Monday, February 16, 2009

Why I am not Eastern Orthodox

On occasion I get sent some sort of quiz or survey which is supposed to tell me what denomination I am most in agreement with or whom I am most in agreement with on the sacraments. I take the survey and often don't like any of the answers for some of the questions and when I'm done the survey tells me that I agree with the Eastern Orthodox with the LCMS coming in second. I love my Eastern Orthdox brothers and sisters but I think that these surveys are poorly constructed. I'm kind of a 16th century, Book of Concord, confessional Lutheran and maybe that's my problem. Maybe the surveys are written for people who are actually alive today and apply to what is going inside the head of the average church-goer.

This isn't meant to bash the EO, but I thought I would provide some reasons that I am not in agreement with the EO on a number of significant issues and perhaps it will help people write better surveys.

I love icons and I love incense but I think there is a problem when these things become central to worship--they turn into something which you couldn't have worship without. The pre-Nicean church fathers all seemed pretty opposed to both of these things. I don't think that means we can't have these things but it seems strange to me that something which the early church condemned would turn into something that you can't worship without.

I do not believe people should pray to icons or to departed saints. The Scriptures do teach that the saints pray for us on earth but there is no promise given that they hear our prayers. If we want to give a message to a saint we should pray to God who hears our prayers. I love the Jesus Prayer and think it is good to commemorate the lives of the saints but find that all the prayers to the saints distract from the Lamb on the Altar. I love most of the EO liturgy and all the chanting is awesome.

In regards to the Eucharist, I do believe that deification takes place through it (I think this is why the Eucharist survey said I was Eastern Orthodox). I think that Lutheran concept of the mystical union is compatible with this idea. I have to admit that I am somewhat confused as to what the Eastern Orthodox believe happens during the Eucharist. I've read numerous Eastern Orthodox writers trying to understand their position and sometimes find contradictory statements. As I understand it, the EO liturgy teaches that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice. I reject the idea that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice.

My own understanding of the relationship between Scripture and tradition probably puts tradition on a higher level than most Lutherans would put it (which is probably another thing that messed up the survey) but I'm not as confident in tradition as the Eastern Orthodox are. I agree that Scripture should be interpreted within the church and not as some individualistic exercise. I agree that consensus in interpretation is important but I don't think it is always attainable. Sometimes it seems that there was a pretty strong consensus about something in the early church that was overturned. Either the interpretation was correct or incorrect--it did not become correct or incorrect over time.

I'm pretty Western or Lutheran or Augustinian or Chestertonian or whatever you would like to call it when it comes to original sin. I believe that man is guilty of the sin of Adam. Like Chesterton I believe this is the only part of Christian doctrine which can really be proved.

My understanding of justification is completely Lutheran as well (you would think something like that might make it into a denominational survey). Justification doesn't occupy a very central place in EO theology and I've heard that the Lutheran understanding is acceptable within the EO church but the entire approach is different.

I really enjoy reading Eastern Orthodox books but the asceticism is a bit too extreme for me. It often seems that you can't be a real hardcore EO, unless you are part of some monastic community. They seem to be engaging in what Colossians 2 refers to as "self-made religion." I'm pretty convinced of the Lutheran understanding of vocation.

So, if anyone sends me a survey and the survey says that I am EO--don't be scared or don't get your hopes up. They wouldn't want me anyhow. The Lutherans are stuck with me. Besides, I'm German how can I help it.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Theology of the Cross and the Theology of Glory in the Movies

A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glow to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” [Phil. 3:18], for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said. Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are destroyed and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.

The quotation above is from the Heidelberg Disputation--one of Martin Luther's best works. In it, Luther describes the difference between the Theology of Glory and the Theology of the Cross. 

The theologian of glory believes that the good things that he receives from God are a result of his own good works. If bad things are happening to him, he concludes that he must not be doing enough good works. They are too busy living the victorious Christian life to be concerned with the crucified Christ.

The theologian of the cross knows that his own good works are nothing but shit (Philippians 3:8) and menstrual cloths (Isaiah 64:5). He knows that God is only found in suffering and the cross and that if God did not send him suffering he would be puffed up by his own good works. He knows that the good works are not his own but God's. It is through suffering that the old man is crucified.

It is no surprise that secular companies would pump out movies that promote the theology of glory. Disney is perhaps the biggest promoter of the "believe in yourself" mantra as well as most children's programming. It may be healthier to allow children to watch horror movies than pollute their minds with self-reliance.

Far worse are the Christian movie factories and films which attempt to appeal to a Christian audience. Facing the Giants is perhaps the strongest promoter of the theology of glory I have ever seen. Aside from the fact that the coaches seem to think that the book of Revelation is all about football--the believe in yourself message could not be clearer. Just keep trying and pray to Jesus and your team will win all their games, your wife will have babies, and you'll get a raise. It's enough to turn people into atheists when they find out what Christianity is all about. The life of the Christian involves more suffering than that of the non-Christian.

Historically, in theology of the cross fashion, the church has celebrated her martyrs--not those who have gotten rich as Christians but those who have died for the faith. We should always be prepared to give our lives for Christ if necessary. This preparation is completely foreign to movies like Facing the Giants.

The theology of the cross can be found in a small number of movies. To End All Wars is the best I've seen yet. The real power of sin is shown and the real cost for redemption is shown. People lay down their lives for Christ and for one another.

Another great movie is Bella. A man is crushed by his own sins but shows the love of Christ to a woman he barely knows and sacrifices himself for the good of her daughter.

Henry Poole is Here shows the complex nature of faith and how God works through our own sin and unbelief.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is also good--not quite as good as the books but good.

The Chronicles of Narnia movies seem to suffer from a low dose injected theology of glory (Disney couldn't help themselves) but still deserve to be in the theology of the cross category. But the books are so much better.

The Harry Potter movies are horrible. The books are wonderful in promoting the theology of the cross but the movies are full-blown theology of glory promoters.