Your Online Cup of Tea
This post is by no means meant to be comprehensive, but often times I’ve been asked what got me thinking about Orthodoxy in the first place? There are many things that played a role in my conversion (not all purely intellectual), but two things in particular led me down the path of even considering a change in the first place. Before turning Orthodox, I was Reformed in my theology for a number of years. And it was wrestling with that Reformed theology which ultimately caused me to think about Orthodoxy as a viable option, when my friend presented it to me. For quite a while, I was an implicit Nestorian and semi modalist without knowing it. Sure I had the right words and was aiming in the right direction in order to be have a Trinitarian and Incarnational faith. But my concepts were not consistent, and they caused me issues. I struggled to get a good Trinitarian conception, encountering the same problem that Van Til did. It was one of two issues which troubled me and actually led me to Orthodoxy. Funny because the second issue was connected to Van Til in a way too. The first being more ontological, and the second epistemic. One dealing with the theology of my worldview, and the other dealing with the structure of my worldview. Part 2 of this post deals more with the motivation and driving question behind all of this, namely, “How should I live in order to best follow Christ?”
First for the ontological. I was and still like to examine the foundation of worldviews and see what they stand on. In strongly opposing naturalism for many issues, one of them I found to have implications for my own. Per naturalism, ultimate reality was impersonal. And from this I was concluding that there couldn’t arise personality. At least not self aware. For me the Trinity was the ultimate reality. And so it was personal. But then I realised something, what was the unity of the Trinity? What was the principle that kept the three persons together? My answer at the time was the divine essence. But now I had a problem. The three persons of the Trinity were kept and bonded together as it were by an impersonal ousia. So even behind what I thought was a personal ultimate reality was actually an impersonal substance as it were that was prior to all three.
So just like the naturalist, I had to answer how could it be that the three persons have as their source an impersonal substance that stands as their unity? Even if it was an eternal generation such that they weren’t created, there still had to be a first principle. And mine it seems was impersonal.
Van Til too had a similar issue. Which forced him to say that the Trinity is three persons and one person. That the Godhead as a whole was in a sense one person. He didn’t mean to imply modalism, and got a lot of flack for it, but he was trying to avoid having impersonality as ultimate. So in a sense had to personalise the divine essence. This was also problematic for me as it was really just a semi-modalistic Quaternity of sorts. At this time, I didn’t have a good distinction of nature and person. So a person simply was a rational essence. Which logically of course has problems when applied to the Trinity. I would be making myself a modalist either by 1) Saying the one essence manifested in three ways and 2) how could an impersonal essence manifest in three ways personally? That couldn’t be right either. So I was stuck in an awful predicament. It didn’t help either to simply say that the three persons were three centres of consciousness because that still meant they were united by and depended upon the impersonal essence as that which was behind them. This God in my mind was essentially a God made of parts. But I didn’t not have the theological distinctions necessary in order to have both a God without parts and a Trinity. The essence was without parts but impersonal, the persons were three and personal. And for me persons simply were rational essences. What was I to do?
Then my friend showed me time and again the inconsistencies of my position when applied to other aspects of theology. Because what we believe about the Trinity will determine how we see other aspects of it too. And my person/nature distinction here (or rather my lack of it) was the problem of both my Triadology and my soteriology. Part of the reason I could not escape the logic of Calvinism was because of these assumptions. But when I realised they couldn’t hold up, I saw that not only did I not need to hold to Calvinism, but I could not.
I came across the doctrine of the Monarchy of the Father. Where it is the Father who is the principle of unity. Not the divine essence. The Son and Spirit share one essence, yes, but only because of their hypostatic generation from the Father. So it was the Father who stood as ultimate. It was his person that was the principle of all things and by Him all three members had their unity. At first I didn’t like it because it seemed to degrade the other two members. But after realising how important the nature person distinction was and how important it was both in resolving my issue and making sense of the Trinity, I saw no other way. It also helped keep meaningful distinctions in the Trinity. I mean one apologist I heard once said that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were just roles taken by the members to act in time, but they’re all interchangeable between the three persons. Because they’re essentially just three centres of consciousness. No priority or difference between them other than their number. This felt odd to me. Very impersonal too.
I have since seen and cannot emphasise enough just how important the nature person distinction is to theology. How it affects everything. I knew once I tried being consistent with it, that my current theological framework and beliefs had to radically change. What predestination meant, what the sacraments meant, what salvation meant, what the Church meant, whether images of Christ were allowed, whether veneration and worship was different and allowed. Everything. Once I saw that Orthodoxy had good answers, which to me were more consistent, I couldn’t help but look further. Along the way I found answers to issues that long bothered me. As well as confirmation on things I had believed all along, but couldn’t make sense of in my worldview. So that was basically my ontological issue more or less resolved by Orthodoxy. Not saying I don’t have questions but it made the most sense.
Then there was the epistemic issue. Back in my apologetics days, I was really into Presuppostional apologetics. I was big into Greg Bahnsen, Cornelius Van Til and was starting to look into Clark, because I felt that the level of certainty that some Van Tillians required a Christian to have was getting too much and troubling. Anyways, I appreciated and still do the method of looking at a worldview’s assumptions and coherency. Whether it could support itself. But what some pressuppers were trying to get at was to me at first embraced but the more I thought about it difficult to make sense of. Basically the Bible itself was seen as the assumption and starting point and foundation of the worldview. Its authority had the last word. But I realised that the Bible itself didn’t list what books were to be included in it. I tried from an internal process to figure this out, but that presupposed the inspiration of the text before me in order to do that.
In other words, I can’t say that Book X says or confirms that book Y or author Z are inspired, but who was to say book X was inspired to say that in the first place? Even if I went by saying, affirming the books in the in the Old that were mentioned in the New, that leaves a few books out. Allusions doesn’t work either since pagan writers and a book Protestants don’t consider to be inspired is quoted in the NT too. And then I realised that I was really putting my trust in the inspiration of the Reformers by accepting a canon different from that of previous Christians. My canon was just as much a tradition as anything else. Even many Protestant apologists will say that the canon is a fallible collection of infallible books, which to me was no help. I realised that the canon was a matter of special revelations. Natural means like authorship, dating and consensus could not determine whether or not a text was spiritually inspired. This could only be revealed by God. But who was I to trust that God was guiding to reveal it? So too assuming the early church had failed or fallen into much error as a whole, how was I being consistent to pick and choose what beliefs of theirs I would accept and reject, no matter how universal and then claim my canon on the basis of their consensus, saying “God revealed it through the Church.” Not only so but I *didn’t* even affirm what the Church was affirming. This made Christianity subjective for me. Essentially I was my own authority on all things. Believing myself inspired by God to decide these things. I may not have thought this, but that is essentially what I was doing.
So too interpretation was ultimately subjective, appeal to the Spirit. How many times did I think the Holy Spirit guided me in interpreting the text only for me to come back and disagree with myself? Was this anyway for the Church to be? Did God set things up so that each individual was left to themselves to figure hints out? People often say that the Bible is their final authority, however the Bible is a collection of data. And like anything else has to be interpreted. So when people would say the Bible alone was their final authority, what they were really saying was that X interpretation is my final authority. Unconsciously conflating the authority their interpretation of the text with that of the source of the text itself. And since no one else on Sola Scriptura can give a binding interpretation to you, you are ultimately the authority. Which means all interpretations are revisable and theology is basically a manmade endeavour or there are inspired interpreters. Here is a past post where I go into these issues with far more detail: The Canon, Authority and Infallibility.
One biggy for me was Infant baptism. I was more and more convinced of its veracity but was fearful to take a final position on it in case I was wrong. And I realised that my belief in such would affect things like where I attend Church and possibly who I would end up with, since I was strongly covenantal in my theology and someone who isn’t may not want to raise children in such a manner. I was deciding whether to be Lutheran (but I couldn’t because of theology like imputation), Presbyterian (but couldn’t because of Calvinism and it wasn’t sacramental enough) heck I even was considering Federal Vision, but that too was Calvinistic and trying to head in the sacramental direction but holding back a bit too much it seemed. Anglicanism then was really the only option, but Sola Scriptura still was an issue. I was thinking about just staying out of any denomination, but then I’d just be a Church of one, picking and choosing what I would and wouldn’t accept. Orthodoxy though it had everything I wanted, it had lots of things I did *not* want. at the time was still too strange. But after much more investigation, its teachings began to make sense to me.
I became more and more difficult to believe that God had set up the Church such that each individual was left to decide all these things for themselves. Especially considering that vast majority of people for such a long time didn’t have access to the education, time and resources we have today. I remember listening to a panel of certain well known Pastors and one question asked was something akin too “Since we are commanded to meditate on God’s word and learn from it does that mean we should all be learning the original languages?” And the pastor holding conference said “Yes. If we really loved God with all our hearts, minds and strengths we would all be doing it.” Essentially the fact that every Christian isn’t an expert theologian is sin. That’s putting it strong, but that’s the kind of mindset and logic when every man is to be a teacher and interpreter unto himself, *ultimately*.
So I realised that really there seemed to be two options. Christianity is one massive subjective faith or God has a visible Church through which He speaks infallibly. It was a combination of all these scriptural and theological issues, as well as partaking in the life and spirituality of the Church which has formed a big massive draw that brought me to where I am today.