East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 5, No. 1, Winter 1997, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

Wesleyan Scholar Critiques Theological Textbook Project

Donald Dayton

Editor's Note:  The Russian Protestant textbook evaluation provided by Reformed scholar Mark Noll in the previous issue of the East-West Church & Ministry Report can be compared with the following comments of Wesleyan historian Donald Dayton.

I was intrigued with the possibilities and difficulties inherent in the "Russian Protestant Theological Textbook Project."  It seems to me that such a project is vital, and I heartily commend the people who have undertaken it.  On the other hand, it seems to me that there is always a tendency to continue in inherited paths and to uncritically accept trajectories of publishing and scholarship that may not be the most helpful.  I sensed some of this as I read over the list of textbooks already published, being reprinted, and now projected.  It seems that this list puts great weight on older and less creative scholarship.  This may reflect the training of missionaries and others--as well as the character of the Protestant church in this context.  But it seems tragic to me that so much of this material is from earlier generations of evangelical thinking that would not find much use now in the countries of its origination.

I have wondered if there are not ways of providing more materials produced within the Russian context itself; surely there is more indigenous literature that could be cultivated.  I have also wondered about more literature speaking to the historical connections with Russian Orthodoxy.

Where theological biases are evident (or relevant), they seem to be Reformed and/or Dispensational.  My sense of Russian Protestantism is that it is strongly shaped by the Baptist and Pentecostal streams. Generally, such traditions are more Arminian than Reformed, and I have wondered if one ought not to make a point of balancing the literature better. The Wesleyan/Arminian tradition is in a very creative phase, and much good theological material is being produced in the circles of the Wesleyan Theological Society.  Also, the Pentecostal movement is bursting with theological creativity around the world--yet one would never guess it from the list provided.  I think especially of the work of the Society of Pentecostal Studies and the theological monographs published in connection with the Journal of Pentecostal Theology.  In general then, my basic reaction is that these textbooks (probably for some good reasons) look BACK too much and insufficiently FORWARD to the challenges of the next generation.

Donald Dayton is visiting professor of church history, Drew University, Madison, NJ.

Donald Dayton, "Wesleyan Scholar Critiques Theological Textbook Project," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 5 (Winter 1997), 14.

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1997 Institute for East-West Christian Studies
ISSN 1069-5664

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