Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review of Book "West of Jesus"

           That the book West of Jesus (published 2006) is an exercise in combative polemics may be seen clearly in its subtitle: The Bible's Answer to the Protestant Departure from Orthodox Belief. In this it is typical of many of the volumes published by Regina Orthodox Press and associated with the combative figure of Frank Schaeffer (who pens an endorsement for the book's back cover). The author names himself simply as "Anthony", though a blurb on the same back cover reveals that he was a former Episcopalian and Evangelical convert to Orthodoxy who was rebaptized in an Athonite monastery in Arizona. It is a slim volume of 118 pages--one which offers a very small battlefield on which to fight such a large battle.
          It attempts, for example, to deal with Church History in chapter one in a mere nine pages, and includes subsequent chapters dealing with "Holy Tradition", "Sola Scriptura", "The Holy Sacraments" (he enumerates seven), "Eternal Security", "Other Divergences" (which include the proper Old Testament canon, the preference for the Masoretic text, Evangelical eschatology, the Holy Virgin Mary, and Prayer with Saints, all within 23 pages), "Disregard of Liturgy", and "Obedience to Holy Tradition". Given that each of these topics really require a separate book to even begin to do justice to the complexities of the matter at hand (to say nothing of the complexities of four hundred years of Protestant variation), one sees that the author has set himself a formidable task.
          He does not begin well. On page 5 he cites a number of Christological heresies, such as those of Nestorius, Eutyches, and Arius and includes among them "Origen's contentions that God had human physical features". Origen, unfortunately for our author, was one of the first to take pains to show that God in fact did not have human physical features, and in the contentions later swirling around this controversy Origen remained famous for his assertion that God was incorporeal. Such a basic blunder does not speak well for the author's credibility or his credentials.
          Howlers like these aside, the book's basic flaw is that the author tries to beat the Protestants at their own game by multiplying Biblical proof-texts, when Orthodoxy's main quarrel with Evangelical Protestantism is that this theological method is too poor to do justice to the Biblical material and is itself invalid. In his haste to smite Protestant departures the author oversimplifies both the Protestant theology he attacks as well as an authentic Orthodox response.
          Take for example his attack on "Eternal Security" (known in the Reformed tradition also as "the perseverance of the saints"). He writes, "Say I accepted Christ Jesus my Saviour on January 1, 2006 at 2.47 PM. The concept of eternal security contends that this would have triggered permanent, instant, almost magical 'salvation.' When following this premise to its conclusion one must allow for scenarios such as a subsequent renunciation of Jesus Christ say a year later going on to commit multiple sins (e.g. robbery, murder, rape) until and then dying and going to heaven". It is unlikely that any Evangelical or Reformed theologian would recognize this doctrine as his own doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. He would be more likely to contend that if a person so spectacularly renounced Christ so as to commit robbery, murder, and rape that the person was never saved to begin with. Creating such a parody of Evangelical teaching is unlikely to convince many Evangelicals that the author has any understanding of their theology in the first place. Straw men may be fun to knock down, but the exercise makes for poor apologetics.
          Or take the example of the author's handling of the Old Testament canon. Oversimplifications follow one after another. The author writes, "the Scripture used by our Savior and His followers was the Septuagint Old Testament". While the apostles used the Septuagint when branching out into the diaspora (though even here not rigorously), our Savior did not use the Septuagint. As a Palestinian Jew He would have used the Hebrew text available in the synagogue, "targumed" or paraphrased afterward into His native Aramaic. The author also seems to conflate the Church's use of the Septuagint with its acceptance of the longer canon of the Old Testament, and he talks about "the long canon of Scripture...that Jesus used". In fact it is highly doubtful that the Old Testament canon was completely closed in the first century, and so any talk about "the canon which Jesus used" is anachronistic. (See L.M. McDonald's The Biblical Canon for details.)

           The author is to be congratulated for wanting to deal with Protestant objections to Orthodox teaching. But patience is required for such work, and the first order of business is not refutation, but understanding. There is little evidence that the author, for all his good intentions, understands the many variations of Protestant thought. An informed and scholarly Protestant would have little to fear from this Orthodox broadside. I can only hope that this one does not fall into his Protestant hands. The case for Orthodoxy is actually much stronger than Anthony's book would suggest.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: The Scent of Holiness

Constantina R. Palmer is a Canadian young woman who converted to orthodoxy as an adult and who travelled with her husband to study at Aristotle University at Thessaloniki, she to study iconology and he, theology.  In addition to ‘book-learning’ they “sought the guidance, friendship and instruction of nuns” and visiting priests, and spent  many hours not only as visitors to the monasteries but as fellow workers. 

Her book, The Scent of Holiness is sub-titled “lessons from a women’s monastery" Just as a rosary is made up of 33 knots, so too is her book composed of 33 chapters, which she has renamed ‘knots’.  One of my favourite stories is of a Sister Agathi who told Constantina that tears did not come naturally to her when reflecting on [her] sins”. She felt badly enough to confess this and was comforted when the priest told her “that for a person who does not cry easily and struggles to shed tears over his or her sins, it is enough for that person to merely sigh. One deep, heartfelt sigh from a person with this kind of character can equal a lifetime of tears by someone else with a different character.” Constantina is a delightful story-teller and the book is both an encouragement and an inspiration to those of us who can’t get away anytime soon to visit a monastery but who would love to know what it is like. 

You can buy the book from our bookshop for $20 or take it out from the library for free.

-- review by Wendy McGee, librarian, Three Hierarchs Library 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NEW BOOKS....but please be patient!

While at the AAC in Seattle, I was able to get a number of new books for the bookstore and library. We had a  limited budget, so I thought I had best spend the largest amount on Orthodox books for Children, which are hard to come by through other channels, and are much needed for our growing tribe of youngsters. There are also a few other books for adults.

These are in a box in the library at the moment, but we have to get them catalogued and labeled, and that will be up to Maria and Wendy, who are as busy as everyone else. So please feel free to have a look at what we have there. If you are really dying to read a particular book, let us know and it will be the first to get processed!

You will also find a few items like small card icons and pins in the bookstore which you are welcome to for any size donation-- if Maria isn't around, just put the money in the candle tin.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fr. Richard's essay book

UPDATE: YES we now have a couple of these books available in the bookstore!

I -think- we are going to be getting some of these in for the bookstore & library, but I lost track of the details...Mat.D. 

A Collection of Articles Now Available for Purchase Online!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ravens of Farne

My author's copies have arrived, so naturally the parish library gets a freebie!

The bookstore will have to wait a little longer-- the official release is not till next month and it isn't yet posted on the Conciliar site and Amazon.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Review of The Jesus Prayer by Frederica Mathewes-Green

We recently acquired this book.

Bev Cooke has a review of it on her blog:

"Without actually coming out and saying so, Frederica makes the point that you can’t say the prayer without understanding something about the Orthodox faith..."

rest of review here.