An Orthodox Introduction to the 2nd Edition of the Romanian Translation of ‘Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism’ – 4

  1. ORTHODOXY AND EVANGELICALISM. THREE PERSPECTIVES – A WAY TOWARDS DIALOGUE

This book has been written by people who have had genuinely “stirring” experiences in the two traditions (conversion, abandoning one’s tradition, education in a theological environment, involvement in leading services in a church completely different from the one in which one received one’s theological formation, etc.). This is what makes their way of dealing with the issues discussed so unique. Each position is well argued from a theological point of view. As James J. Stamoolis rightly says, “If you are in search of theological arguments to support each of the positions, you will not be disappointed”.

Evangelicals need to know, however, that the journey towards Orthodoxy with the aim of entering into dialogue with it is no easy one. The danger of becoming bogged down in a precipitate judgement and consequently giving up the journey dogs every step. But the Orthodox too need to know that the same danger lies in wait for them also as they move towards becoming acquainted with the other tradition, the Evangelical one. In fact, the differences between the two ecclesial communities are essentially founded on different interpretations of theological paradigms.

The present volume helps, in a way, towards an understanding of these differences of paradigm, on the one hand, while on the other it facilitates the passage over these ‘chasms’ that are created particularly by differences of language. The interaction between the authors in the way they express their positions is strongly personalised by each of them, with the result that there is of course no danger of monotony in either the argumentation or the experience of reading.

The book provides a working vade mecum for the task but also a pattern for any future Orthodox-Evangelical dialogue, which, in order to be viable, will have to take account of both the formal and the essential aspects of the differences between Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism.

This volume does not however deal, except in an extremely schematic and occasional way, with such major doctrinal themes as Christology, eschatology, pneumatology, the sacraments of the Church, the hierarchy of the Church, and so on. It could not have done so, nor did it need to do so, if one takes account of the purpose for which it was put together, namely to put down some markers that would allow readers to grasp the fact that renewal and regrouping are desiderata of both ecclesial communities, Orthodox and Evangelical, and that there are still also people who are interested in moving beyond parochial fanaticism or bigoted, exclusivist zeal.

The way certain biblical texts are exegeted in the book leaves something to be desired in regard to the understanding and rendering of the message of the text and the doctrinal, disciplinary or apologetic context in which it was written. We do not have the right to force the meaning of texts by interpreting them, either doctrinally or homiletically, in such a way that they lend support to our ideas. It is our ideas that should find their raison d’etre in the sacred text; the sacred text must not be made to owe its legitimacy to our ideas and conceptions. We cannot afford to “confessionalise” Scripture. We need to be more careful about this – Orthodox and Evangelicals alike – if we do not want to turn that which represents the essence of our agreement, that is, Scripture, into a wall that will prevent us from reaching even the anteroom of dialogue, let alone the debating table itself. A minimalist approach to Scripture is a real danger, especially when it comes from the ranks of the dogmatists.

For the rest, I can but salute, in the most respectful way, the initiators of this project for translating Three views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, ed. James Stamoolis, Stanley N. Gundry, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI., 2004, and then for republishing it in a new and improved edition. I am referring to Danut Manastireanu and his fellow-initiators.

The book is truly an orientative guide, aimed not so much at helping people to find their way among the issues of compatibility or incompatibility between Orthodox and Evangelicals, but rather at familiarising them with an effort made, it is true, by just a handful of sincere people to initiate a dialogue that would be an impossibility for the ignorant or the arrogant of both ecclesial communities, Orthodox or Evangelical, but which is fascinating for those who believe that the impossible can become possible and that naivety can sometimes even turn into a virtue.

I would like to close by saying that it has frequently been stated that changing the course of history is neither very much to be recommended nor very comfortable, irrespective of the realm in which it takes place. It may be so! But I wish, and even stubbornly dare, to believe in the need for the course of history to be changed as far as we as a Church are concerned. Maybe we have had enough of merely cosmeticising it.

The times in which we are living invite the Christian churches, more than ever before, to a twofold task of reflection. We need to look both back and forward as we focus on the past, present state and future of Christianity and consider all the aspects of its existence in history and time during these millennia: intellectual-theological, social-institutional, and cultural-philosophical.[1]

Christianity (in fact, the Church in its entirety and in all its confessional forms) is called today to reflect on its spiritual identity in all its dimensions and on its sense of its presence in the world, especially in a society that has long been drifting off course. No less challenging is the call to reflect on all the answers, often accompanied by the most evident and intentional ambiguity, that it has given over the course of two millennia and that it will be obliged to give in this third millennium too, but in a different way from up to now, to the problems and challenges that face humanity as it tries with might and main to find its original identity in a world become more post-Christian than Christian under the influence of modernity and of dizzying globalisation.

Schisms between confessions, however major or minor, have raised and continue to raise serious questions as to the relevance of the presence of Christian witness in the contemporary world and contemporary society. And all these disagreements attest not so much to the uselessness of only-too-human efforts to re-establish Christian unity as to the deficiencies and precariousness involved in the way all Christians constantly (fail to) match up to the complex and inexhaustible catholicity of the mystery of divine Revelation entrusted to the Church.

In this situation, the paradoxical and ever-needed solution, Ioan Ica Jr believes, is “the theoretical assumption and practical outworking by Christians of the catholicity and orthodoxy of Revelation through a creative sense that is permanently connected to the springs of this Revelation as found in Scripture and the Tradition of the Church”.[2]

Will our initiative be the beginning?

Cluj-Napoca, August 29 2014

Revd Professor Stelian Tofana, PhD

___________

[1] For a relevant handling of the issue of renewal in contemporary Orthodox theology see Ioan Ica and Ioan Ica Jr, Preface to Karl Christian Felmy, Dogmatica experientei eclesiale. Innoirea teologiei ortodoxe contemporane [Dogmatics of ecclesial experience. The renewal of contemporary Orthodox theology], tr. Ioan Ica, Deisis, Sibiu 1999, pp 5-31.

[2] Cf. Preface to Karl Christian Felmy, op. cit., p.6.

(English translation by Stuart & Dorothy Elford.)

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