For Evangelicals, Catholics = Bad, Orthodox ≠ Catholics, so…? (Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics)

Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics is a much needed book; however, after several powerful essays, I arrive at two essays serving as a reminder of Evangelical viewpoints of Rome and the East. Bruce Demarest writes with the utmost condescension at both Evangelicals and those who have created the Great Tradition. James R. Payton, Jr., however, writes with care and ease regarding the Greek East and their contributions to Spiritual classics.

Demarest notes his unease at writing the chapter (115), citing the suspicion Protestants have of Catholicism. In my experience, suspicion of this type is little more than ignorance laiden paranoia. After all, it was only recently the British Parliament voted to allowed a Catholic to sit upon the throne. In the United States, a country with a political party in its history dedicated to the eradication of Catholics, we regularly see televangelists lobbing verbal bombs at ‘the great whore of Babylon.’ Archbishop Sheen once remarked, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” It would appear this is because Evangelical leaders either are ignorant of what Rome teaches or, knowing what Rome teaches, strive to keep their congregants in the dark about why Rome teaches and believes what it does.

While this book is about promoting Evangelical theology at the expense of the Great Tradition, there is no attempt to even call attention to the ongoing debate between doctrines. Instead, Demarest writes a little about the wisdom from ‘selected classics,’ but spends a great amount of his essay writing warnings. Evangelical doctrine is assumed unquestionable, even though it originated only recently compared to the doctrines he warns against. He does not allow for even the grace of disagreement, but simply issues a passive warning that one must stay away from those who came after Christ but preceded Luther, Calvin, and Piper.

On the other hand, Payton draws us into Orthodox spirituality by nothing it takes more than a casual glance to understand and grasp the fullness of the East. Oddly enough  — and if nothing else, this is extremely important — Payton’s remarks about the East’s view on orthodoxy v. -praxy draws the best picture of Demarest’s viewpoints. We in the West know our doctrines, Payton tells us, while those in the East live their doctrines. This is why Payton can write of Orthodox spirituality without the warnings accompanying Catholic spirituality. Instead, he explains some basic precepts of Orthodoxy and why it as an ecumenical body holds to such tenants. He is able to then invest some credit in recommending Orthodox spirituality.

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