It seems my last post has caused quite a stir, from some internet chatter pro and con to an active comment thread to at least one email thread wherein it became open season on me for a while. In light of all this, I find Fr. Stephen Freeman’s comments here on RRO to be the ones most useful to respond to. The email thread I’ll completely ignore for now. You know who are 😉
I think some clarifications might help underscore what is and is not at issue. In order to do this, first and foremost, I am thankful to Fr. SF for being willing to comment on this recent post of mine. Such can, I hope, be the beginning of fruitful dialogue and exchange rather than the beginnings of spite and vice.
With regard to his comments, I’d like to clarify a few things:
1) I never once questioned his credentials. I’m not sure why he felt obligated to lay claim to “serious work” done with the blessing of hierarchs and his book. Indeed, I would further note that the book was published by Conciliar Press and that he studied at Duke, earning a terminal masters rather than completing the doctorate. I’m not sure how mentioning that helps us in this exchange, but the key line might be when he said, ” I have generally not been charged with being ignorant, uneducated or uninformed.” For the record, I never accused him of such. Though I admit I am ignorant of the extent to which he is engaged with the Orthodox and non-Orthodox theological academy, I did not make such a statement. I don’t know how he read that into my post and I hope no one else did either. RRO is not about “whose CV is bigger.” It’s about Eastern Christianities engaging the West (in a myriad of ways).
2) He is concerned I misunderstood him and made a straw man. To the first, I concede an extent of misunderstanding but that in itself does not create a straw man. It creates a miscommunication. There is a difference.
3) What did I misunderstand? I thought (honestly) that he meant to reduce American Christianity to a particular version of Evangelical Christianity, one that I wasn’t so sure represented even all Evangelicals and Baptists. I also think I missed a bit of the way he was opposing Schmemann to popular level evangelicalism. The Baptists I’ve engaged would encourage reading the likes of Dallas Willard (who critiques “once saved always saved” quite harshly) as well as Russell Moore and Al Mohler. The ethical implications are important to them and so relationships between believers as well as believers and creation are changed by Christ’s redemptive work. I can see better now what Fr. SF was wanting to articulate even while there remain points of legitimate disagreement.
4) Therefore, I concede that in his comments, he was simply responding to a particular sub-set of American Christianity in that particular post and doing so by utilizing Schmemann’s sacramental (“ontological”) view. For this reason alone, I am thankful Fr SF commented here.
5) It is important to keep in mind that in my original blog post I was not defending Evangelicals specifically, nor specifically the once saved always saved types (as indeed, I noted they seemed to be the only types who would hold to the kind of views he seemed to me to be reducing all non-Orthodox too). Nor was I attacking certain bloggers specifically, even while giving a couple recent examples, but was rather aiming at the common Orthodox practice of presenting Orthodoxy in polemical terms – and it always being some one or another Western expression of Christianity that becomes the target of what Orthodoxy *is not* so as to affirm what Orthodoxy *is*. My point was simply – Why not affirm what Orthodoxy is without trotting out some impoverished Western version of Christianity that Orthodoxy *is not*?
6) The risk in this more polemical approach is twofold: it risks mischaracterizing the named impoverished version of Christianity, and it risks mischaracterizing Orthodoxy itself by means of introducing an unnecessary and possibly untruthful false dichotomy.
7) Connecting Fr SF with other Orthodox bloggers who make extended use of such a polemical approach is warranted, based on a reading of his blog and his own words describing what is at the foundation of his own thought. So, from: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2014/11/23/doubt-modern-belief/
“My own belief is that the Fathers see something to which we are largely blind – that our historicized view of the world is extremely limiting and skews everything in our minds. One way that I have pressed this question has been to ask, “If the bread and wine of the Eucharist truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, what kind of world do we live in?” What is unique in this question is my assumption that it tells us something about how the world is.
This is a key point in the sacramental teaching of the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann. He carefully critiqued the traditional Roman Catholic approach to the sacraments as positing an “addition” to reality as we know it, whereas, he contended, in Orthodoxy, sacraments reveal something that is always true of reality. He said famously, “Sacraments do not make things to be different. They reveal things to be what they truly are.”
This has been perhaps the most foundational understanding of my Orthodox life and undergirds all of the writing that I have done.”
Note that last sentence… In his own words, the single most foundational understanding that he has of Orthodoxy is Schmemann’s assertion about Orthodox sacramental understanding, which is intrinsically tied to his view of Orthodox soteriology. Note also, though, that when explaining what’s been “the most foundational understanding of my Orthodox life and undergirds all of the writing that I have done” he is referencing what is framed as a criticism of “the traditional Roman Catholic approach to the sacraments”. With this in mind, if the very “foundation” upon which he builds is a “criticism” of what is believed to be “the traditional Roman Catholic approach,” then isn’t this foundation itself intrinsically polemical? There is, here, a mode for describing Orthodoxy that is inherently contra-West.
Here are a couple of examples of polemicizing specifically against “the West” categorically:
8) Finally, I think this is the beginning of a good self-examination for Orthodox. Fr. SF raised the work of Florovsky and the likes of Nietzsche. I hope to return to this angle at some point–in fact, plan to, since this is important and will help readers really get into core issues at play here. Fr. SF and I may disagree on the extent to which a foil is necessary to present Orthodoxy but that is precisely why this discussion needs to be had. I think there is a better way, a way that Fr SF does get at, when he expresses the positive aspects of Orthodox spirituality and theology. It is my hope to see more of this from Orthodox and less of needing to contradict the other, for that “need” often actually masks passions that are better left below deck rather than manning the helm.