A Meeting Place for Evangelicals, Reformed, and Orthodox Christians

Why I’m Becoming Orthodox (3 of 3)


Part 3    Why I Became Orthodox – I Always Was

by Matt Ferdelman

Matt Ferdelman

Matt Ferdelman and son


Today’s posting is by Matt Ferdelman.  Welcome Matt! 

Matt Ferdelman is a catechumen at St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church in Dayton, Ohio.

Matt was born into the Pentecostal church where he attended for the first 17 years of his life. In 2008 he began the process of becoming a five-point Calvinist at Apex Community Church in Kettering, OH, where he remained until his conversion to Orthodoxy in November 2014.

After marrying his wife Erin in 2011, he finished his Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science in Accountancy at Wright State University in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Matt now works as a CPA in a small accounting firm downtown, and spends his free time entering deeper into Orthodox theology and life, and playing with his two young boys, ages 2 and 3 months.

This is the third installment of a multi-part series. Part 1Scripture and TraditionPart 2 “Why I Deny Penal Substitutionary Atonement”


images-45The further I dive into Orthodox life, doxology, and theology, the more strongly I get the impression I have always done and believed these things and worshipped in this way. Or, at least, I have always attempted to worship in this way. Orthodoxy for me was like a light switch going on, illuminating parts of my faith which had been dark since the beginning. A candle had been lit and burned, but it not yet become a lamp. With a great many topics of Orthodox theology, as I began to study I realized Orthodoxy said what I had been trying to articulate for years. I see in my past clear signs of God’s work to prepare me for the Orthodox faith, in prayers he placed in my heart and desires that developed within me.

Let me walk you through some of these developments.


Icon - Holy Transfiguration

Icon – Holy Transfiguration

A. Theosis

I remember from my early teen years thinking often on the doctrine of Sanctification. In Sanctification we become more and more like God, forsaking sin and attaining to his level of righteousness. Really, this idea is quite incredible. As time goes on, we start to look more and more like the risen Son. We forsake idols and seek him and, like Moses, our faces begin to shine from the close encounters we have with God. The more sanctified we become, the closer we get to God.

At some point I began to consider the implications and limits of Sanctification. All the teachers I listened to seemed to have this idea that Sanctification ends when you die. After death, we are made perfect and there is no need for us to become more like God. Once the death of our physical body occurs, we are free from sin, which is perfection. I fully believed we would be without sin once we died, but I wasn’t so sure that we would stop becoming like God. I mean, God is infinitely perfect, right? That means he’s not just free from sin. Being free from sin would just be tabula rasa – it would make you a blank slate. But being free from sin is not the same thing as having righteousness. In life we are not called to just stop sinning; we are called from that to the act of love for God and man. If we are to seek to be like God in this life, why not in the next also? I reasoned that God would want us to become more and more like him after we are with him too. Because God is infinite there would never be an end to us becoming like him. There would always be some level of perfection above and beyond the level we had already achieved. One can understand this partially by comparison to technology. Personal computers currently are very powerful machines. They crunch numbers for us, help us communicate with each other, and serve as centers for entertainment. But every month better and technology is developed. Better processors are built. Clearer screens are made. Lighter laptops are tested in the field. There is no foreseeable end to the improvements we could make through technology. Becoming like God is similar in this way.


I thought like this and rigorously checked my logic through most of my teenage years. In my junior year of high school I solidified my claim to this doctrine. At that time I bought my first ipod. When you order from the Apple store, you have the option to inscribe something on the back of your ipod. After much deliberation, I chose these words:

I have been humbled by

The Art of Becoming God

At first, the words felt like blasphemy, but I couldn’t escape the thought that we were meant to become like God, and that we were meant to do so for eternity. Becoming like God forever logically seemed to follow from the doctrine of Sanctification. But I also knew I couldn’t say that we actually became God. That would obviously be heresy. Still, I chose these words to express the mystery to which I joined myself, hoping that its meaning would one day become clear to me … And so it has.

What I did not realize at the time was that I had inadvertently expressed the Orthodox doctrine of Theosis. Theosis for the Orthodox is the very purpose of salvation. Jesus came to earth to take away our sins, free us from death, and build a bridge that we could take to be unified with God. Theosis is that process by which we are unified to God. It is the everlasting deification of man into the likeness of God. The part about this that simply confounds me is that I had never heard the doctrine of Theosis before I had its meaning engraved on my ipod. The only exposure I had to Orthodoxy prior to that was a minimal coverage in history class. At the time I was not drawn to Orthodoxy at all, and only had a vague impression that it was a form of Christianity that had been overly-influenced by Buddhism and had lost the faith. I think I might I have gotten this idea from my history class, but I am not entirely certain. In any case, I had not studied anything about Orthodoxy, and yet their doctrine was engraved upon my life.

The reason I thought my extrapolation on Sanctification might be heresy is because at that time I was not aware of the Essence vs. Energy distinction. God in his Essence is unknowable. But God’s Energies are knowable and we can relate to them. Theosis is the process of unifying ourselves to the Energies of God. To help explain this, think of your relationship with your spouse or a really good friend. You do not know their heart. No one knows a man’s heart except the spirit within that man. But we do know what that person is like based on how they act, what they do, and what they say. We experience their emotions because they express them. The essence of a human is their heart, to which no other human can be united. But their actions are knowable and other humans can relate using actions. In the same way, we can understand God by his actions, his Energies, and seek to become like him in every way possible. We become gods by grace, but not by nature.

If you want to read more on this, check out these two interesting Wikipedia articles: Theosis (Eastern Orthodox theology)  and Essence–Energies distinction.


B. Hell

I find it most interesting that the teachers I was drawn to most in the Protestant church were those that expounded one or more Orthodox-leaning views. At times I was enthralled by teachers that taught doctrines opposed to those of the Orthodox Church but, as time went on, I steadily stopped listening to these preachers, finding the goal of their teaching to be unedifying. The teachers to whom I was most drawn and still am were C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, and N.T. Wright. All these teachers have expressed views of either the atonement or hell which are similar in some regards to Orthodoxy theology.

C.S. Lewis and Timothy Keller espouse views of hell that are quite different from those most often taught in the Protestant church. Both Lewis and Keller have explained that hell is a place locked from the inside. Hell is, in their view, not a prison system to which God sends those whom he dislikes to be tortured for eternity, but a state of mind in which a human chooses some good thing above God. That good thing ultimately cannot satisfy, and yet the human that clings to it keeps looking to that good thing to fulfill his deepest desires. In our own lives we see this in things like the worship of spouses and drugs. When we look to our spouses for our sense of meaning, as a sort of god, we grow impatient when they fail our expectations. We continually desire they replace God in our lives, and we are continually disappointed, since they cannot. Every time they fail some standard we have set, we make another loop in the cycle of expectation and disappointment. This cycle, if left unchecked, can go on for eternity and lead to insanity. Likewise with drug addictions, the addict seeks more and more pleasure from increasingly high doses of substances. Every time a high is reached, chemical changes in the brain make a larger dosage in the future necessary to achieve the same level of euphoria. Eventually, there won’t be enough of that substance on the planet to satiate one’s desire. A infinite cycle has been started. And the only end it to which it leads is dissatisfaction and turmoil.

Ungoliant Attacking the Tree of Life

Ungoliant Attacking the Tree of Life

I am reminded also of the character Ungoliant in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. For those who have read or watched tales of Middle Earth, Shelob and the spiders of Mirkwood are descendents of Ungoliant. Tolkein, a personal friend of Lewis, describes Ungoliant as a giant venomous spider that teamed up with Melchor, a Satanic archetype, to destroy the tree of life at the center of the city of the Valor. Ungoliant pounced upon the tree and sucked its dry, gorging herself upon its life, but receiving no life thereby. She became so large, in fact, that she frightened the powerful Melchor, who in his might had known little fear prior to that day. Later in the story, Melchor steals three of the most precious gems on earth out of jealousy for their glory. Ungoliant demands he give the diamonds to her that she might consume them. Unwillingly, he delivers two of them into her maw. But even after swallowing such beauty, she is unsatisfied. In the end, Ungoliant prowls the earth, seeking whom she may devour. But her hunger becomes so great that no food or glory or weight on earth can fill her. So, at the last, she consumes herself.

This is the view of hell espoused by Lewis and Keller, and one to which I was drawn as soon as I heard it. It made a lot more sense than the view of hell as a place where God is actively involved in torturing unrepentant sinners. Because, though I tried very hard over many years, and with a sincere heart, I simply couldn’t bring myself to love a god that would do that. Whenever I dwelt on a punitive idea of hell, I could no longer approach God by faith within my heart. I was separated.

What I did not realize at that time was that the view of hell to which I had ascribed through Keller was inconsistent with my belief in Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA). See, if God doesn’t torture anyone for eternity in hell against their will, then he didn’t need to stop himself from doing so by placing all that misery on Jesus at the cross. Jesus’ work saves us from hell. In PSA, Jesus went through hell so we wouldn’t have to. But if hell is not punitive, neither was the cross. Because Orthodoxy denies PSA, it likewise denies a penal view of hell. My beliefs from long ago were inconsistent with PSA, though at the time I did not take my belief about hell and apply it logically to my beliefs concerning the atonement. But God in his mercy helped me in his good timing.

I likewise have been drawn toward the teachings of N.T. Wright for many years. Both he and Keller explain Jesus’ salvific work in a more holistic manner than do the teachings of most others I knew at the time. They both explain salvation as a cosmic restoration of creation – all of it – and a reunification of the created order to God. (Just listen to how many times either of them uses the word “cosmic” in a sermon. It’s quite amusing actually.) Because of this, I was most intrigued to learn N.T. Wright denies Penal Substitutionary Atonement. I was not aware of this until I started studying PSA just a few months ago. But given Wright’s studies on the history of the Church and his cosmic view of salvation, his denial of PSA shouldn’t be surprising.

Now, I know there is some confusion as to what precisely Wright believes. While I have not read extensively on Wright’s musings on the atonement, I did see one video where he explained his view that I believe makes his doctrine clear. In that video the interviewer asked point blank “Do you deny Penal Substitutionary Atonement?” Wright responded by saying “Yes, I believe in Penal Substitutionary Atonement, but I deny the Anselmian view of Penal Substitutionary Atonement.” He then went on to explain that the Jews of Jesus’ time were under punishment from God in the form of Roman rule. Jesus was killed by the Romans using crucifixion, thus bearing the wrath of God toward the Jews and, by extension, everyone who would believe in Jesus. But this view is entirely different from the view of PSA currently held. The Anselmian view explains that Jesus suffered an infinite punishment from the Father at the cross. But Wright’s explanation says Jesus suffered a finite amount of punishment. Really, the idea Wright is expressing is entirely different from what Anselm and Calvin taught and what most Protestants have believed for centuries. Though I do not know his heart, I would guess Wright believes PSA is false, but realizes that if he just comes out and says that point blank, he will lose a great part of his audience, and have less opportunity to help people understand why he denies it. So, for the time being, he has masked part of his belief for the benefit of others.

Interestingly, Wright and Keller appear to hold the opposite sides of the same coin. Wright denies PSA. Keller denies the hell that results from PSA. Yet I have never heard Wright say that he denies a punitive view of hell. Nor have I heard Keller says he denies PSA. To be logically consistent, though, these men must hold to the other’s belief. I look forward to seeing how their theology develops and/or is revealed in the future.


God as Mystery

God as Mystery

C. Mystery

I have always been fascinated by mystery. Whenever I have run across a theological concept that baffles me, I study and study it and soak in its ideas and implications. I can’t get enough of it.  The Trinity, the Hypostatic Union, the Virgin Birth, the Eternity of God, the Omnipresence of God – I ate up these doctrines. After watching the Fellowship of the Ring in my teenage years I started reading Tolkein and Lewis extensively. I have loved all of Tolkein’s works, especially the Silmarillion, and greatly enjoyed Lewis’ Space Trilogy. These books and my love for the unknowable developed in me an appreciation of Mystery. I tried to understand the greatest concepts and ideas I could find. But when I did so I did not begin to think I was something special or that I had attained some level of knowledge beyond my fellow man. Actually, the opposite happened. I realized rather quickly in dwelling on these things in my teenage years that I simply couldn’t get it. My logic could only take me so far. There was an end to reason, and I had reached it. I took the road as far it went. I found myself consistently saying “I don’t know.”

Scripture and other forms of revelation only show us part of the picture of creation and of God’s nature. But even if God had written down for us every scientific detail and description of who he is and what he’s been doing for eternity, we still could not understand. As Jesus said to his disciples “I have many things to tell you, but you are not yet ready for them.” So too no human can ascend to God by his own will and understanding. God doesn’t leave us in the dark on purpose, but is patient, waiting until we are ready to receive more of who he is.

From these musings I realized I couldn’t expect to figure out how God did everything. I could at least understand part of how it worked. But for now I only see through a glass darkly. I do not yet know fully as I have been fully known.

When I began to study Orthodox theology, I soon came across their apophatic approach to explaining who God is. In this method, they say what God is not, as opposed to what He is. So while it is true to say God is love, the Orthodox will often respond by saying it is more accurate to say God is not evil. Speaking of God in positive terms is called cataphatic theology. Speaking of God in negative terms (saying what God is not) is called apophatic theology. This apophatic approach comes from the realization that there is much that has not been revealed to us and that there is much we simply cannot understand. Apophatic theology is a humble acquiescence to the mystery of God’s existence and ways, a form of divine worship in which we bow to the unknowable essence of the I Am.

This mystery is extended by the Orthodox to their understanding of the sacraments. They believe, contrary to Protestant belief, that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus. How does this happen? They don’t have an answer. They recognize that Christ told us Communion was his body and blood, but they don’t know exactly how God accomplishes this. Unlike the Roman Catholic church, they do not hold strictly to the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Likewise, they recognize Baptism is not just a token of one’s faith in Jesus, but a participation in the death and resurrection of our Lord, a Pascha of the future and the past brought into the present.

In all of these things, the Orthodox recognize that we cannot approach God by rationalistic logic. Logic and reason only take us so far. The reduction of the Sacraments by the reformers to mere tokens or symbols was based in part on the Scholastic reasoning that had developed through the Medieval period. Today that rationalism is seen in naturalistic science which seeks to explain the entire created order through observation and reason. Science has provided us with many wonderful things. But naturalistic science assumes the natural, observable world is all that exists. It assumes only the material exists. It cannot, by its own definition, observe or experiment upon other dimensions or modes of being. It is limited. Much of the reductionism applied to the sacraments and the mysteries of God, however, is due to this rationalistic approach.

The Orthodox Church recognizes the mystery of God’s ways and worship him for it. They teach the Theosis of man into the image of God. They proclaim the doctrines to which I have held, though I did so then in an incomplete manner.

In my studies on Orthodoxy I keep finding myself saying “But this is what I always believed.” Orthodoxy is the full revelation of the partial faith I had in some areas and is the explanation to the questions with which I struggled with in others. In fact, the more I think about it the more I begin to see my journey parallel that of Israel. Under Moses, God gave his chosen nation a partial revelation of his will and character. He gave Moses the law to keep the people until the time of full revelation should come and to train them to recognize the Messiah when he appeared. In many ways, this describes my life in the Protestant church. I will be forever grateful to my shepherds there, but from it I did not receive a full revelation of God. There I was first taught how to begin to know God. I began to see his works in all of creation. I learned in part how to worship. I learned in part how to believe and trust him.

But when the fullness of time came God gave to me the fullness of his revelation. When once I understood in part, God in Christ demonstrated to me the entirety of whom he was and the intentions behind his actions. While I used to approach God with uncertainty, now I approach with full confidence in the knowledge of the Son. While I understood God wanted to save humanity, now I see he wishes to restore all things. While I used to offer the sacrifice of guilt, I now offer my very self. While I used to worship in part, now I worship in spirit and in truth. What I knew was like a tutor preparing me for the coming of the Messiah. But when the new comes, the old passes away.

Really, the Orthodox Church is God’s answer to every prayer I have ever prayed – my desire to be like God, my desire to seek him, my desire to know his love, my desire to understand his intentions, my desire to be united with him. In his mercy and perfect timing, he has delivered to me true faith and understanding and enlightenment in the knowledge of his Son, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Now I say with peace that I am not a stranger to God. I know him because he has shown himself to me. He is merciful to those that seek him. I am no longer a sojourner. I am home.



  1. Tony Baxter

    Oops Apex Community Church in Kettering, OH is not reformed. Sorry guys, John Calvin is rolling over in his grave.

  2. Tony Baxter

    Jesus came to earth to take away our sins, free us from death, and build a bridge that we COULD take to be unified with God.

    Hello I would like to let you know I love the ROC very much but this statement stops me at the door. Christ came to save HIS People not to make a Bridge. Also your ideas on the history of Penal substitution is off by a 970 years, Paul was one of 1st persons to speak about this. I agree with much in the ROC but I disagree with much also. Peace and have a good Lord’s Day.

    • John Wells

      Tony: please define what you mean with the three letters, ROC. (I have no idea what you intended.)

      Additionally, in his first paragraph I was confused by Matt’s use of the phrase, ” . . . a light switch going OFF.” An awareness of Orthodoxy is a light switch going ON with new light flooding one’s soul. It sure has been such for me.

      • Matt Ferdelman

        Hi John,

        My experience has been similar to your own. I must have been thinking of the phrase “a bomb going off” when I wrote the sentence in question. Your suggested phraseology would be more appropriate; thank you for pointing that out. I will ask Robert to change the wording for me.

        • Tony Baxter

          I agree with the bomb going off, but in my case it was the opposite. No more show and tell, no more puppet shows, just God’s word preached and sung. The whole teaching of God’s great mercies in the OT and NT. This is what I find wonderful about the Reformed Church. Something I can hold on to that is not going to change. We worship like those in Acts and our church government is based the NT. Which makes us different from most churches in the USA.
          But which also makes us a little like your church, “we are serious about worshiping our Lord” and we use the bible to instruct us on how to do this.


          • Mason

            I know this is a bit off topic from Matt’s article but I have to ask, Tony, what happens when the next generation of very sincere reformed members look at the same text and conclude that they don’t necessarily “have” to worship like those in Acts?

            After all, there aren’t many, if any, prohibitions against styles worship in the NT. The Puritan principle of “if the Bible doesn’t call for it, then we shouldn’t implement it” has, over time, morphed into: “the Bible doesn’t say that we can’t do it, so Christian “liberty” allows for it.” Thus centuries ago we saw the Reformed generally adhering to no instruments and exclusively singing the Psalms in worship, now Banjo’s, electric guitars, drum sets, and hip-hop drum machines, power point presentations are all acceptable as an aid. (there’s nothing to stop puppet shows either) As long as there is a sufficiently long enough lecture, there seems to be no commonly accepted boundaries in regards to the other implements.

            It’s difficult to see the hermeneutical tradition or commonly accepted method (in worship style) that can maintain the integrity of the worship. It’s not enough for the scholars of one church group to say “WE do it like they did in the NT” while silently assuming that the other groups are wrong, or at least less right, then attempt to ease the conscience by insisting that these things are not part of the essentials of the faith.

            The reformed PCA group we left a while back has a Tradition that the sacraments be served with grape juice and a stale cracker every six weeks, yet the church plant they sponsor decided that bread and wine and weekly administration were the more Biblical method. (Interestingly, all of the elders were taught by the same teachers in the Reformed Tradition.)

            When I inquired of the teaching elder how the means of grace, to use a phrase from the Westminster CF, can be distributed in such an uneven manner it was explained to me that each church has the freedom to decide on its own, that it is not an “essential” belief. Yet another paradox in praxis that I couldn’t comprehend and thus no longer accept.

            It’s interesting to note that many of the younger pastors in the Reformed PCA Tradition have intuited the innate desire people have of a liturgy and are pushing to implement more liturgical modes to their worship within their group. I do see this trend continuing. But the question is this: is this how they did it on the NT? Who decides if it is or if it even matters? The General Assembly?

      • Tony Baxter

        Russia Orthodox Church, sorry;)

        • Tony Baxter

          Very Good Points and I would say the PCA is not reformed and it is wrong on more things than they have right. But this is where Calvin, Paul, and Peter… this list goes on and one, had it right, if the Bible does not say do it then we are not to do it. Period. The PCA and ROC has to stand on Man’s Ideas but the Reformed Faith can stand on God’s word alone.

          You write:
          “After all, there aren’t many, if any, prohibitions against styles worship in the NT.” Yes you are right so any thing other then what is told to us in the Bible is simply invented by Man. And I have a real problem with that. Now on your side I really like that your church has a way that it worships and holds to that. This is a good thing, for so many church just have a party on the Lord’s Day and feel that “who every has the best party Wins” As a Reformed believer we can agree that God has told us a way to Worship Him? Right? FYI I hold to the WCF of 1649 which is a quick overview of my beliefs. Peace and keep the Faith

      • robertar


        I checked with Matt and your question about the light switch metaphor was spot on. The change in wording was made. Thank you!


    • Aaron

      “Also your ideas on the history of Penal substitution is off by a 970 years, Paul was one of 1st persons to speak about this.”


      Many of us have come from the same Reformed background as you. Your above statement requires – at a minimum – some kind of support. It would be of interest for us to discuss your beliefs in this regard, but doing so requires you to do more than simply state something, as if it needed no substantial support and did not represent an interpretive bias.

      Would love to see more from you on this. In Love. Aaron

      • Tony Baxter

        Hello Aaron, Give me a day and I will reply with a few proof texts and Historical texts. Peace

      • Tony Baxter

        Adam started this messed and Christ put a end to it for His People. Romans 5 11 to 23 tells us about this and also if you get time read Hebrews 9:15 to 28. We have such a Wonderful God! I will look at some of the letters of the reformed writers and post them also. But I think this is proof that Paul was preaching that Christ took on our sin, just as Adam put his sin on us. You see we are all born with Adam’s Sin so therefore we need a Savior that takes away our sin and gives us His Righteous as Paul tells us in Romans 5:21.
        Romans 5 : 11 And not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
        12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death went over all men, in whom all men have sinned.
        13 For unto the time of the Law was sin in the world, but sin is not imputed, while there is no law.
        14 But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them also that sinned not after the like manner of the transgression of Adam, which was the figure of him that was to come.
        15 But yet the gift is not so as is the offence. For if through the offence of one, many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
        16 Neither is the gift so, as that which entered in by one that sinned; for the fault came of one offence unto condemnation, but the gift is of many offences to justification.
        17 For if by the offence of one, death reigned through one, much more shall they which receive the abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, reign in life through one, that is, Jesus Christ.
        18 Likewise then, as by the offence of one, the fault came on all men to condemnation, so by the justifying of one, the benefit abounded toward all men to the justification of life.
        19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one, shall many also be made righteous.
        20 Moreover, the Law entered thereupon, that the offence should abound, nevertheless, where sin abounded, there grace abounded much more;

        21 That as sin had reigned unto death, so might grace also reign by righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

        • Aaron

          Hi Tony,

          Thank you. May the Lord bless you and keep you. I must say what I’m about to say with the caveat that it is not a personal attack, but it IS a condemnation of PSA which you defend. It is also a call to repentance from such doctrines and teachings and the propagation of them, to the spiritual detriment of those who apply it to their lives. Please take all that I am about to say with the love and concern that is intended by it. I have no doubt you are well-intentioned. One can be well-intentioned and still be wrong.

          It appears your response here has only strengthened the observations of the author and weakened yours. By reading into Corinthians and Hebrews a theological precept that is not present, the Reformed “man made philosophy” has colored the interpretive lens through which you exegete these verses. I beg you to tear yourself from these teachings and immerse yourself in the Church Fathers, perhaps starting with Saint Chrysostom’s homilies (links below) on the passages you have referenced.

          Nowhere does Paul speak of PSA here. Nowhere are such concepts alluded to or expanded upon. PSA is actually conspicuously absent. Paul does speak of ancestral sin (which differs from your Augustinian view of original sin.) Hebrews speaks clearly of the New Testament being ratified by the blood of Christ, but again PSA is conspicuously absent. The Reformed tradition has simply read it into the text anachronistically and ignores the total scope of both the epistles within which these verses are present, but the totality of scripture, using “proof texts” which only have grounding in the full scope of scripture and tradition. The Church of which Paul spoke understood such epistles by tradition and ecclesiology, and never by “sola scriptura” or sola epistola.

          Unfortunately, I fail to see how citing reformed writers is relevant here, as the very basis of your original argument was that PSA had substantial relevance and existence pre-Anselm and was clearly cited by Paul and known in the early Church. You have failed to show this and have only more clearly punctuated the truths the Matt elucidated. Show me PSA in Saint Chrysostom, in Saint Basil, in Saint Athanasius, etc. etc. etc. – in ANY Church Father before the West began it’s dabbling into speculative theology and juridical power. Show clear and undeniable reference to PSA in the NT.

          Many great and dedicated Reformers are attempting to find such patristic connections now, and in doing so are finding out that the Reformed faith has deceived them.


          See Saint John Chrysostom’s homilies 16 on Hebrews and Homily 10 on Romans regarding both of the passages you cited for the truth of Orthodoxy versus the man made philosophy of the Western Roman idiosyncratic innovations carried forward to the extreme by the Reformation.

          The myth of God the Father punishing Christ and dividing the Godhead in penal, juridical and retributive fashion is simply heresy, no matter how it is sliced. Christ unites human nature with divinity and allows for the vast chasm of selfishness and individualism (sin) to be healed and purified. All humanity will be resurrected from the first death by His defeat of death and the power of the devil, and subject to the second death (judgement) by the magnificent presence and pure love of Christ. He certainly became the God-man to be subject to death and to thereby defeat it. In this way he became what we were, being subject to the curse of death, but not subject to the cause of death- i.e. sin. This is how he became sin for us….by enduring death. Death and sin are interrelated. Sin leads to death – mortality leads to sin – etc. (1 Corinthians 15:42-58) Please see my exegetical paper on”The sting of death” on my blog.

          God certainly became man and thereby deifies humanity to heal us from our sin, but He has never been punished by the Father, had the wrath of the Father vented on His person, or had redemptive violence or separation between the Trinity become a means of salvation.

          I love you, but in this you are wrong. To the degree you teach this to others is the degree to which you imperil both theirs and your spiritual life through a blasphemous and heretical concept which kills the spirituality of the Christian disciple in exchange for man made philosophies such as TULIP, having a “form of godliness, but denying its power.” Please see 2 Timothy 3. This describes the legacy of the Reformed theology.

          You are in my prayers. May the Lord illumine us all and may we all repent of our sins. Lord have mercy.

          • Tony Baxter

            Thank you for your concern and humbleness, I will reply to your comments but can I use the Psalms and the teachings of Paul and Peter and James to defend my points?

            I would like to keep this bridge open and free from attacks. May back is like a duck and attacks just roll off but my fear is that other people my look at our comments and take them out of contexts.


          • Tony Baxter

            OOPS the church that is named is only reformed in name, Anaheim Christian Reformed Church, and Wicket dose not understand what the Reformed Faith is.


          • Tony Baxter

            And He answers and says: “Yes, I am He, God, Who for your sake became man; and behold, I have made you, as you see, and shall make you, god.”

            Hello Aaron this is the last sentence from the link above, if you could please tell me what the writer is trying to say?

        • Aaron

          Hi Tony,

          Blessings on you. I fear we are getting off topic here, but your question is important.

          Marcelo quotes St. Symeon, and St. Athanasius makes a similar statement. So does St. Gregory, Iraeneus, Origen,
          St. Cyril of Alexandria, etc.

          What is meant by it is this;

          2 Peter 1:4 He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature…

          And this;

          Psalm 82:5-6. “They do not know nor do they understand; They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, “You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High…

          And this;

          1 John 3:2-3. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

          And this;

          John 17:22-23; I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity . . . .

          For more information please see Robert’s post Theosis and Our Salvation in Christ
          from November 3, 2014.

          You may also find this useful, http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/theosis-english.pdf.

          If you have further questions about this subject, please contact me direct via my blog or post on Robert’s theosis article linked above to keep the current discussion on track.

          πορεύου εἰς εἰρήνην

          In the love of Christ, Aaron

          • Tony Baxter

            Will do, but can I still speak here about PSA.

            Для Слава Богу.

          • Aaron

            I would love that.

  3. Tony Baxter

    Please tell me this is not the Orthodox view? “Hell is, in their view, not a prison system to which God sends those whom he dislikes to be tortured for eternity, but a state of mind in which a human chooses some good thing above God. ”

    Also FYI this is not the view of the Reformers.

    • Karen


      If you would like a fuller understanding of an Eastern Orthodox treatment of the nature of hell, see this essay by Alexandre Kalomiros (it is footnoted so you can see how this Orthodox writer draws upon the teaching of the Church Fathers):


      There is also material for further reflection here:


      This gives more context to Matt’s statement. I hope it helps.

    • Aaron

      Tony, I can see your confusion here…and it’s not one to be glossed over. The phrasing used by Matt is his attempt to concisely describe a very rich topic.

      State of mind is a loose descriptor…and means much less in English parlance than it would in the Greek Orthodox mind & language of the NT. In Orthodox theology to state that “one’s state of mind is such and such;” is to signify the whole of that person. Orthodoxy places great emphasis on the understanding of the unified human person – since mind (nous), body, soul, heart (kardia) are all one hypostasis, indivisible. Therefore to say “state of mind” is to speak of the existential reality of the whole person (hypostasis) in relationship to Christ. The point is that hell in Orthodoxy is an existential reality CAUSED by man’s continual turning away from the very source of life, which is Christ. Hell is real…but not a created place…but an existential relationship (or lack thereof) with Christ in eternity which causes suffering…i.e. “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It should be of note, that in eternity “every knee will bow and every tongue confess…” All will recognize their sin…and recognize their savior…many will say “Lord, Lord” unable to come to terms with how they have turned away from Life Himself.

      The turning away from Life (Christ) can only lead to Death….and of course, “the second death”…an existential pain caused by knowingly but endlessly rejecting Christ in our own self-delusion and selfishness from which we can never deliver ourselves without Him. It is the movement away from Christ toward non-existence, for existence itself comes from the source of all; Christ – “in whom we live, move and have our being.”

      A good brief description of the Orthodox position can be found by Christos Yannaras in his book “The Freedom of Morality.”

      1) “God is not the “judge” of men in the sense of a magistrate who passes sentence and imposes a punishment, testifying to the transgression. He is a judge because of what He is: life and true existence. When man voluntarily cuts himself off from this possibility of existence, he is automatically “judged.” It is not God’s sentence but His existence that judges him…God is Himself existence “in truth,” the hypostasis of life, a hypostasis of personal distinctiveness and freedom; it is for this reason, and because man is created in His image, that God’s presence is a judgement for man. When he commits sin, man “is already judged:” “for this is the judgement, that…men loved darkness rather than light.” Man is judged according to the measure of the life and existence from which he excludes himself. Sin is a self-inflicted condemnation and a punishment which man freely chooses when he refuses to be as a personal hypostasis of communion with God and prefers to “alter” and disorder his existence, fragmenting his nature…when he prefers corruption and death.”

      2)”…hell becomes all the more agonizing when the “other” is not an individual at an existential distance which nullifies the possibility of relationship, but a Person (Christ Himself) whose loving self-transcendence and self-offering call me to existence and true life, while I cling to my individual autonomy. Hell is man’s free choice; it is when he imprisons himself in an agonizing lack of life, and deliberately refuses communion with the loving goodness of God, the true life.”

      • Mason

        Great use of of a great book by Yannaras. I find very little that is comparable to his writings in the protestant world.

        The quote you included: “When man voluntarily cuts himself off from this possibility of existence, he is automatically “judged.”” is particularly helpful. The ever present reality of the Trinity and how the laws of nature testify to the majesty of our Creator, we essentially keep ourselves in natural state, a state of non-being. This is precisely what we see in the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom when the priest prays the prayer of prosthesis and states: “Thou it was who didst bring us from non-existence into being”.

        Those who live without God and seek to overthrow His order will create the systematic spread of non-being throughout societies, thus ushering in hell on Earth…sowing the wind, and reaping the whirlwind. Does this not describe the modern world since at least the French Revolution? And it’s not a coincidence that the greatest philosophers of the last 100 years or so, Heidegger, Buber, Kierkegaard, Nietzche, made the nature of our being and its relational aspects to others and the material world the main focus of their thought. They were trying to put back together what modernity shattered. I see the orthodox faith as THE solution to our problem of being.

        His writings on apophatic theology are outstanding as well. He acknowledged Heidegger’s conclusion that all western metaphysics,which by definition includes all western conceptions of the faith, logically leads to atomism and nihilism, a state of non-being, in other words, a descent toward hell.

        Thank you for your comment.

        • Aaron

          Those who live without God and seek to overthrow His order will create the systematic spread of non-being throughout societies, thus ushering in hell on Earth…sowing the wind, and reaping the whirlwind. Does this not describe the modern world since at least the French Revolution?

          Wow. That blew my mind. Yes. Yes. Yes. Thank you for your comment as well.

  4. Karen

    Tony, I have often seen Evangelical treatments of the Atonement that explain Christ is the “bridge” between God and man. Matt can clarify his statement for himself, but as an Orthodox Christian, this is the sense in which I would understand Matt’s statement:

    Christ came (i.e., from heaven to earth to be incarnate as a Human Being) to build a bridge–that “bridge” is His own Incarnation. It is Christ Himself in His Incarnation for the sake of our salvation, Who is the bridge between God and Man. In uniting ourselves with Christ in His Church, we become united to God.

    • Tony Baxter

      “Evangelical treatments of the Atonement that explain Christ is the “bridge” between God and man.”

      Yes but not the Reformed Faith, the Evangelical are wrong when they draw a bridge over the gap between Man and God and show that God has done 99% of the work and man only needs to do 1%. This is not the Reformed Faith view.

      I do not like the Bridge idea, for our Lord is a Great King and He came to save His people, not a bridge that we must walk over to get to the other side. But a King that has come to Save US from our sin and even from Death itself. This is the Reformed Faith and not the Evangelical faith. Oh what wonderful Lord we have.

      Let’s not confuse Evangelical with Reformed. Yes those that hold to the Reformed Faith are and can be Evangelical but are not in the group of “American Evangelicals” such as Billy Graham and others. (I am not knocking Billy Graham just making a point)


      • Karen

        Hi Tony,

        I can respect what you are saying about differences with Reformed and Evangelical. It is certainly possible to take a metaphor, such as Christ bridging the gap between man and God too far or in a direction not intended. It’s interesting you see the Evangelical bridge metaphor as teaching 99% God, 1% man sort of thing, because I’ve often gotten the impression Reformed would like to teach (for the redeemed) salvation is 100% God, 0% man, i.e., monergism! 🙂 I’m not claiming any expertise in that regard, though.

        Orthodoxy teaches that the appropriation of our salvation (initiated and made possible only by God in Christ) requires synergy, i.e., the free will cooperation of the redeemed person with God. It would probably be accurate to say that, from an Orthodox perspective, the appropriation of our salvation in Christ requires 100% commitment/energy of God and 100% commitment/energy of the human being. On the other hand, how can one really compare 100% of the infinite God with 100% of a human being, who depends in every way both for his being and for the empowerment to cooperate with God upon the gift and grace of God, the Holy Spirit?

        • Tony Baxter

          Thanks for your reply, I would disagree but thanks for reply and understanding my point. At one time I believed as you do but thing I realize that God sent His son to Save Us His People, not to just make it possible.

          • Karen

            Effectively for me as an Orthodox that Christ came to save and that He came to make my salvation possible are effectively the same thing because Christ, by the Holy Spirit in his Church, is working at every moment with me for my salvation. If that were not so, nobody could be saved.

            I do not have the rather Deist conception of God that He acts (for example, to create), and then everything else is up to me alone (or up to the natural mechanisms of creation alone).

            Hope that makes sense.

  5. Tony Baxter

    Yes Karen, makes sense. But we agree that the Reformed Faith does not hold to this, Right? But many Protestants do.


    • Karen

      Tony, I was never Reformed (though I studied the period of the Reformation and its context in college), so I’ll take your word for it.

  6. robertar

    [I’m posting this for David; for some reason his comments were not getting through the spam filter. RA]

    Hey Tony,

    Very happy to see you here, reading and participating. Having been
    twice a PCA Elder I first saw The Navigator’s tract, Bridge To Life in a
    distinctively Reformed setting…full of Calvinists. Of course, it does
    not pretend to exhaust Christian theology or even delve into what
    Reformed call ‘ordo-salutus’…only that Christ IS the only bridge avail-
    able for humans…to God. I also sense you are zealous for Calvinism
    …and might profit from reading several of Robert earlier posts. You
    might start with his series on “Plucking The Tulip’:
    Or maybe Sola Scriptura:
    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxbridge/contra-sola-scriptura-1-of-4/. Lots to learn from the deep

    Another area is the historic Church, and most Reformed Calvinist believe
    (as I certainly did) that Calvin actually rediscovered the early Church
    Fathers’ theology…& restored their views in his Reformation Theology. This is FAR from true…as Calvin rejected their core beliefs…and was very selective in what & which Fathers he championed…as Robert demonstrates here:

    Or how Calvin was wrong about how the early Fathers reasoned
    about Icons here:

    Again, very happy to have you here. Enjoy your thoughtful and private reading.


    • Tony Baxter

      Calvin was right about the use Icons, and the early fathers did not use Icons, this was something that came along later. The 1st Nicene counsel took them out, but the 2nd one added them back end.

      As for the bridge thing, I do not think John Calvin and or the Bible ever used the idea that Christ was a Bridge.

      I am sorry to say the PCA is not what it once was, and John Calvin would have much to say about the way the PCA teaches/shows/promotes the worship of God.

      I will read more of Robert’s post, and thanks for your reply.

      • Mason

        I know I’m off topic a bit from what the blog post that Matt wrote, but I think your comments need to be addressed.

        I completely agree that Calvin would take issue with many things in the reformed world generally and in the PCA particularly. Both have been negatively influenced by various modes of expression found within other streams of the Reformation that have muted some of the more commendable aspects of its theology. It’s not his fault that his ideas haven’t been fully adhered to, however, it is fair to conjecture whether many of the deformations we see in reformed practice today are simply the logical conclusions of the theology he laid out. Some reformed scholars today argue that we need to “get back” to a more pure form of “reformational” teaching since what we see at work today isn’t completely how it should be. There are others, like reformed theorist James Jordan, that have concluded that Protestantism is essentially dead (his words) and the good parts need to retained but re-conceptualized within a liturgical framework for the next millennium.
        However, one could counter that what we see today is the simply the fruit of the empirical assumptions that the Sola Scriptura Tradition grounds itself upon.

        Quick point: The 1st Nicene council did not “take icons out,” nor did 2nd Nicea “put them back in.” Nicea convened in 325 to address the nature of Christ, or Christology. There were other tertiary concerns that were addressed in the dozen or so canons that were adopted, but iconography was not part of the proceedings.

        You wrote the Early Fathers didn’t use icons. I’m sorry, but again, this is not true. Some of our Fathers in the faith advocated for them and some did not, or were at least silent regarding them, but the differing views were tolerated as long as one view did not try to present itself as the only acceptable one. It wasn’t until the iconoclasts & iconophiles started throwing out the heresy word that a second Nicea convened in 787 to address the issue. So we say that the 2nd Council of Nicea preserved what had already been in practice throughout Christendom for centuries.

        I suggest for anyone, rather than accepting their particular Tradition’s view of the issue, to read the actual arguments for and against icons presented at the council, as they provide invaluable insight into the minds of those that carried the faith before us. Obviously I find the arguments for icons more compelling and more in line with the theology of the Incarnation that the Church, through the Scriptures, presents. Those arguing against them border on a form of anti-material gnosticism in my opinion.

        The orthodox view is very simple: if the Incarnation was real, then it can be depicted. The Trinity penetrates our world of matter with the Light of Wisdom for all of mankind and icons are a means of His people re-orienting God’s creation, matter, so as to express this great truth in symbolic form. We do not worship the matter as if it is God Himself (this is the straw man fallacy often employed by the ignorant) but rather venerate- to give honor, not unlike a family picture- the material image that points beyond itself to a higher plane of reality, which is to say, true reality. We do not live in the real world. Icons are one means whereby we can depict the Light of the world (True Light, True Reality) expressing itself in our fallen world.

        There is absolutely nothing wrong with religious art being present in worship. The Puritans were completely wrong about this. It has been a practice from time immemorial by all peoples and all cultures, and, as the artwork on the walls of the Roman catacombs reveal, is compatible with the faith. Venerating, as opposed to worshiping (and yes there is a distinction) art that depicts truths of the faith help us to preserve our understanding of the gospel, far better than say a 700 page treatise on Christian Dogmatics by John Frame or Michael Horton, as helpful as they may be for advocates of reformed theory to understand their faith.

        My children love icons and have developed a far greater sense of reverence and desire for holiness than the silly, cartoonish pictures they were subjected to in Sunday school class ever did. Of course we still need teaching through worship and catechesis, but the imagery help establish basics of the faith that don’t require hundreds of hours of reading & studying.

        Instead of the knee jerk reaction that “pictures violate the 2nd commandment” perhaps one could consider asking, “why is it they don’t think pictures violate the 2nd commandment?” and try to genuinely understand how our view of the Incarnation, and ultimately Christology, are taught by their presence and absence. It’s an investigation worth pursuing.

        Take care.

  7. Prometheus


    I enjoyed this post the most of the three that you have done.


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