Global Missiology English, Vol 4, No 14 (2017)

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Orthodoxy and Soteriology Central Issues in Evangelizing Russians

Mark Harris

Abstract


American Evangelicals began invading Russia with the good news of the Gospel early in the 1990’s. Often lost among the reports of successes were the great chasms in communication between Evangelicals and the Russian Orthodox Church – a church which has been in existence for over a thousand years. One central crisis was that the two confessions understand soteriology in very different ways. Although only a small fraction of Russians were active in Orthodox churches, the identity and tenets of Orthodoxy had at least some influence on almost all Russians. And, in spite of the fact that many Russians were reached for Christ by Evangelicals with no regard for Russian Orthodoxy, deep and lasting change to Russian religious thought was not likely to take place unless Evangelicals understood Russian Orthodoxy and communicated through word and deed in a way that would not be rejected outright by the Russian culture.

Looking back with improved perspective on the actual results of Evangelical work in Russia for over 25 years, we can see that the chasm of communication was not crossed in any meaningful way. Given the periodic interest in Orthodoxy among Evangelicals in the USA due to conversions of former Evangelicals (and most recently Hank Hanegraaff), it is important to understand why such gaps exist.

The purpose of this short paper is to briefly introduce the central aspects of this problem, and then offer a few perspectives on how the dangers can lead to opportunities for fruitful evangelistic work in Russia. I will first contrast Orthodox and Evangelical soteriology, then list what I perceive as the major dangers and opportunities that arise out of the battle between the contrasting confessions.



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