Pastoral Training Under Fire
A Review of Wayne Kenney, " 'A Conspiracy of Learning': Self-Directed Learning Among Protestant Russian Clergy Before 1987," Ed.D. thesis, Pennsylvania State University, 1995, 220 pp. Reviewed by Mark Elliott, editor.
Although the title suggests a more comprehensive examination of the subject than the survey sample will allow, informative findings, nevertheless, make "A Conspiracy of Learning" noteworthy. The author used open-ended, life-story interviews with 13 pastors as the primary source for his research. Unfortunately, individuals chosen for the study represent a quite narrow portion of the Russian Protestant experience: 13 men from Moscow, mostly unregistered Baptist backgrounds, mostly between the ages of 25 and 44 (11 of 13), who in 1994 were participants in systematic but nonresidential ministry training programs. As a result, findings might or might not apply to the majority of Protestant pastors in the former Soviet Union who are non-Muscovites and non-Russians, and who represent registered Baptist, Pentecostal, and Lutheran denominations.
All interview subjects were highly motivated, eager learners. By definition, they placed a high value on education, as evidenced by their enrollment in Biblical Education by Extension (BEE) training courses. Nearly all were sons of pastors who had suffered harassment and imprisonment under the Communists. Almost all (12 of 13) were married, with 3 to 11 children. Most had the equivalent of a tenth or eleventh grade education. And most held secular employment in addition to their pastoral duties.
Perhaps the terminology "self-directed learning" excluded evaluation of the hundreds of pastors who completed clandestine, then later legal, Evangelical Christian-Baptist correspondence courses, or the hundreds of Pentecostals who quietly managed informal correspondence courses provided by the Brussels-based Assemblies of God International Correspondence Institute. In any case, a closer evaluation of these programs, using Kenney's techniques, would document an experience that made a substantial contribution to the survival of Evangelical faith despite a hostile Soviet environment. In passing, it should be noted that Walter Sawatsky of Associated Mennonite Theological Seminary, Elkhart, IN, currently is helping coordinate a wide-ranging interview project to document the twentieth-century Evangelical experience in the Soviet Union.
Perhaps the most striking finding of Kenney's study is the degree to which the church leaders of those interviewed resisted the self-directed learning of young, aspiring ministers. While some of this opposition, no doubt, stemmed from an anti-intellectual bias exacerbated by a Communist ban on Evangelicals in higher education, the larger factor appears to have been the issue of control. Overwhelming authority in the hands of a pulpit autocrat is an oft-noted phenomenon in Soviet and post-Soviet Evangelical circles. One evidence of this phenomenon has been the attempt by church leaders to keep a close rein on all church activities. More than a few leaders have been inclined to prohibit study or outreach that could not be readily and completely directed from the top. The mostly younger pastors interviewed by Kenney expressed frustration, disappointment, and dismay at their superiors' heavy-handed efforts to thwart independent initiatives, from street preaching to informal theological study. In their defense, one huge extenuating circumstance loomed large for senior pastors prior to glasnost: state threats against their churches and their personal liberty should they not be able to "administer" their own flock in an "orderly" manner (read no new initiatives).
While Kenney's work is long on informal learning theory and a bit thin on the Russian Evangelical context, he does make a strong case that most literature on self-directed learning does not take into account non-North American contexts where state intervention and cavalier treatment of civil liberties distort all of life, including the educational process. One would hope that Kenney's methodologies could be used to help determine strengths and weaknesses of the various current efforts to provide theological education to pastors in post-Soviet societies, including correspondence, extension, and formal residential programs.
Dickerson, Lonna and Dianne F. Dow. Handbook for Christian EFL Teachers. Evanston, IL: Berry Publishing, 1997. (A Billy Graham Center Monograph.) 71 pp. $8. Reviewed by Mark Elliott.
It would be hard to imagine a more practical and balanced introduction for Christians interested in teaching English as a foreign language. Would-be instructors and experienced specialists alike will find numerous helps for themselves and their students, including a glossary of acronyms, a rationale for formal preparation; an even-handed explanation of various approaches to academic preparation; a descriptive table of programs at 24 Christian institutions; and tables outlining worldwide teaching opportunities, including 15 Christian groups with career and 18 with short-term openings in one or more of the countries of East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. In addition, the Handbook offers a wealth of instructional resources in various specialized, annotated bibliographies and directories: relevant professional, church, and parachurch groups; secular and Christian publishers and distributors; journals; web sites; and e-mail discussion groups. Dickerson has a Ph.D. in second language acquisition, and Dow, an M.A. in TESL, from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Dickerson teaches at the University of Illinois and both authors staff the Wheaton College Institute for Cross-Cultural Training.
The Russian Orthodox Church: Triumphalism and Defensiveness by Jane Ellis (London: Macmillan, and New York: St. Martin's, 1996) treats the years 1986 to 1994 with a sure hand. It serves as an able sequel to the author's well-received The Russian Orthodox Church, A Contemporary History (London: Routledge, and Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), covering 1945 to 1985. While working for the British-based Keston Institute (1973-94) the author edited Religion in Communist Lands (1981-86) and Frontier (1987-89). The present 240-page study will be essential reading for an understanding of Russian Orthodox attempts to adjust to glasnost and the post-Soviet era, along with Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church, A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy. (See East-West Church & Ministry Report 4 (Spring 1996), 13.)
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© 1997 East-West Church and Ministry Report