Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review of Gillquist's Becoming Orthodox

More than just an apologia for becoming Eastern Orthodox, Peter Gillquist’s book is an important chapter in the history of American Evangelicalism. Gillquist details his theological journey from the early days of Campus Crusade and its structured chaos to the Evangelical Orthodox Church till his “homecoming” in the Antiochian Orthodox Church. If one wants a thorough, rigorous defense of key Orthodox practices, this book will disappoint you. If one wants an engaging (and sometimes moving) account of a man’s life, this is the book for you. 

Gillquist’s book can be evaluated on three levels: Agreement, Maybe...but, and Disagreement. It isn’t fair to attack him for not going over an issue in depth, but one may raise counter-questions and analyses of issues he did address--which is what I’ll do. 

His first few chapters detail his Campus Crusade background, his growing disillusionment with the lowest of low-church Evangelicalism, and his structured study of early church history. It’s a fairly interesting section and I have no real beef with it, save a few corrections. He states that it was Athanasius’s defense and usage of homousios at Nicea that won the day. However, one can question whether Athanasius was even at the council (it would have been odd if he were, given his youth; even if he were, he wasn’t a bishop at that time so he wouldn’t have mattered) and he didn’t begin using homousion until much later.

Gillquist then examines the usage of bishops. He doesn’t deal with all the texts that equate episkopos and presbuteros, nor can one seriously entertain his claim that Ignatios of Antioch was a monarchical bishop well before the end of the 1st Century. , there are much better defenses of episcopacy than what Gillquist offers. 

Tradition: This is the most contentious section of the book. He gives the most argument for his beliefs in this section. He begins by correctly noting two different usages of tradition in the NT (62). Few Protestants would disagree so far. Gillquist, however, is aware of the real problem: how do you know this practice/dogma is part of the “real tradition” (64)? His answer “Holy Tradition.” (This is circular reasoning) He backs up this particular claim with two more claims: one being Jesus’s promise to the church and the other a sort of transcendental argument based on the canon. Per the first claim: Jesus said he would preserve his church (65). He wants to assert--without argument--that his traditions today are what have always been the case. However, Nobody believes that Jesus promised perpetual infallibility to the church on this point (even Rome doesn’t even say that). How does it follow, then, that the myriad of small practices that aren’t in the NT are part of apostolic tradition? Appealing to apostolic tradition simply begs the question. 

Elsewhere, Gillquist rightly claims that proper tradition is what the apostles taught (72). This raises a question: if a practice is demonstrated to have arisen later in history, can it seriously claim to be apostolic tradition? 

Gillquist’s second argument is if tradition is wrong, then how can we trust the canon? (He hints--correctly---that the table of contents page in the Bible is also tradition). The best approach to this challenge is to simply say, “Yeah, so?” If the Protestant holds that the canon is a magical depository from heaven apart from human reception, then it’s pretty hard to argue with Gillquist. If we say that it is a fallible collection of infallible texts (per Bruce Metzger and R. C. Sproul), then Gillquist’s challenge evaporates.

His section on liturgy was mostly good, though he does jump to a lot of conclusions. He occasionally equivocates on the term "liturgy." He correctly notes that liturgy is structured worship and he has a fairly good review of all the texts in OT and NT that use structured liturgy. It is a far cry, however, to note that this liturgy is the same as the small intricacies that one finds in a modern, post-NIKON Orthodox service. The rest of this section is a defense of peculiar Orthodox practices. With the exception of Marian-veneration, these practices aren’t themselves arguments pro or con the Orthodox position, I will leave it at that.

The final part is an explanation of how his Evangelical Orthodox Church (imagine a jurisdictionless group of Evangelicals pretending to be Orthodox) became Orthodox. It’s actually a fairly engaging read. His trip to Instabul has elements of a spy novel in it. (I was saddened at the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s rejection of the EOC coming into Orthodoxy en toto. Not that I really care what happens to them, but it does show why the Ecumenical Patriarchate his hemorraging members worldwide: the desire for Hellenism and Greek-ness seems to trump more basic issues like Galatians 3:28). By contrast, the Antiochians seemed like swell people.

Gillquist, who seemed like a noble gentleman and one who certainly had the gift of evangelism, is an excellent example of why the loosey-goosey, low church model is so disastrous. It cannot feed the soul and is divorced from the entirety of Christendom. While the Evangelical Church has done a better job today recovering biblical preaching, it must also reach back to the earlier liturgies of the Reformation (which, with a few exceptions, were based on earlier Western liturgies).

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