Father Hopko vs. Wheaton College: Who gets to be orthodox?

Eastern Orthodox priest Father Thomas Hopko has a featured podcast on Ancient Faith Radio that I have recently started listening to. Recently he triggered quite a bit of controversy for a commentary about a visit he made to Wheaton College in which he talked about why Eastern Orthodoxy cannot endorse evangelical Christianity as being orthodox. It was very interesting to process the very different criteria by which Hopko defines orthodoxy. I would like to review several of the points he made and then offer how I would chart out a possible ecumenical relationship between evangelicalism and Orthodoxy. I think that the apostolic succession and traditioned ground of Orthodoxy is what a true conservatism looks like; the problem with the sola scriptura priesthood of the believer in evangelicalism occurs when we farcically try to make a conservatism out of what is inherently progressive. A progressive evangelicalism can relate to the genuinely conservative Orthodoxy the way that a saxophone relates to the steady bass-line of a jazz improvisational piece.

I have written before that the Greek word doxa has two meanings which actually represent the different understandings of orthodoxy in evangelicalism and Eastern Orthodoxy quite well. In classical Greek, doxa means “opinion.” Evangelicals tend to follow this version of doxa in defining orthodoxy to mean the “right opinion” about God. The Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible introduced a new meaning of doxa by using it to translate the Hebrew word kabod, which means “glory.” This is the doxa of the Eastern church, which understands orthodoxy as “right glory,” or worshiping God in the right way. I think this distinction is corroborated in the points that Hopko made in his two podcasts “An Orthodox Assessment of Evangelicalism” and “Evangelical Dialogue.” Here are the ones I found most significant:

1) Worship is the original canon

According to Father Hopko, the most primal foundation of apostolic succession is the worship tradition itself. He notes that the Pauline epistles for example are built out of hymns from the original worship tradition and commentaries critiquing problematic worship practices like the Corinthian Eucharist. Hopko says that original ancient Christian worship is “derived in the law and the prophets illuminated by Christ.” He considers there to be a line of continuity back into Jewish tradition even to its origins in Abraham. Hopko says, “The traditioning of faith in its lived form was in worship… [and subsequently] the lived tradition was enshrined in the writings.” So for Hopko, it is not merely that a church infrastructure put together scripture, but that the even more primal means by which God breathed scripture is in the worship tradition itself.

2) Worship is ecclesiology

Not only is apostolically continuous worship the basis for scripture but it is the means by which the body of Christ is constituted. Hopko says, “The church is not identified with some synod of bishops… The church is actualized in the scriptures, the sacraments, the services of the church that are objectively given in history.” He uses the phrase “objective worship” a lot in his two podcasts which I interpreted to signify his belief that the most essential phenomenon of worship is the agency of the Holy Spirit “ecclesiating” people into a real objective body of Christ which is “concretized sacramentally not institutionally.” Hopko writes that “the church is a mystery that has institutions, not an institution that has mysteries… [It is] not an organization that has teachings, but a teaching that has organizations.” This is why the church itself is untainted by the corruption and sin of its leadership and institutions, because ekklesia is the “gathering” work of the Holy Spirit.

3) Heresy is discerned through worship

Father Hopko shares the Greek for 1 Corinthians 11:18-19: “I hear that there are divisions (schismata) among you… Indeed, there have to be factions (haereseis) among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” The word that cognates as heresy in our language, haeresis, means “faction” in Greek. It is a teaching which causes faction in the worship community. Hopko points out that Paul is actually explaining a benefit of the haereseis. They are part of the ongoing apostolic discernment process “to show which of you have God’s approval.” This is not simply a rational quest to represent Biblical truth most accurately, since the canon itself was weeded through as part of this apostolic process, but rather a Spirit-led journey mediated primarily through worship tradition in which disruptive teachings are flagged and thrown out. I find this understanding corroborated in Paul’s pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus where he evaluates false teachings not according to a standard of “accuracy” but according to their disruptive quality:

Titus 1:10-11: “There are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households.”

1 Timothy 1:3-4: “Stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longeror to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work.”

A helpful illustration of this understanding of heresy is the 5th century Nestorian controversy. Constantinople Archbishop Nestorius was  scandalized by the way that a popular Christian hymn gave the title theotokos (God-bearer) to Mary since it seemed to deify Mary and impugn the eternal nature of God by implying that God had been born in history. Nestorius didn’t have a problem with Jesus being both divine and human; he just wanted to say that the divine nature did not “develop” in Mary’s womb but was transfused instantaneously into the human infant Jesus upon birth. So he said that the church should call Mary christotokos instead of theotokos, which got a whole lot of people up in arms since he was changing the words to an important hymn.

From an evangelical perspective on heresy, Nestorius’ concerns would have been completely in bounds as a possible interpretation of how God’s Word became flesh (John 1:14). Though Biblical texts were used to argue for and against it, nothing within the Biblical canon condemns Nestorianism outright. Moreover, evangelicals would be sympathetic to his concerns about Mary. Ultimately Nestorius was condemned not because scripture refuted his teachings but because they clashed with long-standing liturgical tradition and “promoted controversial speculation rather than advancing God’s work.” I wonder how many Nestorianisms we have among the controversial speculations of Protestants, not only among those who are considered “liberal,” but also those who invent cage fighter Jesuses with Dionysian heavenly Fathers, thinking that disagreeable and conservative are the same thing.

4) Hopko’s evaluation of the evangelicals

To the Orthodox, scripture’s primary function is liturgical. They read more scripture in their weekly eucharistic service than a week’s worth of evangelical “quiet times.” Their daily prayers are scripture-soaked, rather than following the Western romantic valorization of “sincere” and spontaneous “Hey God” talk. Hopko shares that an Orthodox bishop cannot be ordained unless he can recite the entire book of Psalms from memory. (How do our memory verse drills compare to that?) The way that Orthodox learn Christian truth is by acting out the story of the canon through liturgy. Hopko says about our evangelical worship services: “That’s not worship; that’s a concert and a lecture.”

Hopko considers the ecclesiology of evangelicalism to be “a church without apostolic succession, without traditions, without objective worship, without sacramental life that is given to the person who enters, without a very particular moral and ascetical life given in the community by the tradition of the community.” Western Christianity is comfortable with a rationalistic packaging for truth, but what Hopko is saying is that right opinions aren’t good enough, since much of Christian truth is a experiential, meta-rational encounter with God through worship. The rational aspect of Christian truth is a secondary reflection upon the objective pneumatological reality of worship.

Regarding heresy, evangelicals are notoriously schismatic. Instead of doing the hard work of discerning our way to compromise through the Spirit’s guidance, our equation of orthodoxy with “accuracy” causes constant disruption and “controversial speculation” which leads to the rupturing of communion. We often fall victim to our spiritual pride which causes us to interpret our ideological opponents as cynically as possible in order to be able to say that we have finally figured out what’s right while everyone else has it wrong.

5) My response to Hopko and why I think evangelicalism must be progressive

I had expected that listening to Hopko’s take-down of evangelicalism would fill me with some kind of pleasure since I have a lot of criticism for my fellow evangelicals myself. But actually he made me want to stick up for the evangelicals and convinced me that I’m supposed to remain one. I think that people who read the Bible at face value with fresh eyes and a dissatisfaction with the interpretations of the past have a very important role to play in God’s ecclesial process. It’s just that they shouldn’t ever think of themselves as being conservative, because their role is inherently progressive.

True conservatives act in defense of a tradition and stick up for ancient wisdom against those who anachronistically call it patriarchal, racist, bigoted, and so forth. They battle against unfair caricatures and oversimplifications of historical processes. A true conservative will find kind things to say about Constantine and even the late medieval scholastic theologians who triggered the Reformation. A true conservative is willing to stay in communion with the church even amidst theological disagreement out of trust that the Holy Spirit has not abandoned the church’s apostolic discernment process.

A true conservative is the opposite of ideological because s/he knows that “there is nothing new under the sun.” True conservatism is above all cautious and patient; it hates hastily formed arguments that disrespect the intricacies of truth. A true conservative cannot be contemptuous of history and the authority of the interpretive tradition of a text, which is precisely what many self-imagined evangelical “conservatives” are.

What we have today in evangelicalism is a farcical “conservatism” that is really populism. To stake your theological system upon the perspicuity (self-evidential clarity) of scripture is to adopt the 17th century liberalism of Descartes which seeks a “Cogito ergo sum” rationality that transcends tradition. Choosing “right opinion” over “right worship” is a choice to privilege my rationality over a tradition that I have to entrust to the Holy Spirit.

It makes sense when the grassroots radical Reformers like the Anabaptists promote a democratization of scripture interpretation as an openly populist, progressive stance against magisteria. What creates monstrosity is when I try to say that there is no interpretive process involved in reading scripture, because (my interpretation of) the Bible is simply truth.

If “accuracy” in reading scripture is your only criterion for orthodoxy, then there’s no reason to stop at a grammatical-historical account of Biblical “inerrancy” and not go all the way through to a historical-critical account in which you try to get to the bottom of why Matthew’s Jesus says “Pharisees” when John’s Jesus says “Jews,” so that Jesus’ words inevitably become Matthew’s words tailored to his polemical context, which ends up undermining the authority of the text.

Thus, a “conservatism” that does not submit to history or tradition as a rubric needs more than accuracy as an objective. That’s why it comes to measure the accuracy of its beliefs according to the “Kantian” terms of objectivity: if my interpretation is difficult for me (or people in the culture around me) to accept, then it’s more likely to be true, because if it’s pleasing to my sensibilities, then it’s probably infected with my bias.

A tradition-less “conservative” will inevitably become a reactionary curmudgeon, because whatever is popular (among those I am reacting against) must be wrong since the truth cannot be popular without compromising its purity. It is this tradition-less-ness that makes “conservative” ideology into a competition to see who can make the other side cringe the most. The more crass you are in your analysis, the more truthful you’re being, like that woman who wrote in the National Review that the reason the Sandy Hook shooting happened was because there weren’t any adult men on campus.

Why not just admit that it’s an inherently progressive act to read the Bible on your own and say, “Hey wait a minute!” when you come across passages that you have the audacity to think have been misinterpreted for centuries? Progressives are vital to the ecclesial conversation; without them, the Roman Catholics would still hold to Augustine’s belief in the damnation of unbaptized babies, a doctrine it took 1500 years to revise. I would say the difference in calling the evangelical sola scriptura hermeneutic “progressive” rather than “conservative” would involve two things: 1) an assumption that the Spirit-breathed discernment process in relation to the Biblical canon hasn’t stopped and 2) a recognition that my interpretation is one of many possibilities and not the only right answer that has always been correct through centuries of past “error.”

As a progressive epistemology, evangelicalism has something to offer the ecclesial symphony. We are the improvisers, the saxophone soloists in the jazz improvisation piece. The conservatives provide the crucial bass and rhythm section that we must measure ourselves against carefully to avoid creating cacophony. When we improvise, we must do so loosely in the same way that when you’re soloing, you’re always ready to resolve to a different note if you discover an unexpected sourness. In any case, this is what I try to do as an evangelical. I study the boundaries; I don’t push against them for the sake of rebelling but in order to figure out how far I’m allowed to stretch in my explanation of the gospel to people with lots of serious stumbling blocks.

The conservative traditions of Orthodoxy and Catholicism are very attractive to me; for the past year, I have been tiptoeing on the edge of converting to one or the other, and who knows, it may happen. But the reason I remain evangelical is because I want to have the flexibility to evangelize in the way that God has gifted me. There are people who will never go to a church that uses the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom or one which starts worship with a litany of Hail Mary’s; I can’t shrug my shoulders and say the hell with them. Ultimately I have a lot of respect for true conservatism; I constantly draw from its wells even if I can’t submit to everything it teaches (we just read a passage from Matthew in church this morning that says Joseph waited to have relations with Mary until after she gave birth [Matthew 1:25] which seems like another strike against the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity and Jesus’ adelphoi being “cousins” instead of brothers and sisters). I think God has wired me to be a progressive for the sake of winning a particular mission field of people for His kingdom. That’s why I remain evangelical.

34 thoughts on “Father Hopko vs. Wheaton College: Who gets to be orthodox?

  1. Pingback: Conservative & progressive Biblical interpretation in 16th century Spain | Mercy not Sacrifice

  2. I don’t think the progenitors of the serene white Mary motif were particularly… pious. Renaissance artists praised by the Vatican, perhaps, but not celibate old men. It was the style of the time, and I don’t find it particularly attractive or proper, nor do I desire to apologize for it.

    Take, however, the Theotokos of Vladimir:

    Or the breastfeeding Theotokos:

    Hopefully you will consider these more fitting. It is worth noting that, regarding age and condition, icons are designed to connect an event with eternity, and eternity with an event. For this reason, Mary is shown older and with a sort of “knowing” in her eyes, because we are meant to look at these icons in the light of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. This event is being re-capitulated at the end of history, rather than being re-played for some sort of cathartic benefit like a school nativity play.

    Similarly, St. Peter is shown with white hair at the Last Supper, here, because that is his iconographic form. While he was not older at the last supper, that is how we encounter him and the other apostles:

    Now, for early Christians, Mary as the New Eve and Christ as the New Adam was a very important typography. Because the old Eve was cursed to suffer during childbirth, it was believed that, as a sign of the renewal of humanity, the Theotokos was spared the pains of childbirth. That is, she gave truly natural human birth. Later on Christ, you know, raises people from the dead and heals that woman with the vaginal bleeding, so it’s not really that much of a stretch, even if you don’t want to believe it.

    In connection with this, early Christians believed that Ezekiel 43-44 referred to Christ being born from Mary’s womb. She remained a virgin not because sex was somehow evil, but for the same reason that the Ark of the old Covenant was kept set apart.

    Just some thoughts.

  3. >a passage from Matthew … that says Joseph waited to have relations with Mary until after she gave birth That is not what Matt 1:25 says. That is an elaboration on one possible interpretation of what it says. Surely you are aware of the ambiguity in the text that has forced translators to choose between “before” and “until”. You have inserted “waited” and “after” to yield English that unmistakably implies that Mary did not remain a virgin. If that’s what you believe, for various reasons, fine. But you imply that the text clearly says that, and thus contradicts the Catholic doctrine. Hardly.

    • This is more than just a translation issue. I really think the need to make Mary into a one-dimensional stock character of serene piety undermines the mystery of the incarnation. It’s a crypto-Nestorianism even if the “vicar of Christ” ratified it.

      • however, the belief in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary goes back centuries before Papal Supremacy and the late medieval/Renaissance motif of serene piety I think you’re referring to.

        • All right so help me to properly understand it then. When I walk around the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception looking at all the statues of 40 year old white ladies holding babies, I don’t see a Jewish teenage girl to whom the Magnificat could have been attributed. I see the asexual projection of celibate old men.

  4. You lost me when you started talking about “true conservatism”. What makes that a criterion for anything? Are both Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism to be jusged by the external criterion of “true conservatism”? And who sets that criterion and how?

    • I set it. It’s my arbitrary personal opinion. But I do think that conservatism implies tradition and the tradition-less form of Christianity that I grew up in — Southern Baptist — compensates for its lack of genuine conservatism with reactionary curmudgery.

      • I’ve little direct experiece of Southern Baptists, not having met any, bot from what I’ve read and heard about them they are anything but traditionless.

        • Okay that’s where I have to play the personal experience card because Southern Baptist is my denomination of origin. Saying that you have “traditional” values by which you mean a nostalgia for the 1950’s is different than having a theological tradition of Biblical interpretation from the past that you respect. Baptists specifically define themselves against tradition by not having a creed and not using formal liturgy in worship. We were taught to look down on the “meaningless ritual” of the Catholics. We would do communion maybe once or twice a year, calling it the Lord’s supper and making it clear that all we were doing was memorializing Christ. Basically Baptists are taught that the other denominations have it wrong *because of* their traditions.

  5. Morgan, I’ve listened to both of these podcasts, and I have a few responses for you:

    1. Both you and Fr. Hopko, if I recall correctly, mentioned the controversy caused by his podcast. I haven’t found anything about that controversy on any other blogs or websites or anything, so I’m wondering if this is primarily an email thing, or if it’s happening at Wheaton itself on some level.

    2. I do believe in a possible relationship between “A progressive evangelicalism” and the Orthodox Church, provided that one is not merely exchanging one exclusive culture for another.

    Now, moving on to your Nestorianism example. The Bazaar of Heraclitus aside, if we look at the context of Nestorius’s teachings, those of his mentor Theodore of Mopsuestia and others, we do find a separation of humanity and divinity. To quote one of the CotE websites which puts it well: “Nestorius was concerned with the thought that God might be seen to have had a new beginning of some kind, or that he suffered or died. None of these things could happen to the infinite God. Therefore, instead of a God-man, he taught that there was the Logos and the ‘man who was assumed.” This “man who was assumed” plays a large role in Nestorius’s and Theodore’s theology.” You say “[Nestorius] just wanted to say that the divine nature did not ‘develop’ in Mary’s womb but was transfused instantaneously into the human infant Jesus upon birth.” Well, that’s exactly the problem; the man who was assumed. That’s not an unacceptable position because it denies hymnography, nor was that the main argument used by the Fathers; rather, it was rejected because that form of dyophysitism denies the totality of the Gospel received, and the primary arguments do, indeed, come from the Holy Scriptures and not from hymnography or a desire to avoid undue complication. One only has to look at Ephesus I, Chalcedon, and Constantinople II’s reasonings behind their declarations.

    That said, there are many prominent evangelicals who are either nestorians, monophysite-docetists, or both, somehow. For one tragic example, here’s a brief article: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/it-accurate-say-god-died-cross/

    The reason I make this point is because you said: ” I think that people who read the Bible at face value with fresh eyes and a dissatisfaction with the interpretations of the past have a very important role to play in God’s ecclesial process.” And they do. And these people have existed in the Orthodox Church, and are valued there. One of them is Fr. Hopko himself. I would listen to his podcasts on subjects like the Incarnation, Suicide, etc. to get a feel for this.

    The Antiochene tradition that ended up spawning heretical versions of dyophysitism took a long time to develop, it was “an interpretation of the past” by the time Nestorius was spazzing out in Constantinople. St. Cyprian of Carthage one said something to this effect: “Antiquity without truth is the age-old error.” Despite what you may read here and there on the internet or from those with a… zeal that may need some informing, there is indeed a place in the Orthodox Church for calling antiquity without truth to account.

    3. Now, I’d like to address a concern of yours that I have a lot of respect for, and understand to some degree. You say: “But the reason I remain evangelical is because I want to have the flexibility to evangelize in the way that God has gifted me. There are people who will never go to a church that uses the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom or one which starts worship with a litany of Hail Mary’s; I can’t shrug my shoulders and say the hell with them.”

    To be honest, Morgan (and forgive me, I admit my experience is rather limited), I have never seen, or heard of, an evangelical service, or heard evangelical music, that incorporated the contemporary culture’s musical and performance style into their worship. What I have seen and heard is actually quite melancholy, the way that hearing the music popular at the time of one’s old high school graduation can bring a certain melancholic nostalgia to mind. I think that’s because when Evangelical culture seeks to incorporate popular culture, it is always one trend, one style, or one movement behind. When dubstep hit the scene, they were doing trance; when T.I. was rapping they were doing Tupac and Easy E (there’s no shame in that, but there’s also no accounting for changing tastes!); when the Jonas Brothers were employing that thinly-veiled sexual crowd-foaming thing a few years ago, y’all were finally starting to twirl clothes in the air.

    I think you catch my drift here.

    This is the part where I’m supposed to say, “so stop trying to get with the times, and instead embrace the timeless liturgy that never goes out of style.” Since we’re talking Christian praxis, rather than me trying to sell you a used Rolex in a back alley, I think we should leave that sort of sloganeering to the professionals and move on.

    There is something of value in truly utilizing the popular culture, but I don’t think it has to be an incorporation of popular culture into worship proper. Rather, one can bring the accomplishments of worship into popular culture as a means of both evangelism and edification. To that end, I’d like to offer you an understanding of the “Liturgy/Feast” relationship that is common, or was once common, in traditionally Orthodox countries.

    It’s really quite simple. On a feast day (and there are many, many, many of these in the Orthodox Catholic Church), after the liturgy, men and women would sing, dance, play music, and feast; you know, have an actual feast! They would do all those fun things you see anachronistically re-created at the Greek Festivals these days. They would sing “secular” songs as well as “carols”. They would play instruments. It was a grand time, you see. After the liturgy, after it had brought the gifts of heaven to earth and earth to heaven, the Church brought these fruits of joy and gladness to the feast, where they were further multiplied for everyone to partake of.

    By embracing the true purpose of the Feast, Morgan, I think you could find a way to be both conservative and progressive. If you were to help take part in restoring the Feast here in America, you could reach those whom you seek in the world through their own ways, but by the power of, with the fruits of, true Christian worship. I would say that there is already a movement to this end brewing, so now would be the time to consider joining in and sharing your gifts. That is my invitation to you.

    On a final note, I do believe it is possible, in the proper time, for the incorporation of truly American music, hymnography, and praxis into the liturgy proper here in America. It is already occurring, but slowly and steadily, as these things always occur. Who knows what the future will hold?

    • Regarding the podcasts, Father Hopko got a lot of email responses from evangelical listeners. Also admittedly sometimes I say “controversy” for marketing reasons. Regarding Nestorianism, what you’re sharing makes sense. I do think that the uber-voluntarist theology in some sectors of the reformed tradition ends up “hellenizing” God so that we end up with a Nestorian Christ.

      Regarding worship, evangelism, and so forth, it’s interesting because I’m actually pretty opposed to incorporating pop culture into worship liturgy. It makes me gag when I hear the Pearl Jam/Coldplay wannabes on Christian radio. I think where I would struggle is with the formality. I want there to be some ability to improvise within worship and/or to “homiletize” its components so that people who are new aren’t completely alienated. I want to honor a pneumatological presence that is pentecostal in addition to sacramental. It’s not so much a cultural style question as it is a question of whether the liturgy can be colloquial and/or somewhat extemporaneous without destroying it. If worship is “objective” and “apostolic,” I don’t think you can do that. The goal is to be faithful to what is handed down, which I totally respect though I want to be able to bend the rules for the sake of evangelism as the Spirit leads.

      The paradox is that true worship for me as a disciple happens every Monday at the basilica when I know what the priest is going to say before he says it and the phrase is reverberating in my head so that I’m meditating on it. Perhaps I’m afraid that not many people would go for that just because I go for it. My heart is half pentecostal and half sacramental. Every day I pray, “Pater hemon ha en tois ouranois” with my Jerusalem beads. But then sometimes I talk to God in a tongue that I don’t know that somehow expresses things more emphatically than human language does. I don’t know what to do with this strange combination of charismata that God has put in me. It’s an interesting journey. Merry Christmas!

  6. I like a lot of your response. I will say I find Hopko’s analysis is typical of E. Orthodox caricatures of “evangelicalism” and the assumption of Orthodox righteousness. A decent volume on the relationship between E. Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism is a 5 views book on the subject. It actually has a contribution by Horton in it that’s not bad. I also like the first E. Orthodox commentator, something Nassif.

    I also found a very good article I’m planning on summarizing and writing a blog about on Scripture, tradition, and the church by Tony Lane. He lists 4 views of scripture and tradition, noting the issue of ecclesiology where it comes up:
    1. Tradition as coincidental (Early Fathers)
    2. Tradition as supplemental (Medieval Catholicism & Trent)
    3. Tradition as ancillary (Reformers)
    4. Tradition as evolving (Some modern Catholicism, and bleed out into various areas)
    http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/vox/vol09/scripture_lane.pdf

    There’s a way of seeing tradition as essential, yet subordinate that is at once conservative, and yet open to correction, hence, “Reformed and always Reforming”. True conservatism is always striving for even greater submission to God’s Word, rather than assuming, “Well, we’re the church and we’ve never gotten this wrong so there.” This is part of why I like the Reformed tradition–it is, aside from the Lutherans, the most conscious of the tradition in submission to the Scriptures–the focus is on the Word with an eye on creeds, confessions, and the history of interpretation as guide. I have to look it up, but I’ve heard Calvin had an excellent phrase, “Tradition is a good guide, but a terrible master.”

    • “True conservatism is always striving for even greater submission to God’s Word.” Actually that’s progressive, because to claim that we can gain greater submission to God’s Word than we currently experience is essentially a claim that humanity is making forward progress over time in our appropriation of what God has revealed to us. A responsible progressive does not promote an “anything goes” attitude, but rather a more perfect submission to the essence of the gospel with the assumption that various Pelagianisms and other heresies have been keeping us from really getting it, such as when we systematize Paul’s polemical discourse into legalism for example. I don’t think we can call reforma semper reformando anything other than progressive unless we flatten hermeneutics into perspicuity and operate under the assumption that Christian discourse is supposed to end with absolute univocity rather than persisting into the infinite harmonics that DB Hart talks about. If we take away the claim of perspicuity and recognize the irreducible polyphony of hermeneutics, then conservatism signifies the defense of tradition’s wisdom, which is vitally important to those of us who try to be responsible progressives and experiment with different ways of telling the story that will translate into our cultural context without falling off the edge of orthodoxy into confusion and oblivion.

      • I think we’re getting caught up in terminology. For instance, conservatism and progressivism. I think we’re trying to aim at the same thing. Also, “perspicuity” properly-defined isn’t populist, “well, just read the thing” hermeneutics. The Westminster Confession argues both that Scripture is perspicuous even while saying that not all sections of it are equally obvious, but that they need to be read and interpreted.

      • I think we’re getting caught up in terminology. For instance, conservatism and progressivism. I think we’re trying to aim at the same thing. Also, “perspicuity” properly-defined isn’t populist, “well, just read the thing” hermeneutics. The Westminster Confession argues both that Scripture is perspicuous even while saying that not all sections of it are equally obvious, but that they need to be read and interpreted.

    • “I will say I find [Fr.] Hopko’s analysis is typical of E. Orthodox caricatures of ‘evangelicalism’ and the assumption of Orthodox righteousness.”

      Did you listen to both podcasts?

    • Writing as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden, I’d have to say that while I’m alright with some of our theories about how to keep the faith, it doesn’t work in practice. Only a tiny minority actually cares about the confessions and creeds. Or the Scriptures.

  7. The first thing one must do is empty their vessel so they can here and learn the truth.
    When your vessel is full of past experience, good or bad, the vessel is not able to have the fullness of the gospel poured into the vessel becuase it is not empty and unableto be filled.
    Something else is taking up space.
    Something that hinders.

    One of the things taking up space here, and spoken of over and over, is contempt for.

    • Thanks for your response. In contemplating your paradigm, I would point out that “emptying your vessel” is, as I have said, an inherently progressive, tradition-less approach to truth. You’re embracing the liberalism of Descartes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Descartes was responding to years of religious warfare that came from tradition. That’s why he wanted to empty himself to find the universal epistemological starting point of Cogito ergo sum. But to approach truth in the truly conservative way, you don’t empty your vessel, you immerse it in the interpretive tradition that has been flowing throughout history. So if you want to be progressive, then by all means empty your vessel.

      • “But to approach truth in the truly conservative way, you don’t empty your vessel,”

        Do you thing it is possible to empty that vessel of all the past that skews what we read in God’s Holy Word?
        Can we read the book and not super-impose our long held beliefs, our rights and wrongs on God?
        Is it possible to empty ourselves of all the bias, agendas, hurts and feelings we carry so we can read the work written, accept what God has to teach and come to the point where we are ready and with a willing heart be in subjection to God’s will?

        I think we can.
        I think that is where truth and true peace is found..

        God’s Peace to you.

        • That’s fine. Just understand that what you’re describing is faith in the Enlightenment’s tabula rasa concept more than faith in God. I don’t think it’s possible to empty ourselves completely which is why we need to read God’s word in community with other people so that we can tell the differences between our biases and what God is really saying. Christianity was never meant to be the solo project it’s become in Western Protestantism. I’m not saying there’s no point in trying. It’s just that we have to study our thoughts for self-serving agendas. When you deny that you naturally have one, then you start to make a God in your own image.

  8. I didn’t realize that doxa could mean opinion, so I always wondered why a word that meant right-worship would be used as if it meant right-belief.

    What I would say is heretical in ‘Evangelicalism’ (I hate that term by the way) and Protestantism in general is the Augustinian idea that Paul trumps Christ, that Romans (chapter 2 being completely ignored, of course) is more inspired than the rest of the Bible. This is something explicitely stated by Luther in his preface to Romans: “This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel.” This attitude is heresy.

    Vatican II in Dei Verbum says in section 18 (in chapter 5) “18. It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special preeminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our savior.”

    I’m no Catholic, but I must say a hearty AMEN to this point: any Christian system that denies the gospels the place of preeminence is heresy.

    This is a point on which Andreas Bodenstein Karlstadt came to differ very much from Luther. Originally the two were great friends, but after a while Karlstadt came to disagree with Luther’s position that we have no free will and “all things happen by necessity as Wycliffe said.” Not only did Karlstadt begin to believe in free will, but he wrote a treatise On the Canon, in which he proclaimed that as the Jews hold the Torah to be of the highest inspiration, the prophets to be of a lower degree, and the writings to be of a still lower degree, so also we should view the New Testament, holding the gospels to be on the highest level, and then placing the Pauline epistles and the rest in their respective levels corresponding to the three-fold division the Jews see in the Old Testament. It is this sort of clear vision of level of inspiration in the New Testament that Protestantism is missing.

    Instead of such a systematic and clearly-thought-out view, they hold this weird view in which Romans 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9 are more inspired than the rest of Scripture, and everything else, both New Testament and Old Testament, and even the very words of the Son of God Himself, must be subordinated to those few chapters, despite the fact that they are heavily outnumbered by the rest of Scripture! It is an absurd and chaotic system.

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