I was raised in a Southern Baptist church, long on belief and very short on any decent understanding of my own Christian tradition, or any other for that matter. As a matter of fact, I left the Church shortly after going to Texas A&M University for my undergraduate studies. Nearing the end of those studies, I had what I can only call my ‘Damascus Road’ experience, after which I had decided Christ had called me to do something. I was lead towards seminary (and more student debt!). During my time at Oral Roberts School of Theology and Missions, I towed Millard Erickson’s Evangelical stance, down the line. I must be very honest. During this time things like Church tradition, the Ecumenical Creeds, and the Fathers were peripheral to me. All I really wanted to do was finish my MDiv with the basic necessities I needed to do some practical ministry. Cyril, the Gregories and the like were merely what I needed to get through to pursue my true goal. It was also during my seminary work that I moved from being a Calvinist double-predestinarian towards open theism. It was Greg Boyd’s Trinity and Process that made it possible. Like Tom, my focus was largely post-Reformation and American Evangelical thought. Frankly, I spent a lot of time and energy being condescendingly dismissive of much Church tradition and the contexts in which I found myself didn’t really help that tendency.
Over years of online discussions, a lone voice crying in the wilderness kept buzzing in my ear. It was the voice of a gentleman named Bruce Johnson, an art teacher who had done some instruction at Bethel College. Bruce went to a Reformed church but was very learned in Eastern Orthodoxy. He kept talking about these Church Fathers and saints. He kept bothering people with the importance of the Ecumenical Councils. He’d go on and on about the Theotokos. Time and again, Bruce would interrupt my Western rationalistic musings with dollops from people like St. Symeon and Maximus the Confessor. After years of what I harshly perceived to be needling, I remember the day I thought to myself “Let me look at some of this stuff; I mean really look at it.”
And I’m so glad I did.
To this day I consider Bruce Johnson to be my ‘starets’, a person of the Spirit whom God put in my life to help break me from needless ignorance. It is from Bruce that I began reading Timothy (Kallistos) Ware’s The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way. And Ancient Faith Radio (the Eastern Orthodox online radio website that Bruce would go on and on about) became one of my favorite listening places and remains so to the present day. I loved listening to Fr. Thomas Hopko, Fr. Stephen Freeman, Mathew Galatin, Frederica Mathewes-Greene, and many others. I still love hearing and reading from the wonderful brothers and sisters there!
In my mind I had always liked the Wesleyan quadrilateral as a theological method. But I came to see that I had only been giving lip-service to the ‘tradition’ aspect of that method. After my exposure to Eastern Orthodoxy, I came to see the beauty and meaning of the triune God depicted in the Seven Ecumenical Councils, particularly the reflections upon Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man. I now have a deep appreciation for the Chalcedonian logos asarkos view of Christ (but that’s for a later time). Later there were different books that influenced me — James R. Payton Jr’s Light from the Christian East, John D. Zizioulas Being As Communion and Alexei Nesteruk’s Light from the East: Theology, Science, and the Eastern Orthodox Tradition.
In my forays into Eastern Orthodoxy I found myself captivated by two concepts — ‘theosis’ and ‘hesychasm’. In these concepts I discovered the process of guarding the heart, a new perception of God, and gradual release into the exciting theandric capacities of being fully human. I have now moved largely away from the rationalistic apologetics mode to being much more comfortable with the mystery of God in a journey on the path of mysticism. (For a great book on Christian mysticism, see An Anthology of Christian Mysticism by Harvey D. Egan.) The Jesus Prayer is now a dearly close friend of mine and has been for some time. Also, John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent and The Philokalia are a constant inspiration. I admire Maximus the Confessor’s brave stand for the two wills in Christ. And St. Moses the Black is my personal patron saint. After years of living more and more in the streams of Orthodoxy, I’ve come to believe that I am merely a pilgrim on the Way with all of this. And yet I believe in my heart that it is a good and right path. I think my brother Tom would agree with me on that.
Thanks for joining us on our journey together.
(Bruce, if you’re reading this, I just want to say that I thank God for you and love you. Real talk!)