- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Mentor; 1St Edition edition (September 20, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1845502477
- ISBN-13: 978-1845502478
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #243,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective Paperback – September 20, 2010
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
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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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A Russian Orthodox monastery has been established within 50 miles of my home, and a few Orthodox churches are closer than that, but I had never paid much attention to sorting Orthodoxy from Catholicism. (One used icons, the other statues. One used a knotted prayer rope, the other a rosary. So?) When I did learn more about the Orthodox, they seemed to resemble my Baptists more than Roman Catholics. A close friend who works at the monastery has considered converting. So I wanted to learn more.
This author compares and contrasts the Orthodox mostly to the "Reformed" branch of Protestantism, and with Roman Catholicism. My potential convert friend and I both think he does a good job of it. Be ready to consult the glossary often, though, and I'm sure you'll wish the book had an index or hyperlinks, instead of just a timeline. Quick: define "homiosis" and "filioque."
I have long considered "denominations" to just be different organs in the growing "Body of Christ," the Church, so I have no problem recognizing that the Orthodox are fellow Christians. We too often talk past each other, saying the same things, differently. And, there are a few real differences. This should help.
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.
Letham is to be congratulated for reading many valuable works that contribute to his efforts here including Symeon the New Theologian, John of Damascus, John Chrysostom, Gregory the Theologian, and more contemporary folks such as Lossky, and Staniloe. He avoids knee jerk assessments of various topics and for that we should thank him. The book is well documented enough and he is fair enough with his sources that I must grudgingly recommend the book.
However, let us distinguish. If you are confirmed as a Reformed believer and merely want to be conversant with these matters the book is much more valuable than if you are actually considering a conversion to Holy Orthodoxy. It is simply impossible for someone who is not steeped in the worship experience of Orthodoxy to meaningfully make generalizations as he does.
For instance, on page 253 at outset of section on Deification Letham writes "For the East there are two great moments in the Triune God's work of salvation -- the incarnation and Pentecost."
This is so far off base it is hard to imagine how he could have written it. The entire work of Christ is participated in annually through 12 major feasts. All are indispensable to the integrity of the inconographic liturgical preaching of the Lord's Gospel. If one were absolutely forced to choose only one feast of the 12 as the "Great moment" it would without any hesitation be Holy Pascha, the resurrection. This is absolutely confirmed by the fact that Paschas is called the 'feast of feasts' and is not formally numbered as one of the 12. So this generalization about the incarnation and Pentecost is extremely unhelpful. There are many examples that could be drawn out to show how even though he is fair and honest academically, he can't frame things in a way consistent with the worship experience of Orthodoxy.
Nevertheless, there are some confusing and clumsy attempts to slice the roast a tad too thin in my view. For example, on page 264 he addresses 'Predestination' under its own heading. Here he deals with the renunciation asked of a Calvinist who is to be received into Holy Orthodoxy. The renunciation asked by the bishop or priest includes this text ... Do you renounce.....
"the false doctrine, that the predestination of men to their salvation, or their rejection, is not in accordance with the Divine foreknowledge of faith and good works of the former, or of the unbelief and evil deeds of the latter, but in accordance with some arbitrary destiny, by reason of which faith and virtue are robbed of their merit...."
Letham argues this phrasing is 'spurious' ... because the triune God, who works all things together according to the counsel of his will, is just good and faithful. His decrees are not arbitrary and capricious.
The problem with Letham's protest here is that the question asked of the candidate does not use the word 'capricious' as Letham did. Furthermore, the primary idea in the definition of arbitrary is completely compatible Calvinism on this point. The derivation of our English word calls to mind a judge who decides based on his own lights rather than some external constraint or factor such as a statute. Precisely the essence of unconditional election and much of the thrust of TULIP (a common method for summarizing Calvinist soteriology.)
There are certainly valuable passages in the book.