Evangelicalism and the Orthodox Church

Under the leadership of David Hilborn the Evangelical Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth among Evangelicals has been producing a series of important discussions of disputed topics (homosexuality; the nature of hell; the Toronto Blessing), all of them well-written, clear and balanced guides to important contemporary debates. There are now an estimated 300,000 members of Orthodox congregations in the UK, and the opening up of Eastern Europe has brought about increased contacts with a group of churches about whom most of us probably have very vague ideas. This book is an attempt by a group of Evangelicals and Orthodox to set out what they have in common and what differences there are between them, and to suggest how matters might be taken further. After brief statements on the main characteristics of Evangelicalism and Orthodoxy and the extensive common ground between them there is a list of differences: Evangelicalism as a movement and Orthodoxy as a church; the place of scripture and tradition; the problems of evangelism and proselytism; differences in worship and spirituality; conversion, salvation and deification; sacramental theology; differences in theological method.

The body of the book is devoted to specific issues in more detail: the person and work of Christ, with the Orthodox stressing more the person of Christ and the resurrection, over against the Evangelical stress on the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross; varying understandings of the work of the Holy Spirit, particularly in the light of the charismatic movement; the place of the church - the Orthodox regard the (Orthodox) church as central and true, infallible and essentially episcopal; the relation between scripture and tradition (with the Orthodox stressing the importance of the latter); the centrality of worship in the Orthodox tradition, with the significance of the clergy and the use of icons; the varied understandings of spirituality, with the Orthodox stress on liturgy; the developing understandings of mission and evangelism (with the problems of evangelistic work in Orthodox countries).

Much is done to clear away common misconceptions. At many points there is more agreement than might have been suspected, but often differences in emphasis can lead to very considerable differences in the nature of Christian belief and practice. The book is attractively presented, with helpful references to sources and useful bibliography. It is particularly interesting and helpful for Evangelicals to examine themselves in the light of this comparison with another type of Christianity in order to understand themselves better. At the same time, the Orthodox are our fellow-Christians and we need to take the first steps in understanding them better instead of continuing to behave as though they did not exist.

I found this book quite fascinating and recommend it most highly as an introduction to a vitally important area of Christian belief and relationships.