“To those of you who would change the church to accept the gay community and its lifestyle: you give us no hope at all. To those of us who know God’s word and will not dilute it to fit our desires, we ask you to read John’s letter to the church in Pergamum. “I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore!” You are willing to compromise the word of God to be politically correct. We are not deceived. If we accept your willingness to compromise, then we must also compromise. We must therefore accept your lying, your adultery, your lust, your idolatry, your addictions, YOUR sins. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.””

Great Southeastern Prose and Ideas Company

(You must make it to the third paragraph in order to understand.)

To the churches concerning homosexuals and lesbians:

Many of you believe that we do not exist within your walls, your schools, your neighborhoods. You believe that we are few and easily recognized. I tell you we are many. We are your teachers, doctors, accountants, high school athletes. We are all colors, shapes, sizes. We are single, married, mothers, fathers. We are your sons, your daughters, your nieces, your nephews, your grandchildren. We are in your Sunday School classes, pews, choirs, and pulpits. You choose not to see us out of ignorance or because it might upset your congregation. We ARE your congregation. We enter your doors weekly seeking guidance and some glimmer of hope that we can change. Like you, we have invited Jesus into our hearts. Like you, we want to be all that Christ wants us…

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One of my biggest beefs with Protestantism being called for what it is by a PROTESTANT! I’d love to see their schisms healed and for unity to be found with us, the Orthodox Church. Same goes for Rome who is also in schism from us.

“This is a very interesting post, but please note, it is by a Protestant, not an Orthodox writer. Dr. Dan Wallace is a VERY big name in Protestant circles. I find it very interesting to hear him voicing these sorts of doubts. Like many other Protestants Dr. Wallace is deeply concerned about the rampant schism in the Protestant community. Sooner or later it becomes too much to square with the Scriptural view of the Church.”

Daniel B. Wallace

I am unashamedly a Protestant. I believe in sola scriptura, sola fidei, solus Christus, and the rest. I am convinced that Luther was on to something when he articulated his view of justification succinctly: simul iustus et peccator (“simultaneously justified and a sinner”).

But with the birth of Protestantism there necessarily came a rift within the western church. By ‘necessarily’ I mean that Protestants made it necessary by splitting from Rome. Jaroslav Pelikan had it right when he said that the Reformation was a tragic necessity. Protestants felt truth was to be prized over unity, but the follow-through was devastating. This same mindset began to infect all Protestant churches so that they continued to splinter off from each other. Today there are hundreds and hundreds of Protestant denominations. One doesn’t see this level of fracturing in either Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Not even close.

“But unity…

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Moral Therapeutic Deism is Not the Gospel or (A Short Reflection on MTD)

ImageA few weeks ago, I posted an article on a Facebook group about Moral Therapeutic Deism. I wanted to offer my reflections from that post:

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” 2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” 3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” 4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” 5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

Sadly, I see this just about everyday. There are a lot of things that are sad about it. Even as a teen I held strong faith convictions. Teens are able to think critically as well as adults albeit if they are taught how to. 

It’s sad because it’s a misunderstanding of historic Christianity.  It’s a very massive misunderstanding of faith, God, and spirituality. It’s Postmodernism at its best and hardest form.

It’s sad that teens, and even their parents, can’t hold a theological conversation, clearly define their beliefs, outline the basics of their faith, or have strong convictions.

Right belief leads to right living. And if you are going to profess Christianity, or any religion at that, you should be able to express your convictions, clearly articulate your beliefs, and what not.


Christianity is not Moral Therapeutic Deism; MTD is antithetical to the Christian Faith.

Here are some of my responses to some of the held beliefs of MTD:

1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”

This is only half true. The Incarnation is the direct contradiction of this statement. It’s semi-deist, which holds the belief that God made the world then withdrew from it and watches from a distant. Christ and His incarnation directly contradict this. 

2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” 

Again, only half true. There is NOTHING spiritual about being moral and nice and good. Nothing at all. As you know, there are many atheists and agnostics who are good people who have values and principles. 

Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live is how my priest puts it. Our problem is not one of morality, but of ontology. Father Stephen writes, “The Orthodox contention is that morality fails to describe the true nature of the Christian life. Rather the world ontological is more proper: it means have to do with the very being of someone – their essence. What we need is not a change in behavior (morality) but a change in who we are (ontology). Christ came to change us, not reform us. 

Morality does not use Orthodox means – it’s all in the ‘head.’ It is rules. Ontological change requires that our very being or existence (thus the word existential) be united with Christ, His life becomes our life and thus we live a new life.” This contradicts MTD. 


3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” 

This thought is very pagan and hedonistic. God is not your therapist or pal in the sky who solves your problems. It’s bad theology, and it fails to deal seriously with sin and the falling out of communion with God that we have experienced. Of course the goal of our living is “the Good Life”, but I will go on the record to say that that does not mean being happy all the time and feeling great about one’s self. Nor does it mean being gloomy, downplaying the Image within us, and having too low a view of anthropology as the Calvinist would. The Good Life can mean a lot of things, and I do not want to digress too much into said topic. 

4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” 

This is again contradictory to Christian teaching and the Incarnation. God is involved in every aspect of our lives. 

For more on this I recommend reading Father Stephen’s book, “Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe.” He states the thesis that we have created this false 2 storey universe where God is up there somewhere and should stay there, and that we are all down here with the physical world of secularism, which does not deny there is a god, but that seeks to put Him in His proper place in the second storey where He can mind His own business and we’ll mind ours. It again contradicts the incarnation. 

The Kingdom of heaven is here and now and present. There is but one storey in this universe not two. God is here and now. We have tried to push Him out, but it is never going to work. God is very active and moving. St. Luke tells us in Acts that “in Him we live, and move, and have our being”. St. Paul says in Colossians that “all things all together in Him.” I believe our very being, our existence, our very breath is held together by Him. He is alive and active in our hearts. If one is a true believer than one would never say God is there just to solve a problem. The Scriptures make it clear we are the Holy Temple in whom the Spirit dwells. 

5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

This is false because, again, as Father writes in the blog I linked to earlier, it is not about being “good” or “bad”. It’s about being alive and being in communion with God; it’s about being changed ontologically. 

It’s also part of that false dichotomy between heaven and earth. It’s bad eschatology! People are not going to go to heaven. Heaven is coming here. The Scriptures make this very plain. and we will enjoy communion with God. 


In summation, these things directly contradict the Orthodox Faith, but the other Christian Traditions as well. 

Moral Therapeutic Deism states that all you need is Jesus and a relationship with Him. Not wrong per se, but only half true. It is not “me and Jesus sweet by and by”. This is contradictory to Scripture’s teaching on Church and community

No man is a Christian on his own nor does one become one on his own. Christianity is a communal faith. It is personal, but not private; it is communal, but not individual. 

It is not just you and Jesus and nothing else matters. This is contradictory to Church teaching and to the Scriptures. 

When asked, “Why is it sad to you? Why does it bother you that teens and their parents are apathetic to theology? Because you fear they’ll go to hell?” I had this to say:

It is sad because the “me and Jesus” mentality leads to a lack of theological foundation. It neglects orthodoxy. Right belief leads to right living, the Fathers make this very clear. If you are going to be a person of faith you must develop theology. It’s vital to your faith no matter which one you hold. To have faith means you have some sort of belief in a deity; it goes to follow that theology and faith go hand-in-hand. 

Having faith means you believe in God, and if you are going to believe in God you should study God, which is what theology means. You should study the Holy writings and writings of those who hold to that faith. It’s sad because people neglect theology in order to hold to MTD. It’s sad because they do not have a solid theological foundation, which is vital to Christianity and render orthopraxy impossible.

It opens the door to people to ignore Church teaching, to create their own opinions about who God is and what not, to ignore morality, and to just seek the Hedonistic life. 

It bothers me because it is a simple act of neglect. And it bothers me because it leads to dangerous beliefs. Half truths or not, MTD is still very horrible. It is a watered down version of Chrisitanity nonetheless, and we should reject it at all costs as heretical. We should all be bothered by the fact that Moral Therapeutic Deism is not the Gospel, however, today is presented as just that!

Eclectic Orthodoxy

The Liturgy is centered on the descent of the Holy Spirit, the epiclesis which makes the remembering, or anamnesis, epiphanic, that is, makes present the event remembered. This is why the only efficacious argument for the existence of God is the liturgical argument of prayer-filled adoration. Prayer witnesses to the One who hears it. This is important for the subjective weaknesses of a believer do not at all affect the objective value of his faith. The true subject of faith is not the isolated individual but his “liturgical self,” the transsubjective place of faith and revelation. Some modern exegetes thus translate Genesis 2:15: “Yahweh Elohim took man and placed him in the garden of Eden for worship and for its preservation.” In such pronounced symbolism, paradise becomes a sanctuary and the first man is its priestly guardian. In our very origins we are liturgical beings.

Proclamation…

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The Eschatology Of Song

ImageThe music of the Appalachians, from which I hail, is one shaped by despair, sorrow, and an existential angst so to speak. The music of the Appalachians was composed by many Scottish and Irish immigrants who lived in desperate times. David Crowder remarks that it was this harsh reality of life they faced that lead them to write and play music that was eschatological at its core.

They wanted to sing themselves out of the present into the future Crowder says. They wanted to sing themselves into the Kingdom of God, the Here and Now. The thing about song is that it takes us into a reality, which as Crowder says, is actually a reality. So music is not so much about taking us into a new reality as it is about making us aware of the one we’re in already; it makes us aware of God’s presence for He is Reality. As an Orthodox Christian, I have a realized eschatology that the Kingdom of God is here and now. I can sing to bring myself into an awareness of this Reality where we live life from our hearts, the place of our true selves.

I know what hard times are like. I grew up poor, am poor, and as someone who has a desire for the priesthood I will probably always feel poor. I know struggles. I know heartache. I know abuse. I know disappointment. Recently, I was denied acceptance into Johnson’s grad school. This is saddening and disappointing. My wife and I are having hard times trying to figure out our next steps. We face this road with uncertainty. We will face many hard times ahead that is for sure. That is life. Despair is all around us, however, I think it reminds us of something more.

Of longing.

Of hope.

Of joy.

Of Reality.

With or without hard times, I am a person who likes to have goals, aspirations, and direction. I like structure.

I think I am gonna apply to Lee University, but maybe not start until the spring matriculation. I want to make sure I can get in now, but I am so burn out physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally from undergrad. I could use a good 7 to 8 months off.

Courtney and I have began looking for apartments in Oak Ridge. I have also began looking for a new job. I applied to Target, but of course cannot become full time until post-graduation. I really need a job that pays more than $8.00 an hour and is full time.

Please, dear friends and loved ones, keep us in your prayers. We have found such a wonderful church, St. Anne Orthodox Church, and priest, Father Stephen, and we are not quite ready to leave the Knoxville area. We want to stick around and become very active members at St. Anne.

We have a lot of decision making to do, but I am leaning heavily towards taking the semester off. I am exhausted after 5 years of undergrad. I think it would be healthy, but I still want to apply and have some direction and goals in my life. I think God gives us choices and will bless them. Ask for God’s blessings as we enter into this new, unknown phrase of life. I thought after college life would be more settled, consistent, and normal. I thought spending 5 years at a college would mean I could 1) use my degree and 2) actually have a job I enjoy. It turns out that that is not always the case. As disappointing as that is, I know that God is good and loves mankind. And as Father told us tonight, we cannot know how these things will work out. We are driving with our eyes forward into a heavy fog, but He will guide us. He will open doors for me to become a priest if He has truly given me this passion and desire for it.

All things work for the good of those who love Him. He will not abandon us to despair though we face it. He has brought me through Hades and back in my young life of just 25. He has not left me in despair nor has He abandoned me. Not once! He has brought us into that reality of which we become aware when we sing. We shall move forward in some fashion. Your prayers, lighting of candles, and thoughts are appreciated.

We shall sing our hearts out in hard times and bad. There is a transcendence to our singing. We are lifted from our sorrows to the sky, to Reality. As we face this hard time of the unknown, I want to encourage others to join us in song. Let us transcend the messiness of this life. Let us come to Reality. Let us lift our hearts out in song. May our lives be lived out in song both figuratively and literally (for those with the talent). Connor Oberst of Bright Eyes once sang, “I don’t know what tomorrow brings. It is alive with such possibilities. All I know is I feel better when I sing. Burdens are lifted from me, that’s my voice rising!”

You can sing or remain quiet, but as Bright Eyes sings, “It’s cool if you keep quiet, but I like singing.” I am going to sing and be lifted.

If you too have the burden of the unknown, are in hard times, are in the depths of despair and angst let go and sing, friend. We can sing together.

WHAT IS YOUR REASON TO BELIEVE?

ImageThis is another guest post written by a new friend of mine, Tom Darrow. This is in response to the question: “If faith in God and reason go hand in hand, what is your reason to believe?” I really appreciated Tom’s insights and shared many of them. I hope you will too!

WHAT IS YOUR REASON TO BELIEVE? 


It’s not a single reason; it’s the culmination of several different factors that, when taken together, lead to that conclusion. There’s supernatural experiences I’ve had, and that my friends have had, and the church throughout history has experienced, which all fit the same pattern. There’s the content of the Bible and the behavior of the church’s founders. Moving another step outward, there’s philosophy relating to the existence of God. Any of these factors would be worthy of a book-length discussion, and if you’re curious about one in particular we can definitely follow up on it, but for now I’ll just give an overview.

Christian supernatural experience takes three forms: (i) transformed life, (ii) the day-to-day experience of God’s presence or acute awareness of His absence, and (iii) gaining information or illumination or special instruction during prayer. I’ve experienced all three of these. I was involved in certain dangerous and aggressive behavior in my teens which stopped after I gave control to God; it wasn’t a process or a working through, but an immediate transformation. At one point I decided I no longer needed Jesus but only a generic form of God; I descended into miserable loneliness and nearly destroyed several friendships within a few hours. God’s absence was profoundly apparent and devastating. I was quickly convinced that God would not connect me unless I took Him as a whole — Father, Son, and Spirit — and His presence returned at that time. At one point I was in an argument with someone who was saying some nasty things about me and telling me how much she hated me, and I was ready to cut ties entirely. God told me to stay and comfort her (which I would not have done without His instruction); we’ve now been married for over ten years.

Friends of mine have similar or more impressive stories about transformation, God’s presence, and illumination. I know several people who credit Jesus with bringing them out of gangs, getting them off of drugs, curing mental illness, or ending their abusive behavior. When I hear friends talk about the presence of God they use different terminology than I do but describe something very familiar. Friends of mine have received surprising information during prayer. Two friends were given turn-by-turn directions to locations they’d never been. Several were instructed to give specific odd-sounding gifts to seemingly random people and found that those people had need for those particular gifts. Friends have been on the receiving end of those gifts too; one guy who was in financial dire straits had been praying for a way to afford a particular small set of Warhammer figurines for his son, as a way to show his son that they’d get through it, and somebody showed up at our church with a huge collection of those figurines from the right collection, hand-painted in the right color, saying “I was praying and God told me to give these to a church”. I have friends-of-friends who’ve been able to speak or understand foreign languages (Korean and Navajo), specifically to communicate key parts of the gospel.

When I look through Christian history, I see these same phenomena of transformation, presence, and illumination described over and over again. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote about former thieves, drunks, idolaters, and sexual sinners who were transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and he counts himself among them as a “blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man” who was transformed. Christians have written fantastic treatises on the presence of God, such as the aptly-named “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence and “the Pursuit of God” by A.W. Tozer; for a look at the absence of God’s direct presence, there’s “the Dark Night of the Soul” by St. John of the Cross. Some of the authors of scripture claim to have been instructed directly by the Holy Spirit on specific topics, and there are abundant stories of those who were guided to go to a certain place, speak to a certain person, etc., particularly among missionaries.

These experiences transcend boundaries like culture, language, economic status, and education. There’s something about the gospel that *works* to transform people of all sorts, and there’s something about the way the Holy Spirit instructs people that *works* in surprisingly effective ways. I often share my experiences and my friends’ experiences with skeptics, and they usually propose alternative explanations, but the alternatives *don’t work* — hallucination, self-deception, and dumb luck all follow particular patterns, but these experiences follow an entirely different pattern. The God of the Bible is clearly active and clearly effective.

Then there’s the Bible itself. It’s a book that was written over the course of perhaps fifteen centuries, by authors on three different continents who wrote in three different languages, in geopolitical situations ranging from prosperity to exile. Yet it tells a coherent story with a timeless, transformative message at its core. My wife has said of the gospel “It is accessible to everyone, yet no one is overqualified. It is comprehensible to everyone, yet no one finds it trite or obvious.” The same message — that Christ died for sins, was buried and raised, and that through Him we can die to sin and be raised into new life reconciled with God — resonates with first-century shepherds and twentieth-century Oxford scholars. The Bible is filled with deep insights; other ancient literature often comes across as shallow or blatantly stupid. And of course Jesus himself is such a compelling character, so clearly divine and deserving of worship, that many other religions try to adopt him as their own (even some atheists say they are “fans of Jesus”.)

What of the authors of the New Testament and the other founders of the church? These were men who were dejected and demoralized over the death of their Rabbi, and then suddenly began boldly proclaiming the resurrection of the dead and transformation in Christ. There are no clear ulterior motives like money, power, or women; the apostles remained poor and persecuted and preaching Christ until their deaths. That transformative power I talked about above goes all the way back to the foundations of Christianity, and specifically to founders who acted as though that key event — the death and resurrection of Christ — really happened and really brought about new life.

I’m also convinced of the existence of a transcendent-yet-personal God on a philosophical level (I’ve talked about some of this elsewhere in the group.) The beginning of the universe or multiverse requires an uncaused cause, and the conditions of the universe suggest that cause posessed high intelligence. Universal ethics require a transcendent, intelligent source that cares about people. Reason and logic themselves are more than mere accidents of the way our brains happen to be structured; for “logic” to be valid, it must be a real thing with real rules rather than an accident of the natural formation of our brains (modern incarnations of this argument are common to “presuppositional apologetics”, but these are unimpressive; the argument goes back at least to Plato’s Forms, and IMO the older versions are better.)

So I believe that God, existing eternally in three persons of Father-Son-Spirit, created all things and provides the source of ethics and reason. I also believe that God has acted in specific ways throughout history, including the things recorded in the Bible and in my own life, and that God *always* comes through on His promises. Thus, when I have faith it means I take actions based on the expectation that God will fulfill His promises, both from the Bible and given directly. And when I am faithless, I ignore those promises and act only based on the obstacles and emotions immediately in front of me.

The Father’s Embrace (A Guest Post)

ImageThis was a status my friend Robert Rubinow posted on facebook tonight that I wanted to offer up as a guest blog:

THE FATHER’S EMBRACE 

What I am about to say is not very popular, and will likely make a few people angry. But I think this needs to be confronted. As a therapist, I work with a number of children and teenagers contending with severe anxiety. This makes me very sad, as I realize that American culture and the state of the family in general tends to exert unhealthy pressure and stress on kids in ways that cause significant physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional suffering.

From the time kids are very young, they are expected to learn volumes of random information and facts which are disconnected from their historical and philosophical contexts; to be superstars on the soccer fields and basketball courts; to gain mastery over every technological gadget under the sun; to always get A’s in school so they can attend and graduate from the best colleges and universities; to seek out careers that will impress others and make them wealthy; to earn degrees and titles and trophies; to live in the best neighborhoods and to drive the finest cars.

Yet very little attention is devoted to teaching kids to be emotionally healthy; to receive more of God’s love and mercy; to value failure and mistakes as an integral part of life’s journey; to place compassion for others ahead of selfish ambition; to seek out professions that attend to the suffering of humanity; to rest and refresh their minds, bodies, and spirits at regular intervals; to listen to and cherish the wisdom and stories of their elders; to develop virtue in places of pain; to grow toward relational maturity; to gain wisdom over knowledge; to value authenticity over performance and image; to slow down, turn off the video games, and spend time in simplicity and moments of sacred silence; to listen for the voices of heaven and the angels; and to soak in the beauty and joy of life itself and God’s creation, not in possessions.

Yet until we as a people recognize which gods of the age which have stolen our hearts and souls, and unto which we offer in sacrifice our very own children, I fear we may lose the next five generations. We have much to change in our priorities, our perspectives, and our passions if we ever expect our kids to be healed.

So, all this to say, let each of us pray for our children fervently (knowing their mortal enemy will devour them if we don’t), give them more time and affection, hold them closer, bless them daily by name, accept who they are, and be lavish with our praise and approval of them. Let us love them in a way that releases them to soar spiritually on wings of eagles, high above the impoverished landscape of a culture decadent in self-absorption, entertainment, performance addiction, and faddish lifestyles. Let us lead kids away from their anxieties and fears and into the Father’s embrace…because His perfect love casts out fear.