A Meeting Place for Evangelicals, Reformed, and Orthodox Christians

Oct. 27 – A Reformed-Orthodox Dialogue on Ancient Faith Radio


ancient_faith_radio_button_270pxAncient Faith Radio issued this exciting announcement: a live dialogue will take place between James Payton for the Reformed tradition and Badley Nassif for the Orthodox tradition on October 27.  The conversation will be hosted by Kevin Allen on “Ancient Faith Today.”

Topic: “Perspectives on the Church Fathers”

Date: Sunday, October 27, 2013

The program will stream live 5:00 pm Pacific, 7:00 pm Central, and 8:00 pm Eastern.

Here’s a link to a time zone converter for those living in other time zones.


In this two-hour edition, host Kevin Allen speaks with two early Church scholars—Reformed Christian James R. Payton, Jr. (editor of the newly published A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today) and Orthodox Christian Bradley Nassif (a leading expert on the relationship between Orthodox and Evangelical Christians)—about the Church Fathers, including who they are, what they taught, and their significance in the Evangelical and Orthodox church traditions.


James Payton - Reformed

James Payton – Reformed

Bradley Nassif - Orthodox

Bradley Nassif – Orthodox








Getting the Ball Rolling

I’m delighted that we will be having a real live conversations between the Reformed and the Orthodox traditions.  In view of the upcoming conversation I thought I throw out a couple of questions for our readers and lurkers:

1.    How would you describe the current conversation between the Reformed and the Orthodox tradition?  Not just here on the OrthodoxBridge, but in general.

2.    What issues or topics deserve closer attention in this current conversation?

I asked ‘Nicodemus’ for his thoughts and here are his questions:

1) What a priori presuppositions do you believe Protestants bring 
with them to reading the bible — in contrast to a priori presuppositions 
the Orthodox might bring with them to reading Scripture?
2) The Orthodox champion their own view of Holy Tradition which colors 
all Orthodox life in a very open manner. Why does it seem that Protestants 
are reluctant to admit to their Own various Traditions, be they Methodist, 
Baptist, Reformed or what have you? Does the notion of Sola Scriptura get
in their way?


I look forward to your comments.  First time commenters are especially welcome!

Robert Arakaki



  1. Bayou Huguenot

    This does look to be promising. Payton wasn’t the first guy I had in mind, but he’s no slouch. And I like Nassif. Nassif truly understands, for example, how important Richard Muller’s work is to understanding the Reformed tradition.

  2. Ioanni

    The harsh reality is everyone lives in their old world (as the Greek saying goes). When you travel to countries that are Orthodox (with all that implies), say, Russia or Greece the topic of dialogue not only with Protestants, but even with Roman Catholics is not on the radar. In fact, there is much hostility to both groups due not only to history, but also to repeated attempts at converting Orthodox Christians. North America, being not even 1% of world Orthodoxy does not matter much to the so called old-world countries. The real drive and investment of one specific Orthodox country is Africa. Actually, despite economic crisis in said country, mission work in Africa is still a priority. And I say that least anyone think what I am about to say is anti the missionary spirit of Orthodoxy or the beliefs of folks in places like Russia, Greece, and Serbia (so forth) are anti-Western, anti-mission etc.

    I am a student of Dr. Payton, and I attend the university where he teaches. He is a great history professor. While of course we cannot agree with everything he says or some of his views, I find that he is significantly (please read that word in bold) sympathetic and knowledgeable of Orthodoxy than most of my Protestant Reformed or Baptist friends I encounter on a day to day basis as the only Orthodox Christian at that institution. He knows the Fathers extensively well, he finds nothing wrong with Icon veneration… all this is impressive and to be commended.

    However, between our two worlds there is a big chasm. That chasm comes from a variety of things, including the way we think, the way we view our world, the way we view God… in a more general word: our culture. The Reformed tradition and more broadly Protestantism is fragmented and shattered; this… chaos comes from their roots in Germanic culture where the every man is his own King and Lord mentality ruled; On the other hand, while not denying Orthodox Christianity has Judaic roots (after all, the Church is Israel, during the time of Christ, even Israel was very much Hellenic, but that is another story), it grew up in a world that was fundamentally Hellenic. The Hellenic-Roman legacy of Orthodoxy that lived through the (Eastern) Roman Empire, and by virtue of conversion, in various Slavic lands like Bulgaria, Serbia, and Russia, is what gives Orthodoxy her beauty and depth. In short, our thinking is night and day. I do not think I need to explain why, if you are reading this blog you are well read on Western vs Eastern differences in thought.

    Dialogue is great. I learn more by talking to our Protestant friends. I am sure they pick up a few things here and there from reading up about Orthodoxy, or listening to these debates, or reading blogs like this one. However, for them to even begin to approach Orthodoxy in the slightest they must put aside their mathematical mind of looking at Scripture, Tradition, and the Fathers, and they must be able to think colourfully, in a Hellenic manner… dare I say like Greeks. I am not saying they should be blind, or they should not use logic, but that would need to stop thinking in terms of arithmetic. For example, and most famously: God (1) knows all things, therefore, (+1) he has predestined all things. And that = 2. They cannot seem to reconcile that God (1) knows all things, and (+1) we have free will. And, that = 3. They will argue all day, and rightly so, and tell you 1+1 = 2, not seeing that in such cases our logic is not the logic of God (they do not seem to able to see that their same logic should have them believing in three Gods, not one). In a sense the victory of Hellenic culture of the ancient world is, that she was able to put her beloved logic aside as secondary to Orthodoxy. If there is to be any progress in dialogue, the Reformed would need to do this.

    For now, I fear that from Dr. Payton (who has the best intentions and is among the brightest they have) down to your average Protestant of any group, their ability to engage Orthodoxy and consider her will be limited.

    • robertar


      Thanks for sharing! I’m really glad to hear from someone who studied under Dr. Payton. He sounds like an awesome teacher.

      When I was studying at a Protestant seminary (Gordon-Conwell) I already had a strong interest in early church history. I studied the early church fathers to enrich and strengthen my Evangelical beliefs. My Protestantism was intact so long as I assumed that the early church fathers were Protestants like me, but when I began to entertain the possibility that a sizable gap existed between Protestantism and the early church that I became open to Orthodoxy. I became open to change when I began to find things that didn’t quite align with Protestantism.

      But in any event I look forward to Dr. Payton’s conversation with Bradley Nassif. I’m going to do my best to listen to James Payton and see if I can learn something from him.


  3. Ioanni

    That’s right. Out of everyone from the Reformed side which we could debate or dialogue with, Dr. Payton is the best. I think everyone will get a lot out of Sunday night’s debate.

  4. David

    Wonderful opportunity for us all. In all our conversing, debating, and
    dialog, there are doubtless converts who do learn to think through the
    issues and “see” things differently than they have. The many and
    growing number of Orthodox converts from Protestantism Robert
    mentions in the previous blog post is testimony to this. The Holy
    Spirit is yet this day leading the hearts of many men (and women!)
    to “see” the promises of Christ to His Apostles is still true and won-
    derful even to our day. Very much look forward to the conversation
    this Sunday night. God be praised…Lord have mercy.

  5. George Kleinert

    I am looking forward to listening to the discussion. With a topic such as the promised “Perspectives on the Church Fathers”, it may not be a head-to-head “Reformed-Orthodox Dialogue”, but even if it stays within that topic, it should be profitable.
    The list of classes that Dr. Payton teaches should indicate a better than average familiarity with the Eastern Fathers. I am curious about the take-away from his class “Intellectual History of Eastern Orthodoxy”!
    Bradley Nassif is experienced in dialogue with Evangelicals, and is both gracious and firm in his Orthodox ‘bona fides’.

  6. Travis

    Though Rick Warren is not Reformed he holds close relationships with a few prominent Reformed Pastors. The interview between Rick and Father John http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/lordsendme/a_conversation_with_rick_warren
    revealed how much the Lord is doing with the outreach of the Orthodox Church, not just to those who are labeled Reformed but to Protestants as well (or as Rick would say, Radical Christian).

    This conversation revealed how close someone can come to Orthodoxy (and may continue to journey towards Orthodoxy) but takes a stance that all Protestants must release in order for the dialog to turn to communion. (I fully understand there is a process and this may be the process Rick takes) however, he has made the stance that, “some people need liturgy and others do not” The notion that we are just another denomination is a huge hurdle for the Orthodox dialog.

    It reminds me of the Lutheran dialog with the Orthodox Church in the 1500’s, they had liturgy, and sacraments, but they took a stance that their doctrine was superior to the Churches doctrine, (this is dumbing the years of dialog down, but it should suffice.)

    Issues that need to be discussed are Apostolic Succession, Authority and T(t)radition.

  7. Ioanni

    Someone mentioned something about Dr. Payton’s class: I’ve taken that class (surprise surprise!) and it’s a basic introduction to Orthodox beliefs, touching on the major teachings of the seven ecumenical councils, hesychasm, and 19th century Russian theology, as well as a little bit of history of Orthodoxy today. It doesn’t cover things like liturgical life, monastic life, Orthodox spirituality including the tradition of the Elders, recent Saints, and so forth.

    At first, being Orthodox, I said to myself things are missing here. But, on the other hand, many of the students in that class do not even have Orthodoxy on their map. In that perspective, his class is excellent because it puts Orthodoxy on their map. I think he figures as they go along they’ll read more and might be interested more. He even takes them to a service (pan Orthodox Vespers on the Sunday of Orthodoxy), and that’s nice that the kids get to actually see what Orthodoxy is like, first hand. On the other hand, the day after that class someone asked in class why the Bishop at last night’s service said something along the lines of “We Orthodox must keep Orthodoxy pure in a nation where we are surrounded by heretics.” Did he mean that they, the Protestants, are heretics? Dr. Payton said no he was probably referring to secularists, and then he asked me “right John, he wouldn’t call Protestants heretics would he.” I shook my head, no . At that time, I didn’t know if that was the time/place to get into it the raw truth of what the Orthodox think of Protestantism. I know that Bishop personally, so I know what he meant. He was referring to Protestantism/Catholicism. Many Protestants call us heretics… I’ve been called a heretic personally many times. That is okay, they are entitled to believe that if they wish. If they believe that everything is true, how does that make dialogue worth it? What is the point of debate and dialogue if we’re all the same?

    That said, many good things can be said of Payton. I think that many Protestant theologians/pastors are even vehemently anti-Orthodox but his views are balanced, and they are positive. He might be the only Protestant theologian to say things like “Icon venerating is okay and accepted, it’s part of Church history.” That is major.. that is huge. Because he’s said things like that a fellow student’s father at our school (his father was a pastor, who unfortunately reposed last summer) wrote a series of articles against the Orthodox Church fearing for what he calls something along the lines of a mass exodus from Protestantism to Orthodoxy/Catholicism. A I said above, best person to dialogue with on the Reformed side.

    • robertar


      I think you handled the situation correctly in Dr. Payton’s class. I took a class in patristics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I vaguely remember all the stuff we had to read, but I do remember a young undergraduate student from nearby Gordon College named ‘Theo.’ So what you had was a young cradle Orthodox in a classroom with a whole bunch of Protestant seminarians. I liked his positive attitude. He didn’t have this attitude of Orthodoxy being superior to Protestantism. We became friends and eventually we paid a visit to Fr. Chris at the Greek Orthodox Church in Newburyport. This later led to my one-on-one conversation with Fr. Chris Foustokos and to many other encounters. The lesson here is that an Orthodox Christian with a humble and accepting heart will have a much more powerful witness than an Orthodox Christian who is rigidly correct in doctrine and practice. In dealing with Protestants we need to do our best to emphasize the positives of the other side even when there are issues we disagree with. Thanks for sharing!


  8. Travis

    Ioanni, good comment, thank you for the insights into Dr. Payton.

    Im reminded of a story Fr. John recalled when he was at Rick Warrens church.

    This is the benefit of debate and discussion.

    “a young fellow—I believe his name was Ryan—came up to me, and he said, “Are you a Catholic priest? An Anglican priest? An Episcopal priest?” I kind of indicated with my hand: keep going, keep going. He said, “Orthodox priest?” I said, “I am an Orthodox priest.” First thing he said: “Do you know Fr. Josiah Trenham?” I said, “In fact, I’m going to see Fr. Josiah tomorrow,” and he was extremely blown away by that.

    Then, in a moment of sort of bewilderment and joy at the same time, he said, “Am I correct that if I put my right hand over my left and say, ‘Father, bless,’ you’ll give me a blessing?” And I said, “Well, you know, that is our custom,” so he put his right hand over his left and said, “Father, bless me!” So I gave him a blessing, and he kissed my hand, and that was a cultural experience for all of us, Pastor Rick’s staff looking on, and an opportunity for further conversation after that.”

  9. David

    well…what did y’all think of the 2+hr discussion? i thought it was
    excellent at points and especially irenic. Dr. Payton is a Christian
    gentleman and honest scholar.

    while there was agreement between the scholars that what the
    early Church believed and practiced was at several critical points
    very different from Protestantism’s beliefs and practices (historic
    and modern, though differently) — this seemed to be held at academic
    arms-length by Dr. Payton…as IF it really didn’t demand anything of
    the Protestant scholar or protestants congregants eccleastically. there
    seemed to be a disconnect between Faith & Practice…or what the
    Apostles taught their disciples to believe and DO — really has no moral
    or spiritual claim upon anyone today. am i being unfair to dr payton?

    • robertar


      I listened to the entire 2+hour conversation and I enjoyed it very much. I think you have a point there with respect to the academic nature of the discussion. I view this as the beginning of the Reformed-Orthodox dialogue. The academic approach provides a buffer against emotional confrontation. Down the road we can tackle more ticklish issues like the discrepancies between modern day Protestantism and the early Church.

      The one part of the conversation I enjoyed was Dr. Payton’s sharing how he encourages his students to be open to what the early church fathers have to say even if it contradicts the theology they were brought up with. It seems to me that the biggest problem among Protestants today is the widespread ignorance of the early Church. Protestant scholars like Dr. Payton are doing a tremendous ministry by teaching the church fathers. We need to do the same thing as well. We need to encourage our Protestant friends to study the church fathers alongside Luther and Calvin. As they become aware of the church fathers, we can ask them about the differences between the church then and the church now. In addition we can ask if they believe in Christ’s promise that he would found the church and that the gates of hell would not be able to prevail. This in turn leads to the question: Which church more closely follow the teachings of the fathers, Orthodoxy or Protestantism?

      So like I said, the Reformed-Orthodox conversation is just starting! We need more of what we just heard this past Sunday. It doesn’t have to be between two professors or on Ancient Faith Radio. It can take place in smaller venues between two pastors, one Protestant and the other Orthodox, or between two lay people. We need to do our best to encourage both sides to keep talking and engaging each other honestly, charitably, and humbly.


  10. Bayou Huguenot

    ***as IF it really didn’t demand anything of
    the Protestant scholar or protestants congregants eccleastically. there
    seemed to be a disconnect between Faith & Practice…or what the
    Apostles taught their disciples to believe and DO — really has no moral
    or spiritual claim upon anyone today. am i being unfair to dr payton?***

    What is the “it” in the first clause of abovementioned quote? You said there seemed to be a “disconnect.” The only way to show whether you are being fair or unfair to Dr Payton–and I hope to listen to this today–is to find quotes from him where he suggests that his faith is removed from praxis. But to be honest, I haven’t met anyone outside of liberal Catholics and a few liberal Orthodox friends on Facebook who suggest that one’s faith should be disconnected from life.

  11. David

    robert…well said. i understand the conversation is early…and there
    is much to said…in a host of different ways and settings.

    sorry i wasn’t more clear. the “it”[‘s] antecedent is the “agreement”
    i’d mention before “there was agreement between the scholars that
    what the early Church believed and practiced was at several critical
    points very different from Protestantism’s beliefs and practices…”
    are today. i agree with you that most thinking reformed protestants
    i’ve known and read DO demand a connection between faith and
    praxis…at least in theory.

    the disconnect seems to be the lack of moral claim of the early the
    faith and praxis of the Apostolic fathers and their disciples (what they
    believed and practiced) have upon our protestant friends. many seem
    to study/read well, and for the most part (like dr payton) grant that the
    Apostolic “faith and praxis” is indeed very different from either early
    or modern day Protestantism. but it seems to have no moral claim
    upon them to adjust their ecclesiology or doctrine. IF they do not see
    this need, I would suspect they would be willing to contend that the
    Apostolic fathers “were just wrong…and we reformation or modern
    protestants got it right, or at least far closer to right”.

    the problem, of course, with this is this: given the promise of Christ
    to be with his Apostles/Disciples (never “forsake” them)…further to
    promise them the Holy Spirit which would help the “remember all
    things” He taught them, and bring them “into all Truth,” that the
    Church would be “the pillar and ground of Truth” and the gates of
    hell “would not prevail over them” (all direct promises from Christ
    in Scripture). How..does the Protestant argue that the Apostles and
    their disciples got so much of the Faith & Praxis “wrong”…for many
    centuries on end…before the reformers “got it right” in the 14th-15th
    century? note here it is NOT holy tradition that is the problem at this
    point…but the promise of Christ in the Scriptures themselves…and
    the subsequent Faith and Praxis the early Apostolic Fathers guarded
    and pass on for centuries after them.

    all this would perhaps been a bit too confrontational given the setting
    sunday night. but i would suspect that among protestant and orthodox
    friends, over coffee (or stronger drink!) such conversations could and
    should eventually happen. hope this helps.

    let me say finally that all these things rarely become crystal clear all at
    once. the Spirit is patient and gentle with us humans…thanks be to God!
    it often takes years of struggle before the Spirit persuades and then com-
    pels us to action. our circumstances are not all equal or at the same stage
    or season of life. indeed, we know the brilliant patristic scholar Jaraslav
    Pelikan most certainly knew these things for decades before he forsook
    his deep family roots in Lutheranism, to become Orthodox. Lord have
    mercy on us all.

    • Jacob (formerly Outlaw Covenanter)

      ***How..does the Protestant argue that the Apostles and
      their disciples got so much of the Faith & Praxis “wrong”…for many
      centuries on end…before the reformers “got it right” in the 14th-15th

      Very few magisterial Reformers ever argued this. In fact, in volume 3 of his Institutes, Turretin goes to great lengths to prove the opposite point. It can be turned around: we really don’t see Christ commanding a whole lot of traditions and institutions, so to reason backwards (fallacy of affirming the consequent), who can say whether tradition x today, which we don’t see in the NT, is one of the “traditions” that Christ/apostles commanded? There is really no way to say it is or isn’t.

      • robertar


        I’ll let David respond to this, but I’d like to point out that Francis Turretin was not a magisterial Reformer. Given the fact that he was born in 1623 and died in 1687 he is actually a Reformed scholastic theologian. This means that your comment contains a non sequitur.


        • Bayou Huguenot

          Technically, it might be a non-sequitur, but the point is the same. Substitute Vermigli or Bucer for Turretin. I used Turretin because he was the greatest Reformed theologian of all time, easily eclipsing Calvin. And Turretin went to great lengths to rebut the argument that the Reformers just jettisoned everything.

      • David


        the “agreement” dr payton and mr nassif each acknowledged was how the beliefs and practices of the early father the first 3-400 years…and continuing for centuries…contrasted or differed for all protestants of any age.

        nor do most who look carefully at Holy Tradition that dictated Faith and Practice during this early period believe it could have rested upon any form of ‘sola scriptura’…since a definitive formation of the cannon of the new testament was first unwritten, then unsettled the first 300 years plus. indeed some of the Fathers openly point out this was a gnostic practice that came later…after the Scripture arose out of Holy Tradition.

        • Bayou Huguenot

          I was using magisterial in the sense of what he taught (high scholasticism, theocracy, etc. He taught the same magisterial views as Bucer and Knox). Regardless, with the possible exception of some of what Luther said, insert “Bucer, Vermigli, most of Calvin,” or whomever and my statement remains the same.

          I was not disputing whether the early church practiced some of those beliefs (though under Patriarch Nikon that became violently disputed in Russia!). My specific claim was that if we say an apostle taught that belief because we see it practiced in the early church, then it is a fallacy of affirming the consequent.

          The more polished argument that Jesus said he would be with the church further does not prove that the beliefs practiced today (or 4th century, minus some exceptions in 1660s Russia) are what the apostles taught. Even (albeit somewhat libera) Roman Catholic historians concede that point. (cf. *Apostles to Bishops*)

          • Prometheus

            Yes, but it must be taken seriously that the Bible was never (even and especially in the Apostolic age) what the church affirmed as the sole source of faith and practice, including the running of the church. So the reformers can never get back to how the early church was run if they ignore the history of the post-biblical church in which the canon was formed (even if they attempt to be detached historians). It all comes down to sola scriptura, however you define it, vs. Tradition. In both cases there is an affirmation of the consequent. There are, in other words a priori assumptions. Tradition affirms that post-biblical writings and traditions passed on by the post-biblical church accurately portray apostolic teaching (including the truth of scripture). Those on the side of sola scriptura would deny that post/extra-biblical writings contain binding apostolic truth (except, bizarrely, the traditions that tell us which books are in the Bible – whichever traditions you follow on that front). But those who look only to scripture for understanding of what Jesus taught and said must surely know that they have lost some of what Jesus taught and said (as well as what his apostles taught and said). Not everything was recorded. So the question is, is what is not written of equal authority to what is written? And in addition to that is what is oral an accurate transmission of what was original said orally or has it been corrupted?

            The “more polished argument that Jesus would be with the church” is actually a pretty decent argument, in my opinion, because a) the early church seemed to have an idea of what they thought the church was and b) it doesn’t seem like the invisible church idea of Protestantism (or the self-proclaimed visible versions in Protestantism). Therefore, rejecting Protestant notions, if we take Jesus’ statement at face value, then we must identify the church as a visible body (either Orthodoxy or Catholicism or some such) or deny that Jesus kept his promise. (I’m sure I’m committing the fallacy of the excluded middle, but I”m not sure what that middle would look like.)

            Finally, as an historian, to reconstruct early Christianity, one would need to not only study the New Testament, but also the period that follows. Why? Because much of what the early church was like in its sacraments and polity are unclear from scripture (though I do understand that there seems to be some clear changes in polity, such as that episkopoi and presbuteroi appear to be used interchangeably in the New Testament and in St. Clement of Rome, but develop into two separate offices by the time of St. Ignatius).

            But who was it that Christ said that the Holy Spirit would lead into all truth? The reformers? And why didn’t the visible church keep on the right path? And how do the reformers know that that they are on the right path if their religious texts come from guys who don’t seem to hold a common theology with the reformers?

            The idea of Holy Tradition is more in line with both scripture and the testimony of the early church. The only reason the scripture exists today is because those who handed it on believed it a tradition worth preserving. It is doubtful that the apostles said to only stick with traditions that were written down in the New Testament (considering it didn’t exist; you’ve heard, “Jesus didn’t write a book, he founded a church”).

            Regarding extra-Biblical traditions, you say “There is really no way to say it is or isn’t [apostolic].” Yes, but you then have to prove the sufficiency of the Bible is at the same time apostolic while rejecting the very church that collected, affirmed, passed on, and defined the boundaries of the Biblical canon. After all, you mention traditions “which we don’t see in the NT” despite the fact that the Bible itself references traditions not in the New Testament! Have we lost those traditions? Are they preserved but indistinguishable from the non-inspired traditions? It seems rather remiss of (dare I say) the Holy Spirit to retain the traditions that made it into the NT but to leave unpreserved the oral traditions referred to by that very NT.

            And how can the reformers affirm the non-Biblical doctrine of Sola Scriptura, a tradition not found in any historical Christianity? Where do they get this tradition from? What is their authority for this tradition?

            Maybe I am misunderstanding you? What does it mean when you say, “Turretin goes to great lengths to prove the opposite point.” (That the church got it wrong until the reformers came along.) It sounds exactly what the reformers did.

            But I will stop now, since I’m sure Robert has covered this very well in his post on Sola Scriptura. I’ll just add a relevant: http://lettersonorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/sola-scriptura-is-the-bible-all-we-need/

            Peace 🙂


  12. David Lindblom

    To me the most important thing in dealing w/ the neo-orthodox folks like Mr. Payton and the followers of Thomas Oden was perfectly summed up in Brad Nassif’s closing statement. At some point Brad’s ending statement must made known to those people of the persuasion of Mr. Payton. All the agreement in the world by Protestants w/ the historic approach to the faith is not the same as being a member of Christ’s Church which follows this view of the history of the Church.

  13. Karen

    I just got a chance to listen to this podcast. It’s a great example of what Orthodox-Reformed/Protestant dialogue ought to look like. Kudos to both participants. May there be many more like them on both sides of the discussion.

    I really related to the caller who raised the issue of the difficulty within his Protestant upbringing of understanding the role of our efforts/good works in the process of our salvation where the full biblical teaching tends to be reduced to “salvation” as “justification” (with the emphasis on the declarative aspect of justification) as contrasted with the Eastern Orthodox understanding of our efforts (empowered by the grace of the Holy Spirit) making us ready through personal transformation to be full participants in communion with the Holy Trinity in heaven–that is, at the consummation of the coming of the Kingdom.

    • Karen

      This understanding of sanctification as readying us for participation in the Divine is not altogether lacking in the Protestant tradition, however. Witness the last line in the third verse of a popular Christmas carol, Away in a Manger, written by John T. McFarland (1851-1913), trained in the Wesleyan (Methodist Episcopal) tradition:

      Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
      Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
      Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
      And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there.

      • Bayou Huguenot

        While I would eschew some of the sentimentalism in that hymn, you are correct that there is such an emphasis in the Protestant tradition. The problem is this: when we say participating in the divine, do we mean the divine essence? If so, given what all sides believe about divine simplicity, this becomes problematic. I know the EO will respond about the energies. That solves the divine essence problem but from our perspective it raises others.

        Secondly, Protestants do not equate salvation with justification. I know some unwittingly speak too quickly and the two concepts are conflated, but they shouldn’t be.

        • Karen

          BH, re: its “sentimentality”, Away in a Manger is a children’s hymn. Do you have kids?

          When an EO talks about “participation in the Divine nature” he is borrowing from St. Peter’s language in 2 Peter 1:4. My understanding is this means that through communion with God (by which we mean a real participation in God’s love, holiness, etc.–that is, God insofar as we can experience Him, God in His immanence), we become through grace (through the Holy Spirit’s working within) everything God is by nature, yet remaining fully human and not becoming God (in His essence, as He is in His transcendence). My understanding is this is the Orthodox way of acknowledging the fact that salvation involves real experiential participation in God ( communion), yet does not involve the alteration of natures–either ours or God’s. We remain ourselves while being in a communion of love with the Holy Trinity. Our unique personhood, in becoming “deified” (transfigured to be like Christ), is not dissolved into some amorphous “Divine essence.” I’m completely untrained philosophically in terms of the arguments about Divine “simplicity,” so I can’t help with your questions about the meaning of the Orthodox language with regard to those kind of philosophical categories.

          I know in terms of official historic theological statements, “Protestants do not equate salvation with justification,” but it seems to me this is frequently what happens on the popular level for all practical purposes within conservative Evangelicalism. At least, that was my experience.

          • Jacob (formerly Outlaw Covenanter)

            ***BH, re: its “sentimentality”, Away in a Manger is a children’s hymn. Do you have kids? ***


            *** he is borrowing from St. Peter’s language in 2 Peter 1:4. My understanding is this means that through communion with God***

            I know. The difficulty I’ve always had is that Peter expressly says we participate in his nature, yet the Romanides-style Orthodox say we don’t participate in his nature (echoes of this can be found in Letter 234 by St Basil), but rather participate in his energies, something Peter does not say.

            And your gloss of that verse is the same thing the Puritan John Owen said in volume 2, Communion with God.

            ***but it seems to me this is frequently what happens on the popular level for all practical purposes within conservative Evangelicalism***

            Sadly, that is correct. It is a hangover from certain parts of the 20th century Evangelicalism, which was generally terrible all around.

          • Karen

            Is the difficulty with Romanides perhaps with conflating what is meant by “nature” and by “essence?” I don’t think these are used in exactly the same way in the Fathers on this subject, but I could be wrong (and words and meanings could change depending on the context and which Father we are talking about). My understanding is we do participate in God’s nature (His energies in EO understanding also being God), but without becoming (in ourselves) God (that is to say, God by nature). There is definitely some careful distinction here–this is just my laywoman’s “armchair theologian” take on what I have understood EO to teach. ;-P

            Re: John Owen, I expect there to be plenty of overlap between many of the more nuanced and scholarly understandings between Reformed and EO. What I appreciate about more Reformed-leaning Protestants is their intuitive conviction that faith is grounded on the Reality of God Himself and that, therefore, unchanging doctrine is a given to a proper expression of Christian faith.

            I believe Dr. Nassif made a key point when he said that fruitful EO-Evangelical dialogue can only take place through patiently learning one another’s languages. East and West in Christendom definitely did develop in some very different ways and came to use different terms for the same thing and the same terms for some very different things. I am still learning nearly seven years into Orthodoxy to more deeply understand those differences and am the richer for the experience.

        • Prometheus

          Well, while justification is not salvation, it is the beginning and source of salvation (in Calvin’s view). None of the works that we do, none of our obedience affects our justification or salvation (that is all due to God’s inscrutable electing purposes). Obedience and sanctification is purely an outpouring of obtained justification. Calvin himself said, “We deny that good works have any share in justification, but we claim full authority for them in the lives of the righteous . . . Wherever, therefore, that righteousness of faith, which we maintain to be gratuitous, is, there too Christ is, and where Christ is, there too is the Spirit of holiness, who regenerates the soul to newness of life. On the contrary, where zeal for integrity and holiness is not in vigor, there neither is the Spirit of Christ nor Christ himself; and wherever Christ is not, there is no righteousness, nay, there is no faith; for faith cannot apprehend Christ for righteousness without the Spirit of sanctification.” The whole question, of course, is also connected with what Calvin believed about free will. His doctrine of free will is intimately connected with his understanding of justification. If man had free will, then justification would not be gratuitous. He says in this vein, “Paul elsewhere says (Eph. i. 4) that we were chosen in Christ, before the creation of the world, to be holy and unblameable in the sight of God through love. Who will venture thence to infer either that election is not gratuitous, or that our love is its cause?”

          That said, if what we mean by salvation is “how we become children of God and remain that way” justification is the answer. (i.e. how can I be saved) Our response has no role in this salvation. Our response is caused by God (we could not do otherwise). Calvin continues to say “This, meanwhile, we constantly maintain, that man is not only justified freely once for all, without any merit of works, but that on this gratuitous justification the salvation of man perpetually depends.”

          Quotes from A Reformation Debate: Calvin/Sadoleto edited by Olin, pp.68-69 (letters between Calvin and Cardinal Sadoleto).

  14. Zechariah Codex

    (This is Jacob)

    I agree with those sentiments, and I would love to see many Orthodox try to understand how and why the Latins did theology the way they did (see the usual Palamite/Schmemann response to all things Augustinian and Western). I go out of my way to read Bradshaw and Farrell.

    Yes, there is a subtle shift between nature and essence. Usually, it doesn’t change the discussion much.

    • Karen

      Having taken a quick look at the Wikipedia summary of the “Divine simplicity” discussion, in my concreteness, I fall back on the analogies used by the Fathers in the discussion of how exactly it is we participate in God’s “nature” in salvation/sanctification–i.e., that of the sun (God in His essence) and its rays (God in His energies) that reach the earth and in which effects (energies) we participate unto our own regeneration and transformation. The rays of the sun cannot be thought of as separate from the sun (as if the sun’s radiation could be broken off from it or exist apart from it) but rather can be thought of as the sun as it goes out from its center and reaches whatever it comes into contact with (in God’s case, the whole of His Creation). The other concrete analogy with which I’m sure you’re familiar is that of the “sword” of human nature as it it participates in the “fire” of Divine nature, the metal of the sword in the blacksmith’s furnace fire illustrating the manner in which our human nature takes on the properties of the Divine nature, yet without itself becoming divine in essence (that is, the sword takes on the energetic properties of fire–heat and light–yet without becoming the fire as it exists in itself). I think these analogies are the closest we can come to understanding this spiritual reality or biblical mystery of life in Christ apart from our own actual experience of it, don’t you?

      When we go back from these concrete analogies into the abstract philosophical discussion, because words and their meanings can be so plastic depending upon context, it seems to me there is much more room for running into misunderstanding.

Leave a Reply