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Western Assistance in Theological Training for Romanian Evangelicals Since 1989

Danut Manastireanu

Editor’s Note: The first two parts of this article were published in the previous two issues of the East-West Church & Ministry Report 14 (Summer 2006), 1-3; 14 (Fall, 2006), 6-9.

Nonformal Theological Training in Romania

Up to this point, we have concentrated on formal theological education in Romania. This is obviously not the only, nor necessarily the best, type of ministerial training, in light of the concrete needs of the Evangelical community in Romania. Formal theological education has certain limits. Graduates of theological seminaries enter their ministries with a certain degree of academic knowledge in Bible, theology, and church history, but often display very little practical wisdom necessary for church work. Thus, formal teaching needs to be complemented with various kinds of nonformal and informal education.

Biblical Education by Extension (BEE), now known as Entrust (www.entrust4.org), offers an alternative model in its Church-Based Training Centers. Through its nonformal approach, BEE is training about 4,500 lay ministers in ways that are well-suited for Romanian lay leaders. According to Dr. David Bohn, President of Entrust, BEE Romania strives to provide Bible training with these characteristics:

a. systematic and comprehensive – giving students a broad-based understanding of Scripture and a systematic theological framework for understanding life in God’s Kingdom;

b. accessible – giving instruction to many who cannot engage in formal theological education because of considerations of cost, distance, age, or family responsibilities;

c. transformational – helping students understand that they not only need to see the power of Christ changing lives, but they also have the responsibility to address the social and cultural needs of their particular context. (Bohn states that BEE is striving to be much more intentional in its emphasis upon social and cultural transformation.)

In Romania BEE has been most effective in its work with Pentecostal and Brethren churches because Baptist churches have preferred to have their ministers trained in their own theological schools. BEE courses emphasize the practical application of knowledge to concrete situations in which students are called to minister. Most BEE materials still consist of texts translated from other languages, especially English; but indigenizing efforts are in process, aimed at adapting courses to the East European context and encouraging local authors to rewrite some of the materials.

One of BEE’s greatest successes in Romania has been in women’s ministry. The women’s track, begun in 1985, aimed initially at helping wives of ministers involved in BEE courses. However, since 1989 it has included other Christian women With the assistance of BEE training, hundreds of women’s discipleship groups have started all over the country, with over 2,000 participants at present. Other benefits deriving from BEE work include leadership training events and a biannual women’s journal, Priscilla. Such efforts have been especially noteworthy in a cultural context that historically has limited the role of women in society and in the church.

BEE has made a much-needed contribution to Romanian Evangelicalism. Unfortunately, the leaders of Evangelical theological schools do not appreciate the value of nonformal training. As a result, the two efforts run parallel courses with little cross fertilization. For its part, BEE could increase its efforts to reach out to formal theological institutions and could make better use of the many Evangelical leaders in Romania who hold theological degrees, particularly those who are not involved in the formal educational system.

Evangelical Publishing in Romania

Western help and technical support encouraged the development of Evangelical publishing after 1989. Thus, after his repatriation in 1990, Josef Tson moved his publishing activities from the U.S. to Romania, where he founded the Christian Book Publishing House in Oradea (www.ecc.ro). Hundreds of titles have been published as a result of this effort, most of them translations of American texts.

The Eastern European Literature Advisory Committee has also assisted in the initiation of many Evangelical publishing efforts in Eastern Europe. One such effort is Logos Publishers in Cluj (www.logos.ro), which has adopted an especially well-thought-through publishing plan. In summary, several general evaluations of Evangelical publishing efforts in Romania may be offered.

• Evangelical publishers in Romania publish a large variety of titles, particularly of a devotional and inspirational nature, but also, to a lesser degree, theological studies.

• Although the quality of books is constantly improving, much still needs to be done in the area of title selection, translation standards, and printing and binding quality.

• The majority of titles (over 95 percent) are translations, mostly from English language authors. In spite of the efforts of a few publishers to promote indigenous authors, few publishing houses in the country dare to publish Romanian Evangelical authors. In addition, Evangelical publishers claim that native-born authors do not sell as well as foreign writers.

• Most publishers depend financially on Western sponsors, or worse, simply publish just those books that are paid for. As a result, many published titles deal with issues that are irrelevant to Romanian Evangelicals, while vital and pressing issues remain untouched.

• Romania lacks a genuine wholesale distribution system. As a result, most publishers resort to direct sales, either through the Internet or the mail, which frustrates readers desiring covenient access to books.

In terms of theological journals, the first one published in Romania after 1989 was the Theological Supplement of Crestinul azi [The Christian Today], the official publication of the Baptist Union. Only a few issues were ever published, as the present leadership of the Union does not encourage open theological dialogue. In 2001 Emmanuel University began publishing a theological journal entitled Perichoresis. To date, eight issues have been published at a fairly high academic level under the able direction of Dr. Corneliu Simut. Most authors are either Emmanuel staff or theologians from abroad more or less endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Baptist Faculty and the Baptist Seminary in Bucharest publish their annual Jurnal teologic [Theological Journal]. Finally, the Pentecostal Theological Institute in Bucharest now publishes a theological journal, Pleroma [Fullness]. All these initiatives are, more or less, at the beginning stage and need much more coordinated effort to reach required international standards.

A Unique Opportunity

This is the first time in history that such a large number of Romanian Evangelicals are well educated theologically. However, only a few are currently teaching theology in Romania. The Evangelical community has today the unique opportunity of making a lasting impact upon Romanian society. Yet, to date, the impact of this new generation of leaders has been limited. Many explanations could be given for this state of affairs, including the impact of Communism which created various distortions (suspicion, dictatorial leadership style, and fragmentation); unhealthy competition among various theological schools and their leaders; chronic financial dependence upon Western donors; and oversized building and educational projects.

Given this depressing reality, it is unlikely that the present generation will be able to seize its historic opportunity. More likely, advances will have to await the emergence of leaders better able to cope with fast-changing circumstances.

• Church leaders need to address urgently the fundamental issue of Evangelical identity in Romania.

• Evangelical theologians need to clarify Romanian Protestant understandings of anthropology, ecclesiology, and liturgical theology.

• And Evangelicals in Romania need to move away from an inherent fear of ecumenism and hostility towards Orthodoxy, which often is a product of ignorance and memories of past persecution. Rather, Romanian Evangelicals should engage in open dialogue with Eastern Orthodox Christians.

As Romania moves towards membership in the European Union, Romanian believers will discover that both Evangelicalism and Orthodoxy are tiny minorities within a largely secular community. This, in turn, should lead to a reevaluation of past enemies and the forging of new alliances. Hopefully, in this process, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ will become more confident of their own identity and will be able to make an impact in Romania and Europe. 

Danut Manastireanu, who lives in Iasi, Romania, holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Brunel University (London School of Theology). He currently is Director for Faith and Development for the Middle East and East European Region, World Vision International