An unexpected aspect of the arrival of hundreds of thousands of displaced people from various Middle Eastern countries is the exponential increase in membership and attendance of Orthodox churches in parts of Western Europe. The Media Project, which reports on the role of religion in public life, has run an article on developments in Sweden, exploring how Orthodox from various jurisdictions are seeking to integrate into their new home. Let us pray for those churches, and for Christians of Evangelical and other traditions, as they seek to build strong relationships for the sake of God’s mission.
The Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide (CCCW; https://www.cccw.cam.ac.uk/) is seeking to appoint a Director to serve from January 2018. Applications are invited by 19 October 2017 from candidates who wish to promote the understanding of and engagement with Christian mission and World Christianity. This is an excellent opportunity for a creative and enterprising individual with a strong academic record to discern contemporary needs and develop the educational role of CCCW.
A Recent Doctoral Work on Orthodox-Evangelical Dialogue in North America
Rev. Ovidiu Dorin Druhora, minister of a Romanian Pentecostal church in Los Angeles, has defended in 2016, at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology of the University in Bucharest, Romania, his doctoral research titled ‘Protestantism and Orthodoxy in North America: Dichotomy and Ecumenical Dialogue’, realised under the coordination of Dr. Remus Rus.
The text, written in Romanian, is divided in five distinct sections. The first one presents the methodological approach of the author, which centres on the concept of koinonia as a dialogical model, with serious theological and hermeneutical implications for upholding the New Testament ideal of ecclesial unity. The second part presents a historical excursus on Protestant-Orthodox theological dialogue in N America and beyond. The third section of the thesis analyses what the Orthodox and Protestant Evangelicals hold in common, but also what still separates them. The fourth part of the work offers a suggestion for what the author considers to be the most fertile ground for the continuation of this dialogue, which, he suggests, should be found in models that predate the Great Schism and some recent neo-evangelical approaches (it remains to be seen how realistic this proposal is, and how these tenth-century models could be appropriated in the current context). The final part of this work sets the discussion in the contemporary postmodern context, and explores its possible future, not only in N America, but also in Romania, the author’s country of origin.
The author’s approach to ecumenical dialogue is informed by David Lochhead’s triad (in The Dialogical Imperative: A Christian Reflection on Interfaith Encounter, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 1988) – information, formation, transformation – which we commend as having a great inspirational potential for various ecumenical dialogues, including that initiated by LOI.
Those accustomed with the various Evangelical-Orthodox encounters will meet in the course of reading this text very familiar names, like Bradley Nassif, James Stamoolis, Kallistos Ware, Edmund Rybarczyk, Stelian Tofana, Emil Bartos, and others. The contribution of various key players and initiatives is presented and analysed.
One of the exploratory instruments used by Dr. Druhora in his research was an interview which consisted of three basic questions – dealing with uniqueness, the challenges and the future of Evangelical-Orthodox dialogue, which he addressed to 33 theologians and church leaders, mostly from the US, UK and Romania. He includes in full some of the responses to this interview, which gives readers the opportunity to taste the reality which the author has analysed in his research.
The doctoral work discussed here, with its concentration on the N American context, is really a premiere, and it deserves the full attention of those interested in ecumenism, particularly the interaction between Evangelicals and Orthodox, be it in theological or missiological terms. We welcome it and we hope that, in time, it will become available, in book form, in Romanian as well as in English.
Axios, Rev. Dr. Ovidiu Druhora!
The papers and podcasts from last week’s consultation are now available for download from the website under the ‘LOI 2017’ tab. Together they form a body of material on the topic of theological formation for mission which we hope will stimulate increased co-operation between our two Christian traditions. We hope that you will find them helpful. Please share them with colleagues and friends, bring them to the attention of your students, and feel free to add hyperlinks to the page.
And there’s a gallery of pictures too!
At least seventy church leaders, mission workers and seminary teachers, including a number of younger leaders, gathered at Selwyn College, Cambridge, last week for four days of prayer, study and conversation around the topic of ‘Theological Formation for Mission’. Coming from places as diverse as Alaska, South Africa, and South Korea, they were able to form new friendships, share experiences, disagree with one another in love, have their thinking stimulated, and focus their vision to see people formed to share effectively in the Mission of God to our world.
We will shortly be uploading the papers to the website under the tab for the consultation, and also links to podcasts made by John Maddex of Ancient Faith Radio. They include assessments of how new approaches to the teaching of the Apostle Paul can help us grow together and work together; reflections on experience of working together in seminary and mission contexts, and reports on the situation in various parts of the world. Together they form a valuable body of material exploring on how we are formed theologically, and how we form others, to share in the mission to which God has called us.
The Orthodox Church in America has a story on the consultation on its website, which also features the group photo taken in front of the college chapel: https://oca.org/news/headline-news/oca-represented-at-orthodox-evangelical-consultation-in-cambridge-uk.
LOI’s 2017 consultation begins tomorrow, 5 September. For the programme, go to: http://www.loimission.net/loi-2017/. We eagerly anticipate a feast of good things, but we also want it to issue in practical action.
We hope to make some of the papers available after the consultation, and will also post a full report.
Please remember us in your prayers. Pray especially that Orthodox and Evangelicals will find ways of doing mission together which are marked by love, integrity, and mutual respect.
Recently published in a series of monographs from Langham Partnership is Vladimir Ubeivolc’s Rethinking Missio Dei among Evangelical Churches in an Eastern European Orthodox Context (ISBN 978-1-78368-104-4). The context is Moldova, and the author argues that the concept of Missio Dei offers a key place where the Evangelical and Orthodox traditions can not only dialogue but also work together. We shall be carrying a review of this significant work in due course.
A report recently released by the Pew Research Trust offers thought-provoking reading concerning the relationship between religious allegiance and national identity. The report, which sheds light on the issue of nominalism exercising Christians of all traditions, may be found at: http://www.pewforum.org/2017/05/10/religious-belief-and-national-belonging-in-central-and-eastern-europe/.
A review of The Mission of the Church: Five views in conversation edited by Craig Ott (Published by Baker Academic 2016)
In the style and tradition of “Three views of Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism” edited by Brad Nasif et al., Craig Ott has now brought together five significant missiologists from major Christian traditions to reflect on the Mission of the Church.
This fascinating volume invites the five authors to first state there understanding of the Mission of God and then to respond to their fellow authors. The book has its weaknesses but contains much to stimulate debate and set an agenda for further inter-confessional enrichment. The two major drawbacks of this collection of essays are firstly, as Ott admits in his introduction, that of the five chosen authors four are North American men, and secondly that the Orthodox input is limited to a contribution from an Eastern Orthodox Church in North America with no voice from Eastern Europe or the Oriental Orthodox Churches. That said the five authors do bring to the table Roman Catholic, Conciliar, Evangelical and Orthodox perspectives. They are Stephen Bevans, Darrell Guder, Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Edward Rommen and Ed Stetzer.
The focus of the debate is clearly missiological but this inevitable leads into an exploration of soteriology, Christology and eccleciology. All authors are agreed that there has been, over the past fifty years, a very significant convergence between their traditions which has placed both Trinitarian theology and the Missio Dei centre stage. Related agreements around the primacy of the church in mission, apostalicity as its primary characteristic in mission and the missional significance of (Eucharistic) community are also very much in evidence and are explored at some depth.
When it comes to embracing the holistic nature of mission there is often a greater sense of agreement between our Roman Catholic, Conciliar and Latino conversation partners than between the two evangelicals with Stetzer still wishing to retain an element of ‘priority’ for the verbal proclamation of the Gospel. Ion Bria’s language of “the liturgy after the liturgy” as an expression of a commitment to ensuring that our mystical union with Christ embraces the broken world with healing and reconciling life, is not only used by Rommen.
The area of greatest difficulty appears to be ecclesiology, something we have experienced during several of the LOI consultations. What, or who, constitutes the church and how; the relationship between the church and the Kingdom (or reign) of God; and the relationship between church and mission are all warmly, if not hotly, contested. Rommen in particular adopts a rigorous approach to apostalicity which, he maintains, can one be achieved through verified apostolic succession. He suggests that only such apostolic churches have the capacity (and ecclesial authority) to engage in mission. He asks of all mission movements “are [your] staff members legitimate successors of the apostles or simply hired help?” It is interesting that none of his conversation partners directly challenge this point or offer alternative approached to legitimate apostalicity.
Finally, my greatest disappointment was that what I had expected to be the Orthodox gift to this debate is in fact missing. There is none of that rich vein of apophatic faith which helps us grasp, or rather be grasped by, the mystery of the mission of God – the unknowability of the working of God’s Spirit amongst his people. Perhaps the North America bias of this volume has led to a rationalistic debate that robs us of the wonder of knowing that the God who is eternally in mission is also eternally a God of surprises, of paradox and of mystery. It is this that, for me, makes that divine-human relationship, which as Rommen so powerfully reminds us is both the fulfilment and content of mission, so intoxicating impossible to resist.
Mark Oxbrow (International Director, Faith2Share)
Over the years, I’ve read quite a few accounts of people transitioning (I don’t want to use the word ‘converting’, as conversion is to Christ) from Evangelicalism to Orthodoxy. There don’t seem to be many published about folk moving in the opposite direction, but if there were I’d devour those too. (Suggestions, please!)
A friend recently raised with me the possibility that healing may be a neglected aspect of Evangelical-Orthodox dialogue. Yes, we seek to heal relationships at the corporate level, encouraging groups to work together where they can to serve God’s mission in our broken and hurting world. Part of that is through creating a space in which positive relationships can be built, providing a context for addressing some of the issues which cause such pain to members of one tradition or the other. And by God’s grace LOI seeks to encourage joint efforts in areas where communities need to see God at work bringing healing.
But isn’t it true that some of us have been affected by our experiences in moving from one Christian community to another, whether those experiences were good or bad? How does that skew our perception of the community we have left? How does it affect our ability to work with, and relate to, that community? And how can a dialogue process between two Christian traditions take this dimension into account? It would be good to hear what you think …