December 2, 2020

Riffs + Open Thread: Michael Horton on What To Say To A Person Tempted to Become Catholic or Orthodox

logo.gifUPDATE: The Horton question is part of a larger symposium at Touchstone Magazine on “What is an evangelical?”

Michael Horton answers the question: What would you say to someone tempted to become Catholic or Orthodox?

Some of you people need an open thread so you can vent a bit. Well….this is your post.

Let’s hear your reaction to Dr. Horton- no matter what team you are on.

Unless you get personally insulting to someone, you can say whatever you like. I’m out of your hair.


  1. The Continental Reformers got it (partly) wrong anyways on this faith/works/love/justification/final-salvation thing – all that counts is faith working by love (Galatians 5:6; see also 1 Cor. 13:2, James 2, 1 John 3-4, Matthew 25:31-46, The Great Commandment, etc.). Makes you wonder if Luther had been lecturing on those books instead of Romans when Tetzel came to town selling indulgences, how the Reformation might have been different. So split the difference – become Anglican or Methodist!

  2. For those interested: On Tradition and the Bible in the RCC

    Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ editorial oversight board for the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults.

    “The fullness of revelation is Jesus Christ. He entrusted his message and mission to his apostles, and they in turn faithfully proclaimed his word. Before they died, the apostles appointed successors so that the living Tradition would continue and future generations would be assured of what Jesus had said and done for us.

    As time went on the recollections of the essential actions of Christ were written down. Eventually the successors to the apostles approved as Sacred Scripture those writings that correspond to the living, received Tradition going back to Christ. Thus we see that Tradition and Scripture are intimately related. Both have Jesus as their source, and each makes present the message of Christ who promised to remain with his Church until the end of time.

    We read the Bible, therefore, in the context of the Church’s centuries of reflecting on its meaning under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

    Quoted in the Catechism for US Issue 2 of 12

  3. I encourage everyone who wants to talk about what Catholics and Orthodox believe to please get the information from the churches themselves, not Protestants. My husband and I accepted the challenge by a friend who got tired of me spouting Protestant misconceptions about RCC beliefs. 😉 Reading Protestant “rebuttals” as a source for information seems more a defensive act than an honest search for the truth. I know, I did that for years. 😉

    Reading the teachings of the churches isn’t “dangerous.” Nor will everyone agree with beliefs of the RCC or EO. Some may, many won’t. But it will promote dialog based on facts and not hearsay.

    My husband was received into the Catholic Church this past summer, having basically “read” himself into the faith. We are now a “mixed” family, attending at least two churches regularly. And all the better for it, I might add.

  4. It’s a rule around our house that every side speaks for themselves in any denominational matter. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have an opinion about Osteen, for example, but it will be based on Osteen said- and hours spent listening/reading him- and not what others say about him.

    Hence my shelf with the Catechism, the Compendium and the Kreeft commentary on the catechism. Really helpful in being fair AND in my remaining a Prostestant.

    NOTE: I am about to put this in print: any post encouraging other Christians to join your denomination will not be posted, unless it is clearly humorous.

  5. Reading some of these responses, I think we need to be fair to Dr Horton here: this was not an article but a response to a question, presumably answered within time/word limit constraints, and as part of a panel, whether real or virtual I’m not sure. Any response needs to take into consideration the context of his remarks. Were he to write a book in response to the question, we would of course have a more rounded and fully considered answer.

    Also, a few comments have been made about the need to deal with RC or EO beliefs in terms of their own formulations; fair enough, can I refer you to one of the best works on the subject, at least as regards RC teaching, the Lutheran Martin Chemnitz’s Examination of the Council of Trent? It does just that, and although it is c. 400 years old now it is still very useful, as Trent still remains the definitive framework for modern RC teaching, Vatican II not withstanding. It is polemical, but that was the spirit of the times.
    John Calvin also addresses this subject in his writings, refer his Reply to Sadoleto, for e.g.
    On EO, Robert Letham has a very fair but slim overview, Through Western Eyes, which while sympathetic and irenical still points out important differences between EO and the Reformed viewpoint.

    I think one of the best responses here, I think from Adam O., is the reference to the hope for sanctification that turns Protestants Rome-ward or to the East. Although I have not heard that desire expressed explicitly by many “converts”, I’m sure it is a strong factor. One wonders, then, whether the solutions such folk have found to this problem will prove satisfying in the long run? Is this why some converts to EO leave in disillusion further down the track? It would be interesting to find out. Another observation, “converts” to RC or EO in my experience rarely apply the same judgmental strictures to the churches they are going to that they have to the churches they have left…”the heart has its reasons”, I guess.

    A personal comment – as a former unchurched seeker who explored widely and deeply: my difficulties with Rome involved how it presents at the bar of history (which is esentially the problem Newman tried to get around,
    and I didn’t find his answer persuasive). My difficulties with EO, apart from the obvious cultural ones, involved primarily the absorption of its piety in the monastic ideal (I think Schmemann has some good comments on that somewhere). I still have some big questions about the influence of neo-Platonism on EO “spirituality” which have not been satisfactorily answered.

  6. Mark, I’ve been following the thread, but haven’t had much interest in commenting beyond the one I made early on. However, you last comment about neo-Platonism in Eastern Orthodoxy perplexed me. From the studies I’ve made Orthodoxy is more deeply embodied — and thus contrary to Platonism — of any of the traditions. If anything, the charge of platonic influence would seem to more accurately be lodged against the West. In fact, it strikes me that the vast majority of Christians in the US are some blend of soft gnostics and soft Platonists, even if they don’t actually know what either means. Orthodoxy and Plato’s disembodied happy philosophers are at opposite extremes of the spectrum.

  7. Mark:
    I might point out that I think you’re a bit mistaken regarding the idea of dealing with RC and EO beliefs “in terms of their own formulations.” You present a number of Protestant authors writing about RC and EO. What I think we’re talking about is hearing the beliefs “straight from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak. Rather than read what John Calvin said about Catholicism, read what an actual Catholic says.

    Now, in my case, there was one book I found, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: a Western Perspective by Daniel Clendenin, that seemed (at least at the time, I’ve not re-read it since I’ve actually become Orthodox) to be a somewhat fair portrayal of Orthodoxy, even expressing the need to understand the different perspective in Eastern Orthodoxy. Of course, later in the book, where he offers his critique of Orthodoxy, he seems to completely forget about this…

  8. Scott M.,
    Yes, I would agree with you about many Protestants being semi-Gnostic, while some EO embody their faith very strongly. But I think that is incidental to the bigger question, and that is the philosophical presuppositions and foundations of the whole system. On the question of EO & neo-Platonism, I think John Meyendorff’s various comments in his work on Byzantine theology would be a good place to look to begin with.

    Certainly, look at Trent, the CCC and the various EO catechisms and apologetic works;, I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. I have shelves loaded down with them! But my point about Chemnitz and Calvin’s works in this area is that they do quote and respond carefully and directly with RC arguments, rather than with 2nd hand caricatures. Anyone considering “converting” to RC owes it to themselves to consider these works, since they are definitive reponses from the two sides of the magisterial Reformation to the RC counter-reformation.
    Regrettably, I’m not aware of a sytematic review of EO from the same perspective.

    Thanks both for your thoughts.

  9. It occurred to me that Dr. Horton’s contribution to the book Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism is a good place to go for his extended critique of EO. By the way, if ever there was a case of
    egregious misrepresentation of another tradition’s position, it is provided by Fr Vladimir Berzonsky in the same book!

  10. Mark, you must have a pretty selective perspective of Myendorff’s works if you find in them support for your idea that neo-Platonism is somehow a part of the Orthodox Church. He does write on the ways neo-Platonism, notably coming to a head with Origen, but resurfacing again and again over the centuries, had to be constantly repudiated by the Fathers of the Church. He does explore how the Hellenistic perspective had to be resisted and the various ways it kept creeping back in and had to be expelled again and again.

    I’ll stick to what I said earlier, of all the charges you can lay against the East, Platonism or neo-Platonism is not one of them. If anything, they are the tradition of Christianity which has best resisted Platonic influence, perhaps because it was so close to home for them. And I only personally know two Orthodox families. I have no basis for an opinion on the individual and practical embodiment of EO. My comment on it being the most embodied of the Christian traditions — in rejection of influence of Platonism and neo-Platonism (Origen is, after all, still anathemized as a heretic) — was based solely on its theology and practice.

  11. Scott,
    Can I suggest something that may run counter-intuitive?
    An expression of faith can appear to be highly cerebral, but be thoroughly non-Platonic in its worldview; whereas another expression of faith can appear highly embodied, but actually be thoroughly Platonic in its worldview. Witness, for e.g.,Sufism, which appears to be the most highly embodied form of Islam, but which most scholars agree has been strongly influenced by neoPlatonism.
    Mutatis mutandis, the same applies to EO, in my view. The EO argument appears to be that various seminal Fathers simply used nP terminology in order to refute the philosophical critics of Christianity in their own language, but the claim of the critics is that EO in actual fact adopted Hellenistic philosophy as part of its noetic structure, whether wittingly or unwitingly (witness, for e.g., the acceptance of the psuedo-Denis in EO long after his nPism ahd been identified in the West). That is not to say that EO is not Christian, but that it represents a highly Hellenised version of Christianity, just as, it could be said, various forms of Protestantism have been strongly shaped by the curently prevailing worldview.
    I would still contend that Meyendorff is more open to the claim of nP influence in EO than you suggest in your comment.

  12. Just to add my laste two cents. I sat under Horton for about four years (Now Orthodox). Same with the rest of the White Horse crowd. Horton doesn’t understand and knows very little about Orthodox theology. He doesn’t grasp the system of theology or how they read the Bible. And this is because he doesn’t grasp their theology. They don’t endorse his monergism, because they don’t endorse monothelitism, which is the same doctrine just placed in Christology. Horton is not the place to start and neither is Letham if you wish to understand Orthodox theology.

    As for Platonism, Orthodoxy uses Platonic terms, but also terms from Aristotle and the Stoics and gives them new meaning. Hence terms like homoousia and hypostasis. Consequently it is a mistake to read the use of terms as proof of Platonic origination. Platonism depends on dialectic, distinguishing objects through opposite properties, but for Orthodoxy this is impossible since the two natures in Christ are not disginguished by opposing one to the other. Consequently, philosophy isn’t nor can be the haindmaiden to theology, it does not clarify the conceptual content of theological terms in Orthodoxy.

    If you want to understand Orthodoxy you should read its best theological representatives-Meyendorff, Staniloe, Romanides, McGuckin, Golitzen and Farrell. Historical figures such as Athanasius, Ireneaus, Cyril and especially Maximus the Confessor are crucial. The key to understanding Orthodox teaching is Christology.