Journeys of Faith is both an exciting and a frustrating book. Exciting, because it furthers robust ecumenical dialogue; frustrating, because it still only explored limited perspectives.
The book is a series of personal essays that recount each author’s move from one particular stream of Christianity to another: Wilbur Ellsworth tells of his migration from Baptist preacher to Eastern Orthodox priest, Francis Beckwith describes his return to Roman Catholicism from Evangelicalism, Chris Castaldo shares his journey from Catholicism to Evangelicalism and Lyle Dorsett tells of his trip from Evangelicalism to Anglicanism. Each essay is followed by a rejoinder from another author that critiques that particular faith tradition and then the original author is given room for a brief final response.
The stories are engaging at both a personal and theological level and the critiques are generally incisive while remaining irenic. These are all thoughtful men who did not make their respective moves lightly — in many cases they sacrificed careers and reputations to follow the paths they truly felt God was leading them down.
Highlights include Ellsworth’s moving and deeply personal account about discovering the spiritual riches of Orthodoxy and Castaldo and Gregory’s charitable discussion of Catholicism. The low point of the book was Gregg Allison’s response to Beckwith, which failed to engage with Beckwith at a personal level and instead tried a shotgun critique of all of Catholic belief and ended with a plaintive plea to “Stay the course on the journey of faith of Evangelical Protestantism.” Also disappointing was Robert Peterson’s “critique” of Anglicanism, in which he acknowledges at the outset that he really doesn’t have anything substantive to actually critique! The best he can muster is a brief opposition to episcopal governance as the exclusive biblical model and the observation that many Episcopals have fallen into heresy.
Which brings me to my final point: Dorsett chose to join not the American Episcopal Church, but rather the Anglican Mission in the Americas. For him, the “apostate bishops” of the Episcopal Church simply couldn’t be tolerated (I should add here that this is not a personal critique of Dorsett himself, who is one of the kindest and most sincere people I have ever met). This affinity for conservative theology runs throughout the book and is the one factor that all the authors share. All of the authors, despite their denominational affiliations, remain committed conservative evangelicals: all hold to a high view of Scripture, all oppose ordination of women, all view homosexual behavior as sinful, and all view Christian conversion as the exclusive way to God. This lack of diverse perspectives on such crucial issues in a book that had so much robust and open theological dialogue was disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, given that the publisher is Zondervan.
It is refreshing to hear the firsthand stories of those who have decided to thoughtfully and deliberately change course in their Christian journeys. But these stories ultimately represent merely a substitution of one brand of conservative orthodoxy for another. We’re given a sampling of ice cream flavors, but there’s no acknowledgement of the whole dessert buffet that’s laid out before us. Where are the voices of women? Of minorities? Of liberals and progressives? Of the emerging church? I understand there is only so much room in a book like this, but rather than rehashing tired “Protestant versus Catholic” arguments, why not press the theological envelope a bit more and instead highlight some journeys of faith that are not just trips from one rich white male suburb to another rich white male suburb, but instead are true explorations of distant and exotic lands?