East-West Church  Ministry Report
Vol. 10, No. 3, Summer 2002, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe


"Witnessing to People of Eastern Orthodox Background: Turning Barriers of Belief into Bridges of Personal Faith" summarizes the ministry philosophy of Matt Spann, a missionary in Moscow from 1994 to1998 with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. In this 2001 doctor of ministry project for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, TX, Spann provides a brief overview of the history of Eastern Orthodoxy, followed by a description of doctrinal differences between Orthodoxy and Protestantism in areas such as authority, tradition, sin, grace, salvation, prayer to saints, and icons. He addresses several of these topics from a distinctly Baptist point of view. Appendices contain a useful bibliography, a calendar of Orthodox feast days, and a glossary.

Spann focuses on ministry to those who know about Orthodoxy but are not actively committed to Christ. His 52-page work discusses how to present the gospel in a way that is understandable to those who have been influenced--but not transformed--by Orthodox Christianity. He explains that "a person cannot build a bridge until he or she knows where the river is." Spann summarizes current evangelical perspectives on Orthodoxy, especially those of Don Fairbairn and Dan Clendenin, noting where popular or folk Orthodoxy contradicts official doctrine. He does not venture far beyond explanations given by Fairbairn and Clendenin, but he does present several practical ideas for using insights from theology and church history in late-night, kitchen table discussions. For each highlighted doctrine, he identifies Orthodox beliefs that would appear to be "barriers" to faith. He then demonstrates how to address these "barriers" and turn them into "bridges" to win people to personal faith in Christ. Spann encourages an indirect approach when addressing controversial theological topics. Thus, he emphasizes foundational biblical principles related to particular issues (such as praying to saints), rather than direct attacks upon such practices.

This work could have been strengthened by interacting more with the works of Russian Orthodox authors such as Aleksandr Men who, in his evangelism, emphasized scriptural teaching and fellowship with Christ. He, like Spann, struggled to reach nominally Orthodox people and introduce them to Christ in a life-changing way. Also, a number of recent works that attempt to gain insights from the ancient Eastern faith, such as Reclaiming the Great Tradition: Evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox in Dialog, edited by James S. Cutsinger (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), could have been useful. Finally, the annual conferences of the Society for the Study of Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism include presentations of theological papers written by leading Orthodox and evangelical scholars (including J. I. Packer, Gerald Bray, and Tom Oden). One hopes that the author will be able to access these papers for future projects.

Some readers may conclude that Spann has oversimplified aspects of both Orthodox and Protestant doctrine, but evangelical missionaries may well find his advice valuable in helping friends sort through essential questions of faith. One of the most practical suggestions in this work comes as Spann addresses the mystery of God:

Be careful not to reduce God and the way of salvation to a collection of spiritual formulas to be mastered. Even though such an approach may appeal to some of the more western-oriented intellectuals, such an approach is theologically alien to the Orthodox mindset and culturally foreign to the Slavic way of thinking. By reducing great truths to simplistic formulas, there is a danger you will be seen as not appreciating the great mysteries and deep truths of the gospel.
Matt Miller, currently a Ph.D. student in Russian church history at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, works in Russia with the Evangelical Free Church Mission.

Editor's Note:  Matt Spann's project is available on the Internet at http://www.namb.net/evangelism/iev/PDF/BB_E_Orthodox_Manual.pdf.

Together in Mission: Orthodox Churches Consult with the Church Mission Society, 25-30 April 2001, Moscow. London: Church Mission Society, 2001. Reviewed by Mark Elliott.

This 73-page document includes reports from a missions consultation sponsored by the Church Mission Society (CMS) involving representatives of 13 Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches and Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Independent churches. As the title suggests, partnerships are highly prized in this volume, with those linking CMS and various Orthodox churches in joint efforts clearly in evidence. Three articles in particular document CMS outreach in post-Soviet lands in the 1990s:  "Orthodox Mission Today" by Archpriest Vladimir Federov; "From an Orthodox Perspective" by Fr. Cristian Popa; and "Beginnings for CMS in Russia and Eastern Europe" by Martin Thomas.

Theological pluralism has had its way in the CMS for many decades, which explains why this reviewer in Russia has met CMS workers of decidedly contrasting theological persuasions ranging from liberal to evangelical. However, this document seems to reflect a genuine desire to champion a consistently biblical formula stressing both verbal proclamation of the gospel and Christian witness through a wide range of commendable social assistance and community development projects. The report highlights creative CMS engagement in missionary training; drug rehabilitation, prison, and hospital ministry; and outreach to children at risk, the elderly, and women in crisis.

The report is available for £5 from CMS, Partnership House, 157 Waterloo Rd., London SE1 8UU, United Kingdom; tel: 020-7928-8681; fax: 020-7401-3215; E-mail: markoxbrow@aol.com; Web site: www.cms-uk.org.

Mark Elliott is editor of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.

Safronov, Sergei.  Russkaya pravoslavnaya tserkov v kontse xx veka [The Russian Orthodox Church at the End of the Twentieth Century] (http://pubs.Carnegie.ru/workpapers/2001/1/toc.asp). Reviewed by Nathaniel Davis.

Sergei Safronov clearly has a broad, wide-ranging knowledge of the current state of the Russian Orthodox Church. His monograph is interesting and easy for a reader of Russian to absorb. The author's intention is to provide an analysis of the dynamics of the structures of the church, but the window he opens on the reality of church life deals primarily with the Orthodox Church's episcopal hierarchy.

It is true that Safronov discusses the low attendance figures for Russian churches, problems connected with religious educational institutions, the slow recovery of monastic life, and the geographic distribution of parishes in the Russian Federation in 1999. Why he confines his statistics in this last case to Russia, I do not know, as only about half of Russian Orthodox parishes are located in the Russian Federation. He could rather easily have found statistics for Ukraine, Moldova, Central Asia, and the Baltic states for 1999. I myself published these figures in Religion in Eastern Europe (December 2000).

As far as convents are concerned, Safronov does give figures for all of the Russian Orthodox Church's canonical territory (the former U.S.S.R.), consisting of 347 dioceses in Russia, 116 in Ukraine, 14 in Belarus, 33 in Moldova, and 24 in the rest of the former Soviet Union. Despite the fact that the text is rich in facts and figures, the author provides no documentation. Regarding Orthodox educational institutions, Safronov correctly notes that church authorities are struggling to educate clergy at all levels and are lagging still further in their efforts to establish Sunday schools and other lay educational institutions.

After briefly examining the number and arrangement of dioceses, Safronov turns to the heart of his study, his examination of the episcopate. He discusses generational change and renewal, the bishops' autonomy in their own dioceses, the rare cases of removal or disciplinary action against bishops, the relatively frequent transfer of bishops, the "fast tracks" to become a bishop, the socio-economic origins of the bishops, and the dioceses from which most of them seem to come. He notes that bishops are now being consecrated at a younger age and Moscow's authority over Orthodoxy in Ukraine is weakening--even in the branch that remains loyal and subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate. He writes about the unpopularity of ecumenism among the bishops, their predominantly conservative and nationalistic political views, and their generally unsuccessful forays into politics--as distinguished from cooperative relationships with power centers of local political governance. He describes Patriarch Aleksi II's extensive travels which have the purpose of binding together the hierarchy and the faithful.

Safronov examines the Orthodox Church's efforts to overcome its severe financial stringencies through export-import deals, banking, commercial sales, and trade in consumer goods. Some of these activities have become controversial, as Safronov notes, and Metropolitan Kirill (Gundyaev) has been singed by the heat of recent revelations. Safronov evaluates the work of many of the Russian Orthodox bishops and the standing of the dioceses they lead.

It would be surprising for me, or anyone, to agree with all his choices. For example, his selection of the Barnaul Diocese, led by Bishop Antoni (Masendich) as one of seven "brightly shining" jurisdictions, is odd. Bishop Antoni led a body of Ukrainian Autocephalists into a merger with the dissident Ukrainian Orthodox Church in June, 1992, recanted, and then rejoined the Russian Orthodox Church loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate. Named ruling bishop of Barnaul, Antoni became the lightning rod for numerous complaints, allegations of financial impropriety, and divisions within the diocese. Perhaps the allegations were not true, or perhaps Bishop Antoni overcame his difficulties. He certainly is a man of initiative, vigor, and enterprise. Between 1994, when he came to the diocese, and 1999, Safronov's benchmark year, the number of parishes in Bishop Antoni's diocese grew from 52 to 142, an impressive accomplishment. So Safronov may be right in this, as in so many other judgments.

Nathaniel Davis is Hixon Professor of Humanities at Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, CA.

The Magazine Training Institute (MTI) evolved from a training program begun in Eastern Europe in 1989 by Director Sharon Mumper, who was managing editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly before she founded MTI. It has since expanded into the former Soviet Union and Asia. MTI's goal is to encourage and strengthen Christian publishers and provide them with resources as they work to build the church and reach people for Christ. During the last 14 years MTI has organized dozens of publishing conferences and courses throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Its current focus is on intensive, one-week courses on writer training, magazine editing, the business of magazine publishing, and magazine design. Manuals on editing, business, design, and writing are available in a variety of languages. MTI also distributes a cassette tape writing course and is developing a publishing business tape set. MTI has a library and resource center in Vienna to assist Christian publishers in person and by mail. Manuals and tapes from these seminars are available for purchase. For more information contact: MTI, 2502 Baden-Leesdorf, Austria; tel: 43-2236-540762; fax: 43-2236-540764; E-mail: info@magazinetraining.com; or visit the MTI Web site: www.magazinetraining.com. The MTI Web site includes a directory of Christian magazines published in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and hundreds of samples of materials used by publishers for use with authors, subscribers, and advertisers.

Snow, Donald. English Teaching as Christian Mission: An Applied Theology. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001. Reviewed by Cathy Thornberg Sheets.

As a Christian English teacher working overseas I often wrestle with two expectations: to teach English well and to evangelize, with evangelism being the more important of the two. Realizing my personal goals and the expectations of my supporters back home, I try to balance a desire to be professional in my teaching and at the same time fulfill my missionary call to be a witness. Christian English teachers often can feel defeated trying to do both.

In English Teaching as Christian Mission: An Applied Theology, Donald Snow merges the two seemingly unrelated pursuits. He asserts emphatically that while English teaching is an admittedly unique Christian service, it is no less a legitimate one. Yet Snow does more than legitimize English teaching as Christian mission. He defines this mission as a ministry of reconciliation: between God and man, between the West and other nations, and between Western and non-Western Christians.

As an English teacher in Russia, I am especially challenged and encouraged by Snow's specific emphasis on reconciling West and East. I believe the goal here should be the healing of historic conflicts and misperceptions and Western missionaries' interaction with, and learning from, non-Western Christians. For some this includes the Russian Orthodox Church. Snow states, "Many CETs [Christian English Teachers] who have the opportunity to participate in the local church in the host country find it to be one of the most rewarding and meaningful aspects of their experience" (165). In turn, Snow encourages CETs to bring their newfound knowledge and experience back to their home churches.

Drawing from years of experience in this field, Snow deals with a remarkable number of vital questions and problematic issues that most Christian English teachers overseas face. He establishes the important role of teacher as learner in this ministry of reconciliation. For virtually every issue tackled, Snow examines a variety of angles and perceptions. These insights provide readers with tools that they can use to make their own conclusions as they seek to promote peace and reflect Christ all around the world.

Snow tends towards the theoretical, presenting issues in broad terms, but his study does make room for practical suggestions. I believe this book should be mandatory reading for church mission boards and for all English teachers heading overseas. For those of us who have been teaching English on the field for some time, this book is an excellent plumbline against which to measure personal experience.

Cathy Thornberg Sheets teaches English at the Russian-American Christian University, Moscow, Russia.

Resources, East-West Church & Ministry Report 10 (Summer 2002), 13-16.

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© 2002 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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