Journeys of Faith

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Plummer, Robert L., ed. Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012. 257 pp. $18.99
Journeys of Faith presents the reader with four paintings. These four paintings each represent the toils, struggles, and eventual personal triumphs of each of the artists. Each canvas depicts various shades of color and movements of brush strokes that are at once personally expressive, yet all pointing to an overarching narrative binding them together. They each describe the personality and life journey of the artist yet all ultimately reveal a deeper level of meaning. Journeys of Faith is a walk through a gallery, presenting viewers with works meant to evoke feelings of empathy and solidarity with some, confusion for others, yet hopefully grace among all. As Dr. Timothy George describes the book, “This is ecumenism at its best” (back cover).

The work highlights the inter confessional movement seemingly prevalent among Christians today. Editor Robert L. Plummer, associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, begins the book with a story of a previous student calling to confess cheating while in his class. This confession came in preparation for ordination into the Eastern Orthodox church. Thus began the personal interest of this topic from the editor. Questions of historical rooted-ness and worship have driven many individuals to seek refuge within alternative confessional shelters. Through the personal lens of four separate authors, Jouneys presents perspectives from Eastern Orthodoxy (Wilbur Ellsworth), Catholicism (Francis J. Beckwith), Evangelicalism (Chris Castaldo), and Anglicanism (Lyle W. Dorsett). Each stream also comes with a responder. The deeply personal nature of these testimonies sets this work apart from other similar works (for example the Counterpoint series also from Zondervan). Each confessional journey also allows the contributor to offer a counter response to the respondent, something often missing in works of similar ilk. Journeys also allows for an Evangelical convert to offer his perspective, allowing for a helpful commentary of an alternate stream of confessional movement, that is, from a historic confession to a more contemporary one.

These contributors invite readers to step into their journey asking us to see things from their perspective. All contributors accomplish this task wonderfully. Personal stories are coupled with inner spiritual wrestling, something all Christians should identify with. Important for readers to understand is the context of each of these contributors. With context comes clarity, even if readers can not always agree on the outcome. Missing from this text is deeper theological discussion regarding different Christian confessions, but this is not the goal of Journeys. Once again, this work stands apart from a book within the Perspectives (B&H) or Counterpoint (Zondervan) series. The intended purpose of this text is not to expose deep theological differences between various Christian confessions (though some contributors do brush the surface on a few of these). Theological differences, as they appear, should be read in light of the confessional movement story for each individual and not as an objective theological treatise. Those looking for serious theological dissection regarding various Christian traditions should look elsewhere. While theological shift resides at the core of many of theses journeys, respondents would do well to put down their polemical pen and instead assume the quill of humility. I’m not convinced this was accomplished throughout the entirety of the text.

The contributors do highlight theological concerns as they intersect with their individual stories. Beckwith and responder Gregory A. Allision do provide some significant theological (and constructive) parlay but inevitably this seemed out of character for the overall tenor of the book. Castaldo similarly highlights those theological disparities within Catholicism that drove him (and others) to the Evangelical camp, however Brad S. Gregory responds with a somewhat harsh Catholic apologetic. Gregory (among other contentious points) paints the picture of the Catholic monolithic tale in regards to doctrine and practice and demonstrates a lack of understanding regarding sola scriptura among the Reformers. Overall, this exchange diverts from what I believe to be the overall purpose of the book. The addition of a rejoinder for each contributor was helpful for those exchanges which tended towards polemics. The exchanges between Catholic contributors and their respondents reveals the ongoing deep-seated theological issues among Catholics and Protestants, however I do not believe this text to be the best avenue to explore those issues and I believe respondents would have done well to keep this in mind. The journeys of Ellsworth (Orthodoxy) and Dorsett (Anglicanism) and their corresponding respondents do better to keep polemics at a minimum. Theology is indeed at the heart of many of these journeys and while requiring a pertinent response, it necessitates something greater—a humble posture.

Readers of Journeys are invited to walk with contributors as they retrace their steps from one destination to another. Some who have taken a similar journey will find a sympathetic voice. Others who are contemplating the journey should find necessary perspective. Other readers interested in knowing about the journey are invited to browse the gallery of paintings and appreciate the work of the artist, whether or not they agree with their motives. I found an overall sympathetic voice among both the contributors and the respondents despite a tendency towards harsh polemic with some. A sympathetic tone shouldn’t mean an uncritical evaluation, but it should mean humble and considerate reflection of individual paintings represented. May we all travel well together along the great journey.

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