Monday, April 14, 2014

Stăniloae against Godless Christianity

Lately I have been reading through Dumitru Stăniloae's series The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. I am really enjoying what he has to say about the function of the church, deification, the preservation of revelation through tradition, and so on.

In the course of a chapter addressing the topic of theology as an ecclesial service, he writes about various forms of theology which may prove harmful and damaging for the life of the church. One is a kind of liberal Christian theology that is effectively atheist and anti-traditional:

Even more damaging, however, is theology which entirely abandons the revelation in Christ which has been preserved in holy scripture and in the tradition of the Church in order to adapt itself to what it thinks representative exclusively of the spirit of the age. The Protestant Bultmannian theology which declared that all the essential events from the beginning of Christianity are myths was of this kind, as were the similar views of the Anglican Bishop J.A.T. Robinson, and the theory of a Christianity without God put forward by the "God is dead" theological movement in America (The Experience of God, vol. 1, p. 89).

Now I presume there are a few ways a theology could be Godless.

In the first place, it could be verbally Godless, as when the names "God", "Jesus", etc., are not used in any explicit way. In a second way, however, it would be more existentially Godless, insofar as it does not posit the existence of God, the deity and presence of Christ, etc., in any literal way.

The problem with both forms of theological Godlessness, whether verbal or existential, is this: they do not put people in contact with the only possible source of their salvation, the Holy Trinity. They don't orient their listeners in such a way as to come into contact with the deity. Instead, if there is any salvation at all to be had through these Godless theologies, it would have to be a kind of salvation you more or less realize yourself: e.g., through moral effort and a disciplined lifestyle of sorts, you come to a certain higher level of moral enlightenment which minimizes the harm you cause other beings, etc. The orthodox Christian insists, however, that humanity cannot salve itself, grand moral efforts on the part of a select few enlightened individuals notwithstanding.

Stăniloae emphasizes that Christian theology is only worth anyone's time if through it we come into genuine contact with a powerful source of salvation:

Christianity cannot be of use to any age, nor consequently to the present age either, if it does not bring to it what it alone can bring: the link with the infinite source of power, that is, with God become man. Only in this way can Christianity contribute to progress by means of an unending process of spiritualization (ibid.).

If there is to be a progress for humanity, if people are going to move forward, it can only be through contact with God in Jesus Christ, "the common Savior of all" as Athanasius names him.