Wednesday, April 28, 2010

LHP Review: On the Holy Spirit

Ritter, Steven E. That Your Joy May Be Full: Learning from the Authentic Orthodox Theology of the Spirit. Salisbury, MA: Regina Orthodox Press, 2008. 288 Pages. Paper. $26.95. (LHP)

I do not imagine that a finer book could be written about the theology of the Holy Spirit – from an Orthodox perspective. It truly is a fine book – for an Orthodox Christian. It is through and through an Orthodox book, written by an Orthodox author for an Orthodox readership. It is well written, well argued, well thought out, and well organized. But to say it one more time in this paragraph, it is for the Orthodox Christian to read, mark learn and inwardly digest.

All that being said, could a Lutheran parish pastor read this book and benefit from it? Certainly. If he has a desire to learn about the Orthodox faith from the source. Or if he is in a dialogue about the Orthodox faith with a colleague or a parishioner. Or if he wants to round out what little he may have learned about the Orthodox faith in his seminary days. Two questions that sometimes trouble Lutherans were answered by Father Ritter. First, who wrote Hebrews? And second, does John 6 refer to the Lord’s Supper or not? You will have to read That Your Joy May Be Full to find the answers.

A couple of comments about the book’s layout or design. First, there is no index. This is most unhelpful for a reader such as myself. Often I wanted to see what Father Ritter had written about a particular topic in another place in the book. But I was unable to do so as there is no index of subjects. Second, there is no bibliography. If I had wanted to pursue some avenue on which the author had started me, I was unable to do so. There is a very limited “Reference List” beginning on page 283. But no bibliography in addition to that list.

All that being said, there was some that was beneficial to me. Let me give you a couple of citations. On page 132 Father Ritter is writing of the road to divinization (theosis), in which we “’’become by grace what God is by nature’” (p. 126). He writes: “the great paradox of the spiritual life lies in the fact that the closer we draw to God, the more aware we become of our own sinfulness (p. 132). Laying aside the Orthodox teaching of divinization, who in the Church has not felt this paradox at work in himself or herself? The more one grows in the faith, the more one sees one’s sin. And the more one sees one’s desperate need for a Savior. Another quote I especially loved came in a section on the Second Coming of Christ, and specifically the “Rapture.” This false teaching is nothing new as Father Ritter writes: “This was actually condemned by the church under the name chiliasm [thousand years], . . . The heretic Apollonarius was condemned for this teaching by the Second Ecumenical Council in 381” (p. 258). He further writes: “Orthodoxy also rejects this . . . doctrine as something that not only insults the early martyrs of the church – and all martyrs since – but puts forth the notion that those faithful to Christ are somehow exempt from suffering like and with him. In other words, it is a cowardly doctrine” (emphasis added) (p. 259).

It might have just been me, but one thing I noticed throughout the book was a kind of superiority, a kind of smugness. “We have had this right since the apostles and all the rest of you have gone badly astray” seemed to be the attitude. Now, I realize that the Orthodox believe this with all their hearts, but it made the book a bit less winsome to me. I certainly know of which I speak, for who among faithful LCMS pastors has not heard the well-intentioned question in Bible class – “you are not saying that Lutherans will be the only ones in heaven, are you, Pastor?” I know Father Ritter does not mean that. Neither do any Lutheran pastors mean that. But the perceived superior attitude made the book more difficult to read for me.

To put it simply in as few words as possible, for the busy Lutheran parish pastor, this is probably not a book that you would want to put on your list of books to read. Unless . . . see paragraph two above.

The Rev. Peter Bertram, a regular QBR contributor, is pastor of Our Savior's Lutheran Church, Chadron, Nebraska, a congregation of the Wyoming District of the LCMS.