Mr Turk makes an interesting point in the conversation about ecumenical conversations, although I’m not entirely sure it’s the point he wants to make. A week or so ago he offered that those of other denominations, specifically the Roman and Easter churches were right with God only if they (accidentally) held to a Evangelical belief/approach to the Gospel. I think this point of view is held far more often by most people in every church/denomination. That is to say that any Christian church X thinks that members of church Y are in the soteriological pink inasmuch as those members in church Y (accidentally) hold to beliefs that are held in church X. That is, Mr Turk as an Evangelical thinks that the Catholic and Orthodox are saved if they hold an Evangelical understanding of the Gospel and those in the Roman hold that the Evangelical and Eastern are likewise correct when and where they (accidentally) hold to the Roman understanding of Gospel. And so on. Now I had been under the impression that I was “above the fray” in this regard. But on reflection, I am not.

An example of this is Mr Turk’s latest series of Nativity posts. He’s penned several essays as Church (small “c”) catholic nears the celebration of an anniversary celebration of the Nativity on the wrath of God. Just a few years ago, in the seventh century, a man named John became a hero of the Eastern (and Western) churches, heroes of the Church are called Saints. St. John Scholasticus (or St. John Climacus) wrote a book, John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent. This book lists practices that one might undertake in order to strive to become a better Christian. Oddly enough step 6, entitled “on remembrance of death” notes much of the things which Mr Turk emphasizes in his talk of the wrath of God and how being aware of how far we fall from a reasonable (or worse God’s) expectation for behaviour is a first step in Christian awareness. This feature too is not unrelated. The point here is that Mr Turk’s posts on the wrath of God seem words well said by such as myself is because they are in step with the the teachings internalized within my own tradition.

But this misses the larger point. Is this the right way to evaluate another tradition or individual? To suggest it is only “valid” in the overlap with what you see as right within your own. I would suggest that this is not the correct method, that in general externally evaluating whether a tradition or denomination is small “o” orthodox from outside is a process which is fraught with danger, specifically being misinterpretation or assigning incorrectly the importance and meaning of particular elements which you find in or out of synch with your own.

In the first centuries, the church found itself with a rich array of religious writing. Gnosticism was a heresy produced a great deal of writing. The popular conception is that the early church repressed gnostic writings. While they early church wrote much against these heresies ... the repression charge is somewhat hard to sustain given that the extant surviving gnostic literature is found in monastic libraries. The Early church theologians and monastics did not discard these writings because while much in them was heretical and wrong ... you could find in them valuable alternative ways of writing about or thinking about the Gospel and God. To put it crudely, they panned and filtered these for the gold they contained discarding the dross. This might be a better analogy when approaching another tradition. Let, “Look for the gold” be your motto.

Articles by Mark Olson

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