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Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective Paperback – September 20, 2010
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"Just finishing Bob Letham's brilliant and accessible Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy -- a Reformed Perspective. Typical of Bob's style -- awesome learning, accessible writing, and a fine critical exposition of the history and theology of Orthodoxy, which is careful and honorable throughout. It gave me much food for thought, especially on the matter of icons (I'd never thought of the photographs of the great Hugh Miller and R S Candlish in my office as icons before....).The book is a great read, and Bob's way of using Orthodoxy as a means of sharpening the reader's own understanding of the Reformed tradition is a piece of classic pedagogy". (Carl R. Trueman ~ Paul Woolley Professor of Historical Theology and Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
"Nevertheless, conversations will continue and Dr Letham's book is probably the best one there is from a reformed perspective. It should be in the library of every pastor and theologian and consulted whenever questions relating to the eastern church and our links with its tradition arise." (Gerald Bray ~ Research Professor, Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama)
Several years ago on one of my visits, to Eastern Europe countries, I was asked by local students to explain the difference between their local Orthodox Church and my own Baptist church. It would have been useful to read this book before then, even if my answer was basically correct...This book will be useful to those living and working (perhaps as missionaries) in countries where these churches are active. It will give a balanced insight into their beliefs - and challenge our thinking too! (J. H. John Peet, Grace Magazine)
"The publication of Robert Letham's magnificient piece of work is deeply significant..It is essential reading for Chrsitian Ministers, theological students, schoolteacher/lecturers, and Christians who needs to informed." (Rt Revd Dr J Barry Shucksmith Royal Navy (Rtd))
"Just finishing Bob Letham's brilliant and accessible Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy -- a Reformed Perspective. Typical of Bob's style -- awesome learning, accessible writing, and a fine critical exposition of the history and theology of Orthodoxy, which is careful and honorable throughout. It gave me much food for thought, especially on the matter of icons (I'd never thought of the photographs of the great Hugh Miller and R S Candlish in my office as icons before....).The book is a great read, and Bob's way of using Orthodoxy as a means of sharpening the reader's own understanding of the Reformed tradition is a piece of classic pedagogy". ~ Carl R. Trueman (Paul Woolley Professor of Historical Theology and Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
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Top Customer Reviews
The second part of the book, on the theology of the OC, is the main part of the book. Letham's irenic style is very inviting. He covers those areas most dear to each tradition (Icons, Scripture/Tradition, Trinity, Justification) and gives a fair treatment. One interesting example is when he compared icons to a picture of Martyn Lloyd-Jones which was hung in a visible place in a home he had visited. Such examples help to give those horrified with the thought of honoring icons a contemporary perspective.
Part three, Comparative Evaluation, was also well done. He shows that there is important overlap of belief and call attention to areas of mutual misunderstanding. Additionally, Letham doesn't mince words when it comes to areas of crucial disagreement.
Overall well written and advisable for those looking for an intro to the Orthodox Church or comparing the OC with the reformed perspective.
I was in no way disappointed. If anything I got more than I bargained for. The book is replete with in-depth information on church history (east and west), the ecumenical councils, and especially EO teaching. The critiques Letham makes of EO are careful, thoughtful, and charitable. The critiques he makes of his own tradition's ignorance of EO is far more scathing.
After reading this book, I find myself feeling much more informed, disagreeing with Letham on a few things, and overall feeling equipped and energized to pursue the issue further. The extensive citations and references alone are worth the cost of the book (because they have suggested for me what to read next).
I recommend this book to any Reformed Christian, especially those curious about Eastern Orthodoxy (yes, you read that right, ANY Reformed Christian; a little church history is helpful to anyone).
Letham's point is that Protestants have more in common with the East than they realize. Both are committed to Scripture, the Supernatural, Christ, etc. While that is true, one must also keep in mind Jaroslav Pelikan's essay in *The Legacy of St Vladimir* where Pelikan argues for key differences between EOx and Protestantism. Liberalism and the Enlightenment, so often the bane of Protestants, never touched the East. And like Protestants, the East has serious issues with Roman Catholicism. Below are the highlights of Letham's book:
Letham surveys the early church until this century. He gives particular attention to Church councils and Patristic fathers. If you have read his book on the Holy Trinity, you can skip this part since he (admittedly) borrows chapters. The excellent part of this was the church's heroic stands against Islam and communism.
This is the sticky part of the book. Letham gives a fair analysis of icons. He notes that many people who oppose icons employ blatant Christological heresies to do so. But on the other hand, he points out how Scripture never warrants praying to departed saints and icons. He admits there is no way to solve the conundrum at the moment. This is the most intereting part of the book becase we see how opposed to manicheanism, dualism, and gnosticism the East is. If we learn nothing else, we must appreciate these points.
He notes that even when the East employs a synergistic view of salvation, they never deny (at least logically) justification by faith alone. He is very appreciative of how the East saturates an entire service with Scripture. Also, I've never been impressed with Letham's critique of Essence/energies. I know Letham knows the issues involved--I know he has read the current works; I just don't think he is understanding exactly what Palamas is saying.
I must retract some of my praise. In the final chapter where he is demarcating the differences between the Reformed and the Orthodox, Letham makes several revealing statements. He acknowledges that Calvinism's commitment to monergism seems to entail mono-energism, which is a form of the monothelite heresy. Letham shows himself very aware of the deep Christological issues. However, he says that it doesn't entail mono-energism/monotheletism because Calvinism believes man does have a will and that God simply woos it (or overrides it). Unfortunately, though, this is not different from what the monothelites actually believed. As the leading scholar on monotheletism makes clear (Demetrios Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ), monotheletism acknowledges a human will, but qualifies it by saying it is overridden by the divine will.
Further, Letham's criticism of Palamas depends on Rowan Williams' essay on Palamas. (This is how Letham gets himself out of the difficulty of denying, for all practical purposes, the Filioque yet not having to commit to Orthodox theology). Letham should have consulted David Bradshaw's *Aristotle East and West* where Bradshaw refutes Williams.
Finally, the end of the book isn't much by way of critique and analysis. He simply notes where Orthodox and Reformed differ with each other and shows the Orthodox wrong by quoting the Westminster Confession and Warfield. That may be true, but the Confession is not actually an argument, but a list of conclusions.
My book had abou 15 pages missing, so I will leave the review of this. The book is good in its analysis but it does leave you hanging at times.