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Orthodox mission, diaspora and bizarre Protestant questions

22 August 2010

In October the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization is being held in Cape Town, and a web site has been set up to discuss the themes of the Congress beforehand, in preparation. There are some very interesting articles on a variety of topics relating to world mission and evangelization, and one of the topics was “diaspora”.

I was recently asked to write a journal article on the Orthodox diaspora in South Africa in relation to mission, and I contributed a more generalised article on the same topic to the Lausanne Conversation pages, dealing with the Orthodox diaspora and mission throughout the world, and not just in South Africa.
There is space for comments under each articles (and there are a lot of very interesting articles, and I may blog about more of them later), but the only comment on this particular article was quite weird. Here it is:

Several questions:

1. Do you believe Orthodox Christians are Evangelical?

2. Do you believe the “most holy traditions” of the Orthodox Church are co-equal in redemption with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross?

I must say I didn’t understand either question.

Any answer to the first one would depend on what the questioner means by “evangelical”, but in the context of the article, I would expect “evangelical” to mean “interested in and concerned about evangelism” — and the answer to that was in the article itself, so the question was really redundant.

The second question, however is utterly bizarre: “Do you believe the “most holy traditions” of the Orthodox Church are co-equal in redemption with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross?”

What kind of question is that?

It seems to be an almost classic example of confusing the map with the territory. But the questioner seems to think that I also suffer from his particular delusion.

Well, you come across all sorts of weirdness on the Web, and as they say, there’s nowt so queer as folks — so why blog about this particular bit of weirdness?

I suppose it’s because it’s the second example of American Protestant weirdness I’ve come across in as many days. The other one commented on the previous post in this blog. They seem to have thinking processes that are entirely different from mine. They join the dots to make a different picture. They add 2+2 and get 56. They go off at a tangent, and it is very difficult to follow what they are on about, or how they get from A to B. I really can’t see what in my article prompted those questions, and cannot see what was in the mind of the questioner. They are like those 1960s plays in the “theatre of the absurd” genre, which dealt in complete non sequiturs, with dialogues like this:

Do you believe in God?
God. Do you believe in him?
Have a biscuit.

Except that the plays at least had some artistic merit, but these bizarre discussions don’t. These examples convince me that the Internet doesn’t increase international communication. It rather reveals that the problem of our failure to communicate is far bigger than we ever imagined.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not being anti-American (though the people who as such weird questions would probably think I was). I’ve met lots of sane and sensible Americans and have had very interesting converstions with them, and most of the papers on the Lausanne Conversation site written by Americans are well-written, articulate and very interesting. But these instances of weirdness keep popping up.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 August 2010 7:35 pm

    As a Jew, I know exactly how you feel here. When I was living in the deep south, I often got asked just precisely what Jews did to get out of going to hell, equally a non-sequitar. People like that are living in their own world, and don’t know how to think in another framework of reference.

    • 22 August 2010 7:37 pm

      Um, make that the upper south. The deep south, where I only visited rather than lived, possibly was worse. Though Virginia *is* the home of Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell…

    • 23 August 2010 3:32 am


      I think that question would be asked by people who believe in the new Judeo-Christian religion, and assume that you belong to it.

      • 23 August 2010 3:49 am

        Yeah, the “American melting pot” culture assumes that everyone is alike, or at least should be alike. It’s a wonderfully tolerant society, however, mostly because the average citizen is so ignorant they assume everyone is like themselves anyway, so what is there to hate? 😉

  2. Br. Dunstan, OJN permalink
    22 August 2010 7:35 pm

    I think those questions could be translated as follows:

    1) “Do you think Orthodox Christians are properly grouped with folks like American Baptists based on theological commitments?”

    2) “Do you conform to my (ie. the questioner’s) very negative stereotype of Orthodoxy?”

    The questioner is almost certainly an American Evangelical who has engaged very little with anyone outside his or her own denomination on theological matters, since they mistake evangelical as used in connection with the Lausanne Coversation for Evangelicalism (an American Christian phenomenon, although it probably has strands elsewhere in the world).

    • 23 August 2010 3:13 am

      they mistake evangelical as used in connection with the Lausanne Coversation for Evangelicalism

      Yes, there is indeed a group of denominations described as “Evangelical”, as distinguished from “charismatic” or “ecumenical”. The Orthodox are so obviously not part of that group that the question is hardly worth asking.

      But the question of how the “Evangelical” used to denote that group differs from the way it is used in connection with the Lausanne conversation probably is worth asking. For example there seem to be quite a lot of Pentecostal/charismatic people involved in the Lausanne conversation, and these have generally been anathema to the “Evangelical” group in that sense.

      • 23 August 2010 3:23 am

        Out of curiosity, what is the difference between the two? To me Evangelical Protestant means “Charismatic who doesn’t speak in tongues”. Of course, until adulthood, I hardly knew what the difference was between Catholic and Protestant, so I’m not exactly an expert on the subject of Xianity.

        • Linards Ticmanis permalink
          23 August 2010 2:50 pm

          Well I don’t belong to either group and I live in Europe, so maybe I’m not qualified to comment here, but from what I learned so far it seems to me that Evangelicals (in the sense we’re discussing here) are often quite explicitly Calvinist in their outlook, meaning they believe God picks and choses who to send to heaven and whom to hell without any human input so to speak, while the Charismatics put some more emphasis on conscious human choice to be saved and so on.

      • 23 August 2010 10:18 pm

        In much of Europe ‘Charismatic’ is a subset of ‘Evangelical’ which confuses North Americans who see them as neo-opposites. When we lived in the USA we went to a Vineyard Fellowship. People asked us about out UK church background which is Episcopal. This usually led to confusion then astonishment when we explained that of all the congregations we had seen in the USA, the Vineyard was closest to our Episcopal (Anglican) church in the UK.

        • Louis permalink
          27 August 2010 10:07 pm

          In the American context, evangelical includes, but is not limited too Calvinists, and also includes Arminians, for instance. In this sense evangelicals are broadly protestant, non-liturgical, non-High Church (ie, not Lutheran or Anglican), and would include anybody from the big “non-denominational” megachurches, too Southern Baptists, to Independant Baptists, to Nazarenes, and many others.

          Of course, originally, the the term Evangelical meant Lutheran, and in Germany it is often still seen as such, whcih can lead to extensive misunderstandings in cross-cultural contact.

          • Richard Fairhead permalink
            31 December 2010 11:10 am

            Well… some Anglicans may be ‘high-church’ but not all are. Our Anglican church in the UK was one described as ‘not so much low church as below the floorboards’!

  3. 22 August 2010 11:00 pm

    I really hate to say it, but it’s not just Protestants. I’ve been quite painfully aware in the last few days when reading Orthodox blogs (what with starting to pay attention to this horredous Islamophobia and abysmal American ignorance or world religion etc., and, most recently, global warming deniers) of what different worlds we live in – and sometimes from people whom I otherwise respect and appreciate. One realises how context, and interests, so determine the lenses through which people view the world.

    • 23 August 2010 3:26 am

      I think that is what is technically known in Orthodoxy as dvoeverie (=doublemindedness). It originally referred to people who were Orthodox, but continued to follow some practices of Slavic pagan religion. It wasn’t quite syncretism, since it didn’t produce a third religion that differed from both, but the two continued side-by-side in the 10th and 11th centuries. In the same way there are Orthodox (and Evangelicals, and probably others) who practice American Civil Religion alongside Orthodoxy without apparently experiencing any cognitive dissonance. See Orthocuban’s recent blog post on the epidemic of Islamophobia in American Civil Religion (the one religion that seems to be exempted from the clause in their constitution respecting establishment of religions). The Orthocuban probably sees it more clearly since he is an immigrant in the USA, and thus has experience of other cultures.

      • 23 August 2010 9:39 am

        Ah, so it’s really just the American version of African Christians continuing to sacrifice to their ancestors and suchlike things?

  4. 23 August 2010 9:00 am

    What’s an Orthodox Christian? Have a biscuit. 🙂

  5. 23 August 2010 10:26 pm

    I read the article in Lausanne Congress site and tried to respond there but they don’t seem to have a working sign-up. Oh well…

    I read the comments too and thought, ‘Hmmm…. interesting… I wonder how Steve will respond to that.’ You were gracious.

    Your article did seem to miss what would have really interested me and that is, ‘What are the similarities and differences between the diaspora of the followers of Jesus in the first couple of centuries around Asia Minor, North Africa and as far as they got into Western Europe with the Orthodox diaspora into Africa?’ and ‘Is there anything we can learn from those similarities and differences?’

    Following on from my article ‘Gathering Together’ ( ‘To what extent did the Orthodox diaspora behave as MBCs, ECCs or HCCs within their new context?’

    • 24 August 2010 6:24 am


      Yes, there appears to be a glitch with the Lausanne site. It seemed to reject my log-in. I’ve asked someone to report it.

      I’ll try to comment on your blog article on what seem to me as three ecclesiologies cum sociologies when I’ve studied it more carefully.

      For your specific question about Orthodox diaspora now and in the first centuries, I think the difference is that most of the early Christians lived in a multinational multicultural empire that was generally hostile. The exceptions — Ethiopia, Georgia — were relatively small.

      The more recent diaspora was often from countries that had recently been involved in nationalistic liberation struggles against an empire — Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia etc against the Ottomans, Cyprus against Britain. Their secular nationalism (derived from German romanticism) has the same roots as Zionism in Israel, and much as both sides are reluctant to admit it, Zionism and Hellenism have several common features.

      But this affected others too. I think I mentioned the example of Anglicans in Argentina. But it also explains the difference between white Chrisetians and black Christians in South Africa. White Christians tend to be “diaspora”, and black Christians tend to be “mission”. This still leads to cultural differences about what church is all about.

    • 28 August 2010 8:22 am


      The Lausanne site seems to be working again, so perhaps you could try to sign up.

  6. 27 August 2010 6:24 pm

    Gosh, all I can say is, I got here via Macrina’s site. And just imagine how it is to LIVE in such a country! I long ago abandoned a sense of really “living” in the US. One wants to abandon both map and territory sometimes!

    Thanks for the sanity! 🙂

  7. Kyralessa permalink
    19 September 2010 12:18 am

    Seems to be the proper response to #2 would be: “Well, do you believe the *Bible* is co-equal in redemption with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross?”


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