Evangelicals Turning to Eastern Orthodoxy

Evangelicals Turning to Eastern Orthodoxy January 13, 2014

It can shock the socks off some ordinary evangelicals when they hear that one of their children or someone they know well decides to jump ship to become Eastern Orthodox. (The same goes for evangelicals who turn to Roman Catholicism, and I have written about this in Finding Faith, Losing Faith, along with Hauna Ondrey.) But it happens — sometimes good Biola kids go Eastern and good Wheaton kids go Catholic. The bigger fact, of course, is that far more Easterns and Catholics become evangelicals than the reverse (but that’s another story, and that’s in Finding Faith, Losing Faith too).

What happens when someone turns Eastern Orthodox? In Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church, D. Oliver Herbel proposes what I think is both a convincing theory but one that could be sharpened. In his book, Herbel examines four paradigmatic converts to Eastern Orthodoxy, only one name will be known to many readers of this blog. The four are St. Alexis Toth, Fr. Raphael Morgan — both of whose stories take us back a century or more — and then Fr. Moses Berry, in Missouri, and the recently deceased Peter Gillquist.

The known figure is Gillquist, who was a leader in Campus Crusade, went on a mission to find the NT church, thought he and others had found it in a kind of Americanized, evangelicalized, Gillquist-ized version of Orthodoxy, then they got some recognition and eventually they moved all the way into the Eastern Orthodox Church. The stories of Toth, Morgan and Berry were just not that interesting to me, though Herbel’s research is careful and judicious. Gillquist’s story, again carefully studied, reveals too much authoritarianism but he and his numerous companions seemed to have submitted more than adequately in the end to the Eastern leaders.

Here is the convincing and compelling thesis of Herbel: American religion fosters individuality, creativity, and newness. Hence, the splits of splits of splits in American denominational bodies. At the heart of many of these splits is restorationism, the attempt to get back to the original way of doing things in the New Testament era.

In addition, at the heart of American religion is an incurable anti-tradition tradition. That is, we Americans by and large oppose a religion that is too old and ancient. We like the new. Our “tradition” is anti-tradition.

So, Herbel now: the stories he focuses on (Toth, Morgan, Berry, Gillquist) are examples of (1) the spirit of restorationism, (2) caught up in the all-too-American anti-traditionalism, and that (3) manifests itself in being anti-traditional by being traditional (Eastern Orthodoxy then appeals to both the anti-tradition of American newness while moving into a tradition that is old). He overuses the word “irony” here but it’s a fair and accurate use.

So, let me put this together again: these converts search for the original-est NT church by riding the American encouragement to be anti-traditional. Yet, their restoration spirit encounters the Great Tradition of the Orthodox church as the best form of restoring the NT church so they end up being anti-traditional by being unAmericanly traditional! Clever, and right.

I wish Herbel had compared why the restorationism of the evangelical converts is not on par with the traditionalism of the Orthodox when their theological orientation is more or less the same (and frankly the evangelical-rooted Orthodox converts are some of the best witnesses today for Orthodoxy). The tension appears to be over what one thinks is restoration while the others see it as a millennia long living tradition — rather than (just?) the original faith.

Herbel’s work lacked nuanced analysis of the crises at work in the conversion of his subjects. Rambo and I have both explored this in our books (mine in both Turning to Jesus and in Finding Faith, Losing Faith) while Herbel stuck with little more than general (if accurate) orientations. There are a variety of crises at work when one converts and these could have been explored.

Finally, this book, especially the endnotes, was riddled with typos. I found enough that I got irritated and stopped marking them. OUP ought to be embarrassed with its copyeditors.

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  • Don Bryant

    A perspective I came across some years ago was offered by Vernon Grounds of Denver Seminary and the Conservative Baptists. So many who knew his breadth and generous orthodoxy wondered aloud why he remained within the narrow cultural and theological confines of the CB movement. His response was that he believed that a person who was raised in and trained in a certain tradition could make more of a difference to the wider church by using that skill set to affect the group he found himself in rather than dilute it by joining with a tradition in which he would always be an outsider. If one is committed to the idea of a “best version” of a historical true church, then perhaps the best thing to do is remain where you are and inform and sharpen rather than critique and leave. In the long run, you’ll make more of a difference in bringing the church to a recognition of its rootedness in the Great Tradition.

  • Matt Erickson

    Thanks for posting this, Scot. I appreciate you boiling down the thesis that this Eastern Orthodox conversion is essentially a different form of the same individualistic restoration impulse within broader American Christianity and, especially, within American evangelicalism.

    My only question is whether something happens here that is different. Particularly for converts from evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, it seems that the encounter with the Great Tradition is more of a confrontation and decision against the individualistic restoration-ism in favor of corporate identity that transcends mere time and place. I see this as a slight difference from merely continuing in the individualistic restoration-ism impulse. It seems, rather, a recognition that such an impulse can never be satisfied and should be abandoned in favor of something bigger than the self and its current milieu.

    In response to both Rick and Klasie, I’d say that many of those converting to Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy are not satisfied with the via media of Anglicanism. Friends of mine who have moved to RC or Orthodoxy see it as more faithful historically and theologically to the Great Tradition. I do agree with Klasie that there are some whose interest is merely in something ‘new’ – or perhaps in their eyes as ‘old’ – that stems from a sort of raw enthusiasm. However, I think there are many whose decision is not from that place. Some of the literary converts to Roman Catholicism in the mid-twentieth century were actually trying to move away from atheism and enthusiasm.

  • Phil Miller

    One of my best friends is a deacon in an EO church that was very influenced by the group of people around Gillquist. It was near a college campus, and even now you can see there’s still an Evangelical influence in the congregation. The priest and the deacons all attended the Catalyst Conference last year, for example. They do get a good number of converts from Evangelicalism, too. In their over-zealousness, the priest there refers to some of the newly converted as “Ortho-dorks”… Those are the ones who feel it’s their job to convert every other Christian to Orthodoxy.

    The interesting thing I’ve found in talking to my friend is that he still deals with many of the same issue in his congregation that congregations in other traditions deal with. There’s still pettiness and arguing about different things. It’s just the way they are borne out in a liturgical church tends to be a bit different. My only point is that I feel that some people think that converting is going to completely remove them from all the problems the Evangelicalism deals with. In some sense, it does, but a lot these problems still exist. It’s just in a different atmosphere.

  • MisterDavid

    A good question would be ‘What *sort* of evangelical becomes Orthodox?’

    Those I have known have either been:
    a. Charismatic evangelicals who find in Orthodoxy both a stolid rootedness and a respect for the mystic.
    b. Evangelical Episcopalians who have given up on the Episcopal Church.
    c. Postmoderns who love Orthodoxy in the same way a magpie likes shiny things 🙂

    I would expect that converts from calvinistic or other conservative evangelicalism would be far more rare.

  • scotmcknight

    It’s much more complex than that. I don’t think Gillquist’s group fits any of your three.

  • scotmcknight

    It might be best to see the corporate or ecclesial focus to part of what they discover in the NT and therefore something they are restoring. No?

  • Phil Miller

    I would expect that converts from calvinistic or other conservative evangelicalism would be far more rare.

    I know it’s only anecdotal, but the friend I mentioned above came from a very conservative, Calvinistic background. He became a Christian while in college, and the student group he was associated with was very Calvinistic.

    I think there is an appeal from EO to people who are more conservative simply because they see the church as a true bastion of conservatism that is utterly resistant to social pressures.

  • Matt Erickson

    Yes, I agree with that at one level, but also see it as a sharp discontinuity with the individualistic approach to restoring. Does that make sense or not?

  • Marilyn Gardner

    As a catechumen in the Eastern Orthodox church I found this article, and the comments to be interesting. If there is one thing I am learning on this journey toward Orthodoxy it is this:the church will not bend for my comfort. This strikes me as a startling revelation. So much of church shopping today is done according to comfort. “If I can’t go in my shorts, holding my large Hazelnut Latte, then it’s not the church for me.” is a quote I have heard in various versions in diverse areas of the country for the past 10 years.

    And yet here I am in a church where comfort is not high on the agenda. Neither is creating an atmosphere that will make your local coffee shop aficionado feel like it’s their ‘place’. Rather, I am participating in a service and pursuing a faith that speaks in awe and reverence about the saints and their posture as they head toward their deaths. A church that invites me to look at worship in a new way. It is a church that takes the words in the book of Philippians seriously:“That I may know Him, and the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death.” A church that sees church as essential to growing in faith.
    As an American who grew up overseas I am in a church that doesn’t think it was invented in America, that doesn’t see the west as the author of Christianity. It has nothing to do with being hip or radical, it has nothing to do with shiny new things like magpies.

    I am in a church that stands in awe, prostrates in reverence, fasts in remembrance. And I am being challenged in ways that I’ve never been before. I will always love my evangelical roots – they are strong and deep. But I am in a good place as a reluctant orthodox.

  • Shane Scott

    Scot thanks for a very interesting post. I have heard of several friends from my restorationist background turning to Orthodoxy and I think this analysis helps to explain why.

  • BryanJensen

    I’d say it often lately represents more of the cultural movement of post-postmodernism, sometimes called meta-modernism or New Sincerity movement. Certainly a high profile conversion to EO like Jaroslav Pelikan isn’t the most telling of this trend, but a musician-actor like Jon Jackson (Enation. Nashville), I think is. (And I don’t say that to put down Jon; if you hear him talk about his story he’s certainly no light-headed drifter.)

    Such American “conversion” narratives also often strike me much like reading CS Lewis or Chesterson. They were looking for more than neo-mysticism or spiritualistic discipline (though I’d say there is definitely some balance for that), anti-Episcopalianism, and, for certain in terms of strict definition, not postmodernism. They were looking for, as I’ve heard Tim Keller say it, a “crunchiness” to the cogency of their faith.

    EO “convert” stories I’ve heard on Ancient Faith Radio (Bobby Maddex, Robert Arakaki, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Kevin Allen, Fr. Andrew Damick, et al) have often come from conservative evangelical backgrounds.

  • Cody Lee

    Also what about those who convert primarily for theological reasons? I have a friend who converted because he was convinced by the theological positions of Orthodoxy on various issues, as keeping with the consensus of the same church fathers who handed down to us the canon of scripture. He saw the lacking ecclesiology of Protestants and the divisions so great that there was no visible unity, nor a way in which heresy could be genuinely called out and delt with in such conditions, which is in contrast to what we find in the NT, or in the early church.

    His method was to go back to the earliest fathers and to find the consensus and work forward to find where the inovations bagan and what they were. He wanted to believe the faith once delivered to the saints, and not just try and filter through the mass amounts of evangelical works that all clamor for the truth, as received via ‘special revelation’ personally by the Spirit because everyone has been wrong for the past 2000 years until they figured it out.

    I think a lot more converts are converting for theological reasons, and for a faith that has foundation for deciding proper interpretation, than just for the traditions of worship, etc. I actually find those things to be hinderances for converts such as my friend, though they accept them because they are so convinced by the rest.

  • Rick Gibson

    I wondered if theology might be the underlying why of their desire for restoration. For my part, I find the EO view of atonement far more compelling and consistent with the nature of God than they typical evangelical view. I just can’t get past the funny hats!

  • BryanJensen

    Good point. It makes me think of 1 Thess 1. St Paul when greeting the Thessalonians, praised them for the faith and hope they had put into their work and labor, as well as for the love they showed in endurance. No one endures in love without overcoming problems. So even though he wasn’t trying to build unity and correct errors like his address to the Corinthian church, he was still acknowledging that the church community life isn’t free from trials, pettiness, and etc. Else how could we endure in love?

    From hearing conversion/transition stories, though, through various EOrthodox books, blogs, support websites, and even the writings of a Metropolitan bishop (and convert) like Kallistos Timothy Ware, I’ve found the dialogue very self aware that one shouldn’t become Orthodox because one is running away from any perceived faults of evangelicalism or protestantism, be it doctrine or the praxis of church/community life. One chooses to enter into the sacramental life and tradition of the ancient body, and preferably, if one is married, to do it in concert with one’s spouse. Not knowing, personally, how my own journey will work out toward the Orthodox tradition(s), I’ve taken some hope from the expression I’ve heard several Orthodox say: God’s presence is within Christ’s bride, the holy church. Outside of it we don’t say where God is not.

  • Chris

    I converted to the Orthodox church 2 years ago. I’m a former evangelical pastor. I attend a church full of former evangelicals and each has a unique story of how they found the fulness of the faith as expressed in the Orthodox church. I would suggest several things for consideration. First, the desire to be challenged to a higher calling. People want to be challenged even if they fail or don’t quite live up to it. In modern Christianity it seems like people are not be called to the hard and lifelong work of prayer, repentance, fasting and love of neighbor. Instead they are encouraged to “rest” or “accept” what God has already done for them & told the church is there to meet all their needs. Is it spiritually healthy to program a church in such a way that seeks to meet my every need, want, whim, desire and style preference? Does that lead me to to Christ or simply reinforce the spirt of this age – the god of self.

    Secondly, most converts I know did something quite dangerous which most evangelicals rarely do – study church history. When they went back and dusted off the pages of history they found there was a Church that gave them the Nicean Creed and the Bible they love. There was a Church that stood up to Arius. There was a Church that spilled its blood for the very Christological & Trinitarian truths they hold dear. They also found that this Church was liturgical, sacramental and hierarchical from the very beginning. Something they were taught was just “dead religion”. Additionally, they found that many doctrines they held dear were of recent invention. They all finally asked themselves the question am I in the Church that gave us the Bible or am I in one of the creation of modern man?

    Thirdly they finally came to grips with what a “church” is. For a Protestant a church is defined as any group of Christians meeting that hold to the least common denominator of “I believe in Jesus”. This criteria could easily be fulfilled by people sitting in a living room or a coffee shop. However, the Church is more than just a collection of people who “believe in Jesus”. It is a visible body founded by Jesus and built on a foundation of apostles and prophets. It is the pillar and ground of truth. It is the bride of Christ. To be in Jesus’ Church is to be in that body that is historically connected and can be traced all the way back to Pentecost. There is one Church that can trace its doctrine and heritage all the way back to the apostles – the Eastern Orthodox Church.

  • BryanJensen

    That actually gets at more than maybe you are trying to say. I am very compelled by the EO nuance on the Christian worldview, but there is hardly any Orthodox presence in my area (Utah), and no real sense of community outreach except an annual greek food festival. The cultural barriers seem huge.

  • BryanJensen

    Good observations about “church shopping.” I also love Fr. Armitas’ efforts, including his Orthodoxy Live podcast, and it seems very much on his heart that Orthodox can do better to reach into communities within America and not be so fragmented nor culturally withdrawn. He doesn’t say that merely to be critical. He seems to have a real heart for evangel.

  • Phil Miller

    First, the desire to be challenged to a higher calling. People want to
    be challenged even if they fail or don’t quite live up to it. In modern
    Christianity it seems like people are not be called to the hard and
    lifelong work of prayer, repentance, fasting and love of neighbor.
    Instead they are encouraged to “rest” or “accept” what God has already
    done for them & told the church is there to meet all their needs.
    Is it spiritually healthy to program a church in such a way that seeks
    to meet my every need, want, whim, desire and style preference? Does
    that lead me to to Christ or simply reinforce the spirt of this age –
    the god of self.

    I appreciate threads like these because it shows how varied our individual experiences and perceptions are. Regarding your first point about wanting to be challenged, I would say that your experience is very different than mine. My experience was, and still is to a degree, that no matter what you’re “doing for Jesus” in Evangelicalism, there are always many people willing to tell you that it’s not enough. You come to service multiple times a week? You really should be involved in a small group, too… You’re already in a small group? You should volunteer your time over the weekend… Already doing that? You probably need to go on a short-term mission trip… The list goes on and on. It’s not that any of those things are bad, of course. It’s just that it’s easy to see yourself as not being able to live up to these standards.

    So I guess I’d say if more churches were really telling people that it’s OK for them to rest and accept what Christ has done for them and realize that they’re as loved now by Christ as they ever will be, I wouldn’t see it as a bad thing.

  • Dianne P

    Where is Dana?

  • I’ve been drawn to EO, and read Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church. Perhaps the biggest thing that draws me is their being aware that they are embedded in a community of saints (and here I really just mean fellow believers) stretching back to Christ and really, before that as well. It also helps that they have a deep appreciation of layman reading the Bible which goes back to the first millennium; Ware claims that it was common to discuss theology with one’s butcher while purchasing dinner.

    A lot of American Protestants seem to have lost their connection to history, choosing to reject the good along with the bad, instead of:

    But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:14)

    This saddens me, as it forces us to re-learn lessons over and over and over again, instead of learning from both the wisdom and the foibles of the past. 🙁

  • Chris

    Phil. Sounds like you’re in a bad church. Guilt is not a good motivator for Christian service

  • Phil Miller

    Thankfully, I’m not in a place where I’d say that is happening now. I’m just saying I’ve seen it happen quite often. I think it’s very common and easy thing to use guilt as a way to try to manipulate people.

  • Phil Miller

    Weird… I posted the comment above, and it looked like it disappeared into the vapor. It showed up once I posted the second one (this one, that I now edited.)

  • BryanJensen

    Yes, I think there is still “rest” in purposeful action. After all, per Eph 2:10, Jesus rescued us, not by our own merits, but by his graciousness, so he could invigorate us to do the things he’s prepared ahead for us to do. Even if his yoke is easy, yokes are still used for getting something done. 🙂

    The hamster wheel of guilt gets old, yet even Orthodox experience that too. Sometimes it is bad culture or bad local leadership. Sometimes it is the need for taking a sabbatical from even the good-willed enthusiasm for letting church become one’s world and/or the need for volunteers to help get things done (which is often a short list no matter the tradition). It can be hard to be salt to the lives of unbelievers when we are only sprinkled on the stew of the local church community and its programs, programs, programs.

  • Chris

    One thing I failed to mention is there seems to be a different emphasis in Orthodox and evangelical spirituality. EO is much more of a journey inward into our own souls. More of a contemplative emphasis focusing on inner change and union with God

  • Marilyn Gardner

    Thank you for this comment. This articulates my ongoing journey well. These words I love: “When they went back and dusted off the pages of history they found there was a Church that gave them the Nicean Creed and the Bible they love. There was a Church that stood up to Arius. There was a Church that spilled its blood for the very Christological & Trinitarian truths they hold dear.”

  • Rick Gibson

    In all seriousness, I have had a similar experience here (South Texas). The few EO churches here have a strong overriding cultural identity (Greek or Russian), and that is a huge barrier.

  • Dianne P

    I love the EO but will not be converting anytime soon.

    I was raised in the Byzantine Catholic Church, which is technically under Rome, but looks just like EO. In so many ways, I long for the beauty and majesty of that liturgy and the mystical love that permeates all. Their atonement theory is filled with grace. I continue to read and read and read in that tradition. However, at this point in time, I attend a very (very!) liturgical Episcopal church. And occasionally visit the EO liturgy.

    1. My daughter and family are Episcopal (though my daughter was chrismated in the Eastern church). If I were EO, I could not share in the Eucharist with them. They could attend my church but not participate in the Eucharist there. And honestly, I can’t imagine these youngsters sitting quietly through a 1.5 hour liturgy. So, being in an EO church would divide us in worship.
    2. Eastern churches are so often intertwined with ethnic identity. Growing up I was on the inside of that, and I don’t relish going back. I did attend a Greek Orthodox church in Phoenix that was enthusiastic about their non-Greek converts, but that is seldom the case. Maybe if I didn’t have that ethnic church history, I might not be so sensitive to this issue.
    3. While I admire their faithfulness to tradition, the maleness of the liturgical procession is off-putting, especially to this grandmother of 2 little girls. I can live with the all male priesthood, but I do weary of the male dominated liturgy, which I don’t think reflects tradition so much as habit.
    4. With the world moving toward more loving acceptance of homosexual relationshps, I find it hard to be in a church that is not. I guess this is picking and choosing which traditions I cherish, but having read and re-read the pros and cons on this, and especially in light of the new perspective on Paul, I really do see it as an issue of the ANE rather than of today.

    And I am looking forward to comments from Dana.

  • BryanJensen

    Has that been your experience? I admire that the mystical and contemplative is definitely talked about and admired in the EO culture, generally, as a facet, but I’ve seen more — at least among those who convert — the longing for a more connectedness to how they are living their faith together with others (including a mindfulness of others who have gone before). They’re neither primarily looking to journey inward nor up to a mountain, but value being among those who do or have. The value of a parish priest being married (and for the role of his wife the khouria/presbytera) seems to stand as a symbol that contemplativism isn’t the highest order for EO worldview.

  • Chris

    Good point. Just saying there is this long tradition of mystical and contemplative practice like heysachism and the Jesus Prayer

  • Bikentios

    End notes are a result of the Fall.

  • I think there is one huge advantage in Eastern Orthodox: they generally don’t misinterpret the book of Genesis and teach this doctrine of the inherited sinful nature.

    This teaching is a true blasphemy which makes God ultimatively responsible for sin since He is the one who cursed our whole kind because two people ate the wrong apple.
    It completely undermines any kind of moral responsability and makes the Almighty look like a moronic monster.

    This is particularly unfortunate since (as I have argued at length) it is extremely unlikely that the author(s) of Genesis bought that doctrine.

    To my mind this teaching is undoubtedly one of the greatest evils which paralyse Evangelical Christianity.

  • danaames

    Here I am, Dianne, just late to the party 🙂

    I think Fr Oliver is definitely worth listening to. I’ve read his blogging in the past, and he is a good thinker and committed to honesty. Too bad the typos get in the way.

    The group of which Gillquist was a part had their roots in all the upheaval in the ’70s, when a lot of people were interested in “finding the first century church.” Authoritarianism was a problem among them, as it was among many at that time, before they got to EO. That problem, no matter where it shows up, has some negative consequences, and I am personal friends with some people who suffered through some of that related to that group. My friends ended up Byzantine Catholic, interestingly.

    Yeah, the ethnicity is a real problem – has its roots in the life of the immigrants who came to this country expecting to eventually go back to the old country. There are other mostly sociologic issues as well. The OCA and the Antiochian churches are sensitive to this; some Greeks are starting to see it, too.

    As for me, I had already “fled” Evangelicalism in 2000, though at the time, I did not realize I wasn’t going back. I was part of a PCUSA congregation for 9 years, waiting to see what God would open up for me. I got the point that postmodernism as literary criticism was making. N.T. Wright’s work figured greatly for me. I was really attracted to the Emerging Church and hoped to find what I was looking for there. At the same time, I also started going back in history and reading the writers of the early church. I was gobsmacked by the Apostolic Fathers, the “next generation” – how the teaching and praxis they seemed to have been handed was liturgical, and with a different interpretation of the meaning of the whole sweep of the Christ Event and Christian anthropology than I had ever known, even growing up Catholic.

    I wasn’t looking for “the first century church” – once the calendar turned to the year 101, the first century was over and its church was no more and could not ever be “restored” – that project seemed misguided to me. The Celtic ethos of the Northumbria Community was a huge help, but I could only rarely actually worship with those folks. I was looking for a church where I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb for coming to the theological conclusions to which I had already come (largely because of Wright). I continued reading and asking questions of Orthodox people I was getting to know. The more I found out about Orthodoxy – real Orthodoxy, not a lot of the foolishness that’s out there on the Internet – the more I saw that I already believed most of its theology, and, in the end, that it was the only expression of Christianity in doctrine and praxis that could be traced all the way back to the first century, with obvious intrinsic roots in Judaism. Both east and west were responsible for the schism and neither side did enough to prevent it, but when I compared the direction of the west and the conclusions to which the western church had come, it seemed to me that the west had drifted significantly in some important ways. I had to work through 2 big issues, Mary and the male priesthood. I took my time and studied a lot, and came to terms with them mainly through again looking at the official teaching and observing what occurs “on the ground” in a healthy congregation.

    I find that the vast majority of Orthodox converts have been very serious about their faith before they came to Orthodoxy. Some might have said they wanted “more challenge” but what I think is that it may be more about finding a holistic Meaning and an organic belief, not a lot of theological loose ends, while at the same time being able to, yes, embrace Mystery and Paradox and Sacrament. The intellectualized, individualized nature of Protestantism can’t live with Paradox, doesn’t know what to do with it. The material world is only things that cannot carry any deeper meaning or be the means of encounter with God. And theology built on lists of bible verses without any seamless coherence was a dead end for me. Yes, there is some rather strict praxis in Orthodoxy (fasting, prayer rule, etc.), and that appeals to some. What appealed to me as someone with perfectionist tendencies was the incredible way life in the Orthodox Church does not hang on guilt – for anything, including for not doing enough, and actually makes allowances for the life situations of unique people. It’s called economia, and it’s an outworking of the love and mercy of Christ through his body that I have never before experienced. It’s hard to describe from the inside, let alone approach from the outside. We are a Body – and each of us encounters God as the unique Persons we are, within that community.

    I asked God to help me go in with my eyes open, and he surely answered that prayer. I have seen that Orthodox life is just as messy as life in any other church, or among those outside church. There are difficult people, phyletism, bad attitudes including residual overt prejudice of many kinds, scandals, etc. etc. And – this does not faze sincere Orthodox who are trying to follow Christ. What does one expect of sinners? We believe it’s salubrious to pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me (act toward me according to your character, pouring out your healing on me), a sinner” and to contemplate our death, for it is through death that Christ has brought life, the Life of the Age to Come. It was so for our Lord God and Savior, and it is so for anyone who seeks to follow him honestly in the fellowship of his sufferings. And suffering is not an anomaly that indicates something is wrong with you; it actually has meaning, and God is to be found in it with you.

    In Orthodoxy, I find a God who is:
    truly good,
    who is not angry at me or anyone else,
    whose basic stance toward us is not one of punishment because his hands are tied behind his back due to our sin and his holiness,
    who is always working for the healing of mankind and the whole creation,
    for whom the Incarnation was not “plan B”,
    who is concerned that all his human creatures become the Truly Human Beings he meant us to be, able to grow into and live the life of sacrificial love for which we were created as in His image (that’s theosis – it’s not “ooey-gooey spiritual” and it’s not complicated – but it’s hard because of the sickness of fear in which we find ourselves – Heb 2.14-15). I now at last actually have good news to tell. I find the interpretation of scripture is always understood in relation to the ultimate meaning of the Crucifixion/Resurrection of Christ; hermeneutics has a Center.

    I love the Orthodox Church – even in the messiness – and here I rest.


  • Bikentios

    Most of the Orthodox converts I know, including myself, came from a conservative Reformed/Calvinistic background or conservative evangelical background. There is no “pigeon holing” Orthodox converts or their persuasions. They come from all groups, because Orthodoxy offers them the whole (catholic) Faith, not one part of it to the exclusion or suppression of another. At least, that’s been my experience.

  • No mention of Frank Schaeffer?

  • scotmcknight

    He focused on converts whose conversion prompted many others.

  • scotmcknight

    Nice witness, Dana, thanks friend.

  • Shortly after Schaeffer converted, it’s my understanding that he actually held seminars for the Orthodox on how to evangelize Protestants. Sounds like he wasn’t too successful then?

  • wmrharris

    The distinctive turn in the West towards an activism and social concern
    (aka politics) is quite different from the practices of the East. I wonder if part of the movement to the Eastern tradition arises from the desire to de-politicize one’s faith in reaction to the on-going cultural battles. Certainly something like that took hold of Frank Schaeffer; one can also read a similar inward-ish turn in Rod Dreher, as well.

  • wolfeevolution

    “In modern Christianity it seems like people are not be called to the hard and lifelong work of prayer, repentance, fasting and love of neighbor. Instead they are encouraged to “rest” or “accept” what God has already done for them….”

    So much yes.

    This, and two other things, tug me toward Orthodoxy. (2) Dana’s witness that “I now at last actually have good news to tell” resonated with me. (3) Some years ago, readings of NT Wright and Lesslie Newbigin cemented a shift in my epistemology from modernism toward critical realism (not-quite-postmodernism), and when that happened I suddenly felt orphaned in terms of not having a trustworthy authority. (After that, Protestantism’s rallying cries of “sola scriptura” rang ever hollower to me.) Orthodoxy is strong in this suit.

    I hesitate mostly because of my Protestant family, my Protestant vocation, and my deeply ingrained Protestant approach to culture. I don’t know much about Orthodoxy in this vein, but it’s hard for me to imagine an Orthodox church thinking about missiological enculturation. I’m likely to remain a lifelong admirer-at-a-distance.

  • Rebecca Erwin

    Recently I’ve stumbled into Orthodoxy and find it so affirming on theological and historical reasons. Affirming the way I’ve seen God work in my own life. The idea of a long standing faithful church body is comforting.

  • danaames

    Very blessed to be your friend, Scot. I miss the opportunity for coffees.


  • Chris

    This is true in some EO congregations but thankfully is changing. The propigation of ethnicity and culture as the primary function of the Church has been condemned as heresy but unfortunately still exists.

  • Chris

    Wolfevolution. Might I suggest you find a local Orthodox church that you can visit and develop a relationship with the priest. I think the disposition and attitude of the priest is a very large factor in one “taking the plunge”. Thanks be to God I have a great priest!

  • DMH

    To avoid the foolishness out there that’s on the internet who do you recommend for a introduction? (Internet and books)

  • From my Eastern European respective, a big problem is the way the Church is referred to as Eastern Orthodox. Guys, you are American. That makes you Western Orthodox, if you really insist on making such distinctions (and I do not see why that would be necessary). Maybe this is about distinguishing from the non-Chalcedonians who also call themselves Orthodox, but why should the actual Orthodox Christians accept this and why Eastern of all possible labels? It’s not as bad as the mass media’s stupid habit of talking about the “Greek Orthodox” faith (as though Greeks invented it), but it seems to me that Americans calling themselves Eastern Orthodox just plays into this image of Orthodoxy as something foreign and exotic.

  • Brent White

    “There is one Church that can trace its doctrine and heritage all the way back to the apostles – the Eastern Orthodox Church.”

    Well, Roman Catholics might disagree. Come to think of it, why didn’t you become Catholic? Honestly… Would that be too normal, too conformist? Not counter-cultural enough? Not cool and exotic enough?

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m a little jealous of your convert’s zeal. At some point the newness wears off, however, and it just becomes—you know—boring old church again. I assume many Greeks and Eastern Europeans got bored with it, for instance. They should probably become Pentecostal and reinvigorate their faith.

    You do a lot of generalizing here about evangelicals and Protestants. For one thing, any first-rate Protestant seminary (like the one I attended) requires the study of Patristic writers and church history. Apologists for Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions often speak as if they safeguard secrets to which we poor Protestants have no access. That’s nonsense. There’s nothing in the so-called “apostolic tradition” of Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism that isn’t “known” by Protestants. It’s all written down in books, you know?

    And I won’t apologize for being a part of a Christian tradition that puts Scripture first—and where tradition is in conflict with scripture, siding with scripture. The doctors of the church who formalized the church’s understanding of the Trinity at Nicaea, for instance, were confronting an exegetical problem. Like any good Protestant, they were trying to the solve the problem in terms of scripture, not traditions outside of scripture. My church tries to follow that same, um, tradition.

  • Phil Miller

    Well the “Eastern” part of the name refers back to the Great Schism of 1054 in which the Western branch of the Church split from the Eastern Church (or the East split from the West depending on your perspective, I suppose).

  • Brent White

    Thank you! Exactly! That’s why converts to EO are even different from most converts to RCC. Because it’s exotic. It takes a while to learn the liturgy. It feels like you’re part of a secret club.

    EO is like the lacrosse of liturgical traditions to Protestantism’s baseball. Baseball is boring (to many people). Guess what? At some point, someone’s EO church will become boring too. The newness and excitement wears off. Then what?

  • Brent White

    I’m sorry, Carson, exactly how long have you been EO?

  • Brent White

    Check back with me in 20 years or so. I’m not saying boring is a bad thing, but everyone needs to work through dry spells and even disillusionment in their churchgoing. There’s a strong emphasis in these comments on what people feel. Feelings change.

  • Andrew Dowling

    So what denomination is your church Brent?

  • Brent White


  • Andrew Dowling

    Its completely historical, because when the schism occurred the RCC was literally in the ;West’ and the Orthodox in the ‘East.’ Just like how in the U.S., the area we call the “Mid-West” is not really in the West in terms of the mapping of the continental United States, but we call it that because once upon a time it did represent the western part of the country.

  • I know, but the Roman Empire is long gone, the New World is populated with Christians… It doesn’t make sense to keep this distinction. What it does is confuse people and keep the image of Orthodoxy belonging to Easterners as opposed to Roman Catholicism belonging to Westerners, which is what most Christians (including many baptized Orthodox) know, because they’ve never heard of Orthodox France or Orthodox England and will never even think to look into it if they believe the faith is “Eastern”.

  • I get that, but in other languages we don’t refer to ourselves as Eastern Orthodox, rather as Christian Orthodox. You won’t hear the French say l’Eglise Orthodoxe de l’Est, it is always L’Eglise Orthodoxe, in Spanish it is Iglesia ortodoxa etc. So this is probably an American thing. Unless it’s British. My point is that we don’t have to accept such inaccurate labels.

  • Chris

    Wow, I detect a little angst there. Not sure why. Sure Roman Catholics would disagree but like Protestants they have undergone theological change over the centuries. Personally, I didn’t become Orthodox to be non-conformist or cool. I became Orthodox because I became personally convinced of its truths. It wasn’t easy either. There was a year long period of waiting and both formal and informal adult education. Much more intensive than any Protestant church.

    As far as Protestants & their opinions of church history goes my statements stand. I too graduated from arguably the leading evangelical seminary. I took 122 semester hours. Out of those 122 hours 4 were devoted to church history. Out of those 4 only 2 were devoted to any history prior to the Reformation. I also browsed other seminaries with similar results. I’m forced to ask myself “why”? Why so little study of our past? Answer. We really don’t value the opinions of those who have gone before us as much as our own. If we did it would have been taught more extensively.

    Secondly, if you study the exegetical methods of the church fathers, they bear little resemblance to modern biblical exegesis & interpretation. Even the apostles use of the Old Testament in the New would be called into question by those who hold to a strict grammatical/historical hermeneutic. Yes, the Scriptures were used against the Arians, but so were other methods. St. Spyridon turned a brick into fire and water to demonstrate the Trinity to a Greek philosopher!

    Finally, I’m not aware of any secret teaching that Orthodox claim to have. The Orthodox do claim to have the fulness of the faith as handed down from the apostles but it’s not veiled in gnostic secrecy. It is open to all.

  • Brent White

    My “angst” is that i thought that there should be a few more Protestants in this comments section. I miss the days when we Prots didn’t have to pretend like the Reformation was some tragic mistake. Sola Scriptura, in my opinion, is still an outstanding idea.

    So what does the “fullness of faith” consist of. What am I missing? Are you receiving extra grace in the Sacraments? Is worship strengthening your faith in a way that isn’t available to me? Are there some Orthodox doctrines to which we must adhere to be “fully” Christian?

  • Dianne P

    Bishop Kalistos Ware has some excellent stuff, imho. He is a convert from Anglicanism so he brings the outsider perspective as well. He writes clearly of complex stuff, much like Scot. “The Orthodox Church” is a historical view. “The Orthodox Way” begins with the chapter -God as Mystery- and moves on from there. “How Are We Saved?” breaks salvation down in a point by point approach which might be more helpful to Protestants.

    Also love Vladimir Lossky – “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church”. A tougher read. I wouldn’t start with him, but if you want to go deeper – Wow!

    My favorite secular book – if there is such a thing – is The Brothers Karamazov – which reveals much of the non-western perspective that underlies much of EO.

    The early fathers were prolific writers. My favs: 1) Gregory of Nyssa – so many writings, so little time.- I devour and re-devour “The Life of Moses”, but there is so much more, largely available online. His writings on Beauty rock my world. 2) “On Living Simply” by St. John Chrysostom. Short, sweet, and powerful. 3) Any of the many books on the desert mothers and fathers.

    Ancient Faith Radio is online, podcasts, etc. They broadcast out of Chicago, I believe, and their background is Moody Bible- they are converts to EO.

    Happy explorations!

  • Dianne P

    Thank you Dana. Well said!

  • Edward Williamson

    Thank you for this discussion. I am in the process of investigating the Orthodox faith with a view toward an eventual conversion. I attended a Divine Liturgy at the Orthodox church where Father Berry is the pastor and it was amazing! His sermon that morning touched me in a way that few others have. The idea of mystery is what attracts many people to Orthodoxy. We don’t have all the answers! But a liturgical tradition enables believers to connect with God in ways that Protestant worship sadly lacks. Another major reason for my journey toward Orthodoxy is a feeling for solidarity with my Orthodox brothers and sisters who suffer so much persecution. I am enjoying the discussions on this post.

  • Brent White

    I read the post. It said nothing I didn’t know. A Protestant could affirm much of what he says, and qualify our support on other things with a “Yes, but…” response. It’s not as if he’s being fair to Lutheranism or Calvinism. (Of course we don’t reduce the faith to expressions about the sovereignty of God or a conflict between grace and law. I don’t know a Calvinist or Lutheran who does that, either.) And where we disagree on other points, we do so because it contradicts our best understanding of scripture. I know he would say, “This is what the Apostles taught, and they’re more trustworthy than you.”

    To which I say, “Show me that they taught the intercession of saints, the Marian doctrines, the worship of relics, that these are the required Sacraments, etc.” We have the record. My earlier point is that he doesn’t have access to anything new or different from what we Protestants have access to. These traditions emerge later than the era of the Apostles. Which is fine, so long as the traditions either don’t contradict scripture or become dogmas.

  • danaames

    Hi DMH-

    Dianne’s list is good, esp Ware. I’m a big fan of St Gregory of Nyssa, and his big brother, St Basil the Great; love, love, love all his prayers wherever I find them, and anything else he wrote, too.

    Also recommend:

    “The Orthodox Faith” by Fr Thomas Hopko. Best short exposition out there, in print and on line. All of it can be read at oca dot org. Put your mouse on “The Orthodox Faith” at the top of the page; scroll down and click on “The Orthodox Faith” and go from there. Very accessible and user-friendly. Read as much as you want at a sitting, and come back later and pick up where you left off.

    “The Apostolic Fathers” – I have the Penguin edition edited by A. Louth, but I’m probably going to also get M. Holmes’ English version, which is more complete. I think Holmes’ translation of some of the words is better, if you don’t know Greek; he has also published a diglot version if you do.

    St Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation.” This warrants several reads. Get the translation done by Sr. Penelope, C.S. Lewis’ friend – no longer part of St Vladimir’s “Popular Patristics Series” unfortunately; you’ll have to look around at Amazon for it, or get an old St Vlad’s at abebooks. If you know Greek, the newer diglot translation from St Vladimir’s by Fr John Behr would be fine. I think Sr Penelope’s English is more accessible; the only problem I have with hers is that she translates “nous” as Mind, and it’s so much more than that. (Read her “Mind” as “the aspect of one’s being that unites the whole being and can apprehend and be united to God.” This involves rationality but is not mere intellect – it’s more like a logarithmic understanding of “soul.” Completely impossible to translate into one word in English.) Otherwise I think she’s still the best.

    St Irenaeus’ “The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching.” You can read this in a reasonable translation on line at Christian Classics Ethereal Library. The original “narrative view of Scripture.”

    For an introduction to a sacramental life, I would substitute Dianne’s choice of Lossky for Fr M. Webber’s “Bread, Water, Wine and Oil.” Lossky is anything but “introductory” 🙂 The first few chps of BWWO are worth the price of the whole book, but it’s all good. But a companion volume and next step in Lossky’s direction, especially for someone interested in Christian anthropology, would be Fr John Behr’s new book, “Becoming Human.”

    Fr Stephen Freeman’s blog (glory2godforallthings dot com) is a first-class exposition of Orthodoxy in our context. Sometimes he has some very penetrating things to say – penetrating as a doctor probes a wound – about our Modern life and expressions of Christianity. But he speaks as an “insider” and it is all for healing; he is the soul of kindness and wisdom. Fr Ted Bobosh’s blog (frted dot wordpress dot com) is wonderful, too – theological musings and quotes in nice-sized bites, and great photo essays.

    Dr Jeannie Constantinou’s Orthodox bible study podcast series on AFR, “Search the Scriptures,” has been a great help for me. She doesn’t update too often now, but the archives have plenty to explore. Any of Fr Tom Hopko’s series in the AFR podcasts are also good.

    Finally, as Chris Mayeaux wrote above, if there are Orthodox churches in your locality, get to know a priest. A local “go-to” person is the best help.

    Thanks for asking. And thanks for your recommendations, too, Dianne.


  • danaames

    I don’t expect to change your mind, Brent, but you might read “The Apostolic Fathers” – some of whose writings appeared while some of the Apostles were still alive. If there was a radical difference in belief and praxis, it would take more than 1 generation to show up. The AFs are the next generation, and one would expect to find continuity.

    Scripture says that attention should be paid to those things handed on (“traditioned” – paradokein – appears a lot of places in the NT one wouldn’t be able to see in English) by writing and by word of mouth.

    A question that I explored in my wanderings was, what did Christians do before there was the NT? Did they just hole up somewhere waiting for all of “the next sacred text” to be written down? The church, the people of God, came first, and out of them emerged the scriptures; this is the historic time line. What they “appealed to” was their experience, common as well as uniquely personal, of the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread and the common interpretation of the Jewish scriptures through the lens of the death/resurrection of Christ. The common understanding wasn’t instantaneous – the Apostles had to digest what they were taught by the Lord before and during the 40 days before his Ascension – but it gelled relatively rapidly. “The Word of God” for the first Christians (and continuing for EOrthodox) is Christ Himself, as in Jn 1.1.

    In addition, “contradicting scripture” is a matter of interpretation. Text, even sacred text, must be interpreted. (“If you get the message, you might refuse it, but if you get the meaning – don’t ever lose it…” Noel Paul Stookey) I went back behind the Reformation looking for the interpretation of the earliest Christians; I found a shocking amount of consistency in the historical writings of the Eastern Fathers, from the Apostolics through the Cappadocians to Gregory Palamas and beyond. This consistency had very little in common with Reformation Protestantism, which arose out of the Enlightenment and as pushback against late medieval Roman Catholicism.

    Finally, “the fullness” isn’t strictly about doctrine. Doctrine is important, but really, who can fully understand the Trinity? We give communion to infants and others who could never intellectually understand. As to the sacraments, well, Orthodox have a bigger view of sacramentality… “Grace” is not defined as something God created separately from his own being and portions out; it’s the actual action of the Holy Spirit in people. What we get in “the sacraments” is an opportunity to encounter God himself through the material world if our innermost being is receptive to any degree. It’s not Magick. We have to live into our Baptism.

    The fullness of the faith is nothing more or less than living the seamless, organic Life of the Age to Come that ultimately emerges from Christ’s death/resurrection, and our entry into that through Baptism. Christians have a “leg up” – and God is merciful. The point is to become Human Beings; see Fr John Behr’s book referenced below. The sweep of God’s deliverance through the saving act of Christ has thrown open the door for all humanity. It’s the only door anyone can go through – and no one can go through unless he opened it. And he has opened it, and he himself is the Door.

    Best to you-

  • danaames


    All your points re how we’re to be described in English are good. “Eastern Orthodox” is probably the best American English “label” right now. Not because it’s correct, but because a lot of people use the word orthodox (and Orthodox) as Scot does in the banner – to refer to an understanding of a “common deposit” of Christian faith/truth. Among Americans, pretty much any group that’s not at the extreme “liberal” end of the theological spectrum is defined as an “orthodox” church. “The Orthodox Church” may be the most accurate, but it probably would be very confusing to the vast majority of the people here who don’t even know it exists. And it does serve to help cancel out a strictly ethnic identity, which is also entirely wrong.


  • Andrew Dowling

    “These traditions emerge later than the era of the Apostles”.

    Ditto with sola scriptura, original sin, and pretty much all the fundamentals of the Reformation . . .

  • DMH

    Thanks to both you and Dianna. Very,very helpful.

  • Eric Weiss

    reposted in the right place

  • Eric Weiss

    IMO from reading his last few books as well as his columns at HuffPo and elsewhere, ISTM that Frank Schaeffer is or has become barely Eastern Orthodox and is maybe not even orthodoxly (?) Christian or even Christian. But that could be just what I’m picking up. 🙂

  • Brent White

    In answer to Dana Ames and Andrew Dowling:

    Original sin was formalized around the 4th-5th century by Augustine, the same time period in which the Cappadocian Fathers wrote and ministered. Right? As a Protestant, I don’t have to pit one against the other. Both Western and Eastern Christianity can inform my church tradition without being straitjacketed by it. Why? Because we have the Bible—the same resource that the Fathers had. Oh, I know… But they had tradition, too. But the tradition gets written down. If there’s some unwritten tradition (“Richard told Jack who told Steve who told Bill who told Mary…”) then it’s useless to us today, regardless what church we’re part of. Because none of us knows what Richard really said.

    We Protestants happily believe that the most important—indeed, fundamental—doctrines, practices, and traditions are contained in scripture. I believe the Church Fathers believed that as well. Certainly, if there’s a tradition outside of scripture, it’s fitting to judge it against scripture. If there’s a conflict between the two, it’s OK to say so. No one’s perfect.

    Regardless, I’ve read, among others, Irenaus, Origen, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, and Augustine. I simply don’t see in their writings some great discontinuity between what my church believes and what they taught. Moreover, I’ve read fellow Methodist Thomas Oden’s “Classic Christianity,” which synthesizes the work of the Fathers, West and East, into a consensus-based systematic theology. If there’s some great discontinuity between Protestants like us and the Patristics, he’s unaware of it as well. And he’s far better-read than any of us on the subject.

    (I believe that Oden’s work has been well-received among the Orthodox; it certainly has been among Catholics.)

    What emerges from reading the Fathers is that they were not of one mind on many things. There was a plurality of opinions and practices that today get dogmatized by both Orthodox churches and the RCC: You must believe this way in order to be fully and truly Christian. That uniformity around many theological ideas didn’t exist from the apostolic age. I don’t believe, for example, that St. Paul believed (never mind Matthew or Luke) that Mary was perpetually virgin or assumed into heaven, or that we should ask the faithful departed to pray for us when we already have direct access to the throne room, but whatever…

    Finally, most Protestants accept the first six or seven ecumenical councils. Yet you would have us believe that there are all these other terribly important things that weren’t part of those controversies and debates, over which we must divide—such that those of us on the outside are not fully Christian.

    Sorry, I don’t buy it.

  • Brent White

    Sola scriptura, as it’s classically understood, was the de-facto belief of the Fathers. Someone show me an important debate that the Church had in its first millennium that didn’t assume sola scriptura to be the case. (I mean, sola scriptura in the Reformation sense, not the Puritan sense: in other words, sola scriptura doesn’t imply the banishment of tradition. Sola scriptura is “scripture first”—prima scriptura, I guess.)

    Augustine formalized original sin around the same time that the Cappadocian Fathers wrote and lived. I don’t see how his ideas are less authoritative than theirs.

  • Brent White

    The Reformation was not a product of the Enlightenment, by the way!!!

  • Andrew Dowling

    The earliest Apostolic Fathers never mention anything akin to sola scriptura . . Polycarp and Papias even note how they held the oral tradition superior to anything that was written down. Also, the Catholic tradition always relates its actions on scriptural grounds; you won’t find anything in the RCC or EOC saying “the Bible says this, but we concluded our tradition superceded it.” Yes there are clever interpretive hermeneutics employed (and using the word clever is sometimes being generous), but the Reformers/Protestant tradition bends Scripture to its whims just as much . . .heck Luther simply disregarded epistles he didn’t like and added his own interpolations so that the Bible would fit his theology more!

  • Brent White

    You’re making my point! Of course the RCC and EOC don’t say that! They want their traditions to be consistent with the Bible. Why? Because the Bible is the rule. And if it’s the rule, then it’s ok to judge traditions, even ancient ones, against it.

  • Brent White

    As for Luther, I couldn’t care less… I’m Methodist. But Luther himself would want us to judge his traditions against scripture, too. Good Protestants keep going back to the Bible.

  • Andrew Dowling

    But whatever the denomination, the Bible can be stretched to basically fit into whatever tradition one wants to have. Case in point, the gazillions of Christian Churches believing very different things but all stating their case on “the Word of God” . . .which kind of makes sola scriptura pretty worthless as a hill to die on. At least the Catholic tradition concedes its foundations come from active revelation/tradition and not just the Bible. The UMC, coming from the Catholic tradition itself (by way of Anglicanism) basically does the same thing via the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

  • Brent White

    Funny! You sound like Catholic apologist Scott Hahn now… Yes, there are gazillions of denominations (or tens of gazillions, I can’t remember). Yet, for the most part, we mostly agree on the most important things. So it’s hardly a “worthless hill to die on.” I think there’s an impressive consensus.

    For example, I’ve been reading Scot McKnight’s blog for five years. I’ve read one of his books, and I just ordered another from Amazon. I don’t know what kind of church Scot goes to. I know he isn’t Methodist, and he has some affinity for the Anabaptist tradition. It doesn’t matter to me.

    Whatever differences we have are far less important than what unites us. Most Protestants I know are like that. Seems like sola scriptura works pretty well to me.

  • Brent White

    Again, sola scriptura in the classical sense doesn’t mean “tradition is unimportant.” It merely means that any tradition is susceptible to reform if it contradicts our best understanding of what the Bible says. “Yes, but what does the Bible say?” Well, I’m happy to let Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin, Wesley, Pope Benedict, and Tom Wright help me figure that out. They really don’t disagree as much as you might think.

  • danaames

    Augustine developed the idea of “original sin” quite apart from how the Cappadocians understood things. The Orthodox Church actually does not describe or ascribe to “original sin” as it is known in Catholic and Protestant traditions. You might do some research on that. There are huge ramifications, esp regarding what the Cross means.

    Orthodox Christians do not pit scripture against tradition. Tradition is everything that has been handed down, and scripture and its interpretation are the most important part of that. That is what the Fathers believed. Again, scripture must be interpreted; without interpretation it is nothing more than ink on papyrus and cannot “contain” anything. What does scripture mean? What.does.it.mean? Hermeneutics is really the only issue here. And it must support self-giving Love. The Rule is not the bible; it is self-giving, others-serving Love.

    I wouldn’t describe what Oden has done as a systematic theology; he has brought together a project that links patristic commentary to the related scriptures in a way that is much easier to locate than in the past. That’s been very helpful, along with his several books on where the patristic consensus is and where it is not. I own the Ancient Christian Commentary and a couple of those books; so does my parish priest.

    Of course there were differing opinions among the Eastern fathers. But they maintained a consensus on who Jesus Christ is. That consensus, along with other important considerations regarding the meaning of who Jesus Christ is, is articulated in the Orthodox Church not in a systematic theology, but in the Liturgy and worship services – Lex orendi, lex credendi. Opinions don’t really matter; consensus matters, and worship matters.

    If people actually know what the first councils were about, that’s great. And… please don’t confuse RCC doctrine with that of Orthodoxy. There are similarities, mostly on the visible surface; the differences run deep, and the usual issues that are seen to keep us apart are symptoms of something even deeper. The schism was and is wrong; both “sides” didn’t do enough to prevent or heal it. The history of the Orthodox Church is just as messy, though sometimes in different ways, as that of any other group of Christians. You’ll get no argument from me about that.

    Orthodoxy does not maintain that those outside of it are not fully Christian. One of the most important values in Orthodoxy is that of not judging others about anything. If any Orthodox person has tried to make you feel that way, they should not have done that, and I’m very sorry for it. We believe that God loves everybody, and God can do anything he pleases to bring the ramifications of Christ’s saving work to anyone.

    Not selling anything, Brent. If you’re happily Protestant, that’s good. I’m relating my story and my understanding of things, and trying to clear up misunderstandings. We each have to go where our conscience leads. May the Lord bless you.


  • danaames

    Perhaps “came to its full flowering” in the Enlightenment, then.


  • Brent White

    Thanks for that gracious word, Dana. My point about Augustine is not that you should agree with him, only that he was was up to the same thing that the Cappadocians and theologians of the East were up to. Why one is more authoritative than the other isn’t clear to me.

    I was actually referring to Oden’s (originally) three-volume Classic Christianity, which definitely is a systematic theology. I also have several volumes of his Ancient Christian Commentary. You’re right: that’s just a commentary.

  • Eric Weiss


    I agree with Dejected Embryo and think that “the Orthodox Church” is fine and is what should be used by Americans. If Rome didn’t seemingly own the term, I think “the Catholic Church” would be a fitting name as well. When we were Orthodox I used to tell people we went to the Orthodox Church; I never said “Eastern Orthodox.”

    At least one person would keep asking me if I was still going to the “Greek Orthodox” Church. I tried to explain that it was the Orthodox Church, and my particular one was associated with the Russian Orthodox Church, not Greece, but that all Orthodox Churches used the same liturgy, held the same beliefs and practices, etc. I.e., they were one and the same church.

    I dislike the term “Oriental Orthodox” as opposed to “Eastern Orthodox” since “oriental” means “eastern.” Non-Chalcedonian vs. Chalcedonian may be better. I understand they don’t like to be called monophysite, apparently arguing that miaphysite is more accurate. Nevertheless, I think they prefer to simply call themselves Orthodox, not Miaphysites or Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox.

  • Eric Weiss

    But that was when the church was in Europe and Asia. The distinction of Eastern vs. Western makes no sense in the Western Hemisphere, especially a millennium later.

  • Eric Weiss

    “It [the Church] is the pillar and ground of truth.”

    Maybe. The Greek text lacks the article before both “pillar” and “ground.” (Note: “truth” is articular and should probablty be translated as “the truth.”)

    Also, Irenaeus wrote that the Gospel was the pillar and ground:

    “1. We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.” (Against Heresies, Book III Chapter I Verse 1)

    “8. It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. As also David says, when entreating His manifestation, “Thou that sittest between the cherubim, shine forth.”” (Against Heresies, Book III Chapter XI Verse 8)

  • Phil Miller

    Butting in here, but regarding Augustine, I don’t think it’s a matter of the Eastern deciding the Cappadocians had authority and Augustine didn’t. I think the reasoning would be that the Cappadocians were more in the stream of orthodox thought while some of Augustine’s ideas were out of it. Interestingly, though, Augustine is still recognized as a saint by the Orthodox church. I think the thing is that Augustine gets blamed for where other people have taken his ideas a lot of the item, and that’s not necessarily fair. Although, I will say, some of ideas were pretty bad on their own.

    I guess I’m having a little trouble understanding your tone in this thread, Brent. You seem to be genuinely ticked off about something for some reason. Did an Eastern Orthodox person kick your puppy? For the record, I’m not EO. I have attended many liturgies, though, and I do love them. There are number of things that would prevent me from converting, but at the heart of it is that fact that I still feel deeply Protestant. I do value the good at the heart of Protestantism. But I also think that there is plenty we can learn from the Eastern Church and even Catholicism. This has been a major change for me in the last few years. I guess I’ve grown to see the Holy Spirit is active in all these traditions, and none of us can claim to have the full revelation of God.

  • Eric Weiss

    “What emerges from reading the Fathers is that they were not of one mind on many things. There was a plurality of opinions and practices that today get dogmatized by both Orthodox churches and the RCC: You must believe this way in order to be fully and truly Christian. That uniformity around many theological ideas didn’t exist from the apostolic age.”

    True dat.

  • danaames

    Sure, I agree about “the Orthodox Church” being the name of this body, and that’s what *should* be used. But it’s like bending a stream of water in the air. (Not totally unlike what has happened with the term “Evangelical”…)

    Every time I tell someone I’m an Orthodox Christian, they invariably say something like, “Is that the same thing as Greek Orthodox?” or “What’s the difference between that and Eastern Orthodox?” No matter what I say, I have to explain it. Americans simply don’t know anything about the Orthodox Church, and I try to communicate about it in a way that I think will be understood by the hearer. I hardly have any reason to talk about the “Oriental Orthodox” but when I do I don’t use that term; I reference Chalcedon.


  • Brent White

    “You seem genuinely ticked off about something for some reason.”

    Beats me. I felt like it was becoming an Eastern Orthodox love-fest around here. I wanted someone to make the case for Protestantism on this evangelical Protestant blog. We are Protestants for a reason, after all. Have those reasons changed?

    So I’m told that we Protestants are missing the “fullness of faith” that’s available in Orthodoxy. I’m told that primacy of scripture is a “worthless hill to die on.” Really?

    I feel passionately about these things. It’s not because I don’t have ecumenical spirit—I’m United Methodist, for heaven’s sake. But I don’t like being told not merely that their church disagrees with our understanding of this or that doctrine, but that our faith is deficient unless we “cross the Tiber or whatever big River runs through Istanbul.”

    So, to answer your question: I feel judged by Protestant converts to Catholicism and Orthodoxy. I wish I didn’t, but I do.

    Why are you concerned about my tone?

  • Andrew Dowling

    So Calvinist is a Baptist is a Methodist is a Pentecostal? Not really . . there are very important and significant divergences in those theologies.
    And I’m actually a cradle Catholic who now attends a Methodist church, so I feel fairly comfortable critiquing Catholicism, but often the Protestant critiques of Catholicism rests on caricatures (no . . . “worshiping relics” is not in the Catechism). The old battleground cries of Protestant vs Catholic (sola fide/sola scriptura was preached by the Apostles” . . . . it wasn’t . . .vs “Jesus came to establish an actual Church with a hierarchy” . . He didn’t) are tired and historically paper thin.

  • Chris

    When 2 Greek nouns are joined by the conjunction kai (and), the absence of an article before either of the nouns is not of significance. The nouns are simply listed in sequence.

    If NEITHER noun connected by “kai” is articular, the nouns are just being sequentially listed.

    (Reference: A. T. Robertson “A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, Pub by Hodder & Stoughton, Fourth Edition, 1923, Chapter XVI)

  • danaames

    I thought about it. I really did. I thought about it a lot. I have nothing but good experiences and memories with Episcopalian folk. There would have been “room” for me, pretty much as there is “room” for Wright. That was the “pro” side of the argument.

    On the “con” side:
    -The Anglican Communion is hurting badly at the moment; I didn’t need to augment my personal painful situation (husband not understanding at all, other major social dislocation) by taking that on, too.

    -Because of conscience, I would need to find a “continuing Anglican” congregation; the closest is 90 minutes away.

    -Most importantly, I went back to the source document, the 39 Articles (ad fontes…). It’s “high church,” yes – and thoroughly Protestant. Could not reconcile with: the double procession of the HS, Christ as a sacrifice for original guilt, Holy Scripture containing *all things* necessary for salvation, the corruption of human nature and its deserving of condemnation, predestination only for the elect, the errant nature of the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria (!), repudiation of veneration of saints and icons, restriction of sacraments to 2 only, the offering of Christ as propitiation (made-up word…) and satisfaction, and the civil head of state as the ruler of the church.

    Too much on the “con” side. It, too, only went as far back as the Reformation, not all the way back to the 1st Century. As much as I wish it could have been, it just could not have been. The only door that was truly open to me was Orthodoxy.


  • Brent White

    It is no caricature to say, unlike other Protestant traditions, that the most important difference between Roman and Orthodox Catholics and Protestants is the question of authority. Is the Bible our ultimate authority or is it the Bible and tradition together? That seems like an incredibly important distinction to me. For example, in 1950 the Pope declares ex cathedra that Mary was assumed into heaven, and it’s now dogma: all Christians in good standing must accept this. There’s no arguing from scripture anymore. This is the way it is, and it will never change. Tradition wins.

    As a Protestant, that is offensive to me. As for your saying sola scriptura was never the rule in the church, I disagree. Even if they never used the term, scripture was the church’s primary source of authority. For one source, check N.T. Wright’s The Last Word. Maybe he’s wrong, but he’s no dummy, right? He has no ideological axe to grind.

    You say scripture wasn’t primary for Polycarp. I don’t know… The Fathers certainly held the OT in high regard (and Paul’s words to Timothy about scripture being God-breathed was referring, technically, to the OT). But since Polycarp lived within a generation of the apostles, there wasn’t a New Testament canon, and I doubt he had easy access to much of what comprises the NT, so I’m not surprised he would say how important oral tradition is. Eventually oral tradition gets written down, otherwise it’s useless.

    Is this written-down tradition outside of scripture just as authoritative as our Bible?

    We Protestants ought to know how to answer that.

  • Eric Weiss

    I don’t see the relevance of that quote from Robinson. It seems to assert that “pillar” and “ground” are just being listed sequentially, since neither noun is articular. So how does that lend support to the translation “THE pillar and ground of [the] truth”? (Note: “truth” is articular in the Greek text.)

    I said “Maybe” because I don’t think one can definitively argue for the definitenessness or indefiniteness of “pillar” and “ground.”

    In fact, couldn’t 1 Timothy 3:15 be translated as: “…so you may know how one ought to conduct oneself in a house[hold?] of God, which is an assembly of the Living God, a pillar and bulwark of the truth”?

    There were many Christian assemblies (ekklēsiai). The Christians had no central and singular “House of God” as the Temple was for the Jews (John 2:26-17). In fact, the Christians, the members of the assemblies, were God’s house[hold] (Hebrews 3:6).

  • Andrew Dowling

    “all Christians in good standing must accept this.”

    No, this is not the position of the Catholic Church; the RCC doesn’t say “you must accept the Assumption of Mary or you’re not a good Christian” . . . that’s a perfect example of ignorance of how authority actually functions in the Catholic Church. And all papal statements/Church declarations require Scriptural backing; the Pope doesn’t just make a statement and say he received the revelation from God and not point to anywhere in the Bible.

    And again, having “Scripture” be the source of authority is not the solid benchmark you’re making it out to be because the Bible can be interpreted through a multitude of different ways emphasizing many different things. All churches derive from tradition and Scripture whether they admit it or not, because tradition runs part and parcel through the interpretive hermeneutic employed.

  • Brent White

    I’m sorry… I think you’re mistaken about the difference between dogma and doctrine. Assumption of Mary was dogmatized in 1950. That requires the highest status of acceptance in the church. It is unquestionably true, in other words. It allows for no difference of opinion.

    It’s as if you’re not reading what I’m saying. Of course all churches derive from tradition. Of course scripture must be interpreted. Did I ever imply otherwise? And thank God we stand on the shoulders of saints who’ve gone before us to guide us in this task.

    There’s a major difference between saying, “Tradition guides us in interpreting scripture” (which is what the Wesleyan Quadrilateral means) and saying that tradition and scripture go hand-in-hand.” Maybe 95 percent of the time it doesn’t make a difference in actual belief, but it does sometimes. That matters to me.

    It’s as if you’re arguing with me because I’m actually Protestant.

  • Chris

    Yes there were many Christian assemblies. However they didn’t function independently but were under the authority of bishops and apostles. So there was a heir achy from the beginning. Also, who interprets the Scriptures? Each individual or the ekklesia being built on the foundation of apostles and prophets?

  • Eric Weiss

    If you are describing groups of churches being under apostles and bishops who lived elsewhere or at some central cathedra, ISTM you are describing an ecclesiology and hierarchy that was likely not yet existing at the time 1 Timothy was written. Individual assemblies had their bishops/elders and apostles, and apostles would come through at times, but local assemblies weren’t yet under hyper-bishops or hyper-apostles as far as I know.

    There wasn’t yet a magisterium that gave the interpretation of the Scriptures, either. Various interpretations of the Scriptures as well as of Jesus were developing and coexisting at that time.

  • Joel

    That is truly an interesting way of looking at it. What makes it especially difficult, I find, it the fact that it is also very possible to be regarded (and feel) as an outsider within one’s own movement. What does one do when they can no longer honestly and in good conscience subscribe to central tenets of their own tradition? It is true in my own case, and, as much as I would like to stay within the movement of my upbringing, I find that my disagreement with doctrines understood by the group as essential inevitably means that I would be forever on the fringes.

  • Rob Lovecraft

    If you live in the Salt Lake area, Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox is filled with converts.

  • BryanJensen

    Thanks. I’m about 30 miles away. Okay for an occasional visit but so not so well placed to support as participative in a religious community as we like to be.

  • MKulnir

    Eastern Western, Northern, Southern. Whatever. When you add “orthodox” you make a presumptive statement that you are the right one, the one and only. The Russians are less subtle. “Orthodox” in Russian is “православный” – literally the “right” one. You are either part of the right church, or the wrong church.

  • Tubal-cain

    Spot on right.

  • Tubal-cain

    I am not sure what seminary you attend, but I am an Eastern Orthodox convert 20 years ago. As I said in my recent post above, evangelical Protestantism for me was “an inch deep, and a mile wide”. Prior to that, I was born into, and spent my first 40 years of life, in evangelical Protestantism, so I am well familiar with it. I took a class this fall in the evening at a Southern Baptist seminary in my city. It was the only traditionalist conservative seminary that offered courses in patristics and early church history as both the American Baptist and United Methodist seminaries in my area were extremely liberal. The professor at the Southern Baptist seminary ascribed to the common Protestant view that I grew up with, that the pre-Nicene church disappeared with the deaths of the apostles, but then mysteriously resurfaced in Northern Europe in the sixteenth century. Several of my classmates asked me for books on the Great Schism, and patristics, which I purchased for them at my parish bookstores. I saw a hunger for patristics, and to my surprise, a hunger for liturgy, from several of my young evangelical Protestant classmates, who have now become friends. As far as losing one’s zest when converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, I respectfully push back on that. In 20 years of being an Orthodox Christian, I have not seen, nor experienced this. I belong to an Antiochian Orthodox communion (the Greek Church of Antioch), and half our members are Christian Arab Americans ( with a few Romanians and Ukrainians), but the other half are converts from mainline Protestantism and evangelical Protestantism. 67% of Antiochian priests are former evangelical Protestant pastors. We are Eastern Rite, or Byzantine Rite, and our liturgy is in English, Arabic, and Greek. I entered Minor Orders and serve at altar as an Alcolyte, hoping to become a Subdeacon, so the Eastern Church, and the life in the church, does not become boring for me, nor for most converts, unless the person was disingenuous to start with. From personal experience, and personal observation, I see more of faith becomming ho-hum, and worship becomming boring, with the happy clappy mega churches. These churches spring up like weeds in my city, and attendees jump ship for better entertainment, more younger and hip pastors, and better warm fuzzy seeker sensitive sermons.

  • Joe

    It has been said by someone wiser than I that ultimately there are two types of Christians: those who believe Christianity is truly a revealed religion, and those feel we should make it up as we go (generally in accordance with the spirit of the age). You sound like you belong in the latter category, and so it’s no surprise that the Episcopal church is where you feel most at home.