My Spiritual Pilgrimage: Preface

Preface | I: Second Thoughts: Pilgrimage 1993-95 | II: All Scripture Is Inspired by God: Thoughts on the Old Testament Canon | III: Do not Add to His Words: Thoughts on the New Testament Canon
Copyright 1996, 2003 Joel Kalvesmaki

Ten years since the beginning of my spiritual journey have brought tremendous change. The following three essays represent an early, somewhat hasty, but earnest, reflection on my interaction with the early Church Fathers. I have now updated the essays, removing grammatical and stylistic infelicities, factual errors, and redundancies. But I have retained, I hope, everything of their original naïveté, youth, and vigor.

In late 1995 and early 1996, when I completed the essays, I was in some disarray. I had just left the mission field, and was trying, all at once, to break gently to fellow missionaries and supporters the news of my interest in Eastern Orthodoxy; to move from London to Seattle; to return to my undergraduate education; to learn again what life was like in the U.S; and, most importantly, to find out whether the Orthodox Church was really what it claimed to be. The essays reflect that uncertainty, excitement, and reckless generalization.

Easter 1997 I became Orthodox at the Church of the Assumption, in Seattle. I settled into parish life and continued to finish my undergraduate degree. To go to the mission field I had jettisoned my training in music; now, I enrolled at the University of Washington in classics and philosophy. In 1999 I graduated with honors and chose to pursue academically and professionally the literature that had so stirred my theological world. My intent was to be as responsible as possible with the sources I claimed had led me out of Evangelicalism.

At this writing, I am settled into quiet parish life in Washington, D.C., where I am working on the same Fathers who so inspired me ten years ago. In this case, I am working on a Ph.D. in Early Christian Studies at The Catholic University of America.

Rereading my essays, I am struck at how I hastily summarized, as best I could, the doctrines of the early Church. Now, I would never summarize the beliefs of the early Church in such a haphazard, general manner. Then, I pored over my precious set of nineteenth-century English translations of the Fathers. Now, I regularly consult critical Greek and Latin editions. Then, I was consumed with addressing an audience of Evangelicals fed on a frothy pop-apologetic diet. Now, I am interested in writing for a much wider audience. The essays definitely reflect my past.

Still, I hold the central theses:

I do not hold to certain other claims made in the essays, although I have retained them because they illustrate how desparately I tried to make sense of my world. For instance, I claim that the early Church might have recognized and communed with Anglicans and Lutherans. Now, I doubt they would much get over their shock at the state of modern churches to even consider the question. I also summarize what the early Christians believed about baptism, the Eucharist, salvation, etc. I do not think I wrote anything blatantly erroneous, but my descriptions present a very facile, over-generalized picture. Even my way of presenting and organizing the material shows that I was only beginning to learn about early Christianity. To learn what the early Church believed about certain topics, I would recommend as a starting place The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, ed. Everett Ferguson, 2d ed. (New York: Garland, 1997). I also make a foray into epistemology, hermeneutics, and the course of intellectual history. All of this is nonsense. It should be disregarded. The argument I make witnesses how I struggled at the time to incorporate postmodern ideas into my reading of the Fathers, and to get some perspective on the biases I and others brought to the Bible and the early Church. But my work in philosophy and history has disabused me of the notion that the intellectual history of the West can be put into such a convenient, one-sided picture.

I believe the essays still serve their original audience for their original purpose. It is not a piece of academic writing. It is polemic. But it polemic that begs to be demolished, to be done altogether with the presumption to speak for God, to admit willingly error, and to sit in the seat of quiet correctability in worship before God. This is ever worth achieving.

Joel Kalvesmaki
Washington, D.C.
June 2003