Evangelicals and Orthodoxy – Why Some Left Evangelicalism, Why I Stayed

I just returned home from a Patristics Conference. As always happens at these Patristic conferences, I find oodles of former evangelicals who are now Orthodox priests. When I self-identify as an Evangelical, a Baptist no less, they find their way to me and tell me their story about their years with this or that Evangelical tradition. Is there a common thread? Yes. It is the shallowness of a historical consciousness among Evangelicals and their free-floating worship forms that skip over the demands of the mind and bend toward the individualistic without creating a sense of the people of God moving through time. I hear this time and again. They are correct, as far as I see it. At times these things drive me insane. But I have stayed with Protestantism, Evangelical Protestantism, Baptist Evangelical Protestantism. We bring something to the table these other great worship traditions have failed to highlight, primarily conversion through the new birth, experienced through conscious faith and repentance. These sacramentalized traditions diminish the crisis of faith, the choice between the broader and the narrower road. They fill up with parishioners who have no conscious experience of regeneration, even if one allows for the mystical nature of it and that the work of the Holy Spirit is as the wind. I have so many Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends who deeply love Christ and rely upon him for salvation through a living and worshiping and holy faith. We disagree on how it is Jesus saves. We agree that Jesus saves. I think knowing how Jesus saves is mission critical to deep spiritual growth and to passing on faith to the next generation. I think personal knowledge of the Bible is essential to vital faith. I don’t see how there can be a healthy spiritual community without these elements. Therefore, I remain a Protestant. David Wells is right. It takes courage to be Protestant. Of 2.5 billion people on planet earth who profess to be Christians, 1.5 billion are Roman Catholic. 600 million or so are Orthodox. Of the remaining 600 million or so that are Protestant, a large number of those are liberal Protestant. Evangelical Protestantism is not the lone Protestant position. We are small and stampeded by heresies, wildnesses, and sheer embarrassing goofiness, whether it be a Benny Hinn or a Joel Osteen or a Jimmy Swaggart. No, Evangelicalism as it has developed is not intuitively and naturally a great good. It has to be defended and constantly put through extended rinse cycles to repair itself. It is maddeningly susceptible to disease. But it has a role in the great Body of Christ. I do greater good, I believe, in the long run by remaining faithful to my tradition than trying to leverage it in Orthodox or RC churches where it is swallowed up and silenced.

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