Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Line or Circle?

The more I expose myself to the writings of the eastern fathers, the more I notice an irreconcilable difference between us and them. While it is certainly true that there is no single perspective that divides us, there nevertheless exists a basic set of viewpoints that are at the core of our differences. In this post I would like to address three points of distinction between us and them for our consideration.

First, contemporary western Christianity is 1] linear, 2] logical & 3] legal in its approach to reality, life, God, & c… In our western minds all things move in a straight line from A to Z, all things are subject to a logic that creates a cohesive and orderly account of God and His kingdom. Moreover, mankind's goal is rooted in getting right, and staying right with others and with God. This threefold perspective is easily seen in the western church’s liturgies, which take us form the entrance sin stained parishioners into God's courts and end in the being sent out as Christ’s emissaries. Our western architecture also illustrates this linear perspective, it is full of angles that point us straight up, out, and away from this world, it tells a story of an outward trajectory. In addition, western doctrine shows itself to be obsessive compulsive about our juridical standing before God, we begin soiled and we end cleansed. Every doctrine hinges on justification.

The eastern fathers on the other hand, come from a diametrically opposite set of views. They are 1] round, 2] relational, & 3] restorative in their approach to reality, life, God, & c… This too can be seen in the eastern liturgies, architecture, and doctrines. In the early liturgies we see nothing linear about them, prayers and litanies occur throughout, several entrances, the priest praying one set of words, the choir singing one song and people running around lighting candles and prostrating. Their buildings are circular in shape, they turn in on the earth, and heaven and earth become one. Their doctrine centers on God becoming man to raise man up to God, the goal is healing the broken sinner. This opposite approach can leave westerners feeling like they entered a three ring circus. However, the point of distinction that should not be missed is that the early east was Kairos focused rather than Chronos focused. Consequentially, the east was larger, fuller, and better able to take in the whole of the faith.

Can these two perspectives ever be reconciled? Perhaps not! However, it is possible to drop a bridge that enables the linear, logical, and legal to cross over into the round, relational, & restorative. The challenge for our failed western experiment will be to learn to fit chronos into kairos.

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