During the Christmas holidays, I enjoyed working through this new book from Andrew Louth, a recognized Patristics scholar and professor emeritus at Durham University. In this work, Louth, a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church, offers an accessible and inviting introduction to Eastern Orthodox thought—one that is accented greatly by the Russian tradition. Published in the USA by evangelical publisher IVP Academic, Louth’s audience seems to be western evangelicals, especially those with an interest in liturgy and the inherited worship forms in the Orthodox tradition.
Though as an evangelical Protestant I find some of Louth’s theology unsatisfying (e.g., emphasis on Mary, icons, authority of church and tradition, some sacraments), this book provides a good look at the Orthodox contribution to global Christianity, including many elements that are quite compatible with evangelical worship and thought. Louth organizes the book around a number of theological themes--the Trinity, creation, Christ, sin-death-repentance, humanity, sacraments and icons, liturgy, and eschatology.
While there is much to appreciate about the book, I will briefly comment on three areas. First, Louth pays forward a lifetime of scholarship in Patristics and shows the historic development of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. A new student to church history will gain much from how Louth has surveyed things like Trinitarian and Christological developments, including key personalities and church councils in the process.
Second, I really appreciated Louth’s discussion in chapter 8 on time and the liturgy. Describing the church calendar, including the periods of Advent, Lent and others and their related liturgy and Scriptures, Louth presents the liturgical flow that shapes Christian worship. He summarizes: “In the Church Year, therefore, we have a conjunction of cycles that shape the year and enable us to move through the various elements constituting the events that add up to the engagement between God and humanity that culminated in the Incarnation” (Louth, 131). Such a liturgical framework seems useful to the church (including free church evangelicals) to remain Gospel-centered and focused on the complete story of salvation while also providing a means for spiritual "reset" throughout the year.
Finally, the most insightful part of the book for me was Louth’s discussion in chapter 6 on what it means to be human and to bear the image of God. Beginning with the presupposition that Christ is the image of God in whose image we are made, Louth writes: “we have been created by God the Father in the image of the Word through the Word, so that, through the Word who created us we might come to the knowledge of God the Father—this whole process takes place by grace, that is through the Spirit” (87). He continues, “To be human is to be in the image, and being in the image, according to the image, entails a relationship to Christ, who is the image . . . Human kind is created according to an image—the Word of God—that we only truly know through the Incarnation. It is only through the Incarnation that we can truly understand what it is to be human . . . and it is unfallen humanity that we see in Christ. For the Word of God in becoming man, became what we were meant to be” (87). It follows that the goal of salvation (theosis in the Orthodox tradition) is to be conformed to the image of Christ—to become like Christ in his unfallen humanity.