Monday, July 30, 2007

More Reading (BBB Part 22)

As soon as we reached my parents’ house in the northern suburbs of Houston, I tore into the packages that were waiting for me and began voraciously reading the books that they contained. In the four weeks that we were with our parents, I spent every spare minute eagerly seeking the answers to the remaining questions that I had about Orthodoxy. As I mentioned before, I ordered about 12 books in all. Of course, some were more helpful than others. One title that I found especially helpful was a thick pamphlet called An Orthodox Response to Evangelical Claims, by Fr. Paul O’Callaghan. In this work, Fr. Paul follows a very simple format: he lists common objections and questions to Orthodox distinctives, and then he convincingly answers them. Many of the questions listed were the exact things that I needed clarification about, and Fr. Paul helped me overcome many of my doubts about Orthodoxy.

A second critical book that I read (though not in its entirety), was The Orthodox Study Bible, which is the New King James translation with commentary and study aids written by Orthodox scholars. I had wondered how the Orthodox Church “handled” certain key verses (all of which had been underlined and highlighted in my Bible!) that seemed to teach that salvation is by faith alone. The OSB helped me to understand that in the early Church, salvation was viewed more as spiritual healing that leads to godlikeness than as deliverance from the legal penalty of sin. I learned that the New Testament teaches that while salvation is by faith, it is not by faith alone. In fact, the only place where the phrase “faith alone” is used is James 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” This verse, along with many others, had never made sense to me as an evangelical Protestant. My solution had been to ignore such verses that did not fit into the scheme of Baptist theology. Now, I was finally beginning to understand the verses that I had not underlined! More than ever, the New Testament seemed to be a coherent whole, with no parts that simply did not fit.

A third work that proved invaluable in moving me toward Orthodoxy was The Apostolic Fathers, translated by Fr. Jack Sparks. Here I was able to read what Christian leaders of the late first and early second centuries, most of whom had learned their doctrine directly from the Apostles, had to say about the issues that Evangelicals and Orthodox Christians disagreed on. I was able to put the claims of Frs. Peter Gillquist and Jordan Bajis to the test. In every instance, they passed! I read Ignatius of Antioch calling the Eucharist “the medicine of immortality” and urging local Christians to be obedient to their bishops. I “heard” Clement of Rome arguing for apostolic succession and describing a threefold division of Church leadership. I observed how the author of the Didache urged the use of liturgical prayer in the Eucharist, baptism by triple immersion, and fasting on Wednesday and Friday. So, as it turned out, the theology and practice of the early Church was much more like that of the Orthodox Church than my own church!

By this time, I felt that I agreed with Orthodoxy at least 90%. The final nail in the coffin of my allegiance to the Baptist church was my reading of The Way: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church by Clark Carlton. This is the most persuasive book for Orthodoxy that I had ever read – but it is not for the easily offended. Evangelicals and other Protestants who read The Way must be ready for some “tough love!” I think that one reason that I connected so well with this book is that the author is, like myself, a former Southern Baptist who attended seminary. In The Way, Carlton powerfully argues against Protestant distinctives such as Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide, and argues for Orthodox theology and practice.

By the time I finished The Way, I told Jennifer: “The jig is up. I’m no longer a Baptist!” But I still needed to know one thing: What would Orthodox worship in the U. S. look like?


Clint said...

I am exactly now at the same point as you were in your story. Soon, I pray, I shall find out...

fdr said...

Well Clint, what have you found out?