An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
Not too long ago I received an unusual email from someone working for theOoze.com in which I was asked to review a new book coming out written by founder of “the ooze” and the Soulerize conferences, Spencer Burke. They offered to send me a pre-release copy of the book with the assurance that I would post a review on Paradosis which they told me they read regularly – much to my surprise – and I agreed.
Now, for those that don’t know, (from “About the author”) Spencer is…recognized as a thought leader and prime mover in the postmodern emerging faith movement. Likely you are as surprised as I am that I would be asked to review this new book because I have been a fairly resolute critic of the PME faith movement. I believe that they are but another in a long list of new attempts to reinvent Christianity in ones own image. Excuse me while I generalize: I do appreciate their openness, however they sometimes fail to see that they have the same rigidity and fundamentalism as the “modern” Christianity they wish to escape, only now it is usually applied in the direction of universalism. Their rejection of mega-church business models is definitely something I can appreciate – indeed many of us converts to Eastern Orthodoxy can relate to many of their “issues” with today’s Christianity. We agree that the recipe experimentation that led to today’s most common western expressions of Christianity are flawed, but instead of further experimentation, I have always argued that we ought to check and see if the original recipe is still around.
I believe that the PME faith movement is primarily fueled by precisely what has fueled the thousands and thousands of other fads (i.e. denominations) that have arisen in Christianity primarily since the Reformation. You insert yourself as chief architect and inspector of tradition. Finding what you like (in Scripture, in worship, in praxis), emphasizing what “jives” with you, disregarding what chaffs you, and creating – as I said – a faith that feels better to you (in your image), then finding like minded people and hanging out. It’s an “iffy” foundation at best, sincere though it may be. In the end, we ought not to trust ourselves.
Anyway, the book is entitled “A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity”, which of course will certainly garner attention for its drama, but I am inclined to think that if the PME faith movement really understood what heresy was, then they would not be so swift to seemingly downplay its significance. Now, I have not read the book yet so I am not offering a full review yet…in fact there is a chapter in which the question is asked: “What is a heretic?” So, I’ll reserve correcting the notion until I know what the notion is…gee ain’t I a pretentious jerk?
One brief thing to note: I decided to peruse the index to see who was being quoted and such. Specifically I was looking to see if there would be any mention of any Eastern Saints or Orthodox thinkers. There is certainly a sprinkling of a number of western Saints, but only three (that I could find) decidedly Eastern Orthodox Saints: St. Gregory of Nyssa who is allowed a simple seven word quote, Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite whose context might be lost when the author goes on the criticize church hierarchy (especially when you consider the sequel the Saint wrote in which he explains the importance of Church hierarchy), and St. Irenaios who gets a brief run as well. That’s it. No other Ante-Nicene Father and not a whiff of St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Xenia of Petersburg, St. Mary of Egypt, St. Gregory Palamas, or the like...nothing. Nilch. And while a host of other "moderners" are listed (from the Dhali Lama to Bishop Spong) I see no Orthodox thinkers at all. And thus, while the cornocopia of Eastern Saints and Orthodox theolgians are represented by three single page listings in the index, Bono from U2 gets five.
Thank you for taking the time to read and review the book. As an author I can only try to represent these ideas from my perspective. I come from a particular religious background - modern, evangelical, mega-church... My desire in asking you to reflect on the book is to invite you to take the words the next step and contextualize them from your perspective. You may or may not agree with my thoughts, but do you see any common ways we can move forward in dialogue?
I am sure I have used words, phrases that will have different means in your world and could even be offensive if taken at face value. But I ask, if you are willing to hear the heart not just the words. One thing I have learned from Frederick Mathews-Green is the beauty of the Eastern Orthodox way of "spirit and truth" blending, holding strong and open to the Spirit...
It is with this hope that we can have conversation. In many ways this book is written to others, but maybe their is a chance to use this book as an opening to listen to each other that the past few hundred years has not allowed...
do you see any common ways we can move forward in dialogue?
Absolutely...I have often sensed in many of my friends who have traveled down the PME faith road a kindred sense of what is "wrong" in contemporary Christianity, and a common longing for something more authentic.
It is a starnge dichotomy - one I love to explore - that led me to what is seen (negatively) as a traditional and "institutionalized" church.
But, I have a great deal of respect for most PME folk who are usually willing to see beyond their own perceptions and see the wonder therein.
And seeing beyond our own perceptions is - to a large degree - what brought me to the Orthodox Church. By that I mean: Despite how I may "sound" here at Paradosis... it is never safe for me to consider myself an authority.
Spencer, I've only just cracked your book open...I look forward to reading it and will likely have more to say in the near future.
spencer is a good friend of mine (vis a vis damah), and james you should consider it a wonder of the world that spencer actually posted something on your blog... i mean, spencer doesn't type very much at all. i never would of imagined spencer and james conversing. small and strange and wonderful world.