Urbana-12: Asking Old Questions for New Answers

Seminar presentation on Orthodoxy at Urbana-12, St Louis, Missouri, December 2012

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4 thoughts on “Urbana-12: Asking Old Questions for New Answers

  1. I am wondering if there is a way, and if so how specifically, for an evangelical Christian to work as a spiritual formation facilitator for people within an Orthodox context without incurring the “wrath” of the Orthodox Church. It seems quite obvious to me, and you mentioned in your seminar, that a large number of people claiming to be Orthodox globally, do not know Jesus as the Christ or even believe the teachings of the Church in their own lives. How can an evangelical draw these people closer to Christ without drawing them away from the Orthodox Church? And can the Orthodox Church recognize that evangelicals have something to offer their nominal participants?

    • It is going to take me a bit to think through a response to this. I definitely want to see more evangelical/Orthodox interaction and learning, but how it is done and the words that are used need to be worked through carefully.
      The primary problem is not with Orthodoxy, but with spirituality. Those churches (of any flavor) that have a vision for spiritual development usually already have good programs such as small group studies and outreach; those that need it the most are usually the ones that are resistant to it in any form. If a priest resists spiritual development from within the congregation, he certainly will not be open to suggestions from the outside (even though he may be the one who needs it the most).
      That being said, I think there are a good number of indirect paths to achieve the same goal. Gregg, while at University of Missouri was very involved with a dorm small group from the Crossing (PCA). Because the focus was spiritual development, and not recruitment for the church, it was of great help for him; and his priest was comfortable with Gregg’s involvement there; the priest was very spiritual, but the congregation was not big enough to have the resources for a separate campus ministry. I at times have gotten together with a small group to read a book at a coffee shop (like St. Basil the Great’s writing on Social Justice). Any writings of the Church Fathers is a good, “neutral” topic, I have also found NT Wright or CS Lewis a good choice.
      “Spiritual formation” is a loaded term for Orthodox, usually reserved for the formal training of a monastery. I am not sure what all you are implying behind this term. That also raises the question of what all is within the scope of spirituality. While there is significant overlap between Evangelical and Orthodox spirituality, there are also significant differences that need to be recognized and respected: such as the place of sacraments, icons, fasting or use of the “Jesus Prayer”
      A safe place to start is always with social ministries. Here in St. Louis I am involved with a homeless ministry that does a weekly meal (among other things). While it is targeted at helping Orthodox become more engaged in ministry, we have people from other churches and the community (and even the St. Louis U InterVarsity group). We also work at coordination and support with other ministries.
      Please give me some more particulars, and I will think some more on this.
      Thanks for the concern.

  2. I am thinking specifically of how I can begin to change the face of missions in Russia. I grew up in Siberia as an MK in a small town where the Russian Orthodox priest who came through on his circuit a couple of times a year to do baptisms and my evangelical church were directly opposed to each other about anything.

    I also attended a seminar at U12 where the Russian director of International Fellowship of Evangelical Students stated that the Russian Orthodox opposes their work in starting Bible studies on Russian university campuses. He said that he is praying for a revival for the Russian Orthodox Church, beginning with the priests in the larger Western cities, and for priests who are followers of Christ to proclaim that belief boldly.

    I will be going long-term to Siberia to do church planting among indigenous minority people groups, where people will be baptized into the Church at an early age and be under the protection of the Church, but be living as animists or atheists or agnostics or Buddhists. The way I see it, these people need Jesus, whether the accompanying theology is evangelical or Orthodox. But I don’t want to be working against any work that has already been done or for any work I do to be undone by the Orthodox Church asserting its territory.

    I guess I’m wondering if you know of any ecumenical dialogue or co-laboring that is being done already that I should be aware of, and if you personally think that the Russian Church needs considerable reform within itself and if that is a possibility in the near future.

    • This will be a quick reply, and I hope to give you a fuller response off-line; where we can get into particulars and I can hopefully get you some (more) useful contacts.
      You definitely need to read Nicolai Leskov’s On the Edge of the World, he is roughly the Russian equivalent of America’s Mark Twain. This is a tale based on some true history, involving 19th century Russian missions, their principles and results. What you are describing is nothing new, and at least at one time was recognized as an issue from within the Orthodox Church.
      As for your IFES director, I would offer a hearty Amen. There are definitely currents of reform, but also other currents swirling as well. Depending on the day and my mood, I can be either an optimist or pessimist.
      I think there is a deeper issue here on church/state relationships; and a difference in perspective between Western separation of church and state, and an Eastern assumption of separation, but close co-operation. I believe that most American churches are use to a ‘free market’approach to spirituality; where, at least in Russia, it is regarded more as a private monopoly. I find goods and bads with both sides. More later …

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