East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 8, No. 4, Fall 2000, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

An Ideal Theological Education: The Vision of Moscow's Protestant Leaders

Nicholas Holovaty

Editor's note: The author interviewed 34 Russian Protestant mission leaders and pastors in the fall of 1999 to evaluate the effectiveness of five Bible schools and seminaries in Moscow: Moscow Evangelical Christian Theological Seminary, New Life Bible College, Korean Pastors' School, Moscow Evangelical-Christian Baptist Theological Institute, and Moscow Theological Seminary of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. What follows is a summary of Russian Protestant leaders' vision of the ideal institution of theological education.

Theological education is thought of in terms of two basic categories: the practical and the theoretical, "know-how" and "know-what." Virtually all those interviewed agree that both are indispensable in Russia today.

A student at the ideal school would have a strong and relatively mature faith, an obvious desire for ministry, a moderately clear vision of how he or she will carry out that ministry upon graduation, and an indication that he or she possess the necessary God-given talent. Prior higher education would not be required but would be much preferred. All else being equal, preference would be given to those with higher secular education. Both men and women would study at the ideal school--though not the same subjects.

Residential or Extension?
Both are necessary. Those surveyed agree that the ideal would be to educate every single mission worker before he or she went to the field. But that is not possible as hundreds are already in active ministry and many cannot leave their work for any prolonged length of time. Consequently, the ideal school would have a residential program, evening classes for Christian workers in the area, and an extension program for those too involved to leave their place of ministry.

Denomination and Doctrinal Orientation
Very few of those interviewed favor interdenominational schools. The general opinion seems to be that doctrinal issues arise so early that a nondenominational education would be impossible for more that a few months, and a truly interdenominational education would only be within the scope of a four-year seminary. Better to choose one doctrinal position and adhere to it consistently. Students would not be required to adopt it, but the doctrinal orientation would be clear from the beginning.

The Western Connection
Presently, the biggest question in theological education is how to improve relations between graduates and the churches to which they are sent, or from which they come. This points to a problem noted by almost all of those interviewed: The connection is weak between schools and local churches. Theological education in Russia has, for the most part, been oriented from the top down. Most churches are too poor, as yet, to support even themselves, and as a result almost all of the theological institutions begun since the early 1990s have been at least funded by Western missions, if not organized and directed by them.

The efforts of Westerners to provide theological education in Russia, understandably enough, have not been altogether successful. Graduates reportedly are changed by Western influences to so great an extent that it is very hard for members of the older generation of believers to accept them. According to Vladimir Petrovich Zinchenko, pastor at Moscow's autonomous Church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, "Churches in Moscow are modern; people in Moscow are used to Westerners. But outside Moscow it's different. When graduates of the Bible schools and seminaries here are sent to provincial churches, it's as thought they don't even speak the same language." Some insist that this is a doctrinal issue while others say it is a question of culture. Regardless, many feel that until theological education is re-worked from the ground up--directed by the local church and not simply toward it--there will continue to be a great rift between the church and the theological academy.

A majority of those interviewed hold to the following doctrinal positions: biblical inerrancy, salvation by grace, believer's baptism, and an Arminian perspective on salvation (as opposed to what is call Calvinism, more specifically, eternal security). This, according to practically all of those interviewed, is in contrast to what most of the Western Bible schools and seminaries teach. Whether readers are sympathetic to these positions or not, if the West's primary purpose in assisting Russian theological education is to serve Russian Protestant churches, these are the doctrines that must be adopted. To promote contrary views is to do more than simply serve, it is to change.

Length of Study
Two years is held to be the approximate length of time needed for basic missions training. Another one to two years of more specialized and practical training under the personal guidance of a mentor is recommended for those wishing to become senior pastors. Between two and four more years is regarded as sufficient to produce theologians and professors of theology.

The Curriculum: Theoretical or Practical
Those surveyed seem to identify as theoretical and abstract such subjects as church doctrine, church history, theology, and Bible study methods. Subjects such as homiletics, marriage and family ministries, counseling, and discipleship are considered more practical.

There is great variation in the ways people think these subjects should be taught. American methods, understandable enough, are said to be less effective for Russians than Russian methods. The pastor of Moscow's Church of the Annunciation, Evgeny Vasilievich Karpenko, explained that, "The concept of a 'workbook,' which is designed more as a learning tool than as a learning resource, is foreign to most Russians. When a Russian student is given a book he expects to find answers, not question." Another leader surveyed gave the rebuttal, "the Russian method promotes passive receptivity in contrast to the American approach which fosters inquiry and encourages the student to think for himself."

To insure the practicality of the program, many recommend close association with local churches. Mikhail Victorovich Fadin, pastor of Moscow's autonomous Church of the Transfiguration, suggested, "Each student would be assigned to a local pastor or church leader with whom he would serve and by whom he would be evaluated on a quarterly basis. The pastor would be able to evaluate as well as advise the student on a much more personal level than anyone else, and in return he would be getting help in his church, a mutually beneficial arrangement." Other suggestions include a split graduation: one half upon completion of the program, the other half after a year of apprenticeship under an active missionary or pastor.

A common complaint is the absence of clearly defined goals for theological education. Departments might solve this problem. Male students would be given the choice of a pastorship major, a chaplaincy major, etc., while female students would be given the choice of music, children's ministry, women's ministry, etc. Once a department was selected, students would know what they would be actually qualified to do upon graduation.

Faculty and Staff
The ideal, of course, would be an all-Russian faculty and staff. However, the majority of those interviewed agree that this is impossible under present circumstances. According to Pastor Pavel Sergeievich Nikor of the Evangelical Christian Church at Moscow's Olympic Village, "There simply aren't enough Russian Protestant Christians who are qualified to teach in this country. For truly Russian theological education to be possible, there must be a body of Russian research, study, and experience to draw upon. It will be 20 or 30 years before real theological education is possible. We will have to build upon Western foundations until enough time has passed to build upon our own." The only practical compromise is, of course, a mixture, but it must be a compromise with a vision for change. With the ultimate but gradual Russificication of theological education in mind, each successive year must be regarded as one step further toward the final goal. The best and most practical arrangement, then, would be to have multinational faculty and staff committed to the acculturation of the school, and ready to fulfill this commitment over time and in their students' best interests. 

Nicholas Holovaty, who grew up in Moscow, is a classics major in his third year at Notre Dame University, South Bend, IN.

Nicholas Holovaty, "An Ideal Theological Education: The Vision of Moscow's Protestant Leaders," East-West Church & Ministry Report 8 (Fall 2000), 6-7.

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2000 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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