Selected by Bradley Nassif, professor of biblical studies and Orthodox-Protestant dialogue at the Antiochian House of Studies, and author of The Evangelical Theology of the Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Church, Timothy (Kallistos) Ware
This is by far the best book on Eastern Orthodoxy available today—a classic, worthy of the name. For 60 years, it has been the definitive guide for Orthodox and non-Orthodox readers, describing the major features of Orthodox history, doctrine, worship, sacraments, spirituality, and missions.
Bishop Ware was a bridge-builder between Orthodoxy and the Christian West, including evangelicals. And from this experience, he explains the major differences between Orthodoxy and the Protestant and Catholic traditions.
The language is clear, concise, irenic, and carefully nuanced. The book is also judicious, wise, and balanced in its judgments. Scholars, clergy, and ordinary people can use it for research, pastoral ministry, and Christian education classes.
During one of his stays in our home, I asked him about the potential shelf life of his book. With characteristic humility, he replied, “All standard textbooks must eventually be replaced by other, better ones.” But that time has not yet come.
Eastern Orthodoxy Through Western Eyes, Donald Fairbairn
Fairbairn’s academic excellence and practical ministry experience in the Orthodox world makes this work an essential resource for evangelicals. The author is an outstanding evangelical historian, patristic scholar, and linguist.
Tailored for Protestant and Catholic readers, he writes from the perspective of a seasoned missionary with years of personal experience in Soviet Russia, where the world’s largest population of Orthodox Christians still resides. The book provides practical guidance for Christians ministering throughout Eastern Europe or among ethnic Orthodox communities in the West.
Exploring major theological themes such as the Orthodox vision of “Tradition” and “Union with God,” Fairbairn judiciously avoids making artificial contrasts between Orthodoxy and Protestantism, seeing many differences in terms of emphasis rather than substance. Of special value is a final section on “The Orthodox Vision and Its Distortions,” focusing on popular misconceptions and the identification of the church with ethnicity. An appendix provides wise “Suggestions for Christian Workers in the East.”
Modern Orthodox Theology: Behold, I Make All Things New, Paul Ladouceur
This “must have” for scholars and students of theology is the most comprehensive account of the history of Orthodox theology from the 1453 fall of Constantinople to the present. Significant theological movements, key personalities, and major themes are developed.
For example, those interested in comparative theology between Orthodoxy and the Christian West will find chapters on “The Orthodox-Lutheran dialogue (1573–81),” “Orthodoxy and the Counter-Reformation,” “The Confession of Cyril Lucaris (1629),” and more.
Regional histories provide theological developments in imperial and modern Russia, Greece, and Romania. The book also contains up-to-date studies of major themes in modern Orthodox theology, including sections on “God and Creation,” “Social and Political Theology,” “Ecumenical Theology and Religious Diversity,” and “The Ordination of Women.”
Overall, this is a magisterial analysis of modern Orthodox theology written by a sympathetic author who is neither naive nor unjustifiably critical in his assessments.
The Eastern Christian Tradition: A Brief Survey (6th ed.), Ronald Roberson
This book clarifies the complexity of the Christian East for the non-specialist, perfect for helping Western Christians figure out who’s who in the Orthodox world. Christian workers in the Middle East, Russia, and Eastern Europe can use this book to navigate Eastern Christianity’s different labels.
For example, the main body of Orthodox churches are titled “the Patriarchate of Constantinople” or “the Orthodox Church of Russia/Greece/Romania/Serbia” and so on. But there is a different family known as the Oriental Orthodox churches—Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, and others—who do not officially belong to the mainline Eastern Orthodox tradition.
Besides these, there are churches of “irregular status,” some of which are simply considered to be outside the disciplinary rules of the main Orthodox churches, while others are in full schism. Finally, there are Catholic Eastern churches whose worship outwardly appears Orthodox but is theologically Roman Catholic.
This book explains the labels and their relationships.
The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy, by Alexander Schmemann
This is a century-by-century commentary on the essential truths of Orthodox Christianity that were lived out during its 2,000-year journey through history. As the author states, “This book is … a reflection on the long historical pilgrimage of Orthodoxy, an attempt to discern in our past that which is essential and permanent and that which is secondary, mere past” (emphasis mine).
Schmemann starts with the Book of Acts, then goes through major turning points in the church’s history as it traveled through the Roman and Byzantine Empires, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia. In each context, he captures the essence of Christianity for Eastern and Western Christians alike, so that “they may realize that our past is also their past, or rather our common past, that essential ‘term of reference’ without which no mutual understanding is possible.”
There is simply no other book like it for anyone who wants to discern the essentials of Orthodox Christianity as it sojourned through the good times and bad.