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For the Life of the World: Sacraments and OrthodoxyFor the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first contact with Alexander Schmemann. I am quite sure that I’ll make some time to explore him further, for I found this little book to be both gloriously illuminating and but also a bit scary.

As to the illumination, Schmemann proposes a view of the world that is enormously compelling. He sees the world “sacramentally.” I think what he means by that is that the world is God’s creation and is both to manifest his presence and also to be fellowship with us. Sin, of course, destroys the whole sacramental aspect of creation and now leads only to death. The church, however, is the sacrament to the world. It is through the church that God manifests his presence to humanity and has fellowship with creation, thus fulfilling creation. This sacramental church function is wonderfully Christ-centered and is expressed and lived in the Sacraments (do note the capital S) of the church. I found all this to be wonderful and refreshing, especially because I saw significant aspects of Postmillennialism and Van Tillian apologetics woven throughout. Not to mention that Schmemann (with his insightful attack on Secularism) would be death on RADICAL two-kingdoms theology. All this is splendid.

But not all is splendid, for the book is also scary. Schmemann did not intend this book as an apologetic for his Eastern Orthodox views of the Sacraments (all seven of them). Rather, it is more a description or an elaboration. Schmemann did not set out to “prove” anything, but rather to set forward or present his ideas. Well, ideas are dangerous things. Just because an idea (or a collection of them) is compelling does not make it correct or true. Holding, as I do, the Bible to be the final word on truth and “leitourgia,” I want to be very careful to weigh Schmemann (and everyone else for that matter) in the balance of God’s very Word. Where Schmemann has captured and articulated God’s truth, let him be our teacher. Where he has not, let God be true and every man a liar.

Finally, as I read this book, I saw Peter Leithart on about every page. Many of Pastor Leithart’s criticisms in The Baptized Body, for example, are quite clearly traceable to Schmemann’s influence (or at least so it seems to me). I mention that only in passing, not to paint Schmemann with a Leithart brush. I am quite sure that the discerning reading will benefit from Schmemann, even in he is opposed to Leithart’s thinking. However, it seems to me that if one wants to understand Leithart better, Schmemann would be a good place to start.

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