Eastern Orthodox theology is undergoing a renaissance , but it is largely taking place outside of Orthodox institutions and is propagated by converts to the faith, reports First Things magazine (December).
An older renaissance of Orthodox theology in Europe was largely the province of émigré scholars arriving at newly established seminaries, such as Georges Florovsky, Alexander Schmemann and George Meyendorff. But the new revival is more American oriented and is actually being encouraged by non-Orthodox, often Catholic and Protestant universities and seminaries. There are twice as many theologians at non-Orthodox institutions as those teaching at Orthodox ones, writes Paul Gavrilyuk.
Catholic Fordham University has established an Orthodox Christian Studies Center and will soon hold an endowed chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture, while Protestant Union Seminary recently created an endowed chair in Late Antique and Byzantine Christian History for the Orthodox theologian John Anthony McGuckin. Catholics see Orthodoxy as offering a corrective to what they perceive as the limitations of “Latin” theology, while Protestants value the ancient traditions of Orthodoxy without having to deal with Reformation controversies.
The new Orthodox theologians are largely converts to the faith; for example, the ten Orthodox doctoral theology students at Fordham are all either converts or come from the families of converts. Gavrilyuk writes that the growing presence of converts will create “identity challenges” for the Orthodox. Already, the new theologians are in close conversation with non-Orthodox theological currents, such as postmodernism.
Such convert theologians as Richard Swinburne and his defense of the rationality of Christianity and David Hart’s postmodern theology are both viewed as inauthentic in some Orthodox quarters. Yet these and other new Orthodox theologians are bringing a more pluralistic approach that challenges the predominant patristic model in Orthodoxy, which seeks to return to early church sources, concludes Gavrilyuk.
(First Things, 35 E. 21st St., 6th fl., New York, NY 10010)