Thursday, June 07, 2007


In just a few weeks my little family will be packing up and heading to Boston for seminary. I wanted to get down some random thoughts of late that might help you all know how to pray for me at this chaotic time.

First, my contemplation about the Church has morphed into a contemplation about Personhood. After reading several posts on Fr. Stephen's blog and some other discussions among some conservative philosophers and Roman Catholic thinkers, as well as some Reformed and Lutheran thinkers, I am more clearly aware of the sometimes vast divide philosophically that separates the East and the West.

The West has argued for many years now over the notion of predestination and freedom. Having to define their theology in light of the Pelagian heresy, the West has struggled with the whole notion of freedom and grace.

The East, on the other hand, has never had to define their theology in light of the errors of Pelagius and simply looks at the West and their arguments about grace and predestination with slack-jawed disbelief. Do some Christians really believe in double-predestination? Do some Christians really believe that grace is a created thing? Amazing!

Fr. Stephen recently quoted Fr. Dimitri Staniloae saying "To the extent that man does not use his freedom, he is not himself. In order to emerge from that indeterminate state, he must utilize his freedom in order to know and be known as himself.” This insightful and basic statement of Orthodox anthropology is telling in many ways.

First Orthodoxy believes man's freedom is still available to him even in a lost state. This freedom rests in his unchangeable reality of being created in God's image to be in His likeness. Man is a slave, but by his own hand. C.S. Lewis said "hell is locked from the inside."

Second, Man is enslaved by his ignorance of himself. Mankind living in the delusion of sin and rebellion perpetuates this slavery in all aspects of creation because of ignorance of God and himself. This slavery is eternal without the enlightening mercy of the Gospel to reveal mankind to himself.

Finally, Man's freedom must be achieved by a "symphonia" between himself and God through the Person of Jesus Christ and the present work of the Holy Spirit.

Thus the primary task of the Church is to both reflect the Face of Jesus (The One NEW Man) and to declare the Person of Christ to lost humanity so that man might recover his forgotten image and his own eternal value.

OK, now I am not a theologian and I certainly am no philosopher. I have no illusions that my three points above hold any weight at all. I am simply getting these thoughts down to look them over and contemplate them further. They are probably wrong on several key points and weak on many others, but it seems to me that this Orthodox anthropology and view of humanity squares better with the revelation of the Incarnation and the scriptures and the teachings of the Fathers than any notion I've read so far. I may be wrong (it wouldn't be the first time) but there it is.

This Orthodox anthropology has HUGE implications for our view of the Church, salvation, the Divine Mysteries, and every aspect of our ministry here on earth. Big stuff, indeed.

So, that's what's running through my ind of late as I look to dismantling my home here in South Florida and move my precious wife and daughter to Boston for seminary. Now, between my work at OCN, my dear family, and the deadline of our move to Boston, I confess, I may not be getting to this blog as often as I want, but you can rest assured that there is more coming.

I look forward to your thoughts.



Silverback said...

Good afternoon Mr. Powell.
I'm not sure if I've taken the time to send you a comment before, but a lazy, Sunday afternoon seems like a good time.

In short, I just wanted to drop you a line to let you know how much I've enjoyed your blog - particularly the Harry Potter countdown. :)

I'm a congregant at a Foursquare church and a leader at a lay ministry that focuses on men. I ran accrosss your blog about thrreee days after I cryptically told my wife, "You know, I can see myself becoming Catholic in the future."

What was really happening in my head was a growing desire to see the body of Chrisst unified and my nearest point of reference for schism only went to the Reformation. But then I found your blog and realized the fracture is much older (and deeper) than Luther.

To be candid, Orthodoxy simply wasn't on my radar. I was vaguely aware of Orthodoxy becasue we buy Espressso at a Washington monestary from time to time, but outside of that...nothing.

Your post 'Strange Fire'( had so many great things to say! So many thoughts and observationss that coupled with my own, I really wanted to keep up on your posts. And I think yur most recent posts ("Some Random Thoughts" and "Christ Became Man...") convinced me it was time to chime in.

I don't have anything in particular I wanted to say right now beyond "Fair winds and following seas" as you approach seminary. But I did want to introduce myself and say that I'd be blessed by he opportunity to converse with you about the topics you cover in your blog and those we discuss at our camps - since they often overlap.

Regardless - Via Con Dios and big kudos on an excellent blog.

Barnabas Powell said...

Dear Silverback (great name, by the way!),

Thank you for your comments.

A Foursquarer, eh? Amy Stemple McPherson (sp?), what an interesting lady!

The Pentecostal series touched a nerve with one of my former Pentecostal friends and they wrote back some remarks that let me know I'd hit a nerve. Those articles weren't meant to be critical as much as observations and analysis of my own Pentecostal expereinces and the remedies I have found in Orthodoxy to the persistent eccesses that seem to be endemic to Pentecostalism.

Great to have you aboard, Silverback. Keep in touch and feel free to comment or contact me anytime. Life may get a bit hectic with the upcoming move, but I promise to respond as soon as possible.

Your servant,

Barnabas Powell said...

Oh, and one more thing, the Potter countdown is just my way of saying thank you to J.K. Rowling for the years of absolute enjoyment of the wonderful world she's created!

July 11 the movie and then a week later the very last Potter book! I'm all atwitter!!!!

Silverback said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Silverback said...

LOL - all atwitter eh? I heard a fellow on the radio a while back going over all of the vivid Christian symbolism in the HP books and I was fascinated. But he was drawing from what might best be called Christian mythology, things like the poison turning into a serpent in John's cup. And he spoke I realized that his point would be almost entirely lost, or even seen 180 degrees from his intention, by the huge majority of Evangelicals - folks for whom even the words "Christian mythology" sound like heresy. >sigh< May the tears of the Phoenix heal their wounded hearts.

I reckon I ought to clarify my previous post. I found Strange Fire a brilliant post and very insightful. I took no offense at all. If anything I was powerfully encouraged to think that I wasn't alone in my observations. While I attend a 4S church, I'm not really a denominational type of fellow. I'm not an official member of any denomination and the lay ministry I work with is proudly 'para-church' with no official backing from any denomination or congregation. But that's not to say that we're splitters either. As I mentioned before, the concept of unity in the body is growing in my spirit like kudzu and it's the profound fracturing of Protestantism that seems so sad to me.

So what's really intrigued me about your blog is the way you've seen fit to address what seems to be a similar ache in your heart - going back 'home' to Orthodoxy despite this fascinating statement, "...I consider Pentecostalism the greatest hope for Western Christianity to correct the theological mistakes of its past. I am convinced that Pentecostalism is God's gift to the West to draw Western Christianity back to a more ancient and healthier theological experience with God."

That sentiment in mind, it appears that you feel unity trumps and I'm about 48% in agreement. For myself, I'm more likely to think that intimate, and dare I say mystical experiences with the Holy Spirit trump even my deeply felt pull to unity. I guess if I have to choose unity with God or unity with my brothers...I have to choose God.

Of course such a statement makes the tacit assertion that the Orthodox body lacks that spiritual unity with God, or the vernacular - that Orthodoxy is dead. I realize that I've held that silent (and unfair) belief based on the limited interaction I've had with a few Orthodox men who seemed so antagonistic to what they called 'modernity' and were so deeply focused on patristic anecdotes, that they were basically religious anachronisms. Those experiences aside however, I see that The Lord has introduced me to some compelling evidence to the contrary, not the least of which was a film clip of the Pascha candles lighting at the Church of The Holy Sepulcher (I think).

So I reckon I’m particularly interested in your calculus. If, for the sake of argument, Pentecostalism is alive and vivacious, but foolish and naive – compared to Orthodoxy which (again just for the sake of argument) is wise and seasoned but crippled in terms of social relevance (at least in the US) - how do we proceed? Is it best to educate the naive or invigorate the aged? Are these paths as mutually exclusive as they seem at first glance?

I pray you won’t take anything here as a jab. It’s truly not my intention. I find myself trying to honestly wrestle with some deep questions here. The value of Orthodoxy’s pedigree and depth of theological wisdom has value beyond reckoning to me, but I can’t avoid the observation that so little seems to happening there. Likewise the passionate pursuit of God’s face strikes me as impossibly compelling ant yet so many Pentecostals never move to solid food but remain doctrinal hillbillies who wouldn’t know the apostles creed if it were carved on a courtroom in Alabama. The whole dilemma makes me wonder if there isn’t a third way that keeps the best of both but alas I can’t make out the lines.

(PS: My Macintosh was ‘slain in the spirit’ when I tried to post this a few minites ago so this may be a duplicate)

Barnabas Powell said...

Dear Silverback,

Yep, I'm a Potterhead. I love the messiness of virtue and the allure of evil portrayed within.

Now on to your comments (sorry to hear about your Mac being slain in the spirit. I do hope it did not awake speaking in an "unknown" tongue, unless you have the gift of interpretation).

What began to turn me away from the rampant individualism of my Pentecostal heritage was John 17. When jesus prays that we would be one as he and the Father are One, well, that's a standard of unity that goes well beyond the lowest common denominator so fashionable nowadays.

That kind of unity demands a level of communion and solidarity that flies in the face of reducing the faith to the "Four Spiritual Laws" and "Jesus loves me."

But please understand me when I say that Pentecostalism is the greatest hope for Western Christianity, I don't mean to suggest that Pentecostalism itself is a good thing. I mean that the very phenomena of Pentecostalism is a powerful "symptom" of the basic weakness of modern Western theology. The Pentecostal movement is the blaring siren of warning that there is something TERRIBLY remiss here!

The value of Pentecostalism is its power to fully display the weakness of Western Protestantism in general and Evangelicalism in particular.

It is precisely the weakness displayed in Pentecostalism and the so called "mystical" expereinces of Pentecostalism that prove the shallow theology that undergirds the movement.

Because, it has been the history of true mysticism through the centuries that leads to deeper unity and not to the fractured state we find ourselves in today.

The Spirit unifies when He moves. He does not speak against Himself or Christ. In fact, the very purpose of mystical experiences is to both deepen the communion of the person with God AND his brother. When some so called mystical or estatic expereinces claim to deepen communion with God AT THE EXPENSE of the brethren that is a sure sign that there is a deficiency in that mystical expereince.

Wow, I didn't mean to preach here.

Thanks for the note, silverback. I'll write more soon.

Oh, I'd like to get your take on the whole series of articles on Pentecostalism I wrote in connection with Strange Fire. Let me know what you think when you can.


Barnabas Powell said...


I want to comment on the rest of your note, but time has captured me and taken me away. Please know I did read the whole post and will comment soon.

Suffice it to say, and you may not be surprised to hear this, but I believe you may be suffering from a false dichotomy.

No worries! There is medicine!



Silverback said...

Preach it Brotha!
I plan to respond soon but I need to pause a bit and bring home some bacon. No rest for the weary I suppose.

PS - the mac is fine after all but the USB port has turned gold...

Barnabas Powell said...

Oh, Siler,

I almost fell out of my chair laughing!

Only a pentecostal or a Charismatic would understand that "golden" joke!

Very funny, silver, very funny indeed.

By the way, you may want to check and see if the monitor has grown! :-)

Silverback said...

Brother Powell - you've asked me to read and comment on a seriees of posts on Pentecostalism, but alas, where do I look?
Your blog is, well, large. I'd like to make sure I'm reading the articles you intended.

And while I'm here, please accept my sympathy at your loss of Abba Lawrence. But congratulations to him on his promotion.

s-p said...

Hi Barnabbas (and Silverback),
Nice post. IT constantly amazes me how so many concepts and "theologies" turn into fog if one does not accept the assumptions and frameworks that they are built around. So much of Western theology is merely accepted as "true" and the assumptions never questioned. The arguments then degenerate into the piling on of scripture to support or deny a position. The main work of being Orthodox coming from a Western tradition is to not keep trying to cram Orthodoxy into the framework we've accepted. It takes years to realize that often the whole framework is straw.
God bless your move! Look up a guy named Allan Boyd when you get there. He did the radio program with me in Phoenix before he left for Holy Cross and the program went "internet" with my new co-host.

Barnabas Powell said...

Thanks SP.

I'll look up Allen when I arrive.

One of my own conclusions concerning all these "theologies" today is the glaring lack of an Orthodox (can I say Patristic) understanding of anthropology.

A "theology" that fails to appreciate authentic personhood cannot lead to a mature faith. It is simply impossible. It may lead to great sacrifice. It may lead to a certain level of moral behavior, and even passion for God, but it cannot bring one to spiritual maturity.

And make no mistake about it, spiritual maturity is absolutely necessary for us to experience theosis and an expansion of the soul to enter into the divine mystery of communion with the Holy Trinity.

It is the unique spiritual maturity of the saints that allow them the freedom to experience God's Presence in such a profound way, and it is the very hunger for God and intimacy with Him that is tempered and trained by the mature theology of the Faith.


Barnabas Powell said...

Oh, sorry about that Silver.

Here are the links to the series of articles I did about Pentecostalism:

Strange Fire -
The Fire is Kindled -
The Fire Falls -
The Fire Fails -

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. Thanks for takig the time!


P.S. Thank you for the kind words about Abba.

Anonymous said...

I just came upon your blog for the first time. I am not Orthodox, but it still speaks to me and I look forward to returning.
I never heard the relationship/communion between us and God described as a "symphonia" before. Could you say more about this, either here in the comments or in another blog post? Or could you refer me to where I could learn more about this doctrine?
Thanks very much!

Barnabas Powell said...

Dear Anonymous,

Welcome! Comment all you like.

You've given me a good idea for a new post. I am currently tied up with some pressing matters, but I promise to comment further about the "symphonia" between us and God soon.

Again, welcome.


MeliDe said...

I don't know about all that other stuff, but the red pill/blue pill pix was mind-boggling.