Editor Rob Plummer’s interview with publicist Emily Vaner:
Thank you for your work as volume editor for Zondervan’s Journeys of Faith. I fully expect Christians from various backgrounds will find it an insightful and thought-provoking resource. Can you tell us how the concept for the book came about?
I serve both as a pastor at Sojourn Community Church and a professor of New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. In these capacities, I began to notice a trickle of former congregants and students leaving Evangelicalism for more liturgical church traditions. In the first chapter of the book, I tell the story of being contacted by a former student who confessed to cheating in one of my classes. He was moved to do so by the necessity of making a “lifetime confession” upon his entrance to the Greek Orthodox Church. He is now a Greek Orthodox priest. From Boyce Bible College to Greek Orthodox priest – that journey sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?
I’ll say! Can you tell is briefly about the main four contributors and how you chose them?
I chose people who had some years of history in their own tradition before making the jump to another. Also, I chose converts of some prominence to interest readers who might want to know their stories. Francis Beckwith, for example, is an enigma to many Evangelicals. He resigned as president of the Evangelical Theological Society in 2007 to join the Catholic Church. Wilbur Ellsworth (now a Greek Orthodox priest) had decades of ministry in Baptist churches and was pastor of the prominent First Baptist Church, Wheaton, Illinois. Lyle Dorsett is a well-known writer and professor at Beeson who converted to Anglicanism. Finally, Chris Castaldo (author of Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic) rounds out the book with a story of his movement from Catholicism to Evangelicalism, a journey that most readers will be more familiar with. (Interestingly, a prominent Catholic professor at Notre Dame responds to Chris’s conversion in the book.)
That’s what I was going to ask about next. The book also includes responses to each contributor from someone with an opposite (or at least very different) experience. Tell us about these people. What is the purpose of these responses?
The responders were asked to write a chapter that basically says, “I respect you, but I do not think this is a move to greater faithfulness because . . .”
Some of the main contributors and responders already knew each other before working on the book (Gregg Allison and Francis Beckwith, for example). I’m grateful that the writers in Journeys of Faith were able to disagree on issues, but to do so in an irenic tone.
It is unusual for Zondervan—historically a Protestant and fairly Evangelical publisher—to include some of the traditions represented in this book. Why do you think there is such an openness from Zondervan at this time to hearing from converts to Eastern Orthodoxy or Catholicism?
It’s undeniable that Evangelicals are converting to Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and some of them are doing so quite publicly. Zondervan is providing a service to the church by allowing for a discussion of this phenomenon. Why are people converting? Rather than speculating, let’s listen to them in their own words. Then, let’s respond in a respectful way that continues to recognize irreconcilable differences.
Did you set up any frameworks or organizing schemes to help the contributors express their thoughts yet keep a consistent list of elements for discussion?
One of my main goals as editor was to keep the tone of the book peaceable. This was not difficult because of the gracious contributors. But I didn’t want to give the writers a pre-written script. I wanted to give them a chance to tell their stories. Also, I wanted the responders to address what they saw as the fundamental theological and biblical issues that were at stake. The resulting product is a collection of fascinating dialogues.
Did anything change for you in the process of editing this volume? If so, what?
One benefit of editing a book like this is that one becomes a friend, on some level, with the different contributors. For example, just yesterday, in the library, I saw Brad Gregory’s new book, The Unintended Reformation. Though Brad and I disagree about significant theological issues, I was proud to see his work and thought, “I should send him a note to congratulate him on this accomplishment.” When people actually talk to each other rather than about each other, I believe that’s a more promising avenue for learning and spiritual growth.
How do you envision the Journeys of Faith being used in academic settings?
Whenever I’ve mentioned the book to students, they inevitably respond, “Oh, I’ve got a friend from college who is considering becoming . . .” So, students immediately see the need for the book. I think the book would make a nice supplementary textbook for a variety of classes – current church trends, evangelism, church history, systematic theology, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, etc.
Journeys of Faith surely would have interested me when my roommate and close friend converted to Catholicism when we were juniors in college. But does the book belong in the church as well? What would it contribute there?
It will certainly be on the book table at my church! Yes, I think the book will equip Evangelical pastors and laypeople to understand the attraction of liturgical churches and help them respond to persons who are thinking about making that journey. My guess is that persons in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism will find this book quite interesting as well. These traditions have normally been on the “losing end” of conversions to Evangelicalism. This will be a valuable resource for those who wonder why some persons are now moving in the other direction and what fundamental differences remain with the Evangelical tradition.
JOURNEYS OF FAITH: EVANGELICALISM, EASTERN ORTHODOXY, CATHOLICISM, AND ANGLICANISM (Zondervan, 2012)
Edited by Robert L. Plummer With contributors Wilbur Ellsworth, Francis J. Beckwith, Chris A. Castaldo, and Lyle W. Dorsett and responses by Craig Blaising, Gregg Allison, Brad S. Gregory, and Robert A. Peterson
Softcover: 256 pages
Retail Price: $18.99
Release Date: February 15, 2012
For review copies, contact Emily Varner firstname.lastname@example.org