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I agree very much with what John writes, I might only offer one caveat.

The Protestantism of my youth, I think, was decidedly heading in two directions. I have a good old friend who is now a Baptist pastor, and while he has remained a Baptist, he is much better versed in Baptist history (he is devoted to the London Confession) and general church history than virtually all of the pastors we grew up under were. This is the general trend - to move toward a more historical confessional Protestantism (which, if one keeps going, might lead to Orthodoxy or Catholicism), or to move toward the pop Evangelical/Charismatic/Pentecostal abyss (Osteen, Warren, Hybels, etc.).

There was an attempt to move Evangelicalism in a more confessional direction by some of its Reformedish members in the 90s, in part as a reaction to open theism, but that did not really pan out. Evangelicalism today has been essentially taken over by rigid anti-confessionalists such as Warren. The John Piper model will not last into the next generation, and such have shown themselves to be incompetent with regard to leading the Evangelical movement, much as they wish they could. This leaves an Evangelicalism that is completely market driven. I would say that this Evangelicalism, of CCM and seeker sensitivity and purpose driving and big churches with pretty middle class people, is capable of heading in only one direction and is only really open to unbelief. When some subset of Evangelicalism starts to play monasticism (though with the marital act not abandoned, of course), and byzantine icons and medieval frescoes are all about, this is not, I think we will all agree, an Evangelicalism turning toward Orthodoxy, but rather an attempt to pull things sacred to Orthodoxy into their commercial. That commercial, however sacredish they seek to style it, is decidedly secular.

There is a Baptist church near where I grew up that is very dear to me. The pastor there, when I was a kid, Pastor Marvin, was about ten years older than my dad and something of a mentor to him. He was a quiet, sincere, holy man who loved everyone. The church is basically one big room, heated with wood, no plumbing, piano, or organ, and on the side of a hollow. Everybody who attended came out of the nearby hollows. We would go there for hymn-sings on Sunday nights at least 4 or 5 times a year -- the a cappella singing was what one expects from the descendents of Welshfolk, which is to say, very good. Pastor Marvin always prayed in a voice that I would describe as honestly plaintive - no matter what the prayer. I think in many respects this prepared me for Lord, Have Mercys in Orthodoxy. I attended the funeral of his youngest daughter, who had been a friend of mine, when she died of cancer when we were in high school. Pastor Marvin, being a Baptist, did not pray for her, but he prayed (in typical Baptist manner) about her -- "...and God, we know that Thou whilst carry her to the table of Thy blessing, and fillest her cup, and grant her every measure of Thy peace, and...." and he prayed this in his plaintive prayer voice, only this time more plaintive than ever. It occurs to me, looking back, that this was the first prayer for the dead I ever heard, because aesthetically that is what is was. It was a manner of pleading to God that He be Who He is, which so far as I can tell, is what we do in Orthodox liturgies. That funeral prepared me for Orthodox faith. That holy pastor's prayer prepared me. The old ladies I knew who fasted and prayed and believed firmly that they should lead godly lives because "the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" and these ladies had kin who needed prayers that worked - this prepared me for Orthodoxy. The almsgiving I saw as a kid, for instance raising money for my missions trips when I was a teenager, and being given rolls of twenties by this dear old couple in my church, Homer and Irene, who I knew would go without things most of us consider basic to give me that kind of money - that prepared me for Orthodoxy. In poor appalachian churches there were real widows who really gave mites. I had seen the icon before I saw the icon. I think it is these sorts of things Flannery O'Connor saw in her Georgia, and John has seen in Texas, and Fr. Jonathan saw in his youth in west Arkansas. There were plenty of hucksters too. But I sure can't see any of those sorts of things in what is called Evangelicalism today, even the would be hucksters are too slick to be called hucksters, I should think. And I am certain that the poor Baptists I grew up with, at least the holy ones, would have wanted nothing to do with this new religion.

Sorry for my many words.

Father, bless. Several things: I agree that the collapse of evangelicalism will not precipitate a rush to Orthodoxy. There will be a trickle here, perhaps a small stream of converts there, but most will launch off into, as you say, "American unaffiliation," before finally settling into unbelief itself.

I like the ending of your Jan. 16th post (linked above) that I missed at the time:

"At the end, there is complete apostasy, or there is Orthodoxy. American Protestantism is heading in both directions."

This puts me in mind of that quip by Flannery O'Connor: "One of the good things about Protestantism is that it always contains the seeds of its own reversal. It is open at both ends--at one end to Catholicism, at the other to unbelief."

Finally, I am impressed with your reference to Cane Ridge (this from someone who once placed great importance on Cane Ridge).

Certainly, Joshua, fasting is meant to be read here, but not just fasting. Ascesis is the self-denying -- or rather, self-emptying -- work we do in cooperation with the deifying Grace offered to us from the Holy Trinity. Fasting is such a concrete venture that it almost takes on a symbolic function for all ascetical activity. But ascesis also involves prayer, with its attention, focus and prostrations. It involves occasional vigil, or renunciation of comforting sleep throughout the night. It involves tearful contrition at the recognition of sin (e.g., Alyosha's acceptance of responsibility for the world). It involves the giving of one's wealth personally to a poor neighbor. It involves the angry cleansing of the temple by the rejection of demonic pride and the remembrance of wounds from others, and the indefinitely repetitive decision to forgive at every notion of past pain.

Lenten ascesis is all about driving out the thieves by prayer and fasting, as our Lord said is necessary. After all, we must (St. Paul says) work out our salvation by fear and trembling.

Father, bless. When you write "ascesis", I read "fasting". It is more than that, I know, but how much more? "Struggle"? Thank you for your time and attention regarding this.


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