This past Sunday, the “Bible Answer Man” Hank Hanegraaff was welcomed into the Greek Orthodox Church. For a man who has built a valuable ministry on clear answers, this has sparked some questions within the evangelical community.
Now, I don’t know Hanegraaff, though I have benefited from his ministry at times. And I don’t know his motivations or concerns—though we get a glimpse of his reasons in the Christianity Today article on his change.
However, I have given thought over the years to the tendency of some to convert to Orthodoxy (for reasons that will become clear in a moment). Not all will fit the descriptions I give, and Hanegraaff may not, but perhaps it might give some context to Hanegraaff’s decision and to how evangelicals might respond.
Of course, I’m not giving every reason for every person, and this (already too long) article was started yesterday afternoon. Also, I’m not seeking to weigh in on all the complexities of Orthodox theology, but let me share a few observations that may be of help as evangelicals think through the issue.
The Rise of (Modern) Orthodoxy
The ortho in Orthodox literally means ‘straight way.’
The Eastern Orthodox Church (and other traditions like it) draws a line from antiquity to today and sees itself as the pen. Rod Dreher states, “Many evangelicals seek the early church; well here it is, in Orthodoxy.” Orthodoxy considers itself the early church in the 21st century, holding to ancient traditions and practices and a specific ecclesiological structure that matches what we see in the first few hundred years of Christianity.
There is an attempt to bring this straight line of originality into modernity. In 1987, Peter E. Gillquist led 17 parishes—representing over 2,000 people—to join the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in one day. His book, Becoming Orthodox, is a key book to understand the impulse.
Frank Schaeffer, son of renowned theologian Francis Schaeffer, also joined the Orthodox Church in the late 1980s. (Ironically, Frank has significantly strayed from Orthodox beliefs since then.)
There are many public examples like this, but I actually have a deeply personal connection to this conversation about the movement towards the Orthodox Church. My stepfather is an Eastern Orthodox priest in the Antiochian tradition. He and my mother both converted out of an Episcopal church that was both charismatic and evangelical, into the same group that Gillquist joined. (And, yes, I’ve read his book at their invitation.)
The obvious question is what draws evangelicals to more liturgical traditions—and why?
For people in some of those traditions, the answer is clear to them—they have found the true (or at least truer) church.
However, I think there are other factors at work, including the reality that many evangelicals struggle with the simplicity of evangelicalism, its lack of historic rooting, and more.