‘Doctrine: Believing in Orthodox Churches’ by John Binns

I’ve just handed in a ‘Reading Reports’ assignment where I had to summarise and respond to various set texts in order to grasp something of the global trends in theology in the twentieth century.  It may be a bit clunky, but I’ve cut and paste the assignment here to give you a paragraph on some key theologians from the past 100 years.   Several of the chapters set in these reviews are from the fat brick of a book that is the subject’s text: David Ford’s The Modern Theologians.  Final post in this series of assignment reading.

Binns, John, ‘Doctrine: Believing in the Orthodox Churches.’ In An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches. (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 2002) pp. 61-96

The Binns article draws back a little to map the development of Orthodox Theology across the centuries. In so doing he demonstrates the unique way in which Orthodoxy prioritorises Tradition – the practice, worship, wisdom and fellowship of the Church in corporate discernment of Truth. “It is almost true to say that the Holy Spirit, the Christian Church, and the Tradition are phrases which refer to the same reality and, in practice, mean the same” (p.61). In the nineteenth century this is expressed by Khomiakov in the Russian term Sobornost, and, as illustrated above, sums up the impenetratable connection between theology and the Tradition. “True authority lies in the whole body of the Church bound together in love, rather than in the hiercharcy of the bishops or the teaching of the Scripture” (p.67). Hence, the ecumenical councils of the church become a model for doing theology, the guidance of the saints, particularly the Church Fathers, indispensible and the maintenance of historical continuity in the liturgy essential. Over the years of the Ottomon Empire leadership of the Orthodox Theological Tradition gradually moved to Russia. In the twentieth century both Soviet Socialism and Russian Orthodox Theology have been profoundly influencial on world religion (p.86). “If Marxism had its roots in Christianity, then much modern Orthodox theology has its historical roots in Marxism” (p.87). Theologians exiled in the West have provided a unique opportunity for a new ecumenism engaging with innovations of twentieth century Continental philosophy, particularly so in the city of Paris. Binns summarizes the contemporary Orthodox focus as the presentation of the Church Fathers in order to interpret their present context (p.92) which again betrays the centrality of Tradition in Orthodox theology and the integration of theology and church practice, especially liturgy and prayer.  

More dancing around the library!  Let’s distinguish between big T Tradition and little t tradition – the former is that category of theological authority that has something to do with the Church’s interpretation of truth across the centuries.  Little t tradition are the little groups and discourses of church practices and beliefs that are somehow distinctive – i.e. the protestant tradition, the pentecostal tradition, the Orthodox tradition.

Orthodox theology assumes that big T Tradition is indispensable to right interpretation of truth.  That’s because the Holy Spirit is the teacher of all truth and the Holy Spirit resides in the Church, therefore, where the universal Church agrees on an interpretation of Scripture – it must be true!  Love it!!!

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