The latest bus tour of Jesus Land

FatherPeterGillquistThe Iconoclasts,” Jason Zengerle’s New Republic report on evangelicals who have become Eastern Orthodox, is a largely commendable effort to let a few of these converts speak for themselves, but it presents an overly political picture of evangelicalism.

Based on Zengerle’s reporting, readers could easily decide that most evangelicals are anti-intellectual, believe God’s truth may be found only in their local congregation (so much for the National Association of Evangelicals) and hear their pastors inveigh regularly, from the pulpit, about Culture War hobby horses. The evangelicalism Zengerle describes sounds foreign to me (and I’ve identified with evangelicalism for roughly 30 years, since I first heard of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and its publishing arm).

Billy Sunday, whom Zengerle cites as proof that “The evangelical church has a long history of anti-intellectualism,” died nearly two decades before evangelicalism began taking shape in America, in large part as a response to the anti-intellectualism and separationism that evangelicals found in the era’s fundamentalist churches. Two other caveats on the article: Eastern Orthodox priests celebrate the Divine Liturgy, not the Mass; and Orthodox believers do not draw an icon but write it.

When he’s not pigeonholing evangelicals, Zengerle does a good job of describing the pilgrimages of former Baptist pastor Wilbur Ellsworth and of Peter Gillquist (pictured), a former leader of Campus Crusade for Christ, who was received into Antiochian Orthodoxy 20 years ago and who now is the head of the Department of Missions and Evangelism for the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

One breaking point for Ellsworth, former pastor of First Baptist Church of Wheaton, Ill., also would be a point of tension for many evangelicals who realize that Marie Barnett’s “Breathe” (to pick but one example) is thin gruel as contemporary songwriting, much less as hymnody:

… Ellsworth increasingly found himself fighting with congregants about the way worship was being done. “They wanted to replace our organ with a drum set and do similar things that boiled down not to doctrine, but to personal preference,” he explains. “I said, That’s not going to happen as long as I’m here.’” It didn’t. In 2000, after 13 years as the pastor of First Baptist, Ellsworth was forced out.

Being forced out of First Baptist Church helped lead Ellsworth to Eastern Orthodoxy, to becoming an Orthodox priest and to leading Holy Transfiguration Antiochian Orthodox Church in the neighboring suburb of Warrenville.

Readers of The New Republic might be surprised at how many evangelicals — at least those of us who support the new ecumenism — rejoice with Ellsworth, even while not joining him in the Eastern Orthodox communion.

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  • Eric W

    Readers of The New Republic might be surprised at how many evangelicals — at least those of us who support the new ecumenism — rejoice with Ellsworth, even while not joining him in the Eastern Orthodox communion.

    Could you explain this? What about being a new ecumenist makes you rejoice about Ellsworth becoming Orthodox? And … do you likewise rejoice when someone like Francis Beckwith becomes Roman Catholic?

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Mattk

    I thought it was interesting that the church organ was such an area of concern to Fr. Ellsworth. Especially since the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Christians reject all instruments for use in our Divine Services. It’s a bit like Fr. Ellsworth said, ‘because you want to have drums I’m not even going to have an organ. So there!’ I think that there should have been some discussion of how Fr. Ellswrth got over his like of organ musinc in church.

    Like you, Douglas, I thought the trashing of evangelicalism was overdone and largley innaccurate. (I learned Greek, how to read music, and to read the Church Fathers in pentecostal and evangelical churches.)

    Question: Did tmatt pass on this story because he is Orthodox?

  • http://christinthemountains.blogspot.com/ Fr. Andrew

    Regarding the “writing” issue for icons, it really is an off translation. In Byzantine Greek, zoographia (“life-writing”) is the painting of portraits, while eikonographia is the painting of icons. A painter is a zographos.

    There is no separate word for “painting” in this sense that is different from “writing.” So, to insist that icons are “written” is to insist simply on a literal translation of the Greek term and then to extrapolate a theological point from that translation.

    There’s nothing wrong with saying that icons are “drawn” or “painted.” It should be fairly obvious that portraits and icons are different things, and of course the process is different. The process is referred to by graphia either way.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    I was going to write about it, but there was a wrinkle.

    I was interviewed for the story — almost two hours worth of background material. So I was going to have to write about it as a sort-of participant.

    I thought the story was better than Doug, but agree with 90 percent or so of what he said. I thought the political angle was handled rather well — considering this was in a journal of politics and culture.

  • http://dallasfirstumc.org Steve Schofield

    “readers of the New Republic might be surprised . . .” As a subscriber to the New Republic for almost 20 years and an Evangelical Christian, I would say that I am only surprised that you would find these two traits mutually exclusive.

  • Julia

    Where the heck did the former Evangelical get the idea that the Catholic Church doesn’t teach that the member of the Trinity are equal? From Wheaton or his new Greek Orthodox faith? Why wasn’t that explained?

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Four responses to good comments:

    • Eric W: New ecumenists build unity with fellow believers who affirm creedal orthodoxy, and thus have no trouble rejoicing with a person who chooses Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholic or evangelical Protestantism.

    • Fr. Andrew: I based my remark about “writing icons” on interviews I’ve seen with iconographers. I am happy to accept your correction, though, and acknowledge that point as nitpicking.

    • Steve Schofield: I thought the word might avoided any suggestion that all readers of The New Republic would be surprised at how many evangelicals can rejoice for Wilbur Ellsworth. Like you, I have read TNR for roughly 20 years, albeit not always as a subscriber, and I do not think of such readers as a monolith. Please forgive me, though, for giving offense with a less than precise sentence.

    • Julia: I’m not wandering into the thicket of Western and Eastern disagreements about the persons of the Trinity.

  • Brian V

    Julia: I’m not wandering into the thicket of Western and Eastern disagreements about the persons of the Trinity.

    Douglas:

    You are a wise man. Wiser, I am sure, than the Mr. Zengerle. I am a Roman Catholic deeply in love with the Eastern tradition, and I hold my tongue at the filioque when we recite the Nicene Creed at mass. But I do so out of respect for the original text, without accepting the accusation that “and the Son” introduces any more alleged inequality into the Trinitarian perichoresis than the East’s formulation. No doubt unwittingly, Mr. Zengerle has stated the Orthodox position as a given. I doubt more than half a dozen English language reporters know how convoluted this subject is, but even a little theological education might go a long, long way here.

  • http://www.nomey.blogspot.com Levi Michael

    Being forced out of First Baptist Church helped lead Ellsworth to Eastern Orthodoxy, to becoming an Orthodox priest and to forming Holy Transfiguration Antiochian Orthodox Church in the neighboring suburb of Warrenville.

    I’m pretty sure from looking at the Holy Transfiguration website that Fr. Wilbur David did not “form” Holy Transfiguration. I think he did start an evangelical church plant in the Wheaton, IL, area, but Holy Transfiguration as a parish has been around for a while.

    In a sick twist of fate, Ancient Faith Radio ran an interview of Fr. Wilbur David a couple of weeks back and it can be heard here.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    You’re correct, Levi: “Formed” was an incorrect and sloppy word choice. I will change it. Thanks for the link to the interview on Ancient Faith Radio.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Zengerle’s piece uses the term “evangelical” liberally throughout and five times in the first paragraph alone. Zengerle does not define the term. Anywhere. I guess we all just know what “evangelical” means. Pay no attention to the fact that his use of the term varies throughout the piece.

  • http://web.mac.com/richard_barrett Richard Barrett

    Well, as long as we’re picking nits… there’s no such beast as “Antiochian Orthodoxy” (or “Antiochene Orthodoxy,” as Scott Hahn has been known to put it). Fr. Wilbur David and Fr. Peter were received into the Orthodox Church under the Patriarchate of Antioch. If you want to get really technical, the Patriarchate of Antioch is called the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch in order to distinguish it from its Melkite and non-Chalcedonian counterparts.

    Richard

  • ursus

    Billy Sunday, whom Zengerle cites as proof that “The evangelical church has a long history of anti-intellectualism,” died nearly two decades before evangelicalism began taking shape in America, in large part as a response to the anti-intellectualism and separationism that evangelicals found in the era’s fundamentalist churches.

    Doug, you make it sound like Billy really took a STRONG stand against anti-intellectualism…

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    My irony meter was off when I first responded to the comment from my friend ursus. On second thought: Touche, sir!

  • Michele Hagerman

    Yes, Fr. Wilbur was at a small Protestant congregation between leaving First Baptist and becoming Orthodox. Fr. Wilbur and some 20+ folks from his former Protestant congregation became Orthodox at my Antiochian Orthodox parish in Chicago. It was a real privilege and joy to be a part of their journey.

    Holy Transfiguration has been around for about 20 years.

    What shocked me about the article was the $10K he spent on Orthodox books. Even if it was over some years, that’s still crazy!

  • momly

    . . . Ellsworth increasingly found himself fighting with congregants about the way worship was being done. “They wanted to replace our organ with a drum set and do similar things that boiled down not to doctrine, but to personal preference,” he explains. “I said, That’s not going to happen as long as I’m here.’”

    And isn’t that a sort of personal preference as well? Religion wars over styles of worship could be circumvented with a lot of mutual forbearance….

  • janice

    I am a bit taken aback by the reasoning that Wilbur gives for leaving First Baptist. He did NOT leave due to differences in styles of worship, as he would have you believe, and he has not told the entire truth if that is what he says. I attended that church during those very difficult years and I can tell you that he left over very deep theological differences as well as some issues that he refused to deal with in conjunction with the deacons on the board. Wilbur has succeeded in making the church appear to look like “country hicks” who know nothing about the Bible or it’s history and theology. However, the members of that congregation are well educated, both through top colleges and seminaries in the country. The members were at odds with Wilbur’s desire to force the church into a Calvinistic theology, and the church’s basic beliefs did not foster that viewpoint. What is more, Wilbur had some personal run-ins with various members of the church which he refused to acknowledge or make right, and this caused many of the leaders to feel that he was unable to lead if he could not acknowledge sin and wrongdoing in his own life. The arguments over worship were barely even a conversation when he was finally asked to leave, and he left a lot of pain and hurt in his wake. It’s sad that he cannot still to this day acknowledge his own fault in this issue.


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