She has said to me in private almost exactly what she said in answer to a question on Rachel Held-Evans’s blog, that a Christian who uses practices or theology from the Orthodox tradition without converting to wholehearted Orthodoxy is, in effect, making a fresh slower arrangement. Here’s the Q and the A, with my response below:
From Karl: As someone who submitted as an adult to an ancient branch of the Christian faith, what do you make of the “emerging church” movement within (primarily) American evangelical and post-evangelical protestantism?
I haven’t kept up much with the emerging church. I think it has an inherent structural weakness, that it is defined more by what it is not than what it is.
I have known many emerging-church leaders who have been interested in taking aspects of Orthodox spirituality into their churches, and I have encouraged that, of course. But I think the drawback will always be that their people are not experiencing the faith of the early church itself, intact, but rather the selections from the early church that fit the taste of this particular contemporary leader. It’s being filtered through that person. There is still some benefit in that, of course, but it is like flowers in a vase. You can go to the garden of the ancient church and cut some flowers, and bring them into the worship space in a vase, and they will do much good, providing beauty and fresh life. But they are going to die. They have been cut off from their roots.
For me, when I realized that there was a spirituality that was developed by the early church—by the same community that wrote the New Testament and would naturally understand it best—and that this spirituality had been practiced unchanged by believers in every culture and time, I had to be there. I wanted to take it on its own terms, because I can’t trust my enculturated taste and preferences to know what’s actually best for me. It was, “If this still exists, why am I not there?” But not everybody feels that way. [Read the rest at Rachel Held Evans | Ask an Orthodox Christian...(Response)]
In Frederica’s analogy, any Orthodox practice or doctrine will die in my emerging vase, because I’m not taking the plant roots and all, but just cutting off the pretty blossom. It will look nice for a time in my vase, but will ultimately wither and die.
But, contrary to her opinion, my experience has not been of death but of life. I have been practicing the Jesus Prayer for many years now, and it continues to be the heart of my personal practice of prayer. Meanwhile, I have been deeply affected by Orthodox teachings on several doctrines, including hamartiology, soteriology, pneumatology, and theosis. But I have not converted to the Orthodox Church. That’s because 1) I think a mosaic faith is a better, richer version of Christianity, and 2) the Orthodox Church, as Frederica admits on Rachel’s blog, continues to be primarily an ethnic church that, truth be told, isn’t that friendly to visitors.
Finally, I obviously disagree that the relatively flat structure of the emerging church is a “structural weakness.” It’s actually the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church that is the weakness.
But on that count, I guess we’ll agree to disagree.