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The Theology of Post-Soviet Evangelical Churches in the Intellectual Context of Postmodernity: From Historical Reconstructions to Future Projects

The Theology of Post-Soviet Evangelical Churches in the Intellectual Context of Postmodernity: From Historical Reconstructions to Future Projects

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Oct 18, 2011

Modern theology is completing its
historical cycle, returning to its beginning, to the beginning of Christianity.
Having been enriched through the experience of thought, enclosed in complicated
systems and having stood up for confessional traditions, theology returns to
the basics of faith, to its foundations, without which it is left hanging in
air. Like any form of wisdom, whether regarding the world or God, theology can
be like the Tower of Babel, if it does not continually ask itself questions
that are simple in form, yet complicated in terms of responsibility, questions
about its capabilities and its specificity.
Considering itself in the
intellectual context of modernity, theology learns to be “humble” and “generous
[1],” in other words, it learns to receive
gratefully and share generously, which suggests, at the very least, an
intention of good neighborliness and common acknowledgement among other
sciences and cultural traditions.  A
humble theology seeks fellow travelers, does not spurn advice, and, taking
advantage of all available resources, asks bold questions about “justification
of the future
[2],” about looking forward to a future in which
theology becomes an integral part, perhaps even the axis of a new spiritual-cultural
epoch, a new pivotal period and, possibly, a witness of the last days.
Faced with the issue of mutual
enrichment between theology and academic science, theology, more keenly than
ever, feels its irreducibility in relation to science, its simplicity in comparison. And in this renewed realization of
simplicity, theology discovers the secret of faith, the risk of connection, and
the gift of closeness to God.
In this sense Evangelical churches
are fully modern, in step with general trends in theology. Post-soviet
Evangelical Protestants have almost nothing to be proud of in the absence of a
developed theology and rich literary culture. 
But precisely in this moment of humility Protestants gain access to another future, a future which does not
necessarily follow past experience, but arises from a simple trust in God and
the difficult intellectual boldness to begin
theology at the end of her tradition.
Therefore, finding itself in a
situation of general intellectual weariness and disappointment in the
opportunities offered by science, theology feels deeply its unique simplicity,
and only through it can it reflect and continue its intellectual dialogue with
postmodernity. We intend to show that the simplicity inherent in Evangelical churches,
and the astonishing, in light of this simplicity, intent on intellectual
presence and witness in academic circles, call for the projection of a
theological image of the future on the basis of the rediscovery of the Gospel
and the justification of the University as the place for discussion of theology
and her connection to the world.
This return to simplicity can be
observed in various traditions, this synchronicity and universality cannot fail
to draw attention to itself as a sign of sorts, a demonstration of the general
principles of the growth of Christianity and theology as its (Christianity’s)
self-understanding.
A return to the Gospel,
and an unbiased reading of it, a search for new forms of communality, an enlivening
of church life, a rediscovery of the forgotten values of thanksgiving,
fellowship, and service have all become signs of a post-historic Christianity,
i.e., a Christianity which is coming to the end of a major historical era, or
history as a whole.
Beyond the bounds of historical
Christianity a new epoch may arise, a new
history
, which will be made up of only the simplest and most necessary
elements of Christianity’s past.  A brand
new, non-historic modus of Christianity, which will be connected not with a
reclamation of history, but with being faithful to itself in the lead up to its
coming end. In the face of the end, history will lose its meaning, she will not
be lived in or understood;  in light of
the shortness of remaining life there will be no time left for history, which
will make clearer the ultimate meanings, far from the socio-cultural surface.
The Gospel is full of such truths, and its unparalleled relevance is beginning
to be felt today, in light of the twilight of history.   
The simplicity of Evangelical
churches has provoked and still provokes criticism from theologians’ studies,
or sect-fighters from other confessions with a richer theology. Even to
Evangelicals it is clear that the opportunity for reflection, for a
systematization of theology, and a theologization of the church, a development
of her intellectual culture, should be taken. Such an opportunity yet
remains—lost time must be made up for. To turn a lack of intellectualism from a
weakness into a strength is irresponsible before both God and men.
But it is no less irresponsible to,
out of concern for the development of theology, use aged concepts and
approaches, to position the opportunities and special nature of theology in an outdated
picture of the world.
Of course the liberal theology of
the first half of the twentieth century looks more progressive than the
theology it inherited from the Evangelical churches of the second half of the
nineteenth century.  But today both models
are of little use.
The progress of history is such
that in postmodernity everyone found themselves lost, and both modernist and
pre-modernist theology look equally inadequate. Evangelical Christians, unread
and simple, ended up in a situation similar to that of their progressive
Western brothers, who have been so successful at systematization and developing
a diversity of genitive theologies.  Both
groups find themselves in a situation where little is in demand of all their
historical baggage other than the simplest indivisible elements, theological atoms.
Now we must address the following
question: How can we develop theology with full intellectual responsibility, keeping
in mind the disheartening fact that our rich traditions could lose their value?
  This is a complex question, containing two
simple and mutually exclusive questions, which have been asked before.  How can we create our own tradition of
theology for Evangelical churches, leaning on their simplicity?  How can return to the reality of spiritual
experience and simple trust in those, who are versed in theological knowledge
and rich in its traditions?
Today theological-cultural forms,
in which knowledge and experience were expressed and shared, have lost their
value, therefore we are faced with the difficult question of their new
connection—of theology retaining the immediacy of spiritual life with the
highest responsibility for its intellectual expression.  And this point in the history of theology
could become a departing point for dialogue and the joint investigation of
representatives of various traditions, including post-Soviet Evangelical
Christians, who have traditionally kept their distance from such questions and
those who ask them.
A common ground has emerged in
discussions of the future of theology, not mediatory history, but early
history, beginning history, from
which it can project itself, and on the basis of which a system can be
built.  Methodological reconstruction,
restoration, and reproduction of that which was
given in history is replaced by a methodology of projecting that which will be; attempts at modeling, building
on a foundation, preconditions.
The word project scares Evangelical Christians because it suggests taking responsibility
for results and accountability; it arouses negative associations with active
social ministry projects, a majority of which were interrupted because of
irresponsibility and incompetence.  But
it is precisely the word ‘project’ which allows us to make a connection between
the nature of life (“that’s how things turned out”) and the necessity of making
an effort to perfect it (“we must”).
Where and how is the future projected? 
From the foundations of theology, as their new, more relevant, more
promising reading.  And also from
without—from outside sources, in which the image of a forming, developing world
is more brightly presented.
  The first paradigm is the one most closely
resembling the church, because she keeps her connection with the basics of the
faith.  The university is closer to the
second, because it maintains the importance of the intellectual tradition and
is capable of lengthening her life into the future, and again prove the
connection between tradition and life.
In their theological projection,
search for an adequate paradigm, and formation of a ‘vision,’ Evangelical
churches can use internal and external resources. An unlimited resource for the theological project is, first and
foremost, Biblical teaching, the relevance of which is confirmed in every era
with new strength, like a radical incongruity between the authenticity of the
Gospel and established interpretative practices and traditions.
The Gospel, which gave post-Soviet Evangelical
churches their name, forces people to make a personal decision, a
fate-determining choice.  To choose one’s
own vision of the future is the right and responsibility of Christians and
churches, in which they voluntarily unite. 
The theology of Evangelical churches must become an Evangelical theology
based on the Gospel as its foundation, the foremost example of a Christian way
of life, thinking, and service to the world.
Is it possible, at first sight, to
note characteristics which would set apart modern Evangelical theology as a
special type? The theology of modern Evangelical churches is set apart by reformism, an openness to new reforms,
and even new traditions. At the same time this is accompanied by an
all-encompassing eschatologism, which preserves personal condition from
reexamination, and points towards the horizon of currently available options.
Evangelical theology combines new
methods of correlating vertical and horizontal dimensions.  They do not intersect at the critical
juncture, but at every other point.  The cross, the intersection of
dimensions exists everywhere and always. All fullness and every point of
reality is under the sign of the cross.
Evangelical theology is built on rediscovery of the Bible and examining
traditions in her light
.  The latter
becomes a sign of the times—each newly opened tradition amazes, but does not draw
one in.  Tradition serves as a witness to
the diversity of God’s revelation in history, not an argument in favor of
historical churches.
Modern Evangelical theology has
created new syntheses of the rational and the mystic, interpretation and
experience, knowledge and fellowship.
Theology doubts the once and for all givenness, the canonical
firmness of its concepts. Perhaps one of the most pressing tasks facing
theology is overcoming essentialism in the concept of “Evangelical
theology.”  Theology does not exist in
and of itself, it has no being,
rather it is born from within a new and rapidly-changing situation.
Theology listens to the voices of others. 
Others not just outside the Church, not just the surrounding world,
whose otherness is expected and inescapable. 
The other exists within, as part of the general tradition, as a
participant in the community.  Within the
tradition there is a constant dialogue, and the fact that one side is able to
prove its current canonicity does not imply the heretical nature of the other,
it only means there is a certain order, a shift in places of the various components.
Theology rejoices in companions
[3], remembering, that truth is revealed in the
journey, and doesn’t belong, is not owed
to her in a ready and complete form.
The above-mentioned characteristics
make the existence of theology outside
the church
, and her systematic relationship to that which was revealed and
gifted by God to the non-Church or para-Church world, not only possible, but
necessary.
For Evangelical churches, relying
on a Biblical foundation and open to the outside world, the two extreme definitions
of theology as being only within the
church, or only within science, are
equally unacceptable. Theology is seen as an important factor, but
unpredictable and critical, therefore it is always seen as a “guest.”
In a world calling itself
post-Christian and even post-metaphysical, theology is doomed to homelessness.
Having no places of its own, theology knocks on the door of strangers’ homes, and
often the knock is left unanswered, but sometimes she is invited in as a
guest.  Being a guest is not the worst
fate that could face theology, considering the homelessness of God in a godless
world, and even of mankind itself in a dehumanized (unhumanized, humanless)
society.  A homeless theology, it must be
admitted, is not as dangerous as a closed theology.  
The image of theology as a guest
can explain many of the theological shifts of recent times.  “Being a guest” means temporarily being
located in someone else’s home with the permission of the owner, taking
advantage of the openness and hospitality of the host.
First of all, it is a temporary
visit.  The host lives his own life most
of the time, and only sometimes, when he is in the right mood, he invites
guests in. Theology does not have a fundamental status, a firm place in
society, and must be satisfied with temporary interest and changing attitudes
of hosts in “their own” homes.  Theology
must be ready at any moment and in any situation to offer a relevant
conversation, understandable and interesting to the host family; at the very
least it must explain its path—where it is from and why it is there. Wanderers
have always been regarded with suspicion, and theology is no exception.  It must find convincing and sincere words in
order for the doors to homes to be opened to it.
Secondly, “being a guest” means
being in someone else’s home.  This means
not only a certain behavioral etiquette, but also a mental etiquette, a style
of thinking adapted to the host, his home, his world. Like any good guest,
theology must speak in a language acceptable and pleasant to the receiving
side, feel comfortable and behave naturally in any linguistic sphere, “make
itself at home.”  But in addition to
wonderful linguistic preparation, based on a need to travel frequently and stay
in many different “homes,” theology does not forget its own language.  Its own language is rooted in Biblical
passages, full of their meaning and spirit.
Too close of a friendship, an
indivisible mix of theology and science poses the risk of theology losing its
own foundations. When attitudes towards science and the scientific view of the
world change, the theological paradigm will also have to change. “Theology as a
guest” readily redefines its principles, expresses them in a new way in each
paradigm, but never becomes part of or attached to this view of the world. A
similar autonomy is preserved by other sciences, therefore the concept of
“theology as a guest” correlates with the autonomy of sciences.  Today it is not in the least necessary that
all sciences correspond to a single scientific paradigm. Of course it is naïve
to demand conformity to the principles of “methodological anarchism” of
yesterday’s servants of the only true historical-dialectical materialism, but
it is just as naïve not to notice the obvious fact of methodological,
worldview, and paradigmatic pluralism, to which the autonomy of various
sciences and autonomy with individual sciences submit.
Theology stays as a guest in the
homes of various sciences, learns their mechanism, language, experience, and
methodology, trying them all out on its own foundation.  “Theology as a guest” does not seek to build
its own house on the “all sciences” street. It purposely maintains its state of
freedom, staying friendly with all sciences, while enriching and being enriched
by everyone. For “theology as a guest”
there is nothing external; it can be both within the church and outside the
Church, seeking representation everywhere, everywhere serving as a witness to
the faith of the Church, just not through the methods generally used by the
Church.  
One of the best places for
non-Church theology is the university.  It is a place of constant searching and
boundary-pushing, and God is discussed there, even if it is in the context of argument
with Him or a denouncement of Him. Acquiescing to be in the university and
having the boldness to be tested by its wit, theology presents a relevant image
of itself, projects its future in keeping with the spiritual-cultural
development of the world.
For a majority of Protestants,
theology is only possible within the Church. Theology in the university is
bordering on free thinking and does not serve Church interests.  But if the theology of Evangelical churches
is an Evangelical theology, then it should be expressed not only in the Church,
but in universities, and in any other gathering of people interested in
out-of-the-box thinking. In the run-up to the anniversary of the Reformation,
Protestants should remember that Luther was not only a monk and a preacher, but
also a professor at Wittenberg University, and his predecessor Jan Hus was a
master at Charles University in Prague.
In the pre-Soviet period there was
a rich tradition of theological education, which gave life to both national
enlightenment and secular education.  In
Soviet times the tradition was interrupted for a long period, but after
independence and democratic reforms, a unique opportunity arose for previously
persecuted churches to take advantage of religious freedom, and for dialogue
between different Christian traditions. 
One of the main channels of intellectual interaction between churches
and societies was education, because it gave churches the opportunity to take
advantage of their significant social potential, and strengthen
inter-confessional understanding and partnership.  
While Orthodox and Catholic
churches made significant progress in developing their own systems of education
acknowledged by the government and society, Protestant churches, overcoming
negative past experiences with government-Church relations during the Soviet
era, are still in the phase of socialization in a democratic situation, they
are redefining their place in the structure of the nation’s cultural and
religious life and civil society.  A lack
of their own educational institutions with government accreditation leaves Protestants
no choice but to integrate into the existing system of academic education. Many
Protestants have found their place as academic theologians in universities.  
Theology’s inclusion in the body of
sciences does change the character or direction of science as a whole. The
study of theology as a university discipline makes possible an integration with
science on the basis of universal spiritual values, expressed in
Christianity.  Theology offers a
humanization of the sciences on the basis of Christian values, an appeal to the
spiritual world, to the inner life of man, the development of a mature
independence, responsibility, human dignity. For modern religious scholars
studying religion means not just criticizing it, as was done in Soviet
humanitarian sciences, but also respecting it as a national cultural
achievement, trying to understand her inner meaning and logic of growth. The
study of theology acquires a special relevance in the midst of the pluralism of
churches and denominations in Ukraine, and also their connection with overseas
spiritual centers.  For a long time
Ukrainian churches were isolated from world Christianity.  Studying the history of Western theological
teaching, exchanging teachers with overseas universities and churches can help
Ukrainian churches find their place in world Christianity, better understand
their unique place.  This is especially
important for Protestant churches, who combine Eastern cultural forms and
Western theological ideas, connected historically to the European Reformation.   
In integrating into university
sciences, theology must be ready to sacrifice its special status and learn to
serve as an indirect influence.  One of
the signature trends in European educational systems is the replacement of
theology with religious studies. Special theological disciplines are making way
for more general courses, and the interests of churches and
denominations—comparative studies. Such shifts are due to the fact that
individual churches can no longer finance their own educational programs and
support whole institutes. Students also prefer programs which take into account
a pluralism of worldviews, a variety of theological approaches and church and
cultural traditions.  Studying theology
in conjunction with religious studies and fundamental humanitarian disciplines
allows students to more deeply know the unity and diversity of Christian
traditions, the main principles of the Evangelical faith in a world of
coexistence and changes of theological paradigms.  The combination of theology and religious
studies helps escape disciplinary extremes and unite a deep study of church
theology with a wide historical-cultural context.
Thereby the university becomes a place
for the projection of theology in its modern contextual form
, while
university theology (theology expressed in an intellectual form, responding to
the demands of modern university scholarship) can lead to the integration of
the whole “summa theological” into the cultural life of society.  Doubtlessly, the university itself, as the
academic scientific institution of society, is becoming outdated in form and is
in need of reformation.  But despite this
it remains a place where the search for meaning continues, within the desired
limits of the field of theology, where discussion of the presence/absence of
God and the ramifications thereof for the scientific picture of the world
continues.
The University remains a
crossroads, where history either intersects with the future, is discarded by
the future, or is extended into the future. At the same time the Church remains
the most conservative institution in society, and its development continues
only through inertia.  This is why,
maintaining its connection with the Church, theology must not only testify in
the university, but also find in it a living connection of times, movement, a
dynamic of change, and challenges which provoke growth.  
It is noteworthy that in the
beginning of the twentieth century Russian and Ukrainian universities were home
to a powerful and growing Christian student movement, headed by visible
Evangelical Christians—Professor V. Martsinkovsky and Pastor P. Nikolai. Despite
the declared “Christianity” of the movement, it was closer to the university than the church in its
confessional expressions.  Today the
trend is returning—university
Christianity
that is inter- or even non-confessional, therefore theology
within university boundaries will always differ from Church theology.  And in this difference there is a danger as
well as an advantage—the latter is fully possible, if the Church will simply
stop avoiding dialogue with university
theologians
.
How can the university participate
in theology, or theology exist in the university today?  If we reconstruct the history of this
connection, then the university appears in the field of theology only in
certain historical stages. Correspondingly, when history is drawing to a
conclusion, this connection is broken, the university and the Church become
strangers, and theology is divided between them in such a way that unity between
the intellectual and the confessional, culture and the Church, is no longer
possible.
Historical reconstruction can be
juxtaposed with theological projections, by which the Church and the
university, Jerusalem and Athens, are examined in the light of the providential
redemption and justification of the future. 
Today both the university and the Church are freed from history, from
naïve loyalty to quickly-aging traditions and explanatory systems.  This freedom from the past can be welcome if
you keep in mind its positive significance as freedom for the future.  The university becomes open to new sources
and forms of knowledge, turns to theology looking for answers to its questions.  The Church becomes open to the university,
seeing the sciences and scholarship as potential allies in reasonable thought
and natural law.  In this convergence
there is not only the joy of freedom and openness, but also responsibility for
the future in a general theoperspective. 
 
Evangelical churches are poor in
history and theological traditions, which forces and teaches them humility and
simplicity, but it also frees them for a new era and the free choice of a
relevant image, a project of the future, in which they can return to the lost
connection between the simplicity of the Gospel and intellectual boldness for
testimony to gentiles and other “philosophers of this age.”

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[1] Soloviy, Roman. Theology of the Emerging Church: Postmodern Epistemology
and the Interpretation of Scripture // Theological Reflections. Euro-Asian Theological
Journal. – 2010. — #11. – PP. 76-93.
[2] Dubrovsky M. Justification of the Future as a Theological-Social Task //
Reformation vs Revolution. Philosophical-Religious Notebook  №2. –
М., 2011. — С. 38-47.
[3] See Smith D., Moving Towards
Emmaus: Hope in a Time of Uncertainty
. SPCK Publishing, 2007.

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