Editor’s note: This two-part series explores why some evangelicals have chosen to convert to other branches of Christianity, namely Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism.
Evangelicalism was not enough for Joel and Stephanie Dunn, though they come from several generations of Baptists.
And in desperate pursuit of God, they wound up amid candles, incense, beautifully-painted wooden icons, and Divine Liturgy — in the communion of saints whose lives they now say have provided the medicine for their sin-sick souls.
Though Orthodox Christians comprise only 0.5% of the United States population, many of them relatively recent immigrants, some believers in Jesus have found their way into Orthodoxy after experiencing profound dissatisfaction with various forms of modern Christianity. And while many in the contemporary West have abandoned the Christian faith entirely, which The Christian Post explored in a multi-part series last year, others have traveled a more ancient path.
For the Dunns, things came to a head in 2016 when they realized that their current faith tradition, Southern Baptist, was inadequate. They were received into the Eastern Orthodox Church in 2018. Having been in the church for over a year, they were catechized for about that long in an Antiochan parish in northern California, a parish reportedly “bursting” with new converts from Protestantism. The Dunns have since relocated to Texas.
Joel is an attorney and Stephanie a full-time mom with a background in social work.
In the evangelical circles that Joel grew up in, discussing deeply personal matters openly was not encouraged, which proved particularly dysfunctional as he battled a persistent addiction.
“The wheels fell off of our whole life,” Joel explained in an interview with The Christian Post.
Stephanie recalled, ”I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I fell into this complete despondence, vacillating between anger and total despair.”
Her father, who had been doing all kinds of research into church history, was a big fan of Hank Hanegraaff, better known as the evangelical “Bible Answer Man.” The famous apologist shocked many when he announced in 2017 that he was received into the Eastern Orthodox Church.
In a 2018 interview, Hanegraaff said his first foray into Eastern Christianity, particularly the doctrine of theosis, came in an unconventional way — studying in China and examining the ministry of Watchman Nee, who died in a communist prison camp in 1972.
“In the West, there’s a sense of snarling logicality. It’s all about debating and defining and defending. In the East, so much is left in the realm of mystery,” Hanegraaff said at the time.
“Orthodoxy is not transactional. It’s not ‘I say a prayer, and now I have a card that gets me out of Hell and gets me into Heaven.’ But rather it is being brought into the church life. And in the church life, you can be transformed through the graces that are presented within the spiritual gymnasium that is the church,” he said.
In one episode of his popular radio program, Hannegraaff interviewed Frederica Mathewes-Green, an author who covered various topics, including ancient Christian spirituality and the Eastern Orthodox faith.
Not knowing much about the history and unaware of both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic claims about being the original church, Joel said, “We were so far removed from anything traditional.”
The couple started reading Mathewes-Green’s book, Welcome to the Orthodox Church, and listened to podcasts where she explained “this thing we’ve never heard of.”
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