June 15, 2008 Q & A

Eastern Orthodoxy


Can you explain to me Eastern Orthodox Church's Theology? Do they still represent true Christianity?


As I am sure you can appreciate, this is a huge question. Let me recommend a recent book from a Reformed writer on the subject. Orthodox Presbyterian minister and professor Robert Letham has written a fine book entitled Through Western Eyes - Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective (ISBN-10: 1845502477; ISBN-13: 9781845502478). This book is published by Christian Focus, an English publisher (Dr. Letham is currently teaching in Wales).

The Eastern Orthodox Church is often referred to as the Church of the Seven Councils because it has not materially advanced theologically beyond those councils. Whereas the Western church developed from Augustine's insights on grace and justification (albeit differently among its various branches), with a forensic or legal bent, the Eastern church tended to develop in terms of a more mystical approach, not emphasizing justification but theosis (or deification). The Eastern Orthodox church tends to regard the Western Church, in both its Roman and Protestant branches, as too rationalistic because of its particular theological development (think Anselm on the atonement or Westminster on the covenant) as opposed to the apophatic approach of the East, in which theology is done largely by via negative, God being defined by what he is not, being best known mystically. If all this seems a bit chewy to you, that's all the more reason to consult Letham's book or a good article on Eastern Orthodoxy.

In terms, then, of Eastern Orthodoxy representing true Christianity, it is Trinitarian, affirming the first two councils. It properly affirms the Incarnation, as do the 3rd and 4th councils. But the Eastern Orthodox Church does not have our doctrines of depravity, atonement, justification, etc. I am sure that you have many more questions but I trust that this is of some value to you.