Joshua Searle - "A Future and a Hope"
3:56AM Jun 29, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
former soviet union
Today it is our delight to be speaking with Dr. Joshua Searle, tutor in theology and public thought at Spurgeon, his college in London and former and he formerly served as dean for global Relations at Donetsk Christian University. Dr. Searle is a graduate of Oxford, prag and Dublin, where he received a PhD, and his co author of the text that we'll be discussing today, A Future and a Hope: Mission, Theological Education and the Transformation of Post-Soviet Society. Dr. Searle, thank you so much for coming today.
Dr. Sorrell, if we can dive right into it. The fall of communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was perhaps one of the most decisive political events of the 20th century. How did this set of events shape your own education and personal development as a theological educator?
Okay, thanks, Jonathan. Sir. Really good question. Obviously, the fall of the Soviet Union was an event of apocalyptic proportions. And it was the end of an era and the beginning of a new era in world history. Have we even had people leading political scientists saying that it was the end of history that humankind reached its omega point in its ideological development. And there were a lot of apocalyptic prophecies that were cast at that time about the significance, the world historical significance of the end of the Soviet Union. But I think for for me, obviously, I was only about five or six years old, at the time when it happened. So I didn't really I can't really say that I experienced it personally. But I think it was an event which I can now say, looking back in retrospect It was an event that has actually changed the whole course of my life and ministry in in many ways. And I've really developed a fascination for the Soviet Union I grew up in,
in the UK,
in England, but I, I've spent some time studying and living in Eastern Europe, in Prague, and in Ukraine in particular. And I just became fascinated by the history of Russia and the Soviet Union, the the church, in particular, the persecuted church during the the period of the Soviet Union. And I think that I was, I was really prompted to try to understand the fall of the Soviet Union and its meaning and significance in terms of global mission. Because I've, I think over the years, I've come to understand the Soviet Union from almost a spiritual perspective. And I think you can't really understand the Soviet Union in its proper perspective, unless you consider the Soviet Union as a spiritual entity. It was an entity that I think you can only understand in relation to the powers and principalities. If you think about the scale of the persecution, the the mass murders and the the the extent of the endemic corruption. And I think that one thing we have to be aware of as, as Christians is that the Soviet Union did collapse the Soviet Union officially at least No more. So the Soviet Union is a political entity has ceased to exist. However, the Soviet mentality is still very much alive and well. And you only have to go and visit certain parts of Russia, and also parts of eastern Ukraine, other countries in the former Soviet Union to realize that the Soviet Union as a mentality or the Soviet mentality, has far outlived the Soviet Union as a political organization. So I think that the the challenge the opportunity that we have as Christians is to understand this Soviet mentality and some of the, let's say, the powers and principalities that I think lie behind the political manifestations of the Soviet ideology.
Thank you for that response factor, several In your book you write, quote, the post Soviet evangelical churches require a paradigm shift away from the standard focus that has governed the thinking and practice of these churches ever since the influx of Western evangelicalism after perestroika unquote. What is this paradigm shift precisely that you're speaking of?
Yeah, thanks, john. I think this, this, this really this question really gets to the heart of the book that I wrote with my good friend, Dr. McCulloh, Sharon Cobb, I should mention him as well. He made an enormous contribution to the to the book. He's, he's become a good friend. He's also emerging as one of the leading evangelical theologians in in the former Soviet Union. And he and I got together because we decided that it was really time for us to formulate robust and vigorous model of theological formation and mission as transformation in a way that would connect with the the social, economic and even spiritual realities of life in the former Soviet Union. So I think the first thing to say about this this this paradigm shift is that I think it involves, it involves thinking it at the level of theological education. It involves thinking more in terms of the formation of missional professionals, rather than thinking about the training of professional missionaries, if I can put it in that way. So whereas previously, we used to think about theological education in terms of we need to train some pastors and some missionaries and we need to send them out into the mission. field, I think that we now need to think more in terms of training missional professionals so doctors, lawyers, architects, people working within the media, people who have influence within their sphere so that they can inculcate or incarnate gospel principles and gospel values within their spheres of influence. And I think that this this paradigm shift is is based on
reorientation in the way that we think about the nature and the aims and scope of mission. Because at the heart of theological education, there needs to be a proper account of what mission actually is. And first of all, we need to recognize that all of God's people are called to be missionaries.
electric At spirituals college and some of your listeners might be familiar with Charles Spurgeon, the great Victorian preacher. And he wants said that every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter. And I think that there's a great deal of a great deal of truth to what he said. And so it's the idea that that mission isn't a special task to be delegated to a group of professionals who've been trained for permission, but mission is a universal task for, for the church for the body of Christ. And we need to, I think, particularly as speaking out of the evangelical tradition, because that's my my own tradition. I think as, as evangelicals, we've often thought of mission as being essentially synonymous with evangelism. And we tended to equate these these two terms and What's often happened is that as evangelicals we tend to we've tended to reduce the task of mission to inviting people to church. Or we think that by inviting people to church services, were somehow fulfilling the great commission that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 28. But I don't think that's that's what Jesus had in mind. Certainly not, not all that Jesus had in mind when he said to his disciples go out into all the world and make disciples, teaching people to, to obey everything that I've commanded you. So I think we need to have more of a, an explicit orientation, a focus on mission in terms of world transformation, rather than simply church growth. And I think that this new orientation towards the kingdom of God and the transformation Have the world of the Transfiguration of the world into the likeness of the kingdom of God. So that the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our God and His Christ according to the pattern of Revelation, chapter 11, verse 15, I think it is. And so we need to we need to have a focus on the kingdom of God rather than simply on the church. I think this is a big part of the paradigm shift. And this means that mission needs to have a geocentric rather than a narrowly ecclesia centric objects and point of departure. And we need to remember that the gospel is a message not just of personal forgiveness of sins, but it's also a message of newness of life, a fullness of life in Christ, and it does involve and I'm not preaching The social gospel here, but what I am seeing is that the gospel does have very explicit social and even political implications. And I think that one of the great tasks of theological education is to recognize that mission is directed towards the kingdom of God rather than narrowly focused on, on on the church or on the sacraments mission. His mission is about the extension of the kingdom of God making the kingdom of God a visible reality in the world. So that's, that's really the point of departure, lots of ways of expanding that point in relation to theological education. But that's the basic paradigm that that Michaela and I we're operating from in the book.
Thank you, Dr. Sorrell, I'm intrigued by your statement there that this this paradigm shift to which you're speaking requires us not to prepare. Professional missionaries but missional professionals, and I'm just wondering, is it possible for you to put your finger precisely on the the pulse of what's changed in society that that has made this missional transformation necessary within the church? Hmm.
I think the many reasons, actually, Jonathan, I think the broad structural, tectonic political, social reasons, but I think that they're also more like I say, maybe now more parochial issues concerning the church and its mission and the way that it interacts with contemporary society. I can perhaps speak from my experience of living and working in the former Soviet Union. I think there's such a an imperative On missional education because as well as you training missional professionals rather than professional missionaries, because I suppose that the context that we might be used to in in the west where we're used to training students in theology, and then the expectation is that once they have successfully completed their studies, they will somehow be able to, to go into some sort of paid placement within the church, they'll be able to, to take up a job and the church will be able to afford to pay them a salary to do that. in Eastern Europe, in Ukraine in the former Soviet Union, that's simply not the case. And students who are studying for a degree in theology, can't expect to make a living from church placement or doing mission work. So they have To have what we might call the kind of tent making ministry, alongside their church ministry. And
I mean, just to give you an example of this, so in my
when I was living in eastern Ukraine, my pastor at my local Baptist Church, he was a pastor. So he used to prepare the sermons and used to do the pastoral visits and used to do everything that the pastor does. But the church was quite small. And they the congregation, were not able to pay him much of a salary at all. So he had to supplement his income. And so he had, he had to train himself as a vet, so he used to work as events looking after
he used to in his spare time, he used to be an opera singer as well as local opera to supplement his income and he also used to do he used to be like a scrap metal dealer. We have to learn all of these different skills and be quite savvy in a business sense, as well as exercise his exercising his pastoral ministry. And this is the reality for the majority of evangelical pastors. In the former Soviet Union, they don't have the luxury that many of our students have in, whether it's the UK or North America, they don't have the luxury of being able to step out of their work, give all of that up and then attend seminary on a full time basis. And so they're much more reliant on programs and courses, correspondence courses, distance learning, which they can integrate into their usual normal everyday lives. So we need to have a much more flexible approach when we're thinking about forming ministers and missionaries in these in these places where it's simply not feasible to to employ a full time pastor.
So we need we need to be innovative to be creative about how we offer theological education in this context. I appreciate
that, Dr. Sorrell out what are the current opportunities for theological education in Russia in the former Soviet Union countries? If you were if you were in a church there in the Ukraine or elsewhere, and you you discovered a gifted young person who wanted to go into church work, how would you recommend that they pursue theological education?
one thing that that I would almost positive positively tried to discourage them from doing would be to, to move to North America to move to the USA that's that's the big sort of aspiration and the dream particular Have gifted particularly young men and women who were, who were in theological education. Their aspiration is to to be able to apply for a scholarship that would enable them and their families to move to more. How can I say affluence, comfortable, more prosperous
certainly don't blame people for that. It's you can't attach any blame as people who wants to to leave the the poverty and the hardship in which they in which they've grown up. But I think I'd want to encourage them to stay because there's an urgent need for gifted evangelical ministers, missionaries, pastors, and theologians in Ukraine and Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.
I want to encourage them to stay but I but of course, the the the prospects are sometimes quite limited for for gifted young students. So I think I encourage them to develop, to develop themselves to, to pursue their studies that there are a number of really good quality seminaries and colleges in, in Ukraine in particular. And I try to encourage them to, to stay and to, to develop another skill so that they don't just have an education in theology, but alongside that, they have some other qualification, whether it's in law or economics or business administration, social work. book so that they can bring their theological learning and their biblical knowledge to bear on the the spheres in which God has called them to serve.
Very good. Thank you, sir. In your book a future and hope, mission theological education in the transformation of post Soviet society. You speak of another shift this shift from the HOMO Soviet Tucker's to the HOMO may demos. What precisely are you speaking of when you speak of this shift? And what does it mean for Christian mission in the countries of the former Soviet Union?
Sure, I should say, first of all, I'm sorry about the awful jargon, that that you find in that in that chapter, Homer's Soviet occurs, and homo, my dynasty these describe anthropological ideal types. And there's actually a lot of anthropology and some of the philosophical anthropology that lies behind these cattle. realisations, but the term maybe if we deal first of all with the term hamo, my darkness. This comes this is derived from the term my dam. And my dam is the term that is given to the demonstrations that occurred throughout Ukraine from November 2013. Up until February 2014, which culminated in the overthrow of the corrupt and kleptocratic President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, he fled to Russia and a new a new administration was was formed in the aftermath and then, in retaliation for ousting Mr. Putin's man in the Kremlin, the Russian army, occupied invaded Crimea in southern Ukraine, the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which is still under occupation To this day, and they also invaded a part of what's known as the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, Donetsk, and you can ask, and I was actually, interestingly, I was when you introduced me, Jonathan, you said that I was working at a place called Donetsk Christian University. And I was working there from 2012 to 2013. And just a few months after I had left in the summer of 2014. The Russian special forces actually took over the campus of doughnuts Christian University, and many of my friends and former colleagues were there at the time and they they told me about out how I was a beautiful summer summers afternoon. And the the Russian soldiers came with their ak 40 sevens and their rocket propelled grenades and their armored personnel carriers and just rolled onto the campus one day. And they forced my friends and colleagues out of the building at gunpoint and immediately deprived, deprive them of their livelihood and they converted doughnuts Christian university, which was one of the great centers of evangelical theological education in that part of the world that has now been being transformed into an army barracks for the Russian paramilitary forces and they're using the electricals as as target practice. So this is just giving you a bit of an anecdote of not so much my personal experience, but the the experience of my friends and and former colleagues who've told me about the terrible events. So this this place of light and hope, which was a great center of education and gossip were a place where gospel values were, were nurtured and encouraged, has now become a place of great darkness. And I think it's just a little indication of the the challenges that the evangelical community in particular is facing in this part of the world. But, of course, in the midst of the challenges, there are great opportunities. And I think one of the great opportunities that has emerged to return to what I was saying originally about the this, this my dam movement, I think that's my dam was an expression of a deep tectonic shift in Culture and relationships. It was almost like the ideological faultlines changed. And something has changed in the mentality of the Ukrainian people in particular. And I've noticed this because I, I regularly go back I have family and friends in Ukraine. And it's just very evident. It's very conspicuous. You notice it. It's very tangible, the that the mentality has changed. And I think that Ukraine is undergoing
in many ways, quite painful transition, but also at the same time, quite hopeful transition into a new era of freedom and democracy. Because previously, the Ukrainian public life Ukrainian mentality was determined by the homos Soviet hackers, prototype of the human being. And what I mean by homophobia because it's some It was actually a term that was introduced by the communists they tried to introduce this, this this concept of the novice Soviet ski avec or the the new Soviet human being. And this was someone who was designed to be hardworking and obedient and compliant with the system. And the the Soviet system ended up producing a new kind of human being who was characterized by rigid adherence to bureaucracy to routine. Also to also characterize characterized by a sense of rudeness. It's one of the things that that perhaps you, your, your listeners would notice if they ever visited parts of Russia, and Ukraine, just the basic lack of what we might call courtesy or human warmth, that We might be accustomed to in other parts of the world, just this this routine sense of rudeness if you've ever been to a passport office in Ukraine, or if you've ever been to any sort of building of Public Administration, you encountered this the spirit of rudeness and just this this lack of courtesy. So, this this homeless Soviet, because I would argue is still very much alive and well. But what my dad has done is to introduce a new anthropological paradigm that offers some future that offers some hope and hence the title of our book. And I think that hamo my darkness expresses the emergence of a new kind of human being, who is endowed with the virtues I would call them Christian virtues but also civic virtues of love and honesty. compassion, justice, sacrifice, sacrifice, self sacrifice, freedom and, and solidarity. So I think that my dad what my dad has done and the emergence of this, this new anthropological prototype, what it's done is to hammer a wooden stake right into the heart of the old Soviet system. And we're beginning to see the the green shoots of a new life that are emerging on in the wake of this, this this deep anthropological shift that's taking place in, in in Ukrainian society in particular.
So I think
it's just well worth mentioning as well that homos Soviet because was also characterized by, but via an unwillingness to embrace freedom. So Thomas Oh, yes, because it's Afraid of freedom. In the word of in the words of one of my favorite philosophers, Russian Ukrainian philosophers
Nikolai video he said that
freedom is regarded as by by most people as a fatal gift that leads people into perdition. So freedom is regarded as not a not as a blessing but as a as a curse. And he's actually alluding to the great parable of the Grand Inquisitor tone by field of Dostoevsky in his great novel, The Brothers Karamazov. And Dostoevsky is making that basic
we prefer as human beings we profess to love and to welcome and embrace freedom. Whereas in actual fact, were deeply afraid of freedom where we're desperate at the first opportunity to renounce it because we were afraid of the the responsibility that freedom
and responsibility and accountability
Inevitably bring so with Hama, my daughter, sister, a new awareness of, of, of freedom and the value of democracy. I think that this is a great opportunity for the church. You need to facilitate this, this process and for theological education,
in particular, so that our
our models of theological education correspond with the general shifts that are occurring in the wider society.
Dr. Searle near the end of your book, you write about the dream to found, quote, The Eastern European Christian University. Tell me what has happened to this dream? Is it still alive possibility given the current political context?
Yes, thanks, john. This is a fair question, because
some of the people who have reviewed
this book of pictures up on this is particularly Chapter this section within the chapter where we spoken about our dream and vision of founding something like an Eastern European Christian University. And yes, I'd be the first to admit that it's it's very naive, and it's very idealistic, particularly given the current difficulties in the situation. And the war and the conflict and the the numerous challenges that are faced by theological education educators and Christian leaders in the former Soviet Union. However, I would say that our vision isn't based on naive optimism or shallow idealism. But it's based on our faith in God. And in the God of surprises, the God for whom all things possible. And I think that with our normal sight with our normal perspective, it's very difficult to perceive even the faintest contours of something like an Eastern European Christian university that would serve the mission of the church in, in this hugely strategic region. However, I think if you view the situation, with the optics of faith, you can begin to perceive the outline of something emerging. Even though it's sometimes seems that you're looking through a glass darkly. And I can see the vision beginning to emerge in conversations that I have with friends and contacts with Christian leaders in in Ukraine in particular, But also elsewhere throughout the the Soviet Union, there's a there's a tremendous sense of solidarity that is beginning to emerge a new willingness and openness to work together. And I use this word cautiously because it's not very popular among some evangelicals, but I think that there is a new spirit of ecumenism of genuine ecumenical engagement. And I see a little glimpse of this vision. This vision of Eastern European Christian university, I see it already incarnated in institutions, which I've been privileged to be a part of, and in other cases which I've, which I've visited, and I thinking in particular of LCC International University in clutter in Lithuania. I think that there's some really exciting and innovative things happening there. And when I wrote this chapter, I had LCC International University very much in mind. But I think more recently in particular, I have in mind that Ukrainian Catholic University because I think this is he wants to have a glimpse of the future of theological education in the former Soviet Union. You need to find out more about Ukrainian Catholic University because here we have
an institution which is is founded by
as the name suggests, founded by Catholics and the ethos is very much Catholic, but they actually embrace an ecumenical vision. They've asked me to be involved as a Baptist as a British Baptist. They've asked me to be involved in to help them out with their teaching and the delivery of their distance learning program
They've also the all kinds of different denominations who teach on their faculty and I interact and engage on a regular basis with orthodox evangelicals, Baptists, Pentecostals, and so I see a new spirit of or a new willingness to work and collaborate, cooperate, ecumenical, which and this is something that's that's really change in the relatively recent past. I remember when I first went to Ukraine. Pardon me, I when I first went to Ukraine, in
I used to have conversations with my Ukrainian Baptist friends, and they used to refer to the Catholic Church as Antichrist and as the whole Babylon, and we mustn't have anything to do with their sort of pagans, superstitions, and then That false theology, quote unquote, but now and I regarded as a cause for great rejoicing. There's a new spirit of ecumenical openness particularly towards the Catholics.
And one thing that my dad has done,
the my dad demonstrations and the Ukrainian revolution of dignity and freedom.
what it's done is it's made
the Christian community realize
that they have a lot more in common
than the things that would drive them apart. And they've realized that even if they don't agree on every single point of doctrine, they can still work together and they can still regard one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And this new spirit of ecumenism is finding concrete expression at the grassroots level at the parish level, but also in Grand projects like Ukrainian Catholic University. So I think there is there are real signs of hope in the midst of tremendous challenges.
Dr. Sorrell, if I can close with this last question that I've been asking all of our guests on this program, and that is this, what would it mean for the church today to be united? How would we recognize this unity? And what is it that we can do as individual Christians to pursue the unity of the church?
Yes, thanks. JOHN has some really great question. I think
perhaps if I if I just speak from from my own experience, based on what I've been sharing about, about Ukraine and the prospects for mission and theological education in Eastern Europe in the former Soviet Union.
I think that if, if we want to
reach we envision
the unity of the future for unity of faith, what we urgently need is a renewed vision of Christianity. And we need a vision of Christianity that emphasizes freedom, compassion, creativity, I would also add solidarity to to that list. So instead of focusing on perhaps narrow conceptions of or legalistic understandings of certain points of doctrine, let's let's put the emphasis on compassion, on creativity, on freedom on solidarity. And I think in particular, one of the crucial pre prerequisites of unity
of church unity is solidarity.
And this is something of a forgotten virtue. I would suggest, particularly among Western Christians, I've noticed this based on my experience of spending time in in the UK in North America in the West. And and also spending time in the east is that Eastern or Eastern brothers and sisters tend to talk a lot more about solidarity, about about solidarity and lost to use the Russian word or solid armies. In the Ukrainian, they talk a lot about solidarity, just in their everyday discourse, in sermons in their theological treaties, but we don't really use this term. So I think we need to rediscover the spirit of solidarity. What does it mean to genuinely empathize at a deep spiritual level with our brothers and sisters before we've got on and got got into the specific details about doctrine and beliefs that's really important and it's important that we have a proper understanding of that. But I think first of all, we need to rediscover what it means to express our solidarity. I think as well I would come back to my earlier point is actually related to what I said about solidarity about the need to rediscover the kingdom of God as the focus of our mission. So rather than taking particular churches or even the church in general, let's place the emphasis on the kingdom of God because we also have the kingdom of God, whether whether we're Baptist or Pentecostal, Catholic, orthodox, whatever, we were all serving the kingdom of God, we're all participating in the missio day. We're all wanting to make the kingdom of God, visible reality in the world. That's that's our mission. And I think that when, when we've, when we've understood mission from the perspective of the kingdom of God, we can begin to understand what it means To express unity in mission, so that we pursue unity, not just for the sake of unity, per se, but that we like when we say, wouldn't it be? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all came together? Well, yes, it would be wonderful. But but it would be wonderful because there's a kind
of wider further
purpose or tell us in mind and that that purpose is mission. So where were united for the sake of admission. So I think this corresponds with what Jesus had to say. When he said that, by this, the world will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. I mean, it sounds so basic. It's so simple. But I think if we want to rediscover the unity of the church, we all need to read Discover this the simplicity and the beauty in the depth of the gospel. And
just think that there's, there's a need to reformulate our understanding of Christianity in terms of creativity, compassion, solidarity, freedom. And we need to be able to demonstrate our solidarity not just with one another, but also with the civil society, and particularly with suffering and persecuted people, whether they're Christians, whether they're, whether they're Muslims, whether they're atheists, whether they're agnostics, we need to serve these people in Christ's name. And we need to, to understand that by serving these these, these people, the least of these that Jesus referred to in Matthew 25 We actually discovered that we actually discover a new sense of solidarity and unity among ourselves as, as the body of Christ. So there's unity in services. There's unity in mission. And maybe if I can just say, Jonathan maybe refers to
the your previous question
about signs of hope and opportunity, but it also relates to this, this point that I was saying about this new ecumenical spirit, and how it extends not just into confessional among or within Christianity,
but also between confessionals. Not
in the sense of syncretism, but but in a genuine sense of solidarity. I mentioned earlier that the Russian forces invaded and occupied Crimea in in 2014, that's still there. And Crimea. You You might, you might know has quite a signal. To a large minority of Tata people, the native, Tata population, and Tata traditionally there are Muslim people. And
they have suffered tremendous persecution, at least
those who haven't told the official line of the new Russian authorities suffered tremendous persecution. But the thing is that now that Russia regards Crimea as part of its own territory, Russia now falls under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation, which means that the people in the Crimea are nominally at least protected by the Russian Constitution, which which officially protects the rights of the established religions. So, Orthodox Christianity and Islam in particular are protected. by the Russian constitution. So what's happened? what's what's happened is that the, the Russian authorities haven't really been able to seize the mosques of the torture of people in Crimea, whereas they have been able to seize and to occupy the Baptist and other evangelical churches they've been able to take take those over and close them down with impunity, they haven't been able to do the same thing with the mosque because the Islam is a protected religion. So I've heard anecdotally that what some of the Muslims have done in the total Muslim people in Crimea, they realized that the Baptist evangelical population have suffered from persecution, and so they have actually opened their mosques to the Baptist evangelical community. The persecuted communities in Crimea. And they have allowed the the Baptist and evangelicals to, to worship in, in their religious buildings in their mosques, which is something that is really quite remarkable and something that's quite unprecedented. I mean, I'm hearing this from from my friends who've reported on this on the situation. So I'm assuming that it's that it's a reality. That is true. But of course, it raises all kinds of challenges. And perhaps there would be some people who would who would resist that some Baptists and evangelicals who would say that we shouldn't do that. But I think again, it's a positive sign to the extent that it so it just indicates a rediscovery of of solidarity, which which is which has been one of the
consequences for recent events in Ukraine in particular.
It's been our delight this morning to be speaking with Dr. Joshua Searle tutor in theology and public thought and Spurgeon is College in London and also a co author of the texts that we've been discussing a future and a hope mission theological education of the transformation of post Soviet society. Dr. Cyril, thank you for your time this morning.