Thursday, 4 February 2010

more recent Orthodox missiology

Well-meaning attempts at proclamation-in-power, or less well-meaning cynical manipulation of religion for secular political ends has dogged the Roman Catholic Church more than any other, but the Protestant churches have been by no means free from such taint, nor have the Orthodox.

Recent missiological writings from the mainstream and historic denominations have tended to shy away from exclusivist positions and from what evangelicals would recognise as direct proclamation of the gospel. The wording of many WCC documents, and the thoughts of today's Orthodox spokespeople on mission is often rather mealy. Alternately uplifting and hand-waving, these writings express an ambivalent view of cultural power.

On the one hand, we read of the great importance of "inculturation" (granted) which 'occurs when Christians express their faith in the symbols and images of their respective culture. The best way to stimulate the process of inculturation is to participate in the struggle of the less privileged for their liberation.'

Lovely, but why is Vladimir of Kiev still celebrated (nay, revered) by the Orthodox? A brute who was impressed by a showy Byzantine liturgical celebration (aimed straight at the elites of its day) and who forced his people to be baptized in a river, thereby 'accepting the Christian faith' on behalf of the Rus, and perpetuating in a new place a 'gospel' of power and a church so violently implicated in the workings of the earthly city that its integrity as a church has often been obscured...

[The quotation is from a 1982 WCC document, Mission and Evangelism: An Ecumenical Affirmation, recorded with approval by Ion Bria, a leading Orthodox missiologist and academic, in his Go forth in peace: Orthodox perspectives on mission (Geneva: WCC, 1986), pp.80-81.]