Why I'm Not Orthodox
An evangelical explores the ancient and alien world of the Eastern church.
January 6, 1997
During my four years as a visiting professor at Moscow State University (1991-95) I often felt schizophrenic. There I was, a Protestant theologian teaching in the former Department of Scientific Atheism in the land where Eastern Orthodoxy had reigned for over 1,000 years. At one level, I was close in heart and mind to my Orthodox sisters and brothers in Christ; but on another level, I agreed with many of my atheist friends' criticisms of Russian Orthodoxy.
Suspicion and recrimination have often characterized relationships between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Protestantism. Protestant theologian Adolf von Harnack once described the Orthodox church as "in her entire structure alien to the Gospel and a perversion of the Christian religion, its reduction to the level of pagan antiquity." Not to be outdone, the Orthodox could respond in kind. An Orthodox priest who lectured to standing-room-only crowds at Moscow State once described Orthodox theology to me as "music made in the conservatory," whereas he described Protestant theology as "music made in the honkytonk bars. Protestant Christianity," Andrei went on, "is a cheap, terrible substitute, and an Orthodox believer who knows his own faith will never go there."
Writing a book on Eastern Orthodoxy and working through the manuscript with my Russian students helped me to compare Orthodoxy and Protestant evangelicalism. But one insightful reader asked a penetrating question: "Your book does a fine job comparing the two traditions; why have you not converted to Orthodoxy?" It is a good question, one I will answer in due course.
Why be interested?
One need not travel overseas to encounter Eastern Orthodoxy. It merits our attention for several reasons. Not a few evangelicals in the ...
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