Friday, March 25, 2005

3 Views: Orthodox and evangelicals in dialogue

I highly recommend the book Three Views: on Eastern Orthodox and Evangelicalism.

Basically the book presents the question, can Orthodox and evangelicals agree to co-exist (I think the implied here being 'without seeing each other as a valid mission field")? Each side has a writer for yes, no, and maybe.

My overall analysis of the book is that the Orthodox win the presentation hands down. In fact, the best part of the book is how long exactly it takes the Forward writers to tell the reader what exactly an evangelical IS. Nassif Bradley, the first Orthodox writer, pounces on this opportunity to make the comment "perhaps evangelicalism is inherently a minimalist position."

Also telling is the "no" Orthodox writer Vladimir Berzonsky, who essentially says that evangelicals need to become Orthodox. While this sounds arrogant to the outside, as an Orthodox convert I sympathize and see where he's coming from. Our claim on the Church doesn't lead us to be real "ecumenical", but we don't mean it in a non-loving way. When Vladimir says this, he attacks evangelical history, but he confuses Reformed history with Pnetacostal/charismatic history. This is where the response from the Protestant authors becomes most pronounced. He shortchanged us! What about the confessional Churches!? What about the Northwest Freewill REformed Evnagelical Tongue Speaking Baptist Alliance who doesn't believe this or that at all!

While it's true that Berzonsky used an excessively broad brush to paint evangelicals with, I think it inadvertantly served to show the very problem with the Protestant position - which Protestants are we talking to? It's hard to address 15,000 different ununified doctrines. It's like playing dodge ball where only one team is allowed to move, and then cries out "haha! you missed!".

All that said, Baptist convert George Hancock-Stefan, a Romanian Orthodox by birth, nails we Orthodox in a way that is hard to resist. He does it with love of course, but he hits us where it really hurts. We all know what I'm talking about don't we? He avoids arguments of theology and simply says "Ok fine you The Church you, show me the money. What kind of parishioners are you turning out?"

SLAM! Thud! We're down for the count.

Sure, we can argue that we've produced saintly men, and even saint-producing parishes. At the same time, can we deny his charges of ethnocentrism, clericalism, ecclesialism, and liturgical immobility? I think we can't. Most of our people, whether or not we like this fact, are theologically and biblically ignorant. They know a few punch lines, but basically have no idea about Christ as their savior or their daily responsibility to put on the mind of Christ.

The biggest difference between me now and me 5 years ago is that these facts don't shake my conviction that Orthodoxy is the Truth when properly expressed. We as Orthodox must face the music and realize that we are only The Truth so far as we are fully ourselves.

I thought perhaps Dr. Hancock-Stefan's best point was that while Orthodox dogmaticians speak in terms of 'theosis', Orthodox laity (especially in the homelands) speak in terms of Baptisms. That's how we count heads both on earth and in heaven. Hardly the idea or vision presented by our scriptural faith or tradition. Before we can present ourselves as the truth we are, we must first fully live into ourselves and begin to authenticate some of our own claims.


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