Saturday, January 21, 2012

Further thoughts on "Surprised by Christ".......

Now that I have finished reading the book and have had time to think about it in light of what I learned this weekend at the Mere Anglicanism conference (topic for another post), I have some further thoughts about this book. What follows are my thoughts/my review of this book. I have put this on Amazon's website.

This book was recommended to me by a Greek Orthodox priest. I had enjoyed reading most but not all of it. I enjoyed the autobiographical part which includes his spiritual journey from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity. The story of how Rev. Bernstein comes to faith in Christ is indeed fascinating. But the last half of the book is much more difficult going. Bernstein makes a crucial mistake in thinking that Christianity is divided into Evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics and Orthodox. This misses one of the largest (3rd largest) groups of Christians- Anglicans. What a shame!

I found it rather difficult to continue reading after this glaring mistake on page 163 in chapter 11. He discusses how Communion among Christians has been *closed* among Christians. This means only baptized Christians can take part in Holy Communion. Yes, I agree that is extremely important. HOWEVER, Rev. Bernstein makes a HUGE mistake with this sentence: "For example, until the beginning of the twentieth century, Anglicans and Episcopalians practiced closed Communion." Ummmm........ that would make one think that Anglicans no longer practice closed communion. I have news for Rev. Bernstein most if not every Anglican group STILL practices closed Communion in the 21st century. Even in TECUSA, Canon Law does NOT allow/forbids open communion. 
In fact, Rev. Bernstein seems to think that the standard was that only baptized Christians could partake in Communion. Wrong again. Among Anglicans, a person not only had to baptized but also to be confirmed BEFORE partaking of Holy Communion. In some ways, a stricter standard than what Bernstein think is universally acceptable for Christians. Now I can understand his confusion as the Orthodox baptize and confirm at the same time but that is not universal. The Anglican position has changed somewhat in that now ALL baptized Christians are allowed to take communion regardless of denomination. That change is fairly recent (since 1979 in the USA). So when Bernstein was writing this book, the Anglican practice was that baptized Christians could participate in communion which was recent change from the baptized and confirmed position previously held. 

I have to admit after this error, I found it difficult to take seriously what Bernstein said about non Orthodox Christianity. While he may understand Jewish and Orthodox Christian theological positions, his knowledge of other Christian denominations is sadly lacking. Unfortunately, this means his "information" about other christian denominations is often misleading and then uses this mis-"information" to put forth the Orthodox position as the correct position. Alas, this meant I was not particularly receptive to his "arguments" about the Orthodox Church being the One, True Church as his arguments for the Orthodox position were based on misleading/inaccurate info about other Christian denominations. While I enjoyed reading about his spiritual path, I am afraid his glaring lack of knowledge of other Christian denominations means the last half of the book is a waste of time to anyone who has any understanding of other Christian denominations. Hence my rating of two stars.

So if you want an understanding of why and how A. James Bernstein came to faith in Christ, this book is an interesting read. However, just be aware that the last half of the book has misinformation about other Christian denominations.If  this is supposed to be a comparison of various Christian theologies, this book is a dismal and total failure.  If this is  considered a "primer" on Orthodox theology, well..........that is enough reason not to become Orthodox. 


  1. Take a look here: .
    Father Sava is an example as Father Bernstein.

  2. I searched for this book and didn't find it anywhere in my language. I understand that it gave you a not so very good impression but I found on the internet many good thoughts about it and I'd like to read it anyway. You may be interested to read "Thirsting For God in a Land of Shallow Wells" by Matthew Gallatin; very-very interesting book. Have a nice day!

  3. Sorry that you perceive Fr. James' lack of depth on Anglicanism is tantamount to spreading 'misinformation,' but the purpose of his book is his path to Orthodoxy, NOT an in depth discussion of various Christian denominations.
    Of course he cannot possibly be expected to differentiate between Episcopal and Anglican teachings and practices, because they vary so much even within the denomination.
    As to open vs closed Communion and anglicanism - for many years, individual Episcopal clergy seem to have done as they please when it comes to communion - one parish respects ancient tradition while another down the street welcomes an "baptized Christian" to partake.