A small group of Orthodox and evangelical thinkers—who sometimes seem to stand on opposing ridges of a theological Grand Canyon—gathered recently at Wheaton College to listen, unruffled, as speakers from both sides sketched their views of Scripture, tradition, and authority in church life.
They were unruffled, that is, until Wheaton professor of theology Robert Webber lobbed a theological grenade: Can someone be in the faith and not submit to the ecclesiastical authority of the Orthodox church? he asked. “Yes, if you confess the apostolic faith,” said Emmanuel Clapsis, associate professor of systematic theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts, “although I may not be in visible communion with you.”
Such was the mood of the day: earnest efforts to find points of agreement amid earnest differences between the two traditions. The conference, sponsored by the Society for the Study of Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism (SSEOE), brought together several leading thinkers with theological training in Orthodoxy and Protestantism. No surprise: SSEOE President Bradley Nassif studied for 20 years under Protestant and Orthodox theologians.
With a small budget and staff, and some energetic diplomacy, Nassif has lured into his umbrella organization about 60 academics and theologians from Orthodox, evangelical, and secular institutions. The timing of such a dialogue may prove critical. Resentment is rising among Orthodox churches over Protestant missionary efforts in Russia and other former communist territories that have long had an Orthodox presence. “This is an effort, without marginalizing doctrinal differences, to help transform the tensions into resources for reconstruction and renewal,” Nassif said. ...1
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