Thread: Evangelical Protestants and Eastern Orthodoxy Board: Purgatory / Ship of Fools.

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Posted by stonespring (# 15530) on :
A longtime Evangelical broadcaster and advice-giver who has written widely on the bible and warned Christians to stay away from cults and non-Trinitarian denominations is now being taken off the air by many stations for converting to Greek Orthodoxy.

I don't know much about the story, or, frankly, about Evangelical Protestantism or Eastern Orthodoxy, but I have read that many of the converts to Orthodoxy who don't convert because of marriage come from Evangelical Protestantism (Not sure if more come from Evangelical Protestantism than from Roman Catholicism, Mainline Protestantism, or from being non-Christian or non-religious. Does anyone know more about this?)

My main questions, for those who know, are - do mainstream Evangelical Protestants view Eastern Orthodoxy more favorably than Roman Catholicism? Do conservative Evangelical Protestants view Orthodoxy as more than just an ally in the culture wars but also perhaps a source of theological insight? And how many more open evangelicals would be willing to consider Orthodoxy to be part of the small-o "orthodox" Christiam mainstream (ie, doctrinally ok from a Biblical point of view)?

What other thoughts do people have on the relationship between Evangelicalism and Orthodoxy?
Posted by cliffdweller (# 13338) on :
Speaking cross pond from an American evangelical pov, the first thing to recognize is that we are an extremely diverse lot so you pretty much can't make those sort of generalizations. We're not one denomination but many plus the whole mixed bag of nondenominational. Some of the more fundie extremes of evangelicalism do, sadly, think there was a falling away soon after the book of Acts that wasn't lifted until Martin Luther (supposedly) burned the house down. (Everything that's wrong with that would fill a whole dead horses page). But other evangelicals are quite appreciative, admiring even, of our Orthodox brethren, finding common cause in some places and "rediscovering" ancient spiritual practices the Orthodox never "lost".

But really most American evangelicals are surprised to learn there's anything other than Catholic or Protestant
Posted by Gamaliel (# 812) on :
There's been something of a surge of interest in Orthodoxy among some evangelicals since the 1990s - which is when I first became aware of it.

In the USA, Frankie Schaeffer, rather embittered son of the evangelical apologist, Frank Schaeffer converted to Orthodoxy - although he now claims to be a 'Christian atheist' and from what I can gather, attends services irregularly.

In the UK the late Fr Michael Harper, a veteran Anglican charismatic also converted along with 9 other former Anglican clergy - most of them from Anglo-Catholic backgrounds but some of them evangelicals.

I was intrigued and as many Shipmates know have maintained a strong interest in Orthodoxy since that time.

There have been earlier glimmerings of interest among non-Orthodox - in the 1970s under the ministry of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh here in the UK.

However - and Orthodox Shipmates will correct me if I'm wrong - I've detected something of a shift in the kind of evangelicals - and it's still just a trickle - who are becoming Orthodox - particularly in the US.

There's been an influx of rather strident, right-wing evangelicals who seem drawn to Orthodoxy by the impression that it is going to be even more conservative than the traditions they are leaving behind. This has been echoed by a revival in fortunes of more nationalist and right-wing cradle Orthodox.

Many Orthodox, it seems to me, are alarmed by a lurch to the right ...

I notice that a number of Western converts to Orthodoxy from the 1970s and '80s are rather concerned about the type of converts they're getting these days.

The Orthodox scene is a lot smaller her in the UK so it's hard to tell whether there's a similar trend here. My gut feel is that there isn't, but there are certainly tensions between the various Jurisdictions and between 'convert parishes' and those who have been around longer. That said, there is evidence of greater collaboration too.

In sum, the situation is mixed with some evangelicals attracted to Orthodoxy for 'culture-wars' reasons, others because they see it as a more holistic and venerable form of the Faith.

The religious scene is very different in the US and I've heard from clergy I've met from ACNA (a 'continuing Anglican' group) and from TEC that their parishes are picking up refugees from mega churches and non-denominational churches who are looking for something​ with more depth and gravitas.

That's not happening here to any great extent.
Posted by Zappa (# 8433) on :
In the antipodes I noticed the trickle cum lurch a decade earlier than the 1990s, but certainly much of what Gamaliel cites rings true for the netherworlds beneath the equatorial line of cognizance.

Down here many lurched towards Orthodoxy because of Taizé, which began to nurture a sort of post-charismatic longing for stillness and silence and awe and mystery. That probably does not directly correlate with the journey of USA Evangelicals, but the search bit does ...

My own hesitance about Orthodoxy in its non-eastern forms - and I don't mean by those who practice it seriously in the non-east, but those who romanticize it as we have also romanticized and bowdlerized Buddhism, is that in its fiercely nationalistic forms in places like Bosnia-Herzegovina it too easily lost its Orthodoxy in favour of its nationalist identity (Russia, Greece, Serbia, whatever).

Of course those of us associated with Mother Cantuar could never countenance that

[Roll Eyes] [Hot and Hormonal]
Posted by mr cheesy (# 3330) on :
Accepting that Evangelicals are a hugely diverse group, I think it is true to say that there are fewer barriers to movement than there might be with other groups. An emphasis on the theology of choice (in various ways) means that Evangelicals often have few inhibitions about changing course and choosing something else.

I'd be surprised if there was a massive movement towards Orthodoxy, in my experience even those who are vehemently against the RCC are entirely ignorant of the Orthodox. I'm not sure it is even an option that would cross the minds of the vast majority of Evangelicals.

It might be interesting to know the back story relating to the guy in the link in the OP, but my impression is that Evangelicals who turn to Orthodoxy tend to be (a) academic theologians who find Orthodox writing interesting and stimulating and then go further or (b) people who have some family connection to the Orthodox. I don't think I've ever heard of an Evangelical who has just pitched up at an Orthodox church and stayed.

Of course, I've not seen the thing from the other end, so I might well be completely wrong.

Anyway, I'd be interested to compare the destinations of those who leave Evangelical churches of all types. I suspect in the UK that the majority end up in non-Ev Anglican churches, leave church altogether and/or become atheists.
Posted by Baptist Trainfan (# 15128) on :
I suspect too that there are Evangelicals attracted to Orthodoxy because it offers an experience of the numinous that is often lacking in Evangelical (and, indeed, MoTR) worship. Evangelical worship can be excessively wordy/rationalistic (at its more Reformed end), "driven" (by the music/worship leader), or simply chatty/informal.
Posted by Ian Climacus (# 944) on :
A book I read many years ago, and I hope I remember correctly, concerned a rather large evangelical independent church in the US that was welcomed by the Antiochians.

From what I recall, they had set about, independently, to go back to the early church. They researched, changed worship forms, searched out doctrines, etc. as they went along and called themselves the Evangelical Orthodox Church. At some point they stumbled over the Eastern Orthodox Church, and had meetings with Antiochian representatives, and were received.

So a desire to find the worship of the early church led them to Orthodoxy.
Posted by Gamaliel (# 812) on :
I think all of you are right on this one ...

As far as Hank Hanegraaf goes ... his reception into Orthodoxy has caused something of a reaction from conservative evangelicals and also from some evangelicals who have become Orthodox and who don't like him for whatever reason and don't want to see people like him following him across the Bosphorus ...

I think there are several parallel or interweaving strands here ...

Firstly, as the US is still a far more religious society than ours in the UK it's hardly surprising that people who fall-out or move on from evangelicalism end up in one of the alternatives.

Here in the UK, as mr cheesy observes, they are far more likely to drop out altogether.

That said, I've met former evangelicals in almost every conceivable church tradition I've come across - although not in any great numbers.

I can only speak for the handful of former evangelicals I know who are now Orthodox.

It may help if I specify something of their journey to see if we can discern a pattern.

Convert A: Grew up very conservatively evangelical - FIEC - then went through the restorationist / new church thing. Fell out with that and, bemused, became involved with an ecumenical group in London through which he encountered Orthodoxy and eventually became Orthodox.

Convert B: Studied Russian at university. Was involved in Protestant mission / support for persecuted Christians in Soviet Russia towards the end of the Soviet era. Encountered Orthodoxy there and converted to Orthodoxy when she returned to the UK.

Convert C: Converted to evangelicalism from a nominal background as a young man, studied for the Anglican ministry in an evangelical setting, gradually moved to a 'High Church' position, left the CofE in 1994 after the ordination of women, became an Orthodox priest.

From a non-evangelical background ...

Convert D: A cathedral chorister and liturgy geek who nevertheless felt poorly catechised and unclear what the CofE actually teaches ... lived on a canal boat for a while, dropping into parish churches occasionally during his travels. Went on holiday to Russia and was moved powerfully by Orthodox services, architecture etc. Looked it up online when he returned to the UK and to his surprise found there was an Orthodox parish on his doorstep. He entered into email correspondence with the priest, began visiting and was eventually received into the Orthodox Church where he is now a Reader. His wife remains Anglican.

I think mr cheesy is right, I don't foresee any mass movement into Orthodoxy from evangelicalism - but I can see it attracting individuals who are either seeking:

- A sense of tradition, continuity and the numinous (as Baptist Trainfan identifies).

- Something exotic (all those beards, funny hats, onion domes and icons - as well as wierd and wonderful names for things). Those who want their church experience to resemble a Lord of The Rings convention ...

- Something they imagine will be ultra-conservative, fixed and unchanging ...

I'd go with the first option, but it can be difficult to disaggregate that from the second and third in some instances.

Orthodoxy has many, many strengths but its greatest weakness - and one they acknowledge thenmselves, is the very toxic nationalism, phyletism and ultra-conservatism that can be found in some quarters.

To an extent - and beware, they always blame the West - the more liberal or 'progressive' Orthodox - feel that the weaknesses are being exacerbated by the influx of Western - and particularly conservative Western - converts.

I can see why. Old-fashioned nationalism combined with a toxic form of conservative fundamentalism ('Church fundamentalism' rather than 'Biblical fundamentalism') is about as toxic as toxicity gets.


The Orthodox like to speak plainly. They are very blunt. They find Anglicans mealy-mouthed. Fair enough - but some of the plain-speaking I've seen from among the Orthodox is truly shocking ... I've seen online spats which would make the Ship's Hell look like a Sunday school tea party. Some xenophobes referring to 'convert filth' even ...


Orthodoxy has great depth and beauty on the one hand and some real bastards on the other.
Posted by Eutychus (# 3081) on :
At the ecumenical Good Friday service I was involved with in prison, the Catholics wanted the "veneration of the cross" which of course meant a crucifix. I negotated that down to "prayer before the cross" - and opted to have an Orthodox icon instead of a crucifix, on the grounds that it would be more acceptable to the Orthodox and less grating to the (mostly evangelical) protestants. Which it seemed to be.

I find the concept of the Spirit and the numinous in Orthodoxy certainly offer bridges. I also find that the Byzantian complexity of squabbling factions within Orthodoxy is a lot more like evangelicalism than the monolith of Rome (I often tell my Catholic brethren that evangelicals are a good model for understanding Muslims...).

However I think perspectives vary hugely not only with churchmanship but also with country. I don't think being a protestant in a firmly Greek Orthodox country is much fun. Whereas in Romania I understand that evangelicals often meet in Orthodox premises.
Posted by Gamaliel (# 812) on :
We can only start from where we are ...

With one exception, all the Romanian Orthodox I've met have been very eirenic and quite positive towards RCs and Protestants ... although they tell me this isn't necessarily the case in the monasteries out there.

I'm told that the Serbs 'are the worst', but I've only met one or two and haven't had any proper conversations with them.

Anglican clergy I know tend to see the Romanians as something of a 'bridge' between East and West. For instance, they regularly (or by Orthodox standards regularly) update the language used in the Liturgy, for instance.

It certainly wouldn't be much fun being an evangelical in Greece - nor in Russia if things continue there as they are at the moment.
Posted by Gamaliel (# 812) on :
As an aside ... I've also come across 'ethnically' Orthodox people who have returned to Orthodoxy after time spent in evangelical Protestant settings - or with the Jehovah's Witnesses ...

They've got an interesting perspective.

I've also - tell it not in Gath (or Moscow, Bucharest or Constantinople), come across cradle Orthodox who can't for the life of them understand why any Westerners would want to convert and why they don't stay put within Anglicanism or Roman Catholicism - which they seem to think of as simply 'Western' versions of themselves ...

I'm thinking of Greeks who live over here and who think that Orthodoxy in the homeland is very backward looking and superstitious.

I've met a number of young Greek priests and seminary students here and they seem to 'have something' ... they roll their eyes as some of what goes on yet at the same time find Anglicans incredibly wishy-washy on the one hand and evangelicals a complete puzzle ...

They seem to 'get' what evangelicals are trying to do and say - but they find the presuppositions of it all completely incomprehensible - particularly aspects like sola scriptura which strikes them as being completely bonkers ...
Posted by Gamaliel (# 812) on :
Whoops ... sorry to triple-post ...

I think it would be interesting to compare and contrast evangelical converts to Roman Catholicism - I've met some of those too - with converts from evangelicalism to Orthodoxy.

In some ways, I would suggest, Orthodoxy represents less of a transition in some ways, but more of a culture shock ...

Not having a Pope it doesn't have the Papal baggage that Protestant evangelicals might find off-putting ...

Whilst its obviously more Marian in its emphasis than Protestantism in general and evangelicalism in particular, that doesn't seem quite as pronounced as it is in Roman Catholicism ... although it'd still be too much for hot-Prots to stomach ...

On t'other side, contemporary Roman Catholicism is closer to Protestantism in terms of worship styles - guitars, worship songs and choruses.

But I suspect the absence of those things might might Orthodoxy more attractive to those who never want to hear a Jesus Is My Boyfriend chorus ever, ever again ...
Posted by Pomona (# 17175) on :
The translators of the ESV Bible are much more complimentary about Eastern Orthodoxy than Roman Catholicism in the study Bible notes. I think there is a sense that Eastern Orthodoxy is less Marian than Catholicism (the Dormition rather than the Assumption, etc) which is seen as more acceptable. Also there is of course more of a history of anti-Catholicism amongst Western Protestants, whereas Orthodoxy looks 'new' and 'exotic'.

I have a friend raised in a Restorationist church who has now converted to Eastern Orthodoxy (he's in his 20s and is a student). His parents now have actually converted too.
Posted by mousethief (# 953) on :
Ian Climacus: You remember correctly.

Gamaliel: You're right on the recent "culture wars" converts. Of course we've talked about this before back-channel. It seems too many right-wing Evangelicals are becoming Orthodox because it seems a more complete and ancient form of the hate they have in their hearts, rather because they find it a better way of worshiping and living for Christ. They're a problem. And they definitely find Orthodox who are happy to confirm their hate, alas, although the Orthodox who think like them, hate them too.
Posted by Gamaliel (# 812) on :
What's to be done about that?

Orthodoxy seems very hands-off to me, in some ways. Lots of attention in getting the Liturgy right ... Less attention on catechesis ... Other than in some parishes.

Does it self-regulate in some way?
Posted by Ian Climacus (# 944) on :
No idea re that hate; I have not seen that personally.

On catechesis, I think the services do this. If you have Vespers, Matins, Liturgy, Great Lent services, etc. you will learn a lot. And given Orthodoxy can be a family affair, apart from sermons home teaching has been used with parents instructing kids. But with converts comes the need for this...I was guided through my catechesis.

Edit: thanks mousethief!

[ 07. June 2017, 06:58: Message edited by: Ian Climacus ]
Posted by mr cheesy (# 3330) on :
I'm interested to hear more about the evangelical church which was welcomed into the Antioch Orthodox jurisdiction if anyone knows anything else about it.
Posted by mr cheesy (# 3330) on :
I'm wondering if it is the Evangelical Orthodox Church described on this wikipedia page - or maybe something else..
Posted by Ian Climacus (# 944) on :
Yes, that is the group I referenced. Gillquist wrote a book, Becoming Orthodox, which detailed their journey (if I still had it I'd have posted it to you...). Websites may have snippets or more of it.

[ 07. June 2017, 07:39: Message edited by: Ian Climacus ]
Posted by mr cheesy (# 3330) on :
Huh, not sure I'm interested enough to read a book! I've just been following links on the wikipedia page to the Twelve Tribes community - which sounds pretty way-out.
Posted by Aijalon (# 18777) on :
Not sure what to think, don't know much about Orthodoxy yet, but... I did find a nicely written article against Sola Scriptura as the main cause of Protastantism's woes.

He compares Protestantism and its denominations to a Hydra.

[Big Grin]

[ 07. June 2017, 13:18: Message edited by: Aijalon ]
Posted by Gamaliel (# 812) on :
A word of warning - be careful forming impressions about Orthodoxy purely on what you come across online, not all that purports to be Orthodox is 'canonical' Orthodox - or kosher Orthodox as it were ...

The same applies to any other Christian tradition, of course ...

I think Fr Gilquist has passed away, but as far as I know his community had problems assimilating and the jury's still out on whether it did so successfully ...

But Shipmates from the US might be in a better position to comment on that.
Posted by mousethief (# 953) on :
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
I'm wondering if it is the Evangelical Orthodox Church described on this wikipedia page - or maybe something else..

This is it. If Josephine is willing to come on, she joined one of those churches not long after they were received into the Antiochian Archdiocese and can answer questions better than I can.

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