A Reformed Evangelical and Eastern Orthodox Conversation (Video)

This is an “older” video of a dialogue that I did with Fr. Jon Braun, who is an Antiochian Orthodox priest. Fr. Braun was a Campus Crusade for Christ staff leader when I was a college student in 1967-1971. Eventually, along with several of his good friends on Campus Crusade for Christ staff, Fr. Braun entered the Orthodox Church. (He was a Presbyterian before his conversion to Orthodoxy.) We were both invited to share in this conversation together by an Orthodox Church in Bloomington, Indiana. I have never publicly posted this particular video. As you will note, if you follow me online, I was “the old John” in this video. (I was about 50 pounds heavier). I have been asked over the past three years, “Are you sick?” No, I intentionally lost a lot of weight and as a result I look thinner. More importantly, I feel much, much better. I hope you will find this dialogue interesting and helpful. It is the only one I’ve ever done “one-to-one” with an Orthodox priest in a public context.

Christianity East & West: An Evangelical Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Dialog (Video)

Several years ago ACT3 staged a dialogue on unity and diversity between two Orthodox theologians and two Protestant evangelical theologians. This Sunday evening event was hosted by First Presbyterian Church of Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Greetings were given by Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth, an Orthodox priest who served as chairman of the ACT3 board for a number of years. I moderated the conversation. This is the first time we’ve made this older resource available for wider usage.

This dialogue runs for nearly two hours so you might want to mark it for use when you have the time to watch it. There are some real gems within the discussion we had on this evening.

Debating Doctrine and Preserving Unity: What Conservative Christians Can Do (2)

Unknown-1In the story that I related yesterday I ended with a friend who was teaching an adult class in his church and a couple that had quit attending because my friend did not embrace a six-day, twenty-four hour, recent creation of the earth. My friend asked me to pray as he responded to this relational breakup.

After two weeks this friend reached out to the husband in this story. he writes that this man has been his friend for decades. They met for breakfast together.  My friend writes, and I know this to be true from first-hand knowledge, “John, this is a subject that I have studied deeply for several decades.” After the breakfast meeting he wrote to me saying, “Ironically I found that the relational side of things was, to some degree, restored through our time together. However, the cognitive side seemed blocked. This brother was not open to ideas that contradicted his view. His presumption seems to be that his view is Scriptural (hence others could not measure up). I chose to only share enough to help him see that there are

Christian Unity Week @ Judson University, Part Three

IMG_4199We ended Christian Unity Week at Judson University on Friday, October 10. The final message was given by one of my dearest friends on earth – Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth. Fr. Ellsworth, pastor of Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Warrenville, Illinois, has been my friend since the 1980s. He came to Wheaton, from a pastorate in Kent, Ohio, to serve as senior pastor of the First Baptist Church. We have shared many times of ministry, and growing friendship, over the last twenty-five plus years.

Fr. Ellsworth and I have built a relationship over meals, prayer, conversations about theology and church, as well as special family events. We have celebrated birthdays, weddings and times of grief. We have given unique gifts to one another that we both value deeply. The intimacy of our friendship is something I treasure very, very profoundly. When Fr. Ellsworth began his private journey toward the Orthodox Church some years ago I knew of his direction long before it was made public. We entered into much healthy and engaging dialogue. Both of us learned a great

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ACT3 September Forum on Friendship in Diversity

act3logoOn Tuesday, September 2, 2014, ACT3 hosted its first fall evening forum. Our subject was Christian diversity and deep friendship. I invited an Orthodox priest, Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth, and a Catholic author and editor, Tom Masters, to join me for a dialogue about how we share deep friendship and still remain committed to very different Christian traditions: Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.

Fr. Ellsworth was a Baptist minister for decades before entering the Orthodox Church about seven years ago. He has been my friend for decades and is the former chairman of the ACT3 Network board of directors. He now pastors Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Warrenville, Illinois. Mr. Tom Masters is a life-long Catholic, a former teacher and the editorial director of New City Press, the publishing house of the Focolare a lay-Catholic movement I have shared a great deal with in recent years. Tom currently serves on the ACT3 board.

I, as most of you already know, am an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). I do not currently pastor a stated congregation but

Divorce, Remarriage and the Insights of Deep Ecumenism

One of the enduring problems that all churches face is how to deal with the moral and ecclesial questions related to divorce and remarriage. The most obvious difficulties have ensued in the Catholic Church due to its interpretation of Matthew 19 as a prohibition against all divorce. Here Jesus very clearly speaks about divorce but the understanding of this text has presented no small problem for Christian interpretation.

Our Lord says:

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he cured them there.

Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause? He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” They

The Cross of Christ & the Love of God – What Saves Us?

The_Cross____by_jkinerI am currently writing a book on love, both God’s love and our love. In writing the first half of my book I have sought to deal with the cross. I do not know how you can talk about God’s love and not go to the cross. Every reader of the New Testament can readily see that the cross is central to the story of God’s love and redemption.

“Christ died for our sins” is central to the earliest confessions and is a bottom line teaching of the New Testament. But how we understand what happened on the cross, in terms of God’s saving us through the death of Christ, is another matter. Several theories of the atonement have been debated and embraced by various Christians over the last ten-plus centuries. (The early church also held a view and in general I do not fully agree with this view either as I shall show in my book.)

I have decided to make my way into this controversy, with fear and trembling in one way, precisely because I believe that

Philip Schaff and the Unity of Christendom – Part Two

UnityIcon3Last week I wrote about the unity of the church in light of my visit to Moody Bible Institute on December 3 and the dialogue that took place between Fr. Robert Barron and me before Moody students in Chicago. I then cited the work of the famous theologian Philip Schaff. I ended my final blog of the week last Thursday by promising to reflect on Schaff’s “means” for the pursuit of visible unity.

Think of this very carefully – one hundred and twenty years ago this great Reformed theologian referred to what he called the “moral means” by which a similar affiliation and consolidation of the different churches may be hastened in the future. His points are as fresh now as when he wrote them in 1893. These are:

  1. The cultivation of an irenic and evangelical-catholic spirit in the personal intercourse with our fellow-Christians of other denominations. We should meet these other Christians “on common rather than disputed ground, and assume that they are as honest and earnest as we in the pursuit of truth.” he says we should

Philip Schaff and The Unity of Christendom – Part One

Unknown-2In the year in which he died (1893), Philip Schaff wrote what I take to be an extremely important piece on ecumenism with the title “The Reunion of Christendom.” It begins by quoting John 17:20–21 and then states the difficulty of the ecumenical problem by saying that the answer to the question the disciples asked Jesus, when they said – “Who then can be saved?” – may well be applied to the question, “How shall the many sections of the Christian world be united?” Schaff answers this query by quoting Matthew 19:25-26, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Make no mistake regarding Philip Schaff’s view of the subject of Christian unity. He believed that “in a manner far better than we can devise or hope, he [God] will, by the power of his Spirit, unite all his children into one flock under one Shepherd.” Schaff said that this reunion “presupposes an original union” which was marred and obstructed.

I concur with Schaff in this belief and passion. I also agree with him that

The Atonement Debate: “Why Did Christ Die?” Part 1

JesusOnCrossA recent dispute over the meaning of the atonement has sparked an outbreak of charges, and countercharges, among Protestant leaders. This particular dispute, not unlike so many in Christian history, arose from a line in a popular song. At issue are various theories of the atonement, not the simple confession made by all Christians from the earliest Christian era. We hear this simple faith confessed in the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died and was buried.

That’s it – pretty simple and straightforward: Jesus Christ suffered under Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. It would be some time later, indeed centuries later in many cases, before major debates arose about the meaning of these simple words.

Today the atonement is often a matter for intense debate, especially among conservative Protestants. More than fifteen centuries of time have allowed Christian thinkers to offer various doctrinal interpretations of what “Christ’s death”


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