Voices of the Global Church

I’ve been thinking a lot in the last few years about what it means for me as a white American male to live and teach the Bible as a foreigner. By most outward measures–social class, wealth, education–I sit in a “superior” position than most students, pastors, and brothers and sisters in our churches. But I am in awe of the faith, dedication, compassion, courage, and wisdom of local church leaders who love and serve their people in some incredibly difficult circumstances, with limited resources. Living as an expat at the mercy of others for many things, I know that what I can offer in support is quite limited. I can teach with a translator, offer some insights that are perhaps helpful, and bring my PhD that helps small seminaries with their accreditation. I can be a friend and encouragement to leaders, and I can sometimes be a conduit for financial resources from the relatively wealthy West.

As I reached the end of my week-long course in Ukraine last month, I felt compelled to offer an impromptu exhortation to my Russian-speaking students, all of whom are already leading churches, and some of whom will likely go on for graduate study. As I recorded all the class periods, I was able to listen and transcribe. Here it is, slightly polished.

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Here are a couple of things to think about, my observations from a few years of being involved in the church in this part of the world. I’m speaking off the cuff here, in a way that I have no right to speak, as an American. So, forgive me if I’m insensitive. (Perhaps you’ll sell me an indulgence in advance!)

There are certain countries where Christianity is flourishing, growing quickly: Africa, Southeast Asia, China. If they haven’t already, these countries are quickly going to outstrip the “Old World” Christians, in North America and Europe. There are probably more Christians in China today than there are in America.

And yet, there’s still a desire on the part of churches and denominations in the “Emerging World,” to have their leaders validated by training in the Old World. It’s a feather in the cap, a point of pride, when a place like ZBS has professors that have studied in the Netherlands and in the USA.

But the danger in this–and I can see this clearly from the outside as someone from the North Atlantic world of scholarship–is that the issues and concerns of the Old World might set the agenda for research and teaching in the Emerging World. All the money, university positions, scholarship money, and academic literature in English, German and French, comes from and remains clustered around North America and Western Europe.

And we North Atlantic scholars, then, congratulate ourselves, fancying ourselves enlightened and diverse because we invite “outside voices” like Eastern European readings, or African readings, or Asian readings of Scripture, to have a handful of seats at the table. “Oh, that’s so fun–you have an African reading of Scripture!” “Oh, so cute–you’re Asian, and you read the Bible!” [Pats head.] And yet, if we were honest, we would admit that Africans and Asians make up a larger share of the global church than North America and Europe.

So, I don’t know whether Ukraine fits in the “emerging” column or the “secularizing Europe” part of the Old World. But I would encourage you, all of you here–and all Christians in Ukraine {laughter}: find your own voice. Don’t just seek to answer the kinds of questions that North Atlantic scholarship says are important. Learn from other traditions of scholarship, but then do what God has called you to do, in this context. Think local, but think big–think the denomination, and this region.

And, do it because this white American male told you to do it! [Pats head.] Good job! {Laughter}
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About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, living and learning in Eastern Europe…an Old Testament professor and former liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth…eldest sibling to three, brother-in-law to Hannah, Josh and Josh…uncle to Marshall, son-in-law to Claudia.
This entry was posted in Bible-Theology, Giffones in Lithuania, Research, Travels. Bookmark the permalink.

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