Encounters with Orthodoxy

October 15th, 2013

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. The Jesus Prayer of the Orthodox tradition

In the spring of 2003 my family and I made a momentous decision. For five years I had been teaching systematic theology at a Presbyterian seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In another year, 2004–2005, I would be eligible for my first sabbatical. Most of my colleagues take sabbaticals to sit in libraries and write books. I, too, had a research project in mind.

But something much bigger than academic scholarship was at stake for me. I was deeply concerned about the state of the church in North America—particularly my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I wondered where I fit in a church that was confused about its theology and divided over contentious moral issues. I found myself increasingly distressed about a church that had become politicized and had lost its grounding in the fullness of the apostolic faith. I sometimes asked myself how long I could remain with integrity in the Presbyterian Church when it lacked consensus about basic matters of Christian faith and practice.

A second concern weighed on me as well. Although I was thriving in my calling as a teacher at the seminary, I was increasingly frustrated with the world of academic conferences and papers to which theological scholars are expected to contribute. Too much of the academy seemed to me to avoid the deepest questions of human existence and instead issued an endless torrent of words about historical trivia or cleverly critiqued and even dismissed the foundations of Christian faith in the name of one righteous political cause or another.

I could no longer see clearly where my church was headed or what my own vocation entailed. I needed distance on things: to stand back, take a deep breath, and try to make sense of my life and my faith again. The sabbatical, I hoped, would give me new perspective.

My wife, Deb, and I decided to do something that we would not have done otherwise and perhaps not ever be able to do again. We decided to spend a year abroad with Christians whose way of worshiping we knew to be profoundly different from our own. We decided to see what these Christians could teach us about living the faith and being the church. For a year we would become pilgrims in a foreign land in the hopes of finding our way back home.

We decided to live for a year in Russia among Christians who call themselves Orthodox.

Why Protestants Need Eastern Orthodoxy

This book is directed to those North American Protestants who worry about the future of the church, as I do. The issue is more than steep membership decline or contentious debates about moral and social issues, as troubling as these phenomena may be. Ultimately at stake is our longing for a deeper experience of God than we currently find in our own churches. We sense that North American Protestantism has lost something essential, although we cannot always put our finger on what. We have begun to look for wisdom and insight from elsewhere in the wider Christian tradition.

This book is especially addressed to Protestants who are intrigued by the Eastern Orthodox tradition and what it might have to offer us...READ the full Introduction and Chapter 1

Excerpt from: Encounters with Orthodoxy: How Protestant Churches Can Reform Themselves Again by John P. Burgess Copyright©2013 by Westminster John Knox Press. Used with permission.


Chapter 1
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