One of the perhaps most pressing theological questions of our time and place is answered beautifully in this post from Jim John Marks:
The question is not “why can’t God love me the way I am”, the question is “why can’t I love God the way I am”.
And it is the pursuit of the answer to that question which opens the door to a discussion about why our behavior, and our doctrine, matters. It ends the false conversation around whether or not specific behavior or doctrine is necessary to be “good enough” and so undercuts the contemporary appeals to relativism. The conversation then becomes about what the specifics of a relationship to God look like and why.
The whole post is so good that I really wish I’d written it. So go read it.
Hi Fr Andrew,
Great article, and interesting. I think it highlights the (false) perception of God that so many in America have — that God loves some and doesn’t love others. In some ways it seems that this is a direct result of our Protestant/Calvinist heritage, which (if I’m not mistaken) directly taught (incorrectly) that God loves some and doesn’t love others.
I recently read a fantastic interview on the small but attempting-to-grow Orthodox church in Wales, where the hieromonk discusses how difficult it is to evangelize in a culture that has deep-rooted misconceptions about God, most of which come from false Calvinist teachings (I hope the link comes through). Many in that culture want nothing to do with church, possibly in part because they don’t believe in the Calvinist God who loves some and doesn’t love others, and they mistakenly think that this is the God of Christianity.
This issue makes me think that much of evangelization in the West has to do with teaching how to “un-learn” false notions and conceptions of God that those of us in the West may believe, for whatever reason. Even Orthodox Christians in the West may believe false things about God simply because they permeate the culture in which we live (i.e., I sin, and then “God must hate me”). It is so true that doctrine matters and it must be taught and stressed.
How can our Orthodox Churches be more effective at teaching doctrine and using it for evangelization?
Well, at the risk of being immodest, my Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy podcast, book and weblog are one attempt to answer your last question. Let’s face it, though—there isn’t much outright teaching of doctrine going on at all. Doing comparison/contrast is one way to get people into it, though, and my experience has been that people are actually quite interested in that.
Hi Father Andrew,
Yes I’m aware of your O&H podcasts — they were fantastic, and when I first heard about them a couple years ago, I downloaded them and listened to all of them over a few weeks when at the gym (which, in my experience, is a great time to catch up on good Orthodox podcasts). I learned a ton from them.
But you’re one of the few Orthodox priests who I’ve ever heard publicly compare and contrast Orthodoxy and the non-Orthodox faiths, in my more than 30 years. This type of thing just isn’t being preached in our churches (or if it is, I haven’t heard it). But in our day and age, it is so essential that Orthodox know not only what we believe, but also how we differ from the thousands of other faiths out there.
I’m not sure why the hesitancy to publicly compare and contrast Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism or to Calvinism or to Islam — I’d think that this sort of thing could be incorporated periodically into Sunday sermons, for example. Or is it being done, and I’m just not aware of it? I think it helps make for effective evangelization, especially for the seeker. It is also essential teaching for those of us who are Orthodox Christian.
I haven’t yet bought the O&H book but hope to at some point.
I’m not sure why the hesitancy to publicly compare and contrast Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism or to Calvinism or to Islam — I’d think that this sort of thing could be incorporated periodically into Sunday sermons, for example. Or is it being done, and I’m just not aware of it?
Honestly, I hardly ever hear anyone’s sermons but my own. Professional hazard, I guess. 🙂
Excellent post/link! Thank you, Father.
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