Thursday, May 1, 2008

An Orthodox View of Literalism

Father Stephen is a former Episcopal priest who now serves as an Orthodox priest. He is both small caps orthodox and large caps Orthodox in his theology. He has a very interesting perspective on biblical literalism:

The Scriptures, particularly those of the Old Testament, are frequently misread (from a classical Christian point of view) in a literal manner, on the simple evidence that the New Testament does not read the Old Testament in such a manner. Rather, as is clearly taught by Christ Himself, the Old Testament is “re-read” from a Christological point-of-view. Thus Jonah-in-the-belly-of-the-whale is read by the Church as Christ in Hades. The first Adam in the Garden is but a shadow and antitype of the Second Adam - the One who truly fulfills existence in the “image and likeness” of God. The Passover and the deliverance from Egypt are read as icons of the true Passover, Christ’s Pascha and the deliverance of all creation from its bondage to death and decay. Such a list could be lengthened until the whole of the Old Testament is retold in meanings that reveal Christ, or rather are revealed by Christ in His coming.

Of course, this is a peculiar claim of Christianity - one which accepts the identity of Christ as the Only-Begotten Son of God, who, emptying Himself, becomes man and in this humility destroys death and Hades and unites man to God. Having accepted that Identity, the ability to read the Scriptures according to that Identity becomes possible.

A “literal” reading of the Old Testament would never yield such a treasure. Instead, it becomes flattened, and rewoven into an historical rendering of Christ’s story in which creative inventions such as “Dispensationalism” are required in order to make all the pieces fit into a single, literal narrative. Such a rendering has created as well a cardboard target for modern historical-critical studies, which delights itself only in poking holes in absurdities created by such a flattened reading.

In the same manner, modernity has succeeded in re-reading space and time, creating an historical narrative of the universe, absent God (for some), or at least with an isolated God (for others). Religion becomes subjectivized, a choice or a “lifestyle.” It is little wonder that it has also become synonymous with various political points-of-view, since such a secularized universe can only be affected by the common will of those who inhabit it. Thus, in the name of God, secularized Christianity must rescue the world, even if it must kill in the effort (easily justified by a wrong-reading of the Old Testament).

These renderings of Scripture and the Universe are literally wrong - at least from a classical Orthodox understanding of both.



This is only the beginning. Read the full post here.

What I always appreciate about Father Stephen is that he reminds us that modernism as a world view can lead to two errors--the error of seeing the world only through materialism or the error of Bibical literalism. In some very profound sense, Richard Dawkins has more in common with a bibical literalist than he does with an Orthodox, Catholic or Anglican theologian.

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