The evangelical Protestant and Orthodox Church traditions have had very little relationship with one another since the time of the Protestant Reformation. What contact they have had has been primarily negative and unfruitful. This is slowly changing in both Europe and America, especially in America.
It is still rare to find a Greek or Russian Orthodox Christian, or priest, who desires such serious conversation with a Protestant evangelical but there are other forms of Orthodoxy in America than these two ancient expressions. The truth is this—most evangelicals know next to nothing about Orthodoxy either.
In 2001, the Evangelical Alliance in the United Kingdom published a report by its commission on unity and truth among evangelicals (ACUTE). This resulted in a fine book titled Evangelicalism and the Orthodox Church (Paternoster), which I am currently reading. American Orthodox scholar Dr. Bradley Nassif, professor at evangelical North Park University in Chicago, even founded a group called The Society for the Study of Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism and has thus made a major contribution to this ongoing discussion.
Dr. Nassif has written that: "The Orthodox and evangelical communities are at a momentous turning point in Church history. The groundwork for a new paradigm of ecumenical relations
Nassif believes that a global dialog is emerging and thus we should not revert to the pre-ecumenical era isolation that dominated our respective churches in the past but rather we ought to go forward and discuss more openly where we agree and disagree and exactly why. Nassif even calls upon our respective churches to "explore how [our] common beliefs and values can be visibly expressed in our local communities throughout the world."
I write this because ACT 3 will host an important ACT 3 Forum to foster such a dialog on
September 28 @ 6:00 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. This event will feature two evangelicals theologians (Dr. Grant Osborne of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Dr. George Kalantzis of Wheaton College) and two Orthodox theologians (Father Patrick Henry Reardon, a priest in Chicago and an editor of Touchstone magazine
and Dr. Bradley Nassif). I will moderate this discussion and the public is heartily urged to attend. A video and audio version of the evening will be made and then offered via ACT 3’s resources in our Web site store as, was our Roman Catholic and evangelical forum in September of 2007.
Please mark this date. It will be a wonderful opportunity to act upon the encouragement that is given to us by the Evangelical Alliance in the UK.
(I still hope for the day when the National Association of Evangelicals, in the United States, might spend serious time on such dialog rather than on the various "issues" that they adopt and promote! The NAE is far less involved in such expressions of unity, and the pursuit of common concerns, than their U.K. counterparts in the Evangelical Alliance.)
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My longtime ignorance of Orthodoxy was shattered when I started reading the tremendous work done by the early councils and church fathers. I then found an amazingly irenic Orthodox blog that feels like a warm bath nearly every post, Glory to God For All Things by Father Stephen Freeman. I felt like my protestant view of salvation was engulfed by the all encompassing and ontological view of Orthodoxy and the Fathers. The centrality of the Incarnation and the Trinity in everything has been paradigm shifting. I had an arrogant and immature view of what Orthodoxy was. When your theology starts with Christ, distinguishing between Person and Nature, adhering to the great ecumenical Council’s definitions of Christ’s two natures, many of the strange and beautiful things we see as protestants from the outside begin to make sense–icons, liturgy, sacraments, mary, the communion of saints. Many of her theologians are brilliant. This is not some superstitious and simplistic works salvation. This is also not Rome! It’s all hard to describe. Maybe that’s why folks like Nassif and Reardon are fond of saying…come and see!