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Friday, March 23, 2012

book response: Journeys of Faith by Plummer, Ed. 2012

I happen to follow Francis Beckwith's blog, Return to Rome, at Patheos, and he posted that a new book he contributed to was coming out, Journeys of Faith, an irenic dialog between those who switched from Baptistic, non-liturgical American Evangelicalism to a liturgical branch of Christianity and those who are firmly in the evangelistic quarter by personal conversion or transfer. I immediately asked Zondervan for a review copy, and they were kind enough to send me one.

The first story is Wilbur Ellsworth's journey to Eastern Orthodoxy. The second story is Beckwith's journey back to Roman Catholicism. The third story is Chris Castaldo's journey from Catholicism to evangelicalism. And the last story is Lyle Dorsett's into Anglicanism. Each writer tells their story, explaining and sometimes defending why they left their former group and entered their current place, then a response is made pointing to the complicated parts, typically not mentioned in the original story, that make acceptance of all that the tradition under discussion difficult, which the original author has an opportunity to respond in a rejoinder. It's unfortunate that such a great discussion like this has to be limited to 200+ pages. It would be so much fun to read the converts interact with each other as well as their evangelical foils.

I am very interested in the other traditions of my faith as I've only been a low church evangelical my entire life and when I've changed churches, it hasn't been that dramatic. I grew up in a Plymouth Brethren Bible Chapel, then joined a Vineyard which became a Calvary Chapel several years later. The only thing that really changed for me was the perspective on charismatic gifts. But I'm very interested in how other churches live out the faith, so I read their blogs and try to keep my mind out of my ghetto. Last year I finsished Jaroslav Pelikan's 2nd volume in his series The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700) and learned so much about the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It took me months to finish it, and I hope to read volume 3 on the Roman Catholicism someday.

Everyone's stories were fascinating and really put their new found or rediscovered tradition in such a great light, so I appreciate General Editor Robert Plummer's inclusion of another perspective. Both Ellsworth and Beckwith share a big tent perspective on Team Jesus, but their responders point out that their perspective, even if official is not always lived out in those countries where their ancient churches are the dominant faith. Not enough time is spent on the barnacles of each other's faith, except for evangelicalism's, but we do that pretty good on our own as it is. Avoiding American evangelical criticism is like trying to not breathe. It's the evangelical genuflection of the modern age. Half of the book is an evangelical-Catholic dialog though. I learned so much about Roman Catholicism from the Catholics Beckwith and Brad Gregory and evangelicals Castaldo and Gregg Allison. I really miss Catholic self-criticism though. Castaldo and Allison came back to a couple examples extreme in the evangelical perspective which the Catholic writers did not address, specifically Mariology, purgatory, indulgences and papal infallibility. Perhaps this a corner the church has boxed itself into, official doctrine inaccessible to questioning. Castaldo brought up an interesting story of meat that was accidentally served as a Bishop's dinner on a Friday during Lent. This was a mortal sin, which means that a faithful Catholic believes their ticket to heaven was in jeopardy. But all was not lost because the Bishop had the authority to declare a special dispensation, which he did. I appreciate the Bishop's grace in that action, but, as an evangelical, think "how is that a serious sin anywhere in the New Testament?" On the other hand, Castaldo's explanation of the Catholic mass was very helpful to me. Anti-Catholic literature is easy to find in evangelical bookstores, but irenic discussions, like this one are much more helpful. None of the authors portray the other church as demonic constructs to be feared, but as different expressions.

The section on Anglicanism at first seems like an awkward fit in this book's discussion. It is not as ancient as Orthodoxy or Catholicism, but it is a high liturgical tradition, which is still intriguing to a low church guy like myself. In fact, I have a friend and a friend of a friend of a friend who has moved from the Vineyard to Anglicanism. Until I read Dorsett's story, I thought these moves were bizarre. But I didn't know that Anglicanism was open to charismatic gifts, nor that there are conservative as well as the liberal branches that get more attention here in the United States.

This book is perfect for low church guys like me who love hearing about the other parts of Christ's body. My attitude of late has been seeing our divisions over time as a fulfillment of Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16. Each branch has been on the job for different lengths of time, but Jesus will reward us all equally, which I am looking forward to, not just for myself, but with all these brothers and sisters around the world.
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9 comments:

Barry K. Wilde said...

So I am still on the fence on this subject concerning my desire to be received into the RC Church. I would tend there since I am a western Christian as opposed say, to the Eastern Orthodox. I too am a bit perplexed by the American Evangelical negativity toward the Catholic, but I think it has much to do with the belief in sola scriptura, so what is expressed as tradition is thought of as somehow wrong. Although there should, I believe be serious debate on the sola scriptura argument as well. (I think there is now and then) In any event both sides can and should learn from each other. There is much richness to be gained. I personally desire the liturgical expression of the faith and really shun most low church forms now, especially any and all stadium concert style expressions, and sermons that follow themes taken off the cuff from one month to the next. And yes, there are some very conservative branches of Anglicanism that have cut all ties with Canterbury, and some are even being grafted back under Rome. There is one such church in Orlando that I have attended once or twice. Good review John. Do check out Dr. Thomas Howard for a more personal and thorough treatment of this subject. (I have had the blessing to know him, although he is certain not to remember me)He has written several books tracing his journey and his being received into the RC church from Anglicanism and Evangelicalism, and has also appeared on the Journey Home program on EWTN,

John Umland said...

thanks my friend. make sure you check out the link to someone we indirectly know who was a Vineyard leader and is now an Anglican priest. you'll have to email me to ask who the other friend is.
God is good
jumland at gmail

Barry K. Wilde said...

And from that link: From "The Accidental Anglican":
"Many are longing for historical connectedness and for theology that is “not tied to the whims of contemporary culture, but to apostolic-era understandings of Christian faith and practice.” They also yearn for rhythms and routines that build spiritual health. Still others are responding to a call to participate in worship rather than merely sitting back and looking at a stage. Liturgy offers all of this and more."

Yes "sitting back and looking at a stage" I am not there. Tough for me.

John Umland said...

I think in almost any tradition there is a "stage" where clergy perform something that the laity don't, whether it be a mass, a homily, a blessing of the eucharist, lead a chant, sprinkle water, or create amplified music (either through electronics or pipe organs). I think you only escape that experience in an organic church or community Bible reading group.
God is good
jpu

Barry K. Wilde said...

You know what I mean...

Renee Lin said...

"Castaldo brought up an interesting story of meat that was accidentally served as a Bishop's dinner on a Friday during Lent. This was a mortal sin, which means that a faithful Catholic believes their ticket to heaven was in jeopardy. But all was not lost because the Bishop had the authority to declare a special dispensation, which he did. I appreciate the Bishop's grace in that action, but, as an evangelical, think "how is that a serious sin anywhere in the New Testament?"

I realize I'm commenting several weeks after the fact, but I was not aware of this post until I followed the link from Frank Beckwith's Return to Rome blog. I was hoping I could shed some light on Chris Castaldo's anecdote.

The key to this is Hebrews 13:17 – “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority….” The bishops (our leaders) have asked us all to fast every year from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week, during the period known as Lent. This is in imitation of Jesus’ time spent in fasting and prayer. We are asked to abstain from meat on Fridays. Of course, partaking of the meat served at the Friday dinner that Mr. Castaldo was describing would have been an act of defiance against legitimate authority, and it was up to the bishop to give everyone present a dispensation allowing them to eat the meat served at that meal. Of course eating meat, or eating meat on Fridays, is not forbidden in Scripture. But deliberately disobeying our leaders IS forbidden.

The same reasoning lies behind the Catholic obligation to attend Mass on Sundays. Being aware of Hebrews 10:25 (“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is…”), the bishops require the faithful to attend Mass at least once a week, on Sunday morning (the Saturday evening vigil Mass also fulfills this obligation). Scripture is silent on how often we must assemble, and in Protestant circles this often leads to the phenomenon of “Bedside Baptist” services. However, given the example of the first Christians who met on Sundays, the bishops have decided that it is important for our spiritual well-being to imitate them.

Hope that helps!

John Umland said...

Thanks Renee. It seems weird to me that the issue is about obeying the bishop primarily instead of about remembering Christ's sacrifice on Fridays during Lent. One crazy idea would be to donate the meat to the soup kitchens and have everyone enjoy bread and vegetables.
God is good
jpu

Renee Lin said...

We are remembering Christ's sacrifice on Fridays during Lent, most especially on Good Friday, as our bishops have commanded us to do. As we all know, when left to our own devices many of us will opt for no sacrifice at all (i.e., no fasting, no church attendance on Sunday if we don't feel like it, etc.), and so it is important for our leaders to exhort us to imitate Jesus by declaring a corporate fast. Then the cop-out of "I don't happen to feel like fasting" is not viable, since the issue is now obedience to our leader.

And we are encouraged to donate the money saved during Lent, since almsgiving is an important part of the penitential season. Many parishes distribute "rice bowls," little cardboard boxes in which we place that money during the Lenten season. We return them at Easter to be donated to the poor.

John Umland said...

Thanks for explaining this to me Renee. Since donating our sacrifice of fasting is important, and I completely agree, it makes more sense in my view for the possibility of the Bishop to donate all those steaks...and model fasting from meat on that Friday for all the Catholics in the fund raiser with him.
This is just my outsider opinion.
Be Blessed.
God is good
jpu