biblical sense. What we deny is that the very essence of what constitutes our “salvation” and “justification” is legal, especially in the modern humanistic sense. Rather, we understand justification/sanctification to be ontological in nature with forensic implications–it is union with Christ. If the forensic justification of Penal Substitution is the very essence of our salvation in Christ, it is hard to explain why the Cross alone–where the legal deal was sealed, so to speak–does not in and of itself deliver us from death (the consequence of Adam’s sin). According, to the Scriptures, Christ saves through His incarnation, death *and* resurrection. The early Fathers and the NT everywhere speak about the Person of Jesus Himself (not merely his acts in history) as being our Peace, our Way, our Life, our Truth, etc., because He Himself is the locus of the union of God and humanity. Just some thoughts . . .

        • Canadian

          Hi Outlaw,
          Ephesians is not using nature in the same sense as in the case of the theological use of Person/Nature but in the sense that these people, like us all develop sin as a way of life….it is “natural” in that way, but we are not compelled by nature to sin. The whole context of Ephesians 2 agrees with what St. Paul says in Romans 6 and Colossians 2:11-13. Where were they put to death and raised, made alive together with Christ, and circumcised? In Baptism and faith not in a monergistic regeneration because of a dead and unresponsive nature.

          Calvinists explicitly deny the freedom of the will in relation to God.
          Free will is a faculty of nature, moral agency is a property of Person. There is only one agent in Christ, his divine Person. Do you deny moral agency to Christ? Do you deny it to us?

          Of course there is a forensic element in salvation, sin is forgiven NOT assumed and healed. And I am thankful for it 🙂

        • John

          Note that I said “primarily legal”. I do not deny the legal aspects of salvation, only that it is the primary aspect of salvation.

      • Joshua Torrey


        This is a great argument that most Calvinist are in a bind to describe and explain. Most will resolve themselves to “mystery” or some half baked attempt to explain sin/fallen-nature as only passing through the male (thanks Augustinian Catholicism). However I found a resounding start to the defense within Jacob of Serug’s writing on the mother of God (he takes this portion from Luke 1:35).

        “He sanctified her, purified her and made her blessed among women; He freed her from the curse of sufferings…the Spirit freed her from that debt that she might be beyond transgression…He purified the Mother by the Holy Spirit while dwelling in her, that He might take from her a pure body without sin…The Son of God wanted to be related to her, and first He made her body without sin” (pg. 34-35 of On the Mother of God)

        I admit I am bypassing the other “forensic” discussion but this is a topic and discussion that some Orthodox feel they can bypass because they hold to a different form of Original Sin. However I’m not sure any surefooted Calvinist need be convinced that they must change their definition on these grounds.

        I’m not sure this addresses all of your subsequent comments but it has personally provided me some comfort during my insomniac nights 🙂

  4. Karen

    This trouble with properly understanding the nature of our fallenness and redemption in the West is also evidenced with illustrations like my husband’s Evangelical pastor gave a couple weeks ago in his sermon in the meaning of being “born again.” He used the analogy of trying to get peaches (genuine good works, works of faith) from an apple tree (the “old Adam?”). Being “born again” for him, was thus analogous to digging up the apple orchard and planting peach trees. Did Adam become something other than Adam when he fell? Or was his fall rather like a blight on his nature that needed to be healed/removed? I think a more proper analogy would be trying to get healthy apples from a diseased apple orchard and thinking it is enough to decorate the dying trees with what merely looks like healthy foliage and good fruit (moralism, externalism), but is not truly and organically so. Being “born again” would then be reversing the disease process, such that the apple tree was once again healthy, growing and fruitful. It still remains an apple tree. Christ became an “apple tree” like us and, through the power of His inherent union of our humanity with Godhead in His own Person, healed our blight.

  5. Outlaw Presbyterian

    So people don’t tell me a lot of stuff I already know, I will reveal who I am. If you peruse older posts on this site, I was the guy with the monikers: Ansgar Olav, Tsar Lazar, Baroque Norseman. I used to run the Tsarlazar blog.

    As to the “nature” quote, it seems like ad hoc reasoning to posit yet another sense of nature in the person nature distinction. Anyway, most people wouldn’t quite follow the distinction between nature and natural.

    ***Calvinists explicitly deny the freedom of the will in relation to God.
    Free will is a faculty of nature, moral agency is a property of Person. There is only one agent in Christ, his divine Person. Do you deny moral agency to Christ? Do you deny it to us?***

    I don’t know why you are asking me these questions since I just affirmed moral agency, a freedom if you will (no pun intended). The problem with your saying “free will” is that I don’t quite know which of the 567 uses of the term you are employing.

    I am not quite sure I buy the fine distinction that moral agency is a personal thing. If you unfleshed it, maybe. Even with our post-Maximus theology, saying “will” vis-a-vis nature is quite tricky. Maximus at various times in his career affirmed and denied a gnomic will in Christ. So we have Christ two wills, possibly gnomic, possibly not.

    While it’s true that will is a faculty of nature (generic or numeric?), anyone who’s read the literature on Maximus knows how complicated and how it eludes easy categories.

    • Canadian

      “I was the guy with the monikers: Ansgar Olav, Tsar Lazar, Baroque Norseman.”
      Maximus denied Christ had a gnomic will, the personal use of the free natural faculty that deliberated and was uncertain as to the good. He of course refined terms and definitions in response to the monothelites, just as the Councils did when challenged with more refined heresy.

      I wasn’t adding to the nature person distinction from Eph. 2, but saying that St. Paul’s use is not in the sense of the theological definition of nature that we use when discussing nature/person.

      Baroque, listen. You will be tortured by what you know. Just look at Drake. Trying to wed the church’s Trinitarian and Incarnational truths into the Reformed paradigm breaks down at nearly every turn. If you let them slide in one field of theology, you immediately bump into the next. You push Nestorianism away in Christology and it only manifest itself in the eucharistic truths. You close your eyes to western simplicity or filioque and they pop up again and again. That is likely why “Outlaw” is probably very apt in your interaction with the Reformed on the ground. You won’t make them change their minds on these things, their changing of mind can only lead to the ancient faith and repenting of schism, my friend. If I recall correctly, there was no english Orthodox parish near you and that would hinder the progression you were on. If you want to drink deeply, come home and rest.
      Pax Christi.

  6. Outlaw Presbyterian

    The “outlaw” refers to Dukes of Hazzard. Nothing else. I am nothing like Drake. Maybe peruse some of my posts where I go into these issues. If not, don’t make psychological assertions about stuff which you don’t know.

    And so-called Patristic theology isn’t air-tight. Bruce McCormack has thoroughly detailed how messy St Cyril made Christology (even if Cyril was fundamentally correct). Because it isn’t air-tight, and further because the fathers do not provide answers to a wide-range of questions, I can with good epistemological warrant move forward in my Reformed views.


  7. Outlaw Presbyterian

    And I don’t need to repent of schism for the obvious fact that I never willingly left and separated from the Orthodox church. Here’s another tip: seekers or dialogu-ers into Orthodoxy find it very condescending and off-putting when they are told, “Well, if you just knew/believed/smelled what we knew, you will ‘come home.'”

    • Canadian

      My intent was not to be condescending in any way, forgive my somewhat forward plea and overstepping my bounds.

      Also, I was not blaming you for schism, but just agreeing with scripture that there is such a sin which is forbidden and that the Protestant assemblies are in such a state. The children of generations of Arian or Nestorian bodies were not the cause of schism, but were in a schismatic condition nonetheless. That is not to judge their heart which is known only to God, but to state the truth. Peace in your journey.

  8. Outlaw Presbyterian

    And St Basil basically affirmed that they were “Christians” who needed to join his church. This is not exactly the claim modern Orthodox make. McGuckin devotes a whole chapter to this point, agreeing with me. Though some may say that McGuckin is a modernist ecumenicist (which he probably is).

  9. Karen

    “I don’t need to repent of schism for the obvious fact that I never willingly left and separated from the Orthodox church.”

    Outlaw, that’s a very good point. I think it would be truer as former Reformed and/or Evangelical Protestants, to say that as a result of our own experiences, we see it likely that the theological theory and praxis conundrums you may find yourself bumping into along your faith journey will only fully resolve themselves within the Eastern Orthodox fold. But even that is unlikely to happen via only a rational dialogue and external examination approach. Eventually, it becomes necessary to “come and see.” I never experienced you in your comments as anything like Drake (he’s definitely one of a kind!), and Canadian is not saying you are like Drake. He is holding him up as an example of what CAN happen in your situation. Please forgive what comes off as condescension. Likely, a lot of that is just the down side of the enthusiasm we have for what we experience as the relative theological wholeness of Orthodoxy. We are eager for all to share in that.

  10. Outlaw Presbyterian

    Other thoughts as well (I am deliberately ignoring the 8 paragraph comments due to the limitations of my mortal frame):

    1. On one facebook thread Perry Robinson, the guy whose arguments y’all are copying/pasting, warned against the “convert triumphalism.” Other traditions *do* have responses to all of these person-nature inferences.

    2. It would be very interesting to see someone flesh out the argument that a denial of ADS/Filioque necessarily entails the “Orthodox package.” I tried to make that argument several times with varying degrees of success. The argument is simple enough, but whenever you have to use 15 steps in a syllogism to convince someone, they probably won’t be convinced.

    3. Apropos of (2), Charles Hodge and Robert L. Dabney both rejected the Western form of simplicity that you are attacking. And that’s the problem I ran into: all of the old-school Reformed guys dealt with most of these topics. The problem is that Institutional Reformed education sucks badly and does more harm to the Reformed world than good (yes, I am talking to you, RTS-Jackson).

    • Outlaw Presbyterian

      Addendum to (3): and the Reformed world deliberately avoided reading the “old-school guys” who could answer these questions.

      • Russ Warren

        I think, as a Reformed person, that this is an important point. Much of Reformed teaching, whether at the undergraduate (where I teach) or the graduate, is heavily influenced by a form of “sola Scriptura” that hearkens back to German rationalism of the last two centuries. So, for example, we heavily study the Bible (“exegesis”), but neglect theology. Or, if we do theology, we don’t connect it to exegesis (partially, I think, because our exegetical methods — while they do have ties to some parts of Patristic exegesis — were developed post-Enlightenment, for the most part. History also isn’t our strong suit, since we hold — tacitly or explicitly — to some form of the Bauer “fall of the Church” theory. If we give this up, we end up, seemingly, in the “Reformed Catholicity” camp, which has its own problems (the prevalence of Schaff being one of them).

        I have been thinking a lot lately about going back to the “fathers” of the Reformation, the “post-reformation reformed dogmatists,” if you will. I am currently in a tradition, for better or worse, that I cannot leave, for better or worse; I need to address where I’m at and seek to bring light and clarity to it — not abandon it (which converting would, alas, be tantamount to doing). Chesterton’s discussion of Pimlico in “Orthodoxy” (the “Flag of the World” chapter) is apropos here: we must be faithful to where we are, no matter how sad and disordered it is.

        My two cents.


    • Canadian

      To say I am copying and pasting Perry would fall back into your category of “condescending and off-putting” don’t you think?
      Don’t surmise about what you don’t know. It was reading the 6th Council and related material that broke through my Calvinisic fortress of depraved nature and will in opposition to God.

      • Outlaw Presbyterian

        The only reason I said that is because all of this is at EP blog, and I shamelessly copied it for two years, and most of what I am reading above is essentially what I (and Perry and the older Daniel-Jones-before-he-went-Pythagorean) had been saying.

        I knew almost word-for-word what the responses to my posts would be before I posted them.

        Condescension isn’t fun, is it? This is partly what Perry meant when he warned against convert triumphalism.

  11. Outlaw Presbyterian

    This is a response to Candadian’s comment made at “3:56” A.M.

    ***but neither nature is changed BY or INTO the other nature in the union.***

    Agreed, but that’s not all that different from Lutheranism and even many in teh Reformed tradition can agree with that. Further, as readers of St Maximus know, the logic of Chalcedon demands that the communicatio be carried further. That’s why John Milbank, explicating Louth’s book on St Maximus, said the human nature “imprints” the divine (Milbank, “Alternative Protestantism,” in *Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition*). As is usually the case with Milbank, one is unsure exactly what that means. I am curious, however, if such a reading–and I like it–impinges on traditional notions of divine impassibility.

    Maybe it doesn’t add tension to divine impassibility. But as McCormack notes, that kind of thinking is somewhat at odds with accounts of impassibility given by Gregory Thaumaturgus and others.

  12. Outlaw Presbyterian

    @John says:
    June 23, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    *could have sworn sin was missing the mark.*

    That’s certainly one connotation, but I was going off of a specific definition given in 1 John 3:4. Saying sin is missing the mark is fine, but it by no means exhausts the discussion.

  13. Anon

    Seems to me that converting to Orthodoxy is probably not going to happen due to more or less convincing arguments – nor should it. A far better reason to convert is ultimately found in Ignatius – if he was rightly professing the teaching of the Apostles, than the inquirer needs to be joined to a Bishop of the Church as a faithful Christian. If not, then it comes down to a matters of opinion, however well formulated, and that is ultimately an interiorized judgement.

    • Canadian

      “Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves.” Hebrews 13
      NOT ONE church in the NT ordained their own leadership.

      • Outlaw Presbyterian

        While true, that’s technically an argument from silence.

        • Outlaw Presbyterian

          Sorry, the above might give the wrong impression. What I meant was that we also do not have evidence in the NT of women taking the Eucharist or the children of believers getting baptized.

          The problem with saying “NOT ONE CHURCH” did such and such, is the fact that the NT nowhere pretends to give a survey of church practices. You may in fact be right, but your claim can only logically cover the churches mentioned in the NT.

          • Canadian

            But the NT in fact is not silent at all about ordination FOR every church. Where’s the supposed silence?
            Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5

            Regarding female eucharist participation and infant baptism, we look to the Tradition of the church to testify along with scripture. Although you Presbyterian’s would primarily use scripture in defense of both, am I not correct?

            The question is about normativity and binding authority. Protestants do not claim it but fearfully defer to the individual’s interpretation of scripture, not daring such authority. Yet Christ’s church has this authority based on his promises to lead and protect her.

            Acts 16:4
            And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.

      • Canadian

        Speaking of Protestant ordination……


        • Outlaw Presbyterian

          Cute. If we are going to stoop to the genetic fallacy, can I start posting Lazar Puhalo videos? Or maybe the conversation I had with an Egyptian Orthodox girl who said we didn’t need to pray to Jesus because we have Mary? Does that represent Orthodoxy? Of course not. Is it fair? Of course not.

          I notice that Robert wants this blog to be (at leas theoretically) a “bridge” where the two communions can “dialogue.” I don’t notice as often, though, when he moderates the comments that do not seek to be fair to the other side if it is the Orthodox doing the commenting.

  14. Outlaw Presbyterian

    Canadian wrote,

    *** Protestants do not claim it but fearfully defer to the individual’s interpretation of scripture, not daring such authority***

    You are not even trying to be charitable anymore, are you? When Robert wants this blog to be a fair place for honest questions, I’ll come back with some epistemological issues I have on why I can’t convert to Orthodoxy. When the smarminess stops, come find me.

  15. Canadian

    Point taken about the link, sorry. Not trying to be cute.
    Not sure what you find uncharitable about what I said. I was meaning that Protestants do not claim an authority that can bind the conscience or the dogmas for all Christian’s, but the NT church and the ancient faith does in fact do that. I guess it came accross wrong. I sincerely desire that if I come across uncharitable that Robert or others would point it out.
    I will let you converse with others. Forgive me where I have offended you.
    Sincerely hoping for your peace and joy in Christ.

  16. Outlaw Presbyterian

    Understood. Most of your criticisms with “Protestantism” I agree with. However, strictly speaking, most evangelical baptistic groups are not “protestant” by definition, since Protestantism by most scholarsly accounts is what came from teh magisterial Reformation, something anathema to Baptists.

    Magisterial Reformers in fact *d0* have authorities with which their people are not simply allowed to ignore. We have a difference between magisterial and ministerial authority. It might be illegitimate, but it cannot be claimed that “we have no authority” and it is every man for himself.

    • Canadian

      Except it gets blurry when you are a 5 point/5 sola Baptist like I was 🙂
      One minute you die on a hill for the magisterial Reformers, the next you go after them……
      We both had the same mother, though.
      Oooops, did I say that?

      I agree that confessional/reformational Christians have authorities. But they are authrorities of personal choosing based on agreement with said confession. Orthodoxy is different, as you know. I really do believe that Sola reduces to Solo every time.

  17. Outlaw Presbyterian

    ***I agree that confessional/reformational Christians have authorities. But they are authrorities of personal choosing based on agreement with said confession. ***

    Sort of. It’s more than that on my part, but every convert does precisely what you just said–we/he/she chooses an authority based on agreement. That’s normal. You don’t choose Orthodoxy because you disagree with it and think it is wrong.

    • Canadian

      No, it’s entirely different. Everyone uses their faculties of reason, they pray and study, but here’s the difference…..the protestant chooses to submit to a confessional body only if it agrees with his interpretation of scripture. He will not submit until he agrees and his search is based on what he has already embraced from scripture reading, or has been convinced of by some confessional exegete. He is his own final authority in the end. Orthodox converts, however use their faculties to find the church that Christ established and when they find her, they submit as a result. They may not grasp, or even may disagree with her Christological groundings, the eucharist, Mary, and the communion of saints. They may struggle with the fasting regimen. They may chafe at the length and frequency of services. But believing the promises of Christ regarding his one, holy, catholic and apostolic church and the commands of scripture for submission to this authority, they take their medicine (I don’t mean this crudely, but in the sense of the slow healing of human persons) which generally becomes sweet to the taste sooner or later. If they go to scripture and feel they have discovered or agree with something the church has rejected, they defer to Christ and trust his promises regarding her, not having schism as an option open to them if they temporarily disagree. This is completely different.
      In Acts 15, there is great debate and discussion but ultimately everyone submits to what seemed good to the Holy Spirit and the leadership of the church. It was not an option for the differing groups to run off in objection, even though they had much scripture to support their position regarding circumcision and the Law.

  18. Nicodemus

    Canadian touches on something important here. There is a distinction between the rising philosophical Individualism in the West, and the Eastern mindset. Irenaeus appeals to it when debating the Gnostics’ use of Scripture…submitting instead to the mind of the Fathers. In “How The Irish Saved Civilization,” Cahill even points as far back as Augustine’s introspective individualism (Confessions) as a departure not only from how the Fathers used reason (pre-Schism), but also how the place of the individual was understood within the unity of the Church. To pretend the late middle ages (overwhelmingly RC) and the rise of Protestantism did not significantly reorder the use of Reason and the place of individual conscience (Luther) – is to not only to grossly misunderstand fundamental East-West distinctions, but also how modern theological developments in the West depart from Patristic Church history – which is the deposit of Faith inherited from the Apostles in Holy Tradition.

    • Outlaw Presbyterian

      That’s fine, but what I’m seeing here is the broad-brush that ALL forms of Protestantism is simply gnostic American, privatized religion.

      Cahill’s has a nugget of truth, but he is not a scholar and much of that book, while quite fine, wouldn’t let five minutes in a peer-review firing line.

      Timeline-wise, I don’t see how the Augustine comment fits as a contrast with pre-schism fathers, since Augustine predated the Schism by five hundred years. Yes, there is an individualist streak in Augustine, but it is over-exaggerated. In Confessions Augustine relates to us that St Ambrose (a man whom all Eastern Christians MUST confess to be a saint and to some degree authoritative in faith and practice) would spend hours reading a text alone (individualist?), even forcing his parishoners to wait for hours before they could see him.

      If Augustine geared towards an individualist mindset, so much more Ambrose.

      • Canadian

        There are varying degrees of individual activities, doctrinal conjectures, theological surmizings, and related ecclesial and liturgical freedoms within Christ’s church. The main issue, though is the basis of submission to Christ’s church as to Christ himself knowing his promises to her. To measure or identify the church by one’s interpretation of scripture is no submission at all…..Sola scriptura immediately reduces to Solo. There is much for the individual to investigate to find the Church, but he does not use his belief system as a basis to look for her or select her, he finds her and then submits to her belief system, knowing Christ has ordained such. Now of course we are not Tabula Rasa (a clean slate), we come with baggage and conditioning, but in my view this makes submission even more pleasant because…..I don’t trust myself 🙂

        • Outlaw Presbyterian

          you trusted your cognitive abilities enough to analyze the arguments and decide for a particular communion (evidently you trusted yourself then). what’s ironic is that the above argument sounds a lot like the van tillian calvinist who argues for the noetic effects of sin.

          • Canadian

            My cognitive abilities were employed to investigate the history of the church of the apostles, but my submission WAS NOT a result of my agreement theologically. My submission to the church does not result from agreement with icons, veneration of saints and relics, deification, etc. My submission results from discovering that the one Church of Christ has authority over me, and therefore I needed to ask myself by what authority did I (as a Protestant) dispense with or pick and choose which of this church’s beliefs I agree with. I am no longer asking “do I see that in scripture?” as the Protestant asks (which is Sola reducing to Solo) but instead submitting to the church which is the pillar and ground of the truth and knows the scriptures because of her connection with Christ her head.

  19. Karen


    Spending hours alone with the biblical text, is not in and of itself, the philosophic individualism of which Canadian and Nicodemus are speaking. Most of the Fathers and Saints in the Orthodox Church were ascetics, removed from worldly personal contacts for large portions if not all of their lives, many of them hermits. But, they are about as far from western philosophic individualism as you can get in their mindset. They identified deeply in the depths of their being with every single human being (and this was evidenced in the outpouring of their love for others in ministry to the hoards of pilgrims–including clergy of the Church–who came seeking their blessing, prayer and advice as soon as their reputation for holiness escaped their cloister or hermitage. This identification and spiritual union and submission to others came out of their real experiential heart unity with Christ which was the result of their ascetic struggle in prayer and contemplation of the Scriptures (especially Christ’s commands in the Gospels). We regard St. Ambrose *and* St. Augustine, genuinely to be heroes of the faith and Saints. That does not mean everything they said is equally trustworthy (everything has to be sifted against the dogmatic consensus of the Church and even Saints can have speculative opinions that go beyond that or seemingly against it). Both St. Ambrose and St. Augustine were fully Orthodox in precisely the sense Canadian is talking about–they qualified any of their speculations against the teaching of the Church and were fully submitted to the Church in every way.

  20. Nicodemus


    While we’ve all pointed to Gnostic elements in privatized US evangelicalism (which you’ve heretofore granted) we have repeatedly noted their departed from the continental magisterial Reformers, Mercerberg, Anglicans and most Lutherans – even Westminster. So NO. You have not seen any “broad-brush” for ALL forms of Protestantism here. Indeed, quite the opposite.

    Next you criticize Cahill for not being a “peer-reviewable scholar” then concede his point! (Must all references now to be “peer-reviewable” including yours? Or just sometimes?) Perhaps you’re right that Ambrose is more guilty of early introspective individualism than Augustine. So what? Why not just a say, “I think Ambrose a better example than Augustine”…?

    We will no doubt profit from your future insights Outlaw. But perhaps your next name change should be “Slippery Presbydoxy”? Canadian’s quip, “One minute you die on a hill for the magisterial Reformers, the next you go after them…” I know we are all wrestling with many issues. Life is complicated. But it might make your new approach look a bit slippery, and a tad touchy? Godspeed brother. 🙂


  21. Outlaw Presbyterian

    ***“One minute you die on a hill for the magisterial Reformers, the next you go after them…”***

    I think canadian has his chronology backwards. In any case, I’ve wrestled with these issues for over five years. I seriously doubt I’ve made “any jumps” one way or another.

    • Canadian

      I think I am missing something here.
      When I said “One minute you die on a hill……” I was referring to how it was for myself as a Reformed Baptist. We would pick and choose what we took from the Reformers and lambaste them in others.

      In you epistemic questioning, I think it is important you focus on how it is from scripture and history that the church knows and understands, and focus less on how the individual knows and understands. The former calls for submission and the communion of persons in Christ, the latter calls for the individual to stand in judgement and determine to whom he will submit and commune with.

      • Outlaw Presbyterian

        Okay, your personal pronouns confused me.

        ***I think it is important you focus on how it is from scripture and history that the church knows and understands, and focus less on how the individual knows and understands.***

        Which would require me to turn my brain off, for I have problems affirming some of the things “tradition” tells me to. Now, it could be that I am sinful and given to carnal reasoning. I accept that. But Orthodoxy prides itself on its personalism (Zizioulas, anybody?), which includes “the mind.” I don’t see how turning my mind off is fully embracing the “person.”

        It’s not that I believe that my private interpretation is better than the church. It’s also a conscience thing. You are asking me to believe something to be true which I currently believe to be false. As any ethicist knows, that is sin.

        • Canadian

          I have repeatedly said that our faculties must be fully engaged, our brain is not turned off. You have problems affirming what the Tradition may tell you….I understand that and showed that it is often the case with all of us. And we are all sinful and given to carnal reasoning (I said that I didn’t trust myself). Look at the contribution of individuals to Orthodoxy through the centuries. Saints, martyrs, monks, conciliar father’s, average suffering folks. No one’s brain was turned off, but rather they had the mind of Christ coming primarily from the oneness of eucharistic communion. 1Cor 10:17.

          The person is not fully embraced in it’s individual pursuits, intellectual or otherwise, but in the loving communion of persons. Zizoulas said even God cannot exist outside the loving communion of the persons of the trinity.
          Your conscience is important, though not always trustworthy. You are important as an individual. But is it sin if someone currently strongly believes the Trinity to be false? Isn’t it sin to believe strongly that which is a lie even if by free conscience? This is why you see the strong language and the ability to bind the conscience of all Christians that the bishops of the Councils including the Acts 15 Council displayed.
          This is what it means to have real authority. It does not shut you down personally, but frees you to pursue God in safety.

  22. Outlaw Presbyterian

    And on my blog I am not “dying on a hill.” I’m asking some epistemological questions that simply put the brakes on any sudden jump (thus the double irony of some saying that I am “jumping” on an issue).

  23. Jon Watson

    This is an utterly fascinating conversation to me, and I will be back to visit this blog for sure! I am part of a small Reformed church, though with many Baptist leanings. For instance, the leadership is currently affirming credo baptism over paedo. I do however, as does my pastor, have a deep appreciation for church history and patristics.

    I’m not just saying this because I work there (which I do), but Logos Bible Software has incredible resources for studying/reading on Patristics, as well as tons of Reformed books.

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! We look forward to you joining our conversation.


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