Because I’ve had some other battles to fight, I’ve been neglecting MG’s questions—no relation to the classic sports car, I presume! :-)
BTW, I don’t monitor all the feedback in every thread, so there maybe some other questions of his I’m overlooking.
“What specific problems would follow from this? What argument by Orthodox are you criticizing?”
Among other things, Orthodox has been arguing that evangelicals cannot be certain of what they believe, whereas sacred tradition or living tradition in EO is the makeweight.
If, however, the Orthodox Communion cannot even agree on the boundaries of the canon, then what becomes of his appeal to religious certainty?
“What kinds of disadvantages follow for Orthodoxy if there is disagreement between the different parts of the church on the extended OT canon?”
i) If EO appeals to some form of tradition to ground the canon, if that appeal is flawed, and if, by relying tradition alone to establish the canon, it thereby cuts itself off from alternative methods of ascertaining the canon, then it’s at a disadvantage vis-à-vis evangelicalism, which does have a fallback option—indeed, more than one.
ii) This also goes to the larger question of who speaks for Orthodoxy?
“I just wonder how big of a deal it is that there is disagreement about the contents of the canon; Im not sure its an issue, really.”
See above and below.
“Unlike Orthodox, I see the point that you guys are trying to make here. Orthodoxy is not as united as it claims to be, and hence one of its claims to superiority is false. However, I think that in a certain sense, Orthodox is on to something. I know what you guys are trying to say, but I would like to see it formulated as an argument. That way we can better assess whether or not it succeeds or fails.”
i) That depends, in part, on whether or not you agree with him. We’re getting mixed signals from different EO commenters. That, of itself, is problematic. Does Orthodoxy speak with one voice, or several conflicting voices? Harmony or cacophony?
ii) Where Orthodox is concerned, the question is whether EO confers an epistemic advantage. Gene, Jason, and I have argued that it’s actually disadvantageous (see above).
“Well though the Quinisext Ecumenical Council says that these books are canonical, it doesn’t say they are inspired as far as I know. Ecumenical Councils are the place from which authority is expressed in the Church. Its too bad that some individuals are disagreeing on this subject.”
But that raises a fresh set of issues. Take the long ending of Mark. Did Jesus really speak those words or not?
The words attributed to him lay down criteria for what makes a professing believer to be a true believer. Now, if the EO tradition affirms the authenticity of these words, and if these signs do not accompany EO believers, then EO believers are self-deluded.
So it makes a big difference whether someone put these words in his mouth or not. Your eternal fate hangs in the balance.
“Things that are outside of the scope of ecumenical councils are up for grabs and not necessary for unity.”
i) Is EO tradition backward looking? What about the appeal of writers like Meyendorff to “living tradition”?
ii) And what’s your reason for taking the ecumenical councils as having the last word? By what criteria do you identify an ecumenical council? Why do you attribute infallibility to an ecumenical council? Or do you?
“Certainly there is disagreement over this issue, but that doesn’t mean that communion is being withheld; and that’s what is crucial to unity in the Orthodox Church. Individual opinions coming into conflict don’t necessarily entail that the Church as a whole has disunity. That’s what I meant by ‘dispute’; I guess I should have said ‘Eucharistic disunity’.’
But don’t the disputes cut much deeper than that? Consider the dispute between ROCOR and the rest of the OE communion. This raises a couple of fundamental issues:
i) What’s the authentic voice of Orthodoxy? Indeed, what’s the authentic voice of Russian Orthodoxy, just for starters? Is it the Metropolitan of ROCOR or the Patriarch of Moscow? Who adjudicates a dispute like that?
ii) Moreover, ROCOR is accusing the rest of the Orthodox communion of heresy and apostasy. For him, “ecumania” is the “heresy of heresies.”
a) And, given his EO assumptions, he has a point, does he not? If the EO communion represents the one true church, then ecumenical syncretism denies the identity of the one true church.
b) Yet his allegation is also in tension with apostolic succession, is it not? If the entire Orthodox communion could defect from the true faith, except for a Russian splinter group, then isn’t the appeal to apostolic succession to ground sacred tradition thereby nullified?
So both sides of this dispute have a point, but it takes the form of mutually assured destruction. They end up disproving each other. Reciprocal falsification.
“I definately see the point you are trying to get at. There might be a problem with Orthodoxy for this reason. I don't mean to sound inflammatory, (which is how questions like these sometimes sound...) but doesn't your argument cut both ways? Can't I even use your argument to point out the vagueness of Christianity in general? So for instance I could ask this: who speaks for Christians? Again, Im not trying to sound like a jerk. But I do want to know why these kinds of questions don't put all Christians in an equal amount of trouble. Thanks for the interesting post.”
To reiterate a couple of points:
i) If certain Orthodox believers try to falsify Evangelicalism by raising a given objection, and if a parallel objection can be leveled against EO, then they’ve undercut their own position.
ii) But that, of itself, doesn’t undercut the evangelical option, for we may have alternative methods of grounding our belief-system which are insusceptible to the same objections. And, indeed, Jason, Gene, and I (among others) have explicated the alternatives in some detail.
“I assume you are talking about the doctrine of unconditional election of individuals to eternal salvation, which is the position of Augustinian and Reformed theology. Where do you see this doctrine taught in Scripture?”
It’s a theological construct with many lines of evidence feeding into it from Paul and John. One place to start is:
“Also, what do you make of 1 Peter 1:2 where it says that there are people ‘elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father’? This seems to ground election in foreknowledge of some kind.”
i) No, because the meaning of a word is determined by usage rather than etymology. Petrine usage has its background in OT usage, where, in covenantal settings, the Hebrew counterpart (yada) is a synonym for “choice” rather than “knowledge.
ii) This carries over into NT usage (as well as Qumranic usage), in analogous settings (e.g. Acts 2:23; Rom 8:29; 11:2).
iii) And the prefix accentuates the unconditional aspect of this choice, since it was made before its objects came into being—thereby denoting God’s causal priority in choosing whom he did (and, by implication, excluding others).
iv) In addition, certain words and phrases have a cultural resonance. There were both “libertarian” and “predestinarian” Jewish groups in 2nd temple Judaism. So we have to ask how Petrine usage would have been “heard” by the original audience against that social backdrop. It would have triggered associations with the predestinarian schools of thought.
Taken by itself, 1 Pet 1:2 doesn’t necessarily prove unconditional election, but it’s both consistent with unconditional election and is tilted in that direction. Yet the doctrine of unconditional election is also founded on a larger database.