The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 11 “On Evangelical Roots”

English: John Chrysostom, icon by Dionisius Ру...

I have strong and comforting Evangelical roots. They go deep into the soil of my heart. The seed was sown early by Baptist missionary parents and nourished faithfully by a missionary community. That seed grew into a small leaf of faith, strong in identity despite being in a Muslim country. And at some point, it became a full-grown plant — bright, green, and sure.

The plant was hurt along the way. Hurt by well-meaning but clueless pastors, hurt by life circumstances, hurt by feeling alienated. But the roots? The roots were strong – I knew God loved me. I knew I needed a Saviour. I knew I couldn’t do life alone.

In the warm summers on a mountain hillside in a Muslim country I learned hymns of faith – Great is Thy Faithfulness, It is Well with My Soul, At Calvary, The Old Rugged Cross, and The Love of God. And that was just a few of them.

In teenage years I moved into the camp-fire song movement that became the grandfather of today’s worship songs. “It only takes a spark to get a fire going. And soon all those around will warm up to its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love. Once you’ve experienced it. You spread his love to everyone – You want to pass it on”.  the weak theology made stronger through the fervor and passion of the singers. We sang “For Those Tears I died” at every Sunday evening service, sometimes as a duet, sometimes as a solo, always with sincerity.

This was Our God. These were Our Words. This was our moment.

These roots are why I am the “Reluctant Orthodox” instead of the enthusiastic, because they are good roots. They are planted deep and are what led me to my current journey of Orthodoxy.

For the faith and experience of my youth are not what characterizes the Evangelical church in America. That church is characterized by rootlessness and confusion, a tendency to paint Christianity with the colors red, white, and blue, and a willingness to bend with the wind. Turns out that my roots have more in common with orthodoxy than with what I now see in practice in Evangelicalism.

I say “Lord Have Mercy” and mean it with all my heart. I have moved into icons as windows to worship, and understanding more of the Theotokos – the God Bearer. I have learned about the Church Fathers and traditions of the early church. Instead of quoting Tim Keller, or Rick Warren, or Anne Lamott, I’m more likely to quote Dorotheos of Gaza or St John Chrysostom or the Apostle Paul. It is a different journey.

And it’s a difficult one to explain to family and friends. It’s easy for me to sound like this is the better way – for me to come across as arrogant. But the last thing I feel is arrogant. I’m like a toddler on the road, exploring the world around me and questioning everything. I know but one thing, this spiritual path is reviving a middle-aged faith.

In this journey I thank God for my roots, my strong, secure roots  that taught me the central message of the Gospel. Because without them, I would not be where I am today.

And I continue to pray that God will see fit to challenge, humble, and remind this Reluctant Orthodox that his creativity in offering the mystery of grace to all of us knows no limits, other than that of the closed heart.

17 thoughts on “The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 11 “On Evangelical Roots”

  1. Thank you for this post. Like you, I am a MK. Parents were Baptist missionaries and I grew up rooted in the faith. Also, like you I am on my journey to Orthodoxy. It happened by mistake where my spouse (raised RC) challenged me to do some research in church history. The rest…well I guess you could say is history. Needless to say, my journey has not been easy, and I still struggle. Not with doctrine per say, but with my family. I pray for peace and God’s will


  2. I stop by on occasion and read your blog. I appreciate your discussion of how shifting streams of Christianity ebb and flow in your life. In my life, too! Baptized and confirmed a Lutheran, loving the liturgical turn of the seasons, but shifting to Pietistic/Evangelical tradition in high school and a non-denominational church by graduation. I attended a non-denominational college (church music major), and was introduced to Calvin’s Institutes by my seminarian husband–taking a class in Calvin. I loved it! It was like I had _come home_. I’ve read the Institutes three times, only once for class myself–when I went to seminary in my 40’s.

    Yes, even though I am a Reformed Christian, I now have appreciation for and respect for many other ways of becoming Christlike. Years of chaplain training have really helped me, there!

    I pray the very best for you as you continue to communicate across boundaries. And in case you’d care to see what is going on in my part of the blogging world, here’s a link.


    1. Thanks so much. Your comments this morning have deeply encouraged me. Wish we could meet over tea or coffee but since we can’t right now — thanks for the virtual encouragement.


      1. Aw, that makes me glad. I rarely get a chance to just browse your blog, but a Saturday night with the husband out of town was the perfect time to do some catching up. A real treat for me as well :)


  3. Thank God for the Evangelical Protestant tradition. It is a good and holy thing to be forever grateful to your fathers (Orthodox and non) that brought us to the Lord Jesus Christ. Found myself humming those hymns as I read your post. Keep going further up and further in.


  4. I find it interesting that you posted this because lately I’ve been feeling that I’m not a “Christian cook kid” because I actually like going to an evangelical church. I don’t like everything in American evangelicalism, (too political, too patriotic, too consumer driven), but I have yet to see a brand of Christianity that is perfect. We are all tainted by sin and blind to cultural issues and this not only affects our personal lives, but our worship traditions as well. Lately I have been feeling weary and beat down by the criticism that we Christians heap on each other and long for the unity that Jesus so earnestly prayed for in His final hours with His disciples. As long as we are earnestly following Jesus as He revealed Himself in HIs Word, it is ok to be Evangelical, just as it is ok to be Orthodox or Coptic or Pentecostal. It doesn’t mean that I am anti-intellectual or spiritually shallow. I don’t need to abandon my roots in order to be a “Christian cool kid”, I just need to honestly follow Jesus and let other people do the same.


    1. Change that to “Cool kid”, not “Cook kid”. You certainly aren’t cool when you make typos. But that is what I get for trying to formulate deep thoughts while my kids are yelling for me in the background.


      1. Knowing your kids were yelling in the background makes me appreciate this comment even more. I get what you’re saying and it’s why I struggled so much as we moved forward in this journey. The only explanation I have in our situation, is that it was clear direction from God and nothing to do with cool, which is why it’s taking a lot of working through. I agree on feeling weary over the lack of unity and feel like God in his mercy has allowed for different expressions of worship, yet all of it is to be done in humility with John 17 on our hearts and minds. So thank you for this reminder.


  5. Reading, interested but not sure what to comment. I think its amazing how we all think our current revelation is new and never been seen before but it really is as Solomon said – there is nothing new under the sun. I love hearing the quotes from from people in the very distant past are still powerful and true today.


    1. So true “nothing new under the sun” – Its’ what Orthodox say about newer traditions :) And as you read the church fathers it’s clear that human nature was exactly the same so many years ago!


  6. I have had many similar feelings about my childhood tradition as I’ve moved to the Anglican tradition. I love how my Evangelical roots inform the depth of tradition and liturgy in Anglicanism, and find myself grateful for the blend of traditions in my life and the space it gives me to move toward deeper roots. Thanks for putting this into words.


  7. Thanks Marilyn. I’m so thankful to the Lord that you have those strong roots, Whether Orthodox or Evangelical Protestant we all need to guard against arrogance and thinking our way is better, or the only right way. I am thankful for our own background in an interdenominational college, and then Kennedy School of Missions at Hartford Seminary. Finally the life of the mission community in Pakistan which crossed what could have been barriers in so many ways.
    I am learning a lot from Fredericka Mathewes-Green. What I appreciate most is her strong Biblical faith which comes through in nearly every chapter. And every church is inevitably made of flawed human beings, all of us in need of great grace every day. Love you!


    1. I think about the many different denominational groups in Pakistan all the time and how much was put aside to worship together in the summer and to make sure MCS functioned cohesively! I also always think about Dot Dagenhart’s baptism :)
      Glad you’re enjoying Frederica. When I first began those books I hated them – partially because she ended up converting and I didn’t want to :) Looking forward to seeing you.


  8. I love you sharing your spiritual journey. Take away the time living in other cultures and you & I have the same roots….Baptist church, hymns, worship songs…but my 30s-60s have been spent feeding on God’s word….blessed to be in the group that began Denton Bible Church (where I met your sister when she & Bill were here). Unlike some of the movements, we are fed solid God’s word! I believe in most denominations there are believers who are maturing as they are fed the word. I don’t look with disdain at the Rick Warrens, etc. who have such a following, but just hope that people don’t elevate any teacher except Jesus. I enjoy hearing how God is deepening you through attending the Orthodox Church. I think wherever we worship we should share how we are learning & growing in that place. That is the goal….becoming Christlike. Thanks for taking us along on your journey! May God richly bless ya!


    1. thanks for boiling it down to that one all-important phrase: “Becoming Christlike.” Yes! I also agree with you that elevating any human teacher above the words of Jesus can lead to flawed understanding. On Denton Bible Church – I had no idea you went there! So cool – not my sister though (although I always wanted a sister being the only girl!) It’s my cousin who I love dearly. So glad you came by and please keep reading and challenging me on the journey! I need it!


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