This post is the second in a multi-part series chronicling my journey from Evangelicalism to Eastern Orthodoxy. See Part 1 here.
[UPDATE: Let the reader be advised that most in this ongoing series of posts will begin with a snapshot of an event late in my Orthodox journey, followed by a return to picking up chronologically where the previous post left off. I had the original idea of that literary approach becoming evident over the course of the series, but a friend has pointed out something that necessitates a preemptive explanation of that choice. Specifically, it was brought to my attention that my parents appear in an unflattering light in this post because of their initial question to me when we sat down to discuss our new church inclinations. I mean to convey in upcoming posts that I've had more than a few fruitful discussions with both of my parents in the last year, and they have both entertained my family's venture into Orthodoxy with grace and love. They have blessed my wife and I with the space to do this to a degree many in our position have not been so fortunate as to experience.]
In February of 2014, my journey had come to a head. A nearby Orthodox priest had challenged me to put flesh to my years-long inquiry by bringing my family to his parish. I nervously took the priest's challenge, and after a couple weeks of attending that church, I opened up to my parents about what we were doing.
[It should be noted that to this point, my Orthodox studies had been almost completely withheld from my broader friends and family, a few casual conversations here and there notwithstanding. Even more unknown had been the true state of my own transitioning views. Throughout this time I had been active in Evangelical ministries, and at the time of sitting down with my parents, 18 months along in a masters program at Dallas Theological Seminary.]
To this day I can't remember which parent asked it, but their first question was, "What is it you dislike so much about Evangelicalism?" It's a fair and understandable question. It was the first thing I myself had wondered when I had learned five years earlier that a close friend was becoming a Catholic. But the question took me back, because my interest in Orthodoxy, unlike many converts before me, was not born out of exasperation with the tradition I was raised in. Even now, my attitude toward Evangelicalism is not hostile in any way. In some critical ways, I believe my upbringing prepared me to better understand and appreciate Orthodoxy than I could have otherwise.
No, my interest in Orthodoxy was not an act of flight. It began quite innocuously, but took hold of me all the same. There was a great deal of ebb and flow to my courtship of the Orthodox Church. Seasons of discovery would give way to seasons of repulsion, even of anger. But no matter how often I told myself "enough is enough" (and my wife can vouch for those frequent occurrences), I could never stay too long out of conversation with the East.
In my previous post, I mentioned that after reading Kallistos Ware's The Orthodox Way, I was left with a newfound spiritual hunger that drove me to seek more information. It was shortly after finishing Way that I learned a college friend and her husband had converted to Orthodoxy. I peppered both of them with questions for weeks--on the phone and through email--ranging from "What is Orthodox worship like?" to "How did you get over the issues of atonement theory?" (more on that topic in a later post) to "How did your families react to your conversion?" It was during that exchange that I was turned onto Ancient Faith Radio.
The first AFR podcast I ever listened to was the first in a 25-part series from Matthew Gallatin's "Pilgrims from Paradise." The series was titled, "Sola Scriptura and Philosophical Christianity." I didn't come close to finishing that series, but the few episodes I listened to represent the beginning of my transition from spiritual romance to theological unlearning.
Truth be told, however, the transition didn't feel gradual at all. As soon as Gallatin had punctured my sola scriptura (SS) barrier, I had a deep sense that I'd entered into something more than a curiosity binge. It was something fundamental. Very early in this process, I felt like I'd set out to sea, and that I likely would not be able to return to my port of departure. How could I not be--at a minimum--restless now as an Evangelical, knowing that my tradition's insistence on Biblical isolationism could only be sympathetically defended within the narrow prism of Rome's 16th-century excesses? The Orthodox are fond of saying, "We needed no Reformation." While Protestants might scoff at such a statement, they should recognize that it isn't made blithely, as if to taunt. It's a very serious claim, and one that warrants long evaluation. The more gracious among the Orthodox--especially converts from Protestantism--are quick to empathize with Martin Luther's impetus for upheaval.
But even Lutherans themselves recognized they were on precarious footing having severed ties with Rome. A rarely discussed ordeal began to unfold in 1559, in which leading Lutherans in Germany urgently and repeatedly petitioned the Orthodox Patriarch in Constantinople, seeking his embrace. His responses to these pleas amounted to a loving admonition that they were throwing out the baby with the bathwater in many respects. Among other things, what that unfruitful episode revealed is the difficulty of self-evaluation when one has already begun asserting oneself.
Evangelical readers--especially those hip to Reformation history--will probably object to that characterization. Unfortunately there isn't space here to elaborate. What it requires is a full-throated analysis of the inherent logic of SS, which only composes an early slice of my theological metamorphosis. But for anyone interested in the nitty gritty of that topic, please comment below or email me from the "about" page and I'll provide links to much of the material that influenced me on that score. There's a lot to be said, but for this blog series' purposes I'll just mention what was the final nail in the coffin of my own dedication to SS: how could I trust the canon of Scripture while distrusting the Body that canonized it? It was a cognitive dissonance that had been muted my entire adult life, and I was now hearing the unsavory notes for the first time.
For many, the answer to that question has been to broaden their distrust to include Scripture. To double down on "self" as it were. As someone committed to the inspiration and authenticity of the Scriptures, considering the ecclesial claims of Orthodoxy was the sensible option. Suffice it to say, the question of SS vs a worldwide ecclesial episcopacy has many aspects. They encompass history, exegesis, logic, theology, even sociology and politics. After considering it all, it became apparent to me that even the most sincere appeals to sole Biblical authority were by their nature appeals to self. After all, if the Bible is truly capable of asserting its own authority, what is to be made of the wild proliferation of denominations in the West? Since SS is Evangelicalism's guiding premise, I now knew that a full-on confrontation with my theological schema was necessary.
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