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A couple weeks ago, I posted a review of a new book edited by Robert Plummer, Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanismthat chronicles the journeys of four individuals between four Christian traditions. Dr. Plummer was my hermeneutics professor at Southern Seminary, and he is also the author of 40 Questions About Interpreting the BibleToday, he joins me for a conversation about his experience in editing this intriguing new book.

Trevin Wax: Why a new book on faith journeys? You teach at a solidly evangelical (Baptist) seminary. You have a vested interest in seeing people come to faith and be discipled in your evangelical church. Why explore the recent migrations from evangelicalism to Orthodoxy, Catholicism, or high-church Anglicanism?

Robert Plummer: As I explain in the introduction to the book, I began to notice a trickle of Evangelicals converting to Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy – both from my local church and the seminary where I teach. When I looked for resources that helped in understanding this migration and responding biblically, I had difficulty finding anything helpful. I originally thought about describing and assessing the phenomenon myself but decided that the book would be much more interesting and accurate if recent converts were allowed to tell their own stories.

Also, I wanted to line up experts to respond. Gregg Allison (a recognized Evangelical expert in Catholicism), for example, responds to Francis Beckwith. Patristics scholar Craig Blaising knows Eastern Orthodoxy well and responds to Wilbur Ellsworth’s conversion.

Trevin Wax: How did you choose the contributors?

Robert Plummer: For the persons who converted, I wanted well-known people who had some history in the tradition that they had left.

  • Francis Beckwith, for example, resigned as president of the Evangelical Theological Society to become Catholic.
  • Greek Orthodox priest Wilbur Ellsworth was formerly pastor of First Baptist Church, Wheaton.
  • Chris Castaldo had deep Catholic roots (see Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic) before finding his home in the Evangelical faith.
  • Lyle Dorsett’s journey led him through various churches before landing in Anglicanism.

Trevin Wax: Why was an Anglican included, since there are many who consider themselves Anglican and evangelical?

Robert Plummer: Frankly, I originally did not want to include Anglicanism in this book because Anglicanism is, in some expressions, thoroughly Evangelical. But the publisher convinced me that enough “free church” Evangelicals convert to Anglicanism that it is a related phenomenon we could not ignore. For example, Todd Hunter, former head of the Vineyard movement has recently written a book about his conversion to Anglicanism (see The Accidental Anglican).

Trevin Wax: What were the hopes you had in putting this book together? What were some of the concerns or worries you had as you worked on this book?

Robert Plummer: I have several different hopes for the book, but let me focus on one here – for the Evangelical readership – that it would help us both understand and respond to persons leaving our churches for liturgical Christian traditions. Speaking quite directly… I believe an Evangelical understanding of the gospel, salvation, and the Scriptures is correct. (If I did not, I would leave Evangelicalism.) Yes, I respect persons leaving my faith tradition.

Nevertheless, through the responder sections of the book, I want to lay before potential converts the reasons I think they are making a mistake to leave Evangelicalism. And for those with friends leaving Evangelicalism, I hope this book equips them to make a loving appeal to stay. Chris Castaldo’s riveting account of his journey from Catholicism to Evangelicalism also highlights the strengths of Evangelical claims, I think.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I did not include the stories of former Evangelicals as simply foils for my views or as “straw men.” I enlisted competent scholars who made passionate and skilled arguments for the reasons they preferred another faith tradition. We need to listen to these stories and arguments in all their strength.

Let me also say – even when we cannot convince someone to stay, there is great value in hearing the undiluted story of why they left. We have to ask ourselves, “Has our lack of love or biblical fidelity contributed to their departure?”

Trevin Wax: Early on in my blogging endeavors, I met a guy who grew up Southern Baptist and then converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. The idea of conversion from one Christian tradition to another was not new to me. In Romania, I had seen lots of people leave Orthodoxy and join Baptist or Pentecostal churches. But never had I seen the migration go in the other direction. So I did a blog series interviewing my Orthodox friend, a friend who left Orthodoxy, and then reflecting on the differences. I’ve also had some conversations with a Roman Catholic on the blog before. In all this dialogue, it has seemed to me that the dividing line is less about doctrine and more about authority. Who or what is the final judge in matters of interpretation and practice? In your view, what role does authority play in these discussions? And is this the true dividing line between Catholics and evangelicals or is it justification by faith alone?

Robert Plummer: Yes, authority is big. Who or what has the final say in matters of faith and practice – Scripture? Tradition? Experience? Or some combination? Obviously, as an Evangelical, I believe Scripture is the final authority, but I also understand the important secondary role tradition plays in all Christian churches – even those that deny they have traditions.

I think Evangelical abuses of authority can lead some people to seek out a sense of stability they experience in liturgical churches. Also, many Christians do have a good desire to feel more connected with the church throughout previous centuries. Few Evangelical churches are educating and connecting their people well with previous centuries of church history.

Trevin Wax: What advice would you give to a college student whose roommate is converting to Eastern Orthodoxy?

Robert Plummer: A few suggestions:

  1. Ask questions and listen. Don’t immediately criticize. Try to understand the attraction of Eastern Orthodoxy.  Visit the church they are attending and graciously observe. Admit your own biases and erroneous preconceptions.
  2. Read up on Eastern Orthodoxy in places like Wilbur Ellsworth’s and Craig Blaising’s chapters in Journeys of Faith. Another recommended book is Robert Letham’s Through Western Eyes. Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective.
  3. Pray.
  4. Speak the truth in love.

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Comments:


5 thoughts on “Understanding Migration Between Christian Traditions: A Conversation with Rob Plummer”

  1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Some Protestants think that if a Protestant becomes Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, then that Protestant is apostate.

    And some Protestants think that if a Protestant becomes Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, then that Protestant is not apostate, but is an errant brother or sister in Christ.

  2. Paul says:

    Trevin:
    I think the issue of authority is more than the source of authority – Scripture, tradtion, etc. It also has to do with the assurance that I am hearing Scripture correctly. It is a question of hermeneutics, about the reader. How do I know I am reading and applying Scripture correctly? Evangelicals believe in an infallible Bible but are very divided on doctrine and practice, which means our grasp of the principle is not effective. The appeal of E. Orthodoxy may be in the control given to the recognized teachers (Fathers) to direct our listening to Scripture.
    Do you have suggestions on discussions on this “correct reading” question?

    Thanks for this blog.
    Paul

  3. Clay says:

    The authority issue is key for most converts to Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholocism. From an Orthodox perspective, however, Scripture, Tradition, church fathers, etc. are not seen as “sources” of authority. There is only one source of authority in the Church – the Holy Spirit, who Christ promised would lead into all Truth. So the question is, where can the Holy Spirit’s revelation of Truth be found? The Orthodox Church’s answer to that question is that Truth can be found in the Church of the living God, which is itself “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). So then, Church Tradition, of which the Holy Scriptures are the most important part, is nothing less than the revelation of the Holy Spirit within the Church. This is why, for someone who has come to believe that this is truly how God reveals Truth, it becomes impossible to remain protestant.

  4. If you’ll allow a shameless plug here, Trevin, please see my blog about Traditional Anglicanism. I discuss there, inter alia, why Evangelicals should consider Traditional Anglicanism rather than Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. Here is a representative article:

    http://theoldjamestownchurch.squarespace.com/blog/2012/6/8/for-evangelicals-and-others-considering-eastern-orthodoxy.html

  5. Josh says:

    Trevin:

    I am looking to write some polemical stuff on Roman Catholicism and one of the key things that I feel the protestants have not done so well is to adequately grapple with the ancient church. I haven’t grappled with the ancient church enough.

    It seems in my conversations with some Catholics, especially those on Called to Communion, that most RC’s are under the guise (whether it they are right or not) that the RC Church is an extension of the practices of the early church, specifically with the “works of satisfaction” that seems to be evident in Tertullian (even though he is not venerated).

    My question for you, Trevin, is, what is a good protestant source to use in looking at the church Fathers. I do not have the time to do through the Ancient church myself. Something that demonstrates that our views of imputation, Lord’s supper, Justificaiton by faith in Christ alone– which I know it had not been disputed or analytically examined yet so we can’t expect a Lutherized articulation of it– And, especially on baptismal regeneration because that one is bothering me a bit. Was our view of baptism as symbolic around. Even Luther held that one with infants.

    I really hope to put a book together in the next year or two that will help some of the unstable protestants grapple with these Called to Communion Guys, specifically Bryan Cross and Anders.

    Thanks

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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