Journeys of Faith

I am still pondering the evangelical over-reaction to Hank Hanegraaff, the "Bible Answer Man," converting to Orthodoxy. I think we err if we imagine evangelicalism as a monolith; and I think, perhaps, conceiving of evangelicalism as a monolith has fueled the over-reaction. When I rant against conservative evangelicalism I have in mind the views of particular high-profile evangelical leaders, e.g., James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Eric Metaxes, Al Mohler, David Barton, typically men who demean LGBTQ persons (Franklin Graham, Michael Brown, Tony Perkins, think Family Research Council, Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family) and find "biblical" the notion of stifling women in leadership (John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Denny Burk and the TGC boys club).

There are always exceptions within any group of like-minded thinkers: no one within any given worldview maintains the exact same positions as everyone else within that paradigm. There are conservative evangelical laypersons, for example, who love and support LGBTQ people and affirm women in pulpit ministerial leadership. The primary leaders of conservative evangelicals may shout the loudest, given their public platform, but at times those leaders do not speak for everyone within their own ideological context. Moreover, perspectives can change, and change often.

For instance, some Southern Baptists now adhere to and attempt to implement the charismatic gifts within the assembly as mentioned at 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, due, to a great degree, to the charismatic beliefs of men like John Piper, Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms. These Southern Baptists changed their minds from a John MacArthur-like disgust of charismatic practices regarding said gifts to being open-minded, considering plausible that the gifts are being given and practiced in worship assemblies. In a very real sense, then, they journeyed out of one faith-tradition and into another.

There will, of course, always be die-hards within any given faith-tradition who deride those who abandon their cherished tradition in lieu of another. My own opinion as to why this occurs is because the one who abandons a tradition is suggesting that their former perspective was wrong and that now they hold to a "biblical" position that is not maintained by those whose theological or philosophical company they stranded. In essence, then, the abandoned feel as though the individual who changed his or her mind on an important subject is inevitably insisting that the abandoned are wrong.

Why the abandoned are offended by this notion is a mystery. Certainly they disagree with contrary positions to their own and think that their theological or philosophical opponents are wrong. Even the one who assumes a different faith-tradition is considered wrong by the abandoned. Can not the one who changed his or her mind also think that the abandoned are wrong? When I considered adopting the Anglican way, I had to consider its merits, and think about its history in conjunction with what we can find in Scripture. When I discovered an ecclesiastical hierarchical structure within Acts (Acts 6:3; 14:23), and in Paul (Titus 1:5), I concluded that Southern Baptists are in error. My perspective changed and that perspective informed my journey out of one faith-tradition and into another. But what of it? Is my opinion that of God's, infallible, inerrant?

For Wilbur Ellsworth, his journey out of the Baptist tradition and into Eastern Orthodoxy centered upon one primary notion, that of historical roots. Abandoning his rigid and academic Calvinism, altering his fundamental dogma on the atonement (from judicial, Penal, to rescue, Christus Victor), and a rediscovery of reverence allowed him to adopt a different Christian path, one with deeper roots in early Christianity than can be afforded by the Baptists.1 A Baptist might consider the worship practices inherent within Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism or Roman Catholicism to be useless exercises by rote, but for many who convert to these faith-traditions find in these practices a vivid expression of the heart and the mind toward God in Christ. This is my experience.



Granted, for some people who grew up in liturgical traditions (Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Methodist), converting to an evangelical faith-tradition breathed new life into their journey toward Jesus. Though we may disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, we at least must be appreciative of the fact that the Spirit of God is using a faith-tradition to aid the believer in his or her life in Christ, by grace through faith in the same. We are permitted to rejoice with them.

There was a time when people were leaving mainline churches in great numbers and entering various evangelical assemblies.2 Much of that exodus is beginning to reverse, however, as some people have wearied themselves of a rock-concert atmosphere at the local post-postmodern evangelical church, superficial "worship" lyrics and sermons, and an overt right wing political agenda.3 Regarding one reason offered for altering one's faith journey, in lieu of another, I think Ed Stetzer is right when he states:
Among other things, some have a tendency to seek more traditional forms of ecclesiology. We find this here in my new neighborhood. Both at Christianity Today and at Wheaton College we have a disproportionate number of highly-educated evangelicals and so we see a higher percentage of people moving to such movements as Anglicanism, often as a result of genuine frustrations and much thought.

These theologically-interested believers often grow weary of two things: a lack of liturgy that ties us to our past and, for some (particularly those prone toward Orthodoxy and Catholicism), the need for a source of authoritative truth that is lacking in evangelicalism. (link)
Stetzer does not offer evidence but insists that more people are leaving liturgical traditions and adopting evangelical traditions currently than vice versa. (link) Yet, contrarily, recent reports demonstrate that people are actually leaving the Church, as in the Christian tradition, and not flooding into the evangelical tradition. (link/link/link) Even Barna evinces statistics that betray Stetzer's optimism. Preston Sprinkle reports:
According to Rainer Research, 70% of youth, who were active in youth group, leave the church by the time they're 22 years old. Based on the current rate of departure, Barna estimates that 80% of those raised in the church will be disengaged by the time they're 29 years old. Several other studies and surveys confirm the trend: Millennials (18-29-year-olds), who were raised in the church, are leaving the church in droves (see Kinnaman, You Lost Me). According to one "dechurched" person, "I guess the church just sort of churched the church out of me" (Packard and Hope, Church Refugees, 14). (link)
Moreover, after Donald Trump became President, Paul A. Djupe, Jacob R. Neiheisel and Anand Edward Sokhey, writing for The Washington Post, report that evangelical churches that in some sense demonstrated they supported Trump experienced their own exodus of disgruntled believers. Some moderate and liberal believers, disgusted with the Religious Right, even ceased attending worship in their own faith-traditions. (link) Stetzer's claims do not seem to bare resemblance to these national reports.

Regardless, perspectives can change, and such accounts for people taking a different path than the one upon which they had been traveling. If we claim to be concerned about the tradition chosen by a friend, or a Christian leader, consider that those within that (new) tradition believe themselves to be every bit as orthodox as do you of your own tradition. There is no escaping the reality that perspective is king. You may think that this conclusion inevitably leads to relativism, and in one sense your complaint is warranted, but your certainty of the "biblicalness" of your tradition is not synonymous with truth as God eternally and infallibly understands objective truth.

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1 Wilbur Ellsworth, "A Journey to Eastern Orthodoxy," in Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Anglicanism, ed. Robert L. Plummer (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 23-53.

2 Ibid.,15-16.

3 Ibid., 16.