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Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology Paperback – 20 Jun 2013

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  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: SPCK Publishing (20 Jun 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0281069654
  • ISBN-13: 978-0281069651
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.8 x 0.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 11,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. P. G. Mccarthy on 3 July 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well, I've really enjoyed reading Andrew Louth's little introduction. Louth is clearly quite passionate about his tradition and provides a very engaging and quite personal account. What struck me quite strongly (coming from an Anglican perspective), is just how surprising 'alien' some aspects of the tradition appear to be, especially 'Christian materialism' and the use of ikons; the use of these is justified by arguments to do with the Incarnation. The use of Scripture differs quite strongly too.

It is hard not to make comparisons. I would have thought Anglicanism more 'enlightened', but Louth is a little critical of the Western tradition; don't be too upset by that, he is bold and loves his tradition; and why not? You get a sense that this is a tradition that makes full use of ancient written sources in a way that the western churches certainly do not. The liturgy is also more fully developed, and therefore not vague. You also get a sense that this is a tradition that one can't be half hearted about; one can be a casual Anglican, but the same wouldn't apply here.

It is my guess that in the western traditions, the impact of Augustine is more strongly felt, and there is therefore more salvation anxiety (perhaps not helped by Calvin); but the Orthodox church seems to have escaped this; it is less individualistic.

But we Anglicans are keen to see our towns won for Jesus; we don't yet feel convinced that the use of ikons will have much of a role in this.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By The Researcher on 9 Jan 2014
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Professor Fr. Andrew Louth has produced what I expect to become a standard work for any reader interested in the Orthodox faith. He sets out his stall early on, so that we have some idea of his approach, and then throughout the book he moves one clear step at a time through each topic he chooses. I recall the late Abbess Thekla saying to me "Do you believe that Christ is God?". I responded that I did indeed believe Christ is also God. "In that case you are a true Orthodox believer - but you must still keep up your studies, so that you learn how He does it." Well, here in this book we are presented with the profound learning of an outstanding Orthodox scholar of our day who has given us an opportunity to keep up our studies. The scholarship is distilled into small pieces for those of us who have not reached the author's level of scholarship, helping us to get hold of it a piece at a time. No pomposity, just an Orthodox understanding that can only come out of great learning and a prayerful life.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By CJ Craig VINE VOICE on 8 Feb 2014
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For those not familiar with the Eastern Orthodox Church this book is a good place to start. All the basics are there in a clear and easy read. Nothing is watered down - you get the truth presented in its fullness but it reads very smoothly. Highly recommended!
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Do you know why so many are finding a home in the East? 30 Jan 2014
By Joel L. Watts - Published on
Format: Paperback
There is a growing trend among Protestants to explore, for whatever reason, higher church communions. The group known collectively as the Orthodox Church is one of those benefitting from the longing among former Evangelicals. But, what does it offer? Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church (in realities, many different Churches connected by theology, but lacking a uniting structure) is not widely known in the West. After all, a split occurred officially at the beginning of the second millenium after Christ, leaving the Western world under the monotheological sphere of Rome, at least until the Protestant Reformation. The Orthodox Church was left under to wonder on their on, as is the case of the Russian Orthodox Church, or under the realm of Islamic caliphates, like the Greek Orthodox Church.

Because of this isolation Westerners do not know what the Orthodox Church is, believes, or hopes for. Westerners, and this becomes clearer the more I investigate Orthodoxy, are at a loss for how theology is "done" in other branches of Christianity. While we share, for instance, the doctrine of the Trinity, the approach to it from the West and the East differ in several meaningful ways. Orthodoxy is still hidden behind ancient bigotry and intellectual illiteracy.

Andrew Louth, himself a priest of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh (Moscow Patriarchate), aims to change that with his Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology. He writes not to convert or otherwise proselytize, although at times I felt a pull on my Tiber-drenched Wesleyan heart. Rather as the title suggests, he writes to introduce to us a rather unknown stream of Christianity. While I knew something about Orthodoxy before engaging this book, I was able to learn more, much more than I expected.

Louth has divided this introduction into 9 theological areas. There does not seem to be an area that is lacking, unless you believe justification and individual sin are the main areas of Christian witness. Indeed, these topics are either not addressed, or simply not addressed in any meaningful way. Throughout Louth's exploration of these areas, one gets a real sense that Orthodox theology places more emphasis on Christ, his nature, and his reign than it does on exacting theological formulations or any avoidance of a Lake of Fire. I say this tongue-in-cheek because, simply, that is what Louth (and other Orthodox authors) maintain is the real theology of the Church. Topics include the Trinity, Tradition, Sin, Creation, the Sacraments, Liturgy, and what happens next. Some of the tenants of the beliefs may surprise Christians simply not familiar with the East.

What Louth reveals is not a Church that is simply the Catholic Church without the Pope, but an ancient communion filled with wonder, mystery, and a deep and abiding spirituality with Christ at its center and our heart as the goal. Without any argumentation, or swipes at differing viewpoints and traditions, Louth is able to present small and neatly contained units of theological dogma to a wide audience by drawing upon shared beliefs. It is a masterful attempt at using what we know to inform us about what we do not know. Further, and thankfully, Louth has included a suggested reading list as an appendix.

The only issue I have with the book is the lack of a glossary. I know what Protestants call things and, for the most part, I know how a Roman Catholic is going to write about certain theological elements. However, there are some words in this book what will require at least an internet search to understand. While the book can be read without knowledge of what an anaphora or troparion is, these words and what they mean are themselves a part of the unknown aspect of Orthodoxy.

I would highly recommend this book to small groups but so too to the individual who desires to see what the Orthodox Church is about. This does not argue for the supremacy of Orthodoxy, but shows the whats and the whys of the ancient communion. If nothing else, what is revealed is an ancient and beautiful tradition of worshiping Christ.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Perfect Introduction to Eastern Worship in Theology 21 Mar 2014
By A&J Torrey - Published on
Format: Paperback
There is possibly no tradition in Christianity that requires an introduction more stringently than Eastern Orthodoxy. With the heart of the tradition residing in Turkey, a history of painful separation from the western church and a complete lack of Augustinian thought in their theology, Eastern Orthodoxy remains true to their roots while the west seemingly forgets or ignores them. But as this tradition has spread further and deeper into the west and won converts, the intrigue and misunderstandings of western believers have revealed themselves. In his book Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology (which is based on previous lectures) Andrew Louth attempts to unravel some of the mystery.

The Communication
Eastern Orthodoxy is truly set apart from Western Christianity by the fact that it “sees its faith as expressed, and tested, in prayer and worship” (xix). Or put another way, one must worship in an Orthodox fashion to fully understand their theology. Far from being a reliance on experience, this speaks to the great importance the Orthodox worship structure plays in their communication of their faith. For Western minds built around systematic theology and clear enunciation of doctrines within a system, this type of organic presentation can be disorienting and seem unrefined. Though the chapters and subsections of Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology are organized to facilitate a systematic approach, there remains an organic expression of the faith that is evidenced by the persistent references to future and past chapters.

Fundamental to this organic expression is Andrew Louth’s strong dependency on quotes from the Divine Liturgy and Orthodox prayers. Western Christians will find the language, wording, and definitions of liturgical elements a potential distraction from the crucial and exciting perspectives that are presented. This problem manifests itself overwhelmingly in chapter 8, entitled “Time and Liturgy,” which is in fact one of the most interesting and informative chapters in the entire book. With this in mind, the book stands as a great introduction for those who already have some familiarity with Eastern Orthodoxy. Those who are approaching the subject anew may struggle to enjoy and appreciate this intriguing book despite its valuable content.

The Content
In a general way, Introducing Eastern Orthodoxy moves in the order of the Nicene Creed moving from God, Christ, man and closing with the second coming. Chapters 1-4 discuss God, creation and Christ at length, with many profound insights. Given a completely different starting base, typically a quotation from the church fathers, Louth is able to present Orthodox truths from a variety of perspectives. Occasionally Louth steps on the toes of Evangelical sensibility when stating that the church hears a “living voice in the bishops” (5) and that the Scriptures were “written and re-written” (8). But even among these statements it is fascinating to see the dogma of the Trinity and Christ portrayed in the light of church tradition.

Despite how Protestants may disagree with these views, they have not led or amounted to a breakout of charismatic apostles, liberal rebels or mass rejection of the church as has been seen in mainline Protestantism. Placing obvious and necessary disagreements aside, there are interesting things to be learned from these perspectives and their reliance on church history and tradition.

Chapter 3, entitled “The doctrine of creation,” stands out in this dense set of opening chapters and even manages to eclipse the outstanding sections on Jesus Christ (chapter 4). Louth’s articulation of the early church fathers’ views on creation ex nihlo, the “absolute difference” between God and creation (36) and creation as not “intrinsically opposed to Creator” (39) are outstanding insights for an ever increasing material Christianity.

Chapters 5-9, which cover sin, the fall, anthropology, the sacraments and eschatology, will prove difficult in some ways for Protestant readers. It is within these invaluable chapters that Protestant readers will see repetitive disagreement with the theological traditions of Augustine and the Reformation. Given the intention of Andrew Louth, an introduction to Eastern Orthodoxy, these chapters are gems. They are clearly communicated and overwhelmingly practical in their use of Biblical texts and reliance on the tradition of the early fathers. Far from leaving everything at a doctrinal level, each of these subjects is brought back down into the realities of Eastern Orthodox worship and application. It is at these points in particular that Protestant readers can engage their own paradigms and learn some valuable lessons.

Chapter 9, concerning eschatology, ends the book in a rather abrupt and non-fulfilling manner. Eastern Orthodoxy here, more than in previous chapters, lays down “a boundary, beyond which is heresy” (27) instead of clear dogmas. But for Protestant readers, these boundaries will seem to be far too wide and fanciful. It is in this chapter that the least persuading reliance on church tradition comes to light. Despite the opportunity to defend some controversial subjects on the basis of Scripture, Andrew Louth chooses to highlight difficult quotes in communicating the importance of universal eschatology over individual eschatology (145-152), disagreements over purgatory (154-155) and the possibility of universal salvation (157-159).

Despite these nuances and difficulties for Protestant readers, Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology is in fine form regarding its content and insight. Though more simple, lengthy and Protestant oriented books are available, this book truly communicates the heart of Eastern Orthodoxy in all its paradoxical wonder.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful, Engaging Volume 17 April 2014
By Johnny Walker - Published on
Format: Paperback
Anti-Catholic polemics have long been a part of the Protestant tradition. Most notably at its inception, though surprisingly, and unfortunately, continuing at times with vibrant force into the present day. The same cannot be said of the Protestant relationship to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Except for a few occurrences, the Orthodox seem to have strangely eluded the wary watch of Protestant polemicists. Eastern Orthodoxy has been marginalized in the West, not through direct attack, but rather through neglect and dismissal.

Thus, it is with good cause that Andrew Louth has written an introduction to the theology of the East - a work that I truly consider to be a great gift to the Western Church.

Andrew Louth is professor emeritus of Patristic and Byzantine studies at Durham University as well as a priest of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh. While he may possess the acumen, he makes clear at the outset that he does not intend to write a definitive account of the Eastern Orthodox tradition; indeed, he asserts that he does not have the authority to do so. Rather, Louth seeks to present a deeply personal account of the Orthodox way of life as he has come to know it.

This feature is profoundly significant to Louth’s whole project. Eastern Orthodoxy is not merely a belief system or a set of theological dogma to which one subscribes. Orthodoxy, righty understood, is “a way of life” (pp. 3). As such, an introduction to the theology of the East must necessarily deal with the praxis of the East. For it is in the life of the Church where Orthodox theology is most clearly on display. This is notably demonstrated by Louth’s rhythmic referral to the Divine Liturgy when seeking theological expression.

Many of the traditional areas of theological inquiry are discussed, however, one will note quickly (that is, the Protestant will note quickly) how distinctive is the Orthodox approach. Steady referral is made to the Fathers of the Church (especially St. Maximus the Confessor) rather than Holy Scripture. While Scripture is certainly revered as holy and as surpassing the writings of the Fathers, it does not appear to be subjected to as serious of an exegetical rigor as do the Patristic texts. In other words, historical-critical concerns take a back seat to traditional theological interpretation. Thus, the Orthodox source for theology is as much the tradition of the Patristics as it is the Scriptures.

The joy of an introduction to Eastern Orthodox theology then, is that the reader simultaneously receives an introduction to Patristic theology (an area that Louth certainly has the authority to speak on). Thus, many of the distinctive areas of Patristic thought are addressed here – the trinity, anthropology, creation, Christology, the Sacraments, Icons, liturgy, eschatology, etc.

Louth’s exposition of these issues is refreshing and eloquent. In fact, the whole demeanor of his work is one of worshipful devotion, which is very fitting in light of his understanding of theology as primarily “an engagement with God” (pp. 3). For example, his discussion of imago dei (or more appropriately, kat’ eikona) led to an insightful statement on how humanity’s God-intended telos is inherently Christic.

Likewise, Louth’s discussion of icons, perhaps the most controversial element of Easter Orthodoxy, was one that would likely temper the concerns of many idolatry-anxious Protestants and Catholics. While I still find icons problematic on several levels, I actually find myself happily confirming the “Christian materialism” that undergirds their function.

The other areas that Louth treats are similarly rich and, impressively, unapologetic. He speaks with conviction, yet there is also an ecumenical humility that is evident in his writing. A humility that I hope readers will share when they engage this book. Louth does not seek to defend Orthodoxy, rather he elucidates for readers the logic that lies behind Orthodox life, and allows that to be persuasion enough.

I am very pleased with this volume and I highly recommend it. Not only did I find myself learning much about Easter Orthodox theology, I found that I learned much of God. The devotional nature of this book will pose formidable to those who wish to engage in a purely academic encounter. And that is surely a testimony to Orthodoxy itself.

NOTE: This book was received free of charge from IVP in exchange for an honest review.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Personal, learned and an invitation to Christian thought. 3 May 2014
By Östling, Andreas - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
I enjoyed this book immensely for many reasons. Louth writes in a very informative way with learning, yet he is almost poetic in his language at times. There is almost something devotional about the book at many points, I could recommend it to any Christian that wants to grow in faith (independent of denomination). Others have mentioned that it seems perfectly suitable for an introduction to Eastern Orthodox Theology to blur the line between information and "encounter". He really brought that point home between the lines.

Many interesting aspects of Christian doctrine are dealt with from his Eastern Orthodox perspective. Different categories of doctrines are arranged under different headlines and chapters but I still felt that the book was rather loose in its structure , in a good way. The conversational style might have been one reason for this, another was probably how Louth sees the different doctrines fitting together. They can in one sense only be artificially distinguished, they all point in the same direction, so it is inevitable that themes are reoccurring throughout the chapters.
Classic themes of creation, human nature, sin, redemption, prayer, Christology, liturgy etc. are all treated with finesse and are personally engaging with many references to the Bible and early Church fathers of the east (and some modern authors). Important words in the ancient languages of Theology were explained and I appreciated that Louth did not simplify the meaning of the words, instead he lets the complexity and ambiguity of them come in the open. In his discussion of the doctrine of the trinity it became clear that he did not just leave his understanding at a complete "mystery", but allowed for more analytic discussion of it and this seemed to have been important concerns for the eastern fathers as well. (I mention this to avoid what seems to be a lurking stereotype: The West as proponents of rigid systematic analysis and the East as mysterious and vauge)

One of the things I loved about the book is in one sense also one if its weaknesses. In one sense I feel refreshed by the fact that Louth presents his faith without downplaying other Christian traditions. But the part of me that wants to see differences and contrasts feels like something is missing in the book. The reformation is hardly discussed at all and there was very little about the question whether any church can have a claim to be the "correct" one. These are important questions from an Ecumenical perspective and therefore I missed them. The topic is touched upon indirectly in some passages, but I would have liked more clarity on this point. But these are minor complaints to the book, it really did serve as the perfect introduction for me and the suggested reading at the end of the book will probably answer more of my questions.
A Heart Open to God 12 July 2014
By TheraP - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is the most readable, lucid, mystical expression of the truth of Orthodoxy. And maybe the best heart-to-heart deliverance of the Gospel essence I've ever encountered.

Read it with a heart open to God and you will be enlightened.
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