Review: Further Up and Further In

further up and further in

Further Up and Further InEdith M. Humphrey. Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2017.

Summary: A survey of much of Lewis’s literary corpus considering the theological themes developed in these works in interaction with Eastern Orthodox theologians.

Edith M. Humphrey is an Eastern Orthodox theologian who teaches in a Presbyterian seminary in Pittsburgh. She also has loved the work of C. S. Lewis since childhood, writing to him early in 1964, not knowing he had died not long before, asking if he would write more stories like The Chronicles of Narnia. In this work, she brings a lifelong love of Lewis and her own theological perspective to bear on a survey of much of Lewis’s literary corpus.

The work is divided into three parts. The first, titled “Mapping the Terrain.” She explores the way reading and writing, myth and reality found in story, may open our eyes to larger realities. In the Narnia accounts of creation, we consider our roles as “subcreators”, listening to Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann, We marvel at Grand Miracle of the Incarnation, as considered in Lewis’s Miracles.

Part Two is titled “Travelling in Arduous Places.” She considers Lewis’s challenges of the subjectivism of the day (and anticipatory of the advent of post-modernism) in The Abolition of Man and Pilgrim’s Regress. This forces us how then we are to think and live and the deeper journey of ascesis in Lewis’s retelling of the tale of Psyche and Orual in Till We Have Faces. This brings us to the doctrine of the atonement and Athanasius’s “great exchange.”

The final part is titled “Plumbing the Depths and Climbing the Heights.” In both Jonathan Edwards and That Hideous Strength we explore the nature of human depravity and the power of the demonic. More intriguingly, she explores the doctrines of heaven and hell, reflecting on Lewis’s The Great Divorce. She touches on the “hopeful universalism” of Eastern Orthodoxy that finds echoes in this work but also suggests biblical and theological boundaries that I found quite helpful in discussing these matters, helpful enough that I quote them at length:

  • We cannot say that God’s will may ultimately be thwarted.
  • We cannot deny that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4).
  • We cannot view the salvation accomplished by Christ as automatic in such a way that it violates human integrity or choice, or that it does not require a human response.
  • We cannot say that salvation depends upon us in a foundational sense.
  • We cannot say that human acceptance of God’s loving offer is unnecessary.
  • We cannot claim to know that someone is damned.
  • We cannot say that the effect of Christ’s righteousness on humanity is less powerful than Adam’s sin.
  • We cannot say that the doctrine of hell is only “heuristic” — that it is only a warning. (pp. 239-240)

I thought this quite a helpful summary both of what we know, and where as yet, we still see dimly. Her final chapter in this section includes a similar list of boundaries on matters of gender, reminding us both of the “reversals” that may warn us about established fixed gender roles, and yet being cautious of eliminating the distinction of male and female, given how embedded in reality maleness and femaleness are. Her caution is one against the unthinking embrace of one side or the other in the culture wars around gender.

Edith M. Humphrey offers a feast for any lover of Lewis or the Inklings. We listen to a fellow lover as she shares what she has seen and loved in Lewis. We listen to a careful biblical and theological scholar who brings us into conversation with Orthodox theologians. We consider the nature of our world, our role as sub-creators, how both contemporary thought and our fallen natures color our thought and lives, and the grand purposes revealed in the Grand Miracle, the Great Exchange, and our future hope. The title is fitting. The whole book invites us to join Lewis in pressing, “further up and further in.”

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Is Evangelicalism Dying?

Duisburg, Veranstaltung mit Billy Graham

Billy Graham in Duisburg, Germany, 1954.  Bundesarchiv, Bild 194-0798-29/Lachmann, Hans/CC-BY_SA 3.0

Recently apologist Hank Hanegraff converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, joining the exodus of prominent evangelicals to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Ed Stetzer, in a column in Christianity Today, noted the attraction for many thoughtful evangelicals of the liturgy and sense of authority and unchanging belief when belief seems to be a “choose your own adventure” story for evangelicals and many Protestant churches are trimming their belief sails to the winds of culture.

A friend of mine, who has recently converted to Catholicism described the evangelical church as “fading away” and that it will probably not exist in 50 years. His judgment was that were this to occur, the movement won’t be missed. I’ve been thinking about his remark all week. You see, both in terms of the organization I work with, and the church where I worship, evangelicals are the “people” within the larger Christian family with which I am identified. And truth be told, I am unashamed of the core distinctives David Bebbington and others have said mark this movement within the larger Christian family: a focus on the work of Christ, the authority of the Bible in our lives, the need for conversion, and a commitment to live out our beliefs in action. I should also say at the outset that I both deeply respect and learn from believers from these other parts of the Christian family, as I hope they might from our part of the family as well.

If there is anything that is dying, it is white, boomer evangelicalism. The evangelical movement globally is rapidly growing, particularly the Pentecostal segments of it. In the U.S., ethnic minority churches are rapidly growing and they share the theological convictions, if not the ethno-cultural trappings of boomer evangelicals. There has been a great deal of commentary about white evangelicals since the presidential election. What I think it all really comes down to is that large swaths of the white evangelical church have exchanged gospel power for political clout and have associated themselves with partisan politics rather that the impartiality of the gospel. We’ve forgotten our own conversions and what it was like to be lost…and found, and we’ve become indifferent to others or even judgmental. The Bible is often simply the launching board to justify whatever we want for ourselves or want others to do. Crosses are just part of the “Jesus junk” we adorn ourselves with and we think little of this as the place where God’s love and justice meet. Activism is going to political rallies and posting yard signs.

I know this is sweeping and there are many exceptions. I had a chance to visit with some of them on Thursday. They are bright, talented graduate students. They were simply talking about the Christian community of which they are part. It is diverse in majors and the ethnic background of people and they love that and want it to be even more true. They love to read and think deeply about the Bible and not beat others over the head with it but rather do what it teaches. They love conversations with those who differ from them–that is the nature of grad school. They love Jesus and each other. They care about the poor in their midst. Several worship in a church in a rough area of town that is a “food desert” and they are dedicated to serving the people there. They encourage me to hope and pray for better evangelical days ahead. And their example makes me want to do all I can both to encourage them and call the evangelicals of my generation to repent and to recover.

  • To repent of our political captivity and to recover our prophetic calling.
  • To repent of our forgetfulness of our lostness and the wonder of being found by Christ and to recover our sensitivity to the least, the last and the lost.
  • To repent of our “solo scriptura” approach to the Bible where each of us are our own pope and we read into the Bible what we want. Will we test our reading against the creeds, the confessions, and how our brothers and sisters from other classes and cultures read the same text?
  • To repent of sin management and censoriousness of others and recover the sense that we are all equally in need of the work of Christ at a cross that brings down the privileged and raises the powerless.
  • To repent of our culture wars and to recover a sense of culture care that seeks to preserve and strengthen what is good, and to bring healing to what is broken.

I mentioned earlier how I learn so much from Eastern Orthodox and Catholic believers and the rich resources of this part of the family. At the same time, I would entertain the humble hope that there are riches within the evangelical part of the family line, and that it would indeed be a tragedy for this to die out. As sad as the break of the Reformation was, it led to reform in all parts of the church. The evangelicals who came from this fomented a missionary enterprise, that despite its imperfections, brought the light of Christ to many people, who in some cases are now re-evangelizing the West. Even as evangelicals have played a key role in the modern day fight against human trafficking, so also they led the fight against slavery. In the world of the university where I work, I’ve seen a generation of Christian researchers arise coupling academic rigor and Christian thought in fields as diverse as philosophy, education, and technology.

I do think there are things in evangelicalism as it has developed over the past 40 years that deserve to be laid to rest. But I would also suggest that to talk about a branch of the family dying is a regrettably sad, and even cruel thing. I wonder if a better conversation might be one where we seek to learn from the best of each part of the family. Will we heal the rifts of the Great Schism, or the Reformation? I doubt it. But we might begin to draw closer as we pray and wait for the Great Return when all wounds and rifts will be healed, and a single, pure and spotless Bride will greet her Lover. Come, Lord Jesus!

 

Review: Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology

Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology
Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology by Andrew Louth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eastern Orthodoxy is largely unknown territory to me. Icons, mosaics, standing worship, the liturgy and prayers are not part of my experience. Andrew Louth gives us a clear and beautifully written description of this world rooted in the theological beliefs that give shape to Orthodox practice, which itself shapes Orthodox belief. In Orthodoxy, one believes what one prays.

Louth starts with the sources that inform Orthodox theology which include scripture, the Fathers, the Councils, and the liturgy. This last was illuminating to me in understanding that Orthodoxy is not simply rooted in the Seven Ecumenical councils but also in the Fathers and in the liturgical practice of the church.

Louth then walks us through a “systematic” overview of Orthodox theology, beginning with the doctrine of God, the creation, Christ, sin, death, and repentance, being human, sacraments and icons, time and liturgy and eschatology. His chapter on the Trinity was for me worth the price of admission as an example of both careful and reflective thought about the God to whom we pray. Under the category of creation, his exploration of the idea of sophiology, that creation came about through God’s work via Wisdom, a contested idea, was intriguing in terms of asking the question of what would be the nature of such a creation.

His treatment of Christology helps us understand how the Church as a whole came to understand what it means to affirm Christ as both fully God and fully human. Under sin, death, and repentance, the notion of ancestral, as opposed to original sin stood out as of interest–that instead of being responsible for Adam’s sin and sharing in it, we’ve inherited a sinful nature from the first couple. Regarding being human, he explores the notion of Sobornost, the community shaped around common, Conciliar belief and the notion of theosis, or the divinization that is our destiny, not that we become gods but that we are drawn into the being of God, fully reflecting God’s image.

The next two chapters explore some of the most distinctive aspects of Orthodoxy in its emphasis on the physical via sacrament and icon, and in the liturgy. Under this latter, the focus on how infinite space and timelessness are brought into the time and space practice of the liturgy helped me grasp the sense of mystery and wonder that accompanies Orthodox worship. Then his last chapter explores the last things. Most distinctive here were the discussion of how the eucharist brings the future into the present and his concluding discussion of damnation and the possibility discussed by Orthodox theologians like Timothy Kallistos Ware (as well as Rob Bell!) that the greatness of God’s love at least allows the possibility of a final universal salvation of all rational beings.

Reading this gave me a glimpse into the Orthodox world and an appreciation for the deep embrace of Orthodoxy of its adherents. I was reminded how much we share in common because of the shared affirmations of the Seven Councils. I was impressed that Orthodoxy has much to contribute to contemporary discussions of Trinitarian theology and the nature of God. The physicality of Orthodox practice challenges the latent gnosticism of much of Western Christianity. I was also aware of the places where we part ways including the concluding points of the book about universal salvation (which would not be embraced by all Orthodox).

What was most significant for me was simply to listen to this voice from within Eastern Orthodoxy that helped me understand the ethos and pathos of Orthodoxy as well as the logos of its doctrine. Louth, as well as theologians like Timothy Kallistos Ware have performed an important work in promoting understanding that might begin to heal this longest-standing divide in Christendom.

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