Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Evangelicals and Orthodox Together - Imagine

I have just returned from Cambridge in the UK where I attended the Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative conference on theological education.  It was my second opportunity to attend an LOI event.  I joined our Archbishop Makarios last year at the consultation in Addis Ababa.  As I have lived both in Addis (2000-2008) and Cambridge (1996-1999), the chance to participate in an international symposium like this has been augmented by the chance to go home.

Last week was like a dream.  Many of the presentations were stimulating.  But most interesting to me were the numerous layers of my own life experience coming together.  There were people from my Cambridge past there, from my Ethiopia past (including former students who are now lecturers and principals at schools where I taught!), from my Kenya past and present, as well as important people who introduced me to Orthodoxy, colleagues in my former mission (SIM) who showed up unannounced for my presentation, not to mention several people that I know by reputation whose books have been seminal in my own growth as a Christian and in my theological journey (thinking of Chris Wright and NT Wright), plus a whole constellation of new to me people who are leaders of the Orthodox and Evangelical movements in their own country.  The networking that went on during our tea breaks was a sight to see!

The picture below gives an indication of what it was like to be there for me.  On the left is Tom Wright who just presented a paper on the nature of the atonement and the implications for Evangelicals and Orthodox together.  Fr. John Jillions, in the middle was asked to give the response to the former Bishop of Durham's paper.  Fr. John, who was there with his wife Denise, were the ones who introduced me to Orthodoxy back in 1997.  It would take another fourteen years of struggle to conclude that I was already Orthodox and to take the step of being baptized and chrismated, but it was Fr. John and Denise who opened the door for me.  You have no idea how happy I was to catch up with them.  And on the right is Bishop Angelos, the head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the UK, and one of the most godly, kind, visionary and articulate men I know.  I was able to spend good time in personal conversation with each one of them during the course of the week.  That alone would have made the time worth the while for me.

Thanks to my friend, Dr. Ralph Lee, for this picture.
My own presentation was a challenge to prepare - Teaching Mission  - Evangelicals and Orthodox Together.  It was a challenge because I am increasingly vexed by the whole theological education 'industry' and the fact that Christian churches and denominations have ceded preparation for Christian ministry to a Western academic enterprise that's geared to answer Western perceptions of the need with Western solutions.  My observation is that these solutions have not served the Western churches very well.  It's even worse in the non-Western world, which has either had forced upon them or willingly imported these inadequate Western models for training Christian leaders.  And trust me, the translation into the parts of the world that I am familiar with is not going so well.

So my paper was a call to return to what Jesus and the apostles, indeed what many in the church until the rise of Western academia, indeed what many parachurch organizations are doing today - a call to return to discipleship.  Be disciples and make disciples.  I am not against academic study; I just think that we have been wrong to make it THE WAY we train people for ministry.  It plays into the professionalization of the ministry that has happened in the West over the past century or so, and which is galloping ahead in places like Kenya and Ethiopia, not just in Evangelical circles but Orthodox as well.  The implications of the lack of discipleship in our leaders and in our churches are legion.  It's not an accident that so many Western churches have slid into becoming me-centered entertainment palaces, as if that is what draws people to Christ.

So this must come to a quick close as I am in Addis Ababa and my plane to DC is about to board.  My time in Cambridge was immensely encouraging, with many soul-filling conversations with friends and colleagues from across the globe and across the Evangelical and Orthodox spectrum.  It is an encouraging process, this getting people together to talk and and listen, to take one another seriously and look for ways to make our relationship work.  We could do so much worse.

Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative Cambridge participants, at Selwyn College Chapel, Cambridge