Fascination with the Great Tradition may signal deep changes for both evangelicals and the Orthodox.
Jaroslav Pelikan, the late professor of history at Yale University, wrote of the Christian tradition on a scale that no one else attempted in the 20th century. Then after nearly a lifetime of studying the history of doctrine, Pelikan, a lifelong Lutheran, was received into the Orthodox Church, just a few years before he died last May at age 82.
Pelikan is just one of a growing number of people who are joining the Eastern Orthodox Church. It makes me wonder if the 21st century will be the century of the Orthodox. Will there be a rebirth of the church's theological vision, if not its numerical growth? I'm not a prophet, nor do I want to evangelize evangelicals or reinvent Orthodox identity. But I would like to (a) offer a theological explanation for why I believe more and more Christians, especially evangelicals, may well be attracted to Orthodoxy in the 21st century, and (b) explain why more and more Orthodox need to become more evangelical.
I haven't merely thought about Orthodox and evangelical compatibility; for most of my life, I have lived it. I'm a Lebanese American who grew up in the Orthodox Church of Antioch and was transformed by Christ during my high school days in Wichita, Kansas, through the leading of evangelical friends. I did my doctoral studies under the late Orthodox theologian Fr. John Meyendorff. A portion of my scholarship over the past two decades has been devoted to introducing the Orthodox tradition to evangelical students and faculty in North America. I've also pioneered dialogues between Orthodox believers and evangelicals, and I have spoken on the subject at World Council of Churches meetings in Egypt and Germany.
Thus, I bring an intellectual and experiential knowledge of both communities, which is probably why I have a love/hate relationship with them. I'm not fully at peace with either one. Although I'm absolutely committed to the theological truth of the Orthodox church, I'm equally persuaded that we have not made that truth meaningful or accessible to our own parishioners or to those who peer inside our windows. And because of my Orthodoxy, I'm also committed to the evangelical faith.
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