A few days ago, quite by accident, I stumbled across a book on Amazon that I had to purchase. The book is, “Church, Tradition, and Scripture: Where does the Authority Hide?” by Caleb Suko. Mr. Suko and family are Protestant missionaries to Ukraine, where they work diligently to save those poor Orthodox souls. I was compelled by the title and the corn-flower blue cover art. They forced me to purchase. Ok,who am I kidding? I’m a sucker for anything written about the Orthodox Church, pro or con.
Caleb and family are missionaries in Odessa, Ukraine where they are frequently encountering Orthodox Christians, who they desperately want to save from the evils of Orthodoxy. Caleb wrote his book to share with Protestants what he’s learned about just what Orthodoxy is, and how best to confront it. The book blurb says:
What sets the Orthodox Church apart? Why do they claim a lineage that goes back to the Apostles? How does Orthodoxy differ from evangelical Christianity?
Caleb Suko seeks to answer these questions and more as he looks at the core beliefs of the Orthodox Church. He examines their view on the authority of the church and the authority of tradition and how these two foundational beliefs affect almost every other doctrine.
This is not a long boring theology book that will take you hours to read. You will probably be able to read it in about 30 mins or so. It goes straight for the issues that matter without getting bogged down with less important things.
Sounds exciting! He wasn’t kidding about that 30 minutes thing either. This book was really more of a tract than a book. Clocking in at a mere 24 pages (including front and back matter) this is an itty bitty thing. Basically it’s a blog post masquerading as a book, but I didn’t know that at the time. Still it was only $1 so I’m not going to complain. Much. Mr. Suko mentions that the book is a fast read, but even at a dollar this really is too short. I’ve purchased full length novels for that much. The author should remove the book from Amazon until he has additional content in my opinion, or give it away for free. Even taking some notes with distractions I went from title page to the bibliography in the time it would’ve taken to drink a cup of coffee slowly. Well, not too slowly.
I was hoping to get some awesome, crushing arguments or deep discussion about the place of authority in Orthodoxy based on the blurb, but what you’ll find is really just a decent specimen of a typical Protestant polemic against Orthodoxy. It’s not going to add anything new to the Protestant/Orthodox discussion, but I couldn’t help but want to comment on it nonetheless. It hits so many of the common points of argumentation that while not extraordinary in itself, it really serves to demonstrate the common misunderstandings and fallacies Protestants have when they encounter Orthodoxy.
I’ll use Caleb’s book as a bit of a pincushion to talk about these problems, but I don’t want this to seem like a personal attack against Caleb. While I could wish that he and his family were not actively working to undermine the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, I believe that they do so out of the best intentions, and a bit of unfortunate ignorance. Perhaps Caleb will eventually have encounters with Orthodoxy that will rub off on him positively, and he will begin the long search for the ancient church that will lead him home.
Caleb’s experience is almost entirely with Orthodoxy in the Ukraine. Mine is almost entirely with Orthodoxy in America. He feels confident that his experiences translate world wide. I’m not so sanguine about that. The Orthodoxy he describes is not at all my experience, but I’ve never been to Ukraine so I have no standing to judge. I recognize plenty of difficulties in ethnicity at home, but nothing in my experience allows me to comment on the problems in Ukraine. I’m actively seeking some local Ukrainians who can help give me some personal background on post-Soviet Ukrainian Orthodox struggles for some perspective. While I’m waiting for those connections to solidify I’ll confine my comments merely to the errors in the book that are not location dependent.
It’s late and my family will be coming into town tomorrow, so I’ll leave it there for now, but I’ll post updates on the book and some comments soon. If you’re a Protestant and want a good introduction to Orthodoxy I would instead recommend “Orthodoxy for the Non-orthodox” by John Garvey. Or if you’d prefer something that’s still on the lighter side but has a bit more teeth to it try out Ask for the Ancient Paths by Father James Guirguis.
Read part 2.