Modern Orthodox Thinkers presents a survey of recent Orthodox thinkers that goes beyond what a word like “survey” may imply. Andrew Louth manages to bring readers into an experiential awareness of Orthodoxy lived.
After an introductory chapter about the Philokalia, a collection of texts by Orthodox thinkers that emphasis a spiritual dimension to faith, twenty chapters present a number of Orthodox believers–from members of the church hierarchy to lay theologians–to readers. Each chapter provides a brief overview of the life of the thinker(s), a survey of their writings, and a focused look at selected aspects of their thought.
There is something here for almost any reader who is looking to glean from Orthodox thought. Whether it is Vladimir Solov’ev’s reflection on Sophia or Mother Thekla (Sharf)’s insight into Shakespeare, Keats, and others, Modern Orthodox Thinkers is a grab-bag of topics that will interest anyone. What’s more, the book presents these thinkers in such a way as to seemingly bring them into conversation with the reader. There is a sense of intimacy in the way that Louth presents the theology of each one that makes it go beyond a mere presentation of thought and towards an experiential awareness of the way theology is done.
Another strength of Louth’s work is that he brings women’s voices into the conversation as well. Too often, surveys of theological writers skip over the contributions women have made throughout history. Not so in this book, in which women thinkers are some of the most interesting people presented. For example, St Maria of Paris (Mother Maria Skobtsova)’s life was perhaps the most moving of all those presented. After the loss of a child, she pursued a life of helping others, taking the place of a Jew to go into a concentration camp, only to be executed in a gas chamber, again having taken the place of someone else (116). Her theology was that of lived theology, and it challenges readers to pursue the same lived faith for their own lives.
One difficulty with the book is that it will, at times, be completely impenetrable for the uninitiated (including the current reviewer). Although a brief introduction to the Philokalia is given, there is never a clear sense of exactly what it is supposed to be or how it is supposed to influence the thinkers presented. Other things are referenced in an offhand manner which gives little ground for readers to understand what is being discussed. For example, the “hesychast controversy” is presented with only the barest historical background of what it is supposed to be, despite the fact that it features prominently in several thinkers’ chapters. Although this was likely done due to space limitations and/or to keep the focus on the thinkers rather than on side issues, deeper discussion in the footnotes or even an extra paragraph would help those who are unfamiliar with Orthodoxy to understand more of the individual chapters.
Modern Orthodox Thinkers will challenge readers on a number of levels. First, it brings into focus the notion of a Christian life lived, whether by someone in the church or as someone who seeks to live as a Christian. Second, it will spur readers to a deeper understanding and exploration of Orthodox thought. Third, the breadth of topics will open readers to new avenues to explore. The book comes recommended.
+Impressive mix of topics and authors
+Includes women’s voices
+Experiential feeling to the writing
+Very broad scope
-At times impenetrable for the uninitiated
Andrew Louth, Modern Orthodox Thinkers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).
Disclaimer: I was provided with the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to provide any sort of feedback whatsoever.
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