I have written before about the role a monograph by Father John Whiteford (then a Deacon, not a Priest) had in my becoming Orthodox. Now, he has published the story of how he moved from Nazarene to Orthodox, which was a route different than I took and different that I would have surmised from his monograph.
One of his milestones was deep academic encounter with Protestant theologian Thomas Oden, who “wanted the epitaph on his tombstone to say: ‘He added nothing new to theology.'”
If you find that jarring and inexplicable as an academic aspiration, you’re very much part of the mainstream. But consider:
There was one chapter of “The Word of Life” (chapter 7, which dealt with the question of the “Quest for the Historical Jesus”) that was such a thorough critique of Protestant liberalism that I put Batman comic sound effects in the margin: “Boom!”, “Pow!”, “Smack!”, etc.
The third volume of his “Systematic Theology” was not published until 1992 …
In the second paragraph of his preface, he wrote:
• To resist the temptation to quote modern writers less schooled in the whole counsel of God than the best ancient classic exegetes
• To seek quite simply to express the one mind of the believing church that has been ever attentive to the apostolic teaching to which consent has been given by Christian believers everywhere, always, and by all – this what I mean by the Vincentian method (Vincent of Lerins, comm., LCC [Library of Christian Classics] VII, pp. 37-39,65-74; for an accounting of this method see LG [The Living God (volume 1 of his systematic theology)], pp. 322-25,341-51)I am dedicated to unoriginality. I am pledged to irrelevance if relevance means indebtedness to corrupt modernity. What is deemed relevant in theology is likely to be moldy in a few days. I take to heart Paul’s admonition: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we [from the earliest apostolic kerygma] had already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted [par o parelabete, other than what you received from the apostles], let him be eternally condemned [anathema esto]!” (Gal. 1:8, 9, NIV, italics added) (Life in the Spirit, Systematic Theology Volume Three, (New York: Harper & Row, 1992) p vii).
I mention this because, however alien it may be to the academic spirit, which has infused our schools of theology with the same “you must come up with something novel to earn a doctorate,” the urge to innovate is an open invitation to invention of new heresies (if any there be). It is contrary to the Orthodox commitment to preserve and transmit the faith once delivered to the saints, and I pray that our seminaries will never become so respectable academically that they invite innovation rather than deep insight into the tradition that’s already there.
I still (as here, here, here, here, here, here and here) positively revel in the backhanded compliment that Orthodoxy is “stagnant.” Nothing is so turgid and worthless as innnovation. Nothing so surely marks one as a lightweight as a desire for spiritual novelty. All that is not eternal is eternally irrelevant.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)