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.