Letters to the Editor
Romanian and Russian Responses to Vladimir Solodovnikov
(See “Made in America: Or the Self-Evident Truth That Russians Aren’t Savages,” East-West Church and Ministry Report 11 (Summer 2003), 12, 14.)
A Romanian Response:
In my opinion Vladimir Solodovnikov is in many respects too harsh and unfair to Western missionaries working in Russia. Even if many of them may be insensitive, or not sensitive enough, as the article states, it still seems to me harsh and unfair to omit the fact that probably the vast majority of these missionaries came to Russia because they really love the country and its people.
As a Romanian who is studying in the United States and who happened to be close to some American missionaries who worked in my country, I realize what a great price they pay. They renounce their comfortable lifestyles in the United States in order to move to Romania with its foreign language, low standard of living, and depressing buildings and streets. Many times these missionaries experience the same feelings East Europeans feel in their first years of living in the West (if they immigrate there): deep depression and isolation. What would motivate these missionaries to come to Russia or Romania if not their genuine love for God and for our people? Even if some missionaries come to us for other reasons, I imagine these are few.
I would like to believe that many missionaries coming to Russia have read some of Nicolai Berdiaev. And I would also like to think that many Russians coming to the United States are reading some of Reinhold Niebuhr. But unfortunately not all people have an interest in deep theology. Still, the question to ask is this: Is it legitimate to expect this level of interest from every missionary going to a foreign culture? Probably the history of missions would prove that not many missionaries have been highly educated theologically. And yet God has worked through them.
By this I do not mean to say that it is unimportant for missionaries to understand theology and the culture where they minister. On the contrary, such understanding is essential if they really want to communicate the gospel. But sometimes I am afraid that many highly educated and culturally sensitive Christians who criticize other Christians who are less culturally sensitive, rarely proclaim the gospel to others themselves. And to me this elitist attitude does not seem legitimate. Sometimes I wonder which is better: to be loved by many pagan friends whose souls in the end will be lost forever or to be hated by many pagan neighbors due to stupid and inadequate cultural sensitivity, but with at least one bound for heaven?
Valentin Teodorescu, a native of Pascani, Romania, is a student at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Birmingham, AL.
A Russian Response:
After reading the article written by Vladimir Solodovnikov I have been depressed and sad for quite some time. The reason for my disappointment is not only the author's complete failure to understand and properly evaluate Russian life, but the fact that the opinion he expressed might reflect the thinking of some other people in Russia as well. I found the article superficial and lacking in objectivity.
Although Solodovnikov expressed much passion and anger, I think most of his conclusions are wrong and logically inconsistent. For example, he states in his refutation of “Stereotype 1” that Russia is not a godless, but rather, a spiritually problematic country. But in the twentieth century alone the Soviet regime martyred millions of people, either for being insubordinate or simply for being faithful to Christ. How, then, can one explain a nation with such a rich Christian heritage becoming so godless as to kill many saints? If Russia was not godless, how do we account for so many ungodly atrocities since 1917?
Starting with Peter the Great, the tsars introduced European customs and traditions that fueled the growth of secularism. This is especially evident in the nineteenth century since many Russian nobility, influenced by European free thought, became estranged from Orthodoxy. By the reign of the last tsar, Nicholas II, many Russians, especially among the intelligentsia, had adopted a secular outlook highly critical of an Orthodoxy it considered hopelessly corrupt. Needless to say, after 1917, with the coming of militant atheism, secularism became the norm, with the extremely rare exception of a handful of Orthodox believers and some Evangelical Christians. This changed only after 1988, with the celebration of the millennium of the baptism of Rus’.
In my opinion, in condemning American theology and evangelism Solodovnikov makes a very sloppy mistake in equating the Calvinist persuasion of a certain, insensitive missionary and of many Southern Baptist missionaries from the U.S. with the overall position of American Christians. American society, like Russian, is very complex and diverse. American Christianity is not only Southern Baptist. Anyone familiar with the religious spectrum in America knows that Calvinist theology does not represent all believers. Churches there that do not hold to Calvinist theology include Catholics, Orthodox, Methodists, Mennonites, Free Will Baptists, and some Anglicans/Episcopalians. This makes quite a large group and we cannot dismiss it easily.
Of course, Russian Baptists would not like to associate with Christians of other denominations in evangelism, which is understandable. But why could they not cooperate more with Free Will Baptists, for example? It seems that the influence and wealth of American Southern Baptists have an important role in the decision-making process of Russian Evangelicals. It probably felt good to have a big brother like Southern Baptists helping restore Russian Baptist churches, but with such help comes the paying of debts. I do not want to be cynical, but we have a Russian saying, “The one who pays, orders the music.”
For the sake of argument Solodovnikov creates a bigger problem for himself by blurring the lines between Russian Baptist culture and the larger world of Russian—especially Orthodox—culture. Specifically, I am not sure his affirmation of such great religious philosophers as Lossky and Berdiaev would be welcomed by all Evangelical believers. Maybe some of the Evangelical intelligentsia would appreciate them, but definitely not the average Baptist or Pentecostal believer. There have been many tragic misunderstandings between Russian Orthodox and Russian Protestant Christians, and this makes it quite difficult for many Evangelical Christians to appreciate the wealth and breadth of the Orthodox cultural and theological heritage. With this in mind, I am amazed that Solodovnikov can so readily join Russian Orthodox and Evangelical Christians together to indulge his anti-Western bias.
I personally have great respect for early Russian Evangelical leaders such as Ivan Prokhanov and Ivan Kargel. But with all due respect, I have to say that they just started Russian Evangelical theology. We have to accept the fact that, in spite of their brilliant ideas and sermons, Soviet repression essentially froze the development of Russian Protestant thought in a very early stage of development. Again, Solodovnikov overstates the case. I am proud of my Russian Baptist heritage. However, I am also convinced that in spite of the fact that some missionaries from the West do more harm than good, we need to learn to work together. If East and West can overcome pride and join hands to work for God, we can achieve great things! By the way, Prokhanov, Kargel, and other leaders of the Evangelical movement in Russia were greatly influenced by Western Christians, and they did not object to that.
Vitaliy Bak, an Evangelical Christian-Baptist from Moldova, is a doctoral student in Old Testament at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC. He has worked as an interpreter for American-Russian ministries for several years, including interpreting for church services, evangelistic crusades, social work, and theological schools.
I continue to enjoy and be enlightened by your many contributions through the East-West Church & Ministry Report. You have done such a remarkable job over the years. Thank you so much.
I have especially been reading the many articles on Orthodoxy over the past few years with great interest. At one time we had a lot more going with the Orthodox Church in Russia and in fact did a joint project with Campus Crusade for the Millennium celebration of the Church in Russia. At that time we had contact with a number of priests and even helped to establish some Orthodox Bible study groups. Over the years the situation has changed, with the more aggressive attitude of the Church toward anything not Orthodox. This has not been true in the less restrictive Orthodox countries like Armenia and Georgia, where we do have some very good opportunities.
Again, thanks so much for your contribution to the work in Eastern Europe over all these years. I really am sincere in saying that your ministry has been a tremendous blessing.
Al Akimoff, Youth With A Mission Slavic Ministries, Salem, OR.
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