Miniblog #225: Is the Difference between Eastern & Western Christianity Overplayed?
Earlier this week I wrote a post entitled “Cut the Pious Crap and Technical Jargon: Here’s How I Define Sin.” In it I briefly touched about the differing conceptions and emphasises of Eastern and Western Christianity concerning this doctrine. Derek Rishmawy of the terrific blog “Reformedish” commented. He suggested, “I’m never a big fan of Eastern/Western dichotomies because they tend to break down with enough picking.” This is a criticism I’ve heard a good deal over the years,11.Especially from those with a broadly Reformed or Roman Catholic perspective. but in my estimation it doesn’t hold up. So long as the dichotomy isn’t overstretched or under-nuanced, I think it’s factually accurate, conceptually sound, and rhetorically helpful. Let’s talk ontology. Eastern Christianity is a tangible thing. Orthodoxy has laity and clergy, buildings and vestments, doctrines and practices, cultural distinctives and socio-political influences, etc. And despite the fact that populizer Western writers often ignore it,22.See: Schaeffer, Francis. How Shall We Then Live? clearly Eastern Christianity has its own history. Likewise, Western Christianity33.Though far more diverse both within Catholicism and exceedingly more so with Protestantism. is a tangible thing. It too has laity and clergy, buildings and vestments, doctrines and practices, cultural distinctives and socio-political influences, etc. It also has its own history. It is little wonder, then, that there will be so much obvious, indisputable overlap. We are, after all, talking about the Greek East and the Latin West of the same continent. Their origins are shared in the Roman Empire and, even amidst the centuries of fiercest antagonism, they were constantly geographically bumping into one another.44.It almost reminds me of John Gustafson and Max Goldman in “Grumpy Old Men.” In short, it seems to me there are two extremes in which we commonly err. Either we minimize their similarities while emphasizing their dissimilarities or we minimize their dissimilarities while emphasizing their similarities. Both approaches are far too easy. To my mind, intellectual honesty demands we must uphold rather than alleviate that tension.