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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

7 Guidelines for Theological Speculation

One of the greatest Bible scholars the Church ever produced was Origen of Alexandria (d.254).  Considering the tools and resources he had at hand, he was ever to produce the multiple translations of the Bible as well as numerous commentaries and theological tomes.  His influence on future Biblical scholarship is incalculable.  But theological speculation proved to be a downfall of Origen.

Much of his speculative work later influenced many Christians and led them into open heresy.  While never departing from the Church, Origen speculated about much beyond the scope of revelation.  His tendency toward pitting matter against spirit or body against soul brought about an extreme form of asceticism, and some sources report he castrated himself to become a eunuch for the kingdom.

Tertullian (225) another important Churchman who gave us the term Trinity and upheld the moral purity of the faith, also allowed his strictness and theological speculation to drag him into the strange heresy of Montanism.

Even in modern times, theologians trying to reconcile freedom and sovereignty, the problem of evil, and other sticky issues have ended up making God less than omnipotent or sovereign or omniscient.

Good intentions in theology don't always produce good results.

In lieu of this fact, here is a handful of rules for theological speculation:


  1. Don't do it.
  2. If conclusions are wrong, strange, weird, abhorrent (God desires men to go to hell, Jesus is not God, there are two second comings, etc.), start over, miscalculation happened.  
  3. If you are the first person to come to those conclusions, stop, start over.
  4. Check your results against established councils and creeds.
  5. Run your ideas by one or more elder of the church.  Lone Ranger theology is especially dangerous.
  6. Beware of angels and visions with new revelations.
  7. When in doubt, see rule #1.

Theological creativity is a bad idea.  This area of inquiry is not like other academic pursuits where the application of reason and logic determine conclusions and discoveries.  Theology's source is ultimately revelation and from there it is a matter of expression and protection of what was given.  If creativity or novelty exists, it must be in the realm of communication and not creation.

Any other suggested rules?



Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Pearl 6:3 - Heretics


St Ephrem's The Pearl 6:3

How strangely perplexed are all the heretics by simple things!
For when He plainly foreshadowed this New Testament
       By that of the Prophets,
Those pitiable men rose, as though from sleep,
And shouted out and made a disturbance.

And the Way, wherein the righteous held straight on,
And by their truths had gone forth therein,
That [Way] have these broken up, because they were besotted:
This they left and went out of;
Because they pried into it, it fell, and was lost.
Of the pearl they made a stone, that they might stumble upon it.

6:4


O Gift, which fools have made a poison!
The People were for separating Thy beauteous root from Thy fountain,
Though they separated it not:
Teachings estranged Thy beauty also from the stock thereof.
By Thee did they get themselves estranged,
Who wished to estrange Thee.

By Thee the tribes were cut off,
And scattered abroad from out of Sion,
And also the teachings of the seceders.
Bring Thyself within the compass of our littleness,
O Thou Gift of ours.

For if love cannot find Thee out on all sides,
It cannot be still and at rest.
Make Thyself small,
Thou Who art too great for all,
Who comest unto all!

Friday, March 23, 2012

One Big Reason To Defend The Faith

Think back to the days when you were in school.  Now think of the number 211.  What was special about 211?

Did something significant happen in that year?  Not really, but if you are curious Septimus Severus, the Roman emperor died as well as Serapion of Antioch a Patriarch of Antioch.

It is a prime number, but that's not what makes it special.

211 is the degree immediately before water begins to boil.  If you could keep your pot of water at this temperature, it would be very hot, make a nice cup of tea or burn your hand, but it would not be boiling.



It's funny how one degree can make such a big difference.  Raise that pot of water 1 degree and everything changes dramatically, steam is created, and power is released.

1 degree.  Just 1 degree, and nothing's the same.

Adding a couple words to the Creed is not big deal.  Changing a phrase here or there, in a prayer or Scripture, is small.  Giving God a different title won't make that big of difference, and may help.  It's just 1 degree of change, but it changes everything.

We've been given the way of salvation, and the faith "once for all delivered to the saints", is it in any wonder it has been so vigorously defended for centuries?  All those councils and theological disputes weren't for speculation or academic curiosity.

It was an act of defense against the 1 degree.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

How Should the Church Advertise Herself?

Here's my most recent article for The Sounding, the blog project for OCN:

http://blog.myocn.com/culture/orthodoxy-in-the-american-religious-bazaar.html

Check out the other contributors to the project. There is some great writing and you can subscribe to the full feed of articles.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Pearl 6:1,2 - God Ways Are Not Our Ways


St. Ephrem's The Pearl 6:1-2

1.

Would that the memory of the fathers would exhale from the tombs;
Who were very simple as being wise;
And reverend as believing.
They without cavilling searched for, and came to the right path.

He gave the law;
The mountains melted away;
Fools broke through it.

By unclean ravens He fed Elijah at the desert stream;
And moreover gave from the skelton honey unto Samson.
They judged not, nor inquired why it was unclean,
Why clean.

2.

And when He made void the sabbaths,
The feeble Gentiles were clothed with health.
Samson took the daughter of the aliens,
And there was no disputing among the righteous;
The prophet also took a harlot,
And the just held their peace.
He blamed the righteous,
And He held up and lifted up their delinquencies:
He pitied sinners,
And restored them without cost:
And made low the mountains of their sins:
He proved God is not to be arraigned by men,
And as Lord of Truth.
That His servants were His shadow;
And whatsoever way His will looked,
They directed also their own wills;
And because Light was in Him,
Their shadows were enlightened.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Forge 3.7.12

Ben Franklin and his connection to Orthodoxy

Damascus Monastery Attacked:  continue to pray for Christian's in the Middle East

If the World were only 100 People - Fascinating and Sobering.  What surprised you the most?

Earliest Iconography Found?  Interesting new archaeological finds

And my favorite cartoon of recent weeks:
click on to embiggen

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

How Warnings from the Judges Can Save Our Faith

The final chapters of Judges are some of the most depressing reading in the Old Testament.  Israel's confederacy of tribes is on the brink of self-destruction.  The author continues his rallying cry -- "there was no king in Israel, and the people did what was right in their own eyes."

These chapters should come as no surprise, for each proceeding judge encountered greater and greater resistance until the people became so comfortable in their conformity to pagan culture, there was no longer a cry for salvation.  God appointed Samson, the lone judge, with no army and no support to disturb His people from their slumber with Philistine life.  Even Samson was less than ideal, succumbing himself, only to cry out for salvation at life's end.

Within these chapters the caretakers of the covenant, the Levites, those who should be prodding the perpetuation of the faith, reject their duties and are as confused spiritually as the common man.  One tribe has become a new Sodom and the other tribes, while enraged at the behavior of their brothers, have no leadership or wisdom to respond and act appropriately.

Their danger is ours as well and presents a series of warnings for the people of God today.

1.  Failure to Lead.  We need leaders who extend and perpetuate the faith once for all delivered to the saints.  Courageous, aggressive leaders are needed, and not merely among the clergy but among the laity, providing holy examples to family and neighbors.  We are always one generation away from abandoning the faith and the development of new generation leadership must always be a priority.  

2.  Failure to Worship.  Worship transforms, but so does wrong worship, and the transformation may not be desirable leading to salvation.  Israel is evidence.  Their departure from true worship led to moral confusion.  Right forms and content are a blessing, but we must participate with right hearts attentive to the words and actions, offering our whole self as a living sacrifice at every opportunity.

3.  Failure to be Holy.  Giving into the moral climate of Canaan was a constant struggle for Israel and consistently led them down a path of slavery and destruction.  Moral laxity and conforming to our culture will lead us down a similar path, abandoning worship and ultimately the faith of our fathers.  

During Lent, a story like this reminds us of our own sinfulness, and looking into our heart can often bring despair, but if we look up, like ancient Israel, we can hope because the King is coming.


Monday, March 05, 2012

Eastern Christian New Media Awards


2011 Nominations now open

For the Eastern Christian New Media Awards.  

If you like what you read here, go here, choose a category, and nominate.  

Nominations will be taken until April 1.  


Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Pearl 5:4,5 - Buried in Water to be Raised to Life


St. Ephrem's The Pearl 5:4,5

The naked ones in a type saw thy rising again by the sea-shore;
And by the side of the lake they,
The Apostles of a truth,
Saw the rising again of the Son of thy Creator.
By thee and by thy Lord the sea and the lake were beautified.

The diver came up from the sea and put on his clothing;
And from the lake too Simon Peter came up swimming on his coat;
Clad as with coats, with the love of both of you, were these two.

** 5. **

And since I have wandered in thee, pearl,
I will gather up my mind
And by having contemplated thee,
Would become like thee,
In that thou art all gathered up into thyself;
And as thou in all times art one,
One let me become by thee!

Pearls have I gathered together that I might make a crown for the Son
In the place of stains which are in my members.
Receive my offering, not that Thou art shortcoming;
It is because of mine own shortcoming that I have offered it to Thee.

Whiten my stains!This crown is all spiritual pearls,
Which instead of gold are set in love,
And instead of clasps, in faith;
And instead of hands, let praise offer it up to the highest!

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