Last week I finished reading Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism from the Counterpoints: Exploring Theology series edited by Stan Gundry. It was highly informative and thought-provoking, and I feel the need to reflect on it here.
These five authors addressed the question, "Are Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism compatible?" Each wrote an essay to which the other four responded, and then he wrote a concluding argument in response to theirs. One of the authors was our own Bradley Nassif, and I must begin my evaluation by saying that Professor Nassif did a fantastic job of keeping the two views in balance and debating with his peers in the most loving fashion imaginable. Kudos to him!
I do not want to say that the others were entirely unfair, as I understand that a question of this nature is a nearly impossible attempt to combine a wide variety of factors to form one small and somewhat unclear conclusion. There were many pages full of praise for one another's work and I believe the word "irenic" was used no less than four times by one author describing another. A great many beautiful comments resulted from this discussion, giving some hope for unity. However, despite these small glimpses of agreement (or, at least, appreciation), there were a great many pages filled with confusion on both sides. This confusion generally resulted from a misunderstanding or misdefinition of an author's opinion, or a misstatement of doctrine or misreading of patristics. It was disheartening and a bit frustrating at times to read these authors as they argued over points that could have been cleared up with a helping of patience and a closer investigation of beliefs and doctrine.
I believe that there is a greater issue here that was only very lightly touched on in a few of the responses, and that is that the question at hand is not the appropriate question to be asking and answering. The question posed to these men was, "Are Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism compatible?" If we truly believe as I think we do that Christ intends the Church to be a loving body, caring for itself and the world, then the question that we must ask is, "HOW can Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism (and Catholicism, Emerging, Fundamentalism, etc.) begin to better understand and love one another in a Christ-like manner, above all of the doctrinal issues that separate us?" I do not want to diminish the importance of the doctrines and elements of church structure that are the beginning of many ecumenical arguments, but I do think that these elements might best be held lightly in one hand while the other works to establish healthy, holy connections with other branches of the Body. Your little finger does not say to the rest of the body, "Well guys, I think I'm going off into the world on my own until Christ returns--see you later!" For the good of the Church and for those outside looking in and seeing the turmoil resulting from our current diminished state of ecumenical dialogue, we absolutely must begin to regard our brothers and sisters with less skeptical eyes and with love.
It is likely that I will write more on this later.