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Eastern Orthodoxy through Western Eyes Paperback – October 31, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Eastern Orthodox Christians in the United States number more than three million, a membership higher than that of some mainline Protestant denominations. Yet the doctrine and practice of the world's second-largest group of Christians has lacked American interpreters with a popular touch. Readers who like their Orthodoxy with a strong Reformed Protestant flavor will enjoy this careful West-meets-East primer. An Erskine University professor, Fairbairn has the advantage of having spent significant time in the former Soviet Union. He sensitively fleshes out Orthodox doctrine in counterpoint with traditional Reformed Protestant theology. While using the expatriate Russian Orthodox writers of the 20th century as his main resources, he is comfortable traveling more than a millennium backwards in time to probe the roots of Orthodox theology. Although he expends considerable effort parsing the role of icons, Church tradition, and the meaning of theosis (human transformation into the divine likeness), Fairbairn argues it is most crucial to grasp the nuances of the place of Scripture in the Eastern churches. "It is the unfinished task of Christians and of the entire Church to develop the mind of Christ, to move closer to a fully biblical expression of faith and practice," he states. Although Fairbairn is critical of what he terms the distortions of popular and nationalistic Orthodoxy, he sympathetically and carefully aims to present Eastern church history and doctrine in such a way that his Western Protestant and Roman Catholic readers can better understand their own faith.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Donald Fairbairn is Professor of Historical Theology and Associate Dean of Theology at Erskine Theological Seminary in Due West, South Carolina.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press; 1 edition (October 31, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0664224970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0664224974
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #924,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Like the reviewer below, I found Prof. Fairbairn's dialogical approach to be both sympathetic and enlightening. He may miss a minor point or two (e.g., Mt. Athos is the site of 20 monasteries, not a single monastery), but the heart of the matter--the heart of Orthodoxy--is well expressed. Unlike the reviewer below, the idea of juxtaposing "the Orthodox" with "Christians" strikes me as painfully ignorant; fortunately, such a division does not figure in Prof. Fairbairn's important book.
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Format: Paperback
As has been alluded to already by other reviewers, the author does give the impression of "how can we help these poor lost souls?" when referring to the people of Orthodox persuasion. But he does state up front that it is not his personal conviction so it is expected. I sometimes wonder why Christians seem to spend a disproportionate amount of their time attempting to convert each other rather than focussing on winning new converts but, of course, the assumption is that the other guy cannot possibly be a "real" christian. I happen to share the author's reformed protestant background but I am, with the help of this book among others and the help of some fine Orthodox friends, beginning to understand their position and their strengths.

Despite that underlying presupposition, I found the book quite helpful in understanding and admiring the Orthodox position. I like how the author identified some key paradigms in thinking that differ between east and west and then building on those to identify the effects of those differences. More often than not, the differences are in matters of emphasis - for instance, is truth an abstract concept found by the individual or is it the person of Jesus and his work in the community of his people? Mr. Fairbairn has done a great service in identifying and expounding on these key differences that have developed over the centuries since Constantine. I think this book is helpful for anyone of either persuasion to find understanding and challenge in their own Christian life as well.
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Format: Paperback
In Eastern Orthodoxy through Western Eyes, Donald Fairbairn gives us a relatively easy to understand look at Orthodoxy, both at its best, and also when it is distorted in certain, common ways. His outsiders view is certainly useful to those who are interested in things Orthodox.

Overall, I liked Fairbairn's book. It was informative, and was willing to do some very fair comparative work between Eastern and Western approaches (while admitting the entire time that such is, in fact, an over simplification to a great degree). However, I fear that his intended audience and the level of theological understanding required to read the book may be somewhat at odds. The book appears (though in all fairness does not claim) to be a lay person's introduction to Orthodox theology. This, however, is not the case at all. One must already be somewhat informed about Western theology's terminology and approach for this book to make much sense, as Fairbairn does not shy away from using theological jargon rather freely throughout. So, if you are not already familiar with theological vocabulary, this is probably a book left set aside for now. That said, if you are familiar with theological terminology, then this is a great book for understanding, from a fair comparative standpoint, the major differences between Eastern and Western theological thought and spirituality.

In short, if you're looking for a good (though largely academic) comparison between Eastern and Western theology and an evaluation of what each can learn from the other, then this is a good choice. If you're looking for an exposition of Eastern Orthodoxy that a Western, theologically-uninformed layman can understand, you should look elsewhere.
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Format: Paperback
This book was excellent, but it was tough to get through. It's not the author, just the subject matter. Two-thirds of the book are descriptions and examinations of what the Orthodox church believes from an academic, theological standpoint. However, the third part of the book really brought it all home in talking about what Orthodoxy looks like in popular culture today (which was what most interested me), and ended with a great discussion on what we're supposed to do with all this information.

It was good, but it isn't light reading. This book is for those who really want to a good introduction to Orthodoxy, but comes with an enlightening and challenging ending for what we do once we've learned that information.
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Format: Paperback
Don Fairbairn's book goes very deep into some issues that are rather esoteric and sometimes boring, but of course the detail is sometimes (depending on your interest) very helpful. All in all his book is not a comparative theological treatise as much as it is a book that tries to explain the depths of Eastern Orthodox theology. As such it represents more the views of a few Orthodox theologians and does not address the thinking of the common Orthodox believer. It does not address major conflicts from a protestant perspective, only offering understanding of the Orthodox perspective. It is more suited to theologians than the average reader.
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