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Christian Philosophy and Evangelical Churches in Russia

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Aug 5, 2011

At first glance it may seem that “Christian philosophy” and “Evangelical churches” come from completely separate logical camps and aren’t compatible, especially in Russia, which is well-known for its conservatism and refusal to accept the intellectual tradition of Western Christianity. Indeed, a topic in which such words go together is automatically complicated, due to it being such a strange combination of words. But to take it a step further, the phrase “Christian philosophy” contains an apparent contradiction, the resolution of which will make it easier to understand more concrete issues surrounding Evangelical churches and Russian reality. And the final obvious difficulty in the title is with the phrase “Evangelical churches in Russia.” The difficulty of the phrase “Evangelical churches” in the title and in real life is even more obvious as Russia moves closer to being (though it actually never has been before) exclusively Orthodox and mono-confessional. Unlike mass perception (for whom “to be Russian is to be Orthodox”), philosophy casts doubt on such assumptions. To put it differently, it is in many ways thanks to this phenomenon that Evangelical churches in Russia can, both in name and in reality, be connected to Christian philosophy. I will now simply and briefly note a few aspects of Christian philosophy which are relevant and useful for Evangelical churches in Russia.

The fullness of church life is evident in socio-cultural reality and is expressed in all the richness of “human” forms. The classic juxtaposition of churches and sects as different types of religious organizations, proposed by Ernst Troehsch,[1] remains methodologically acceptable today. The Church confirms its place in community life, and offers its social and worldview reference points. The church does not respond to atheistic challenges with a quote from the Bible (as though it is a magical spell or esoteric mystery), but with Christian philosophy: Bible-based and logically sound.

The Church is reflexive, facing questions about her position and its expression, appealing to the experience of philosophy and its methods and language. Christian philosophy is a rethinking and expression of the Christian faith in the language of academics and culture.

It is within Christian philosophy that one is allowed maximal creative freedom, rational evaluation of doctrines of faith, and a critical view of one’s own identity. Christian philosophy is a sort of school of reflection and practical questioning, in which subjects are considered on the basis of both internal experience and the outside world. Philosophy makes possible the explication of the Church’s internal questions for the outside world; it provides a common language. The lessons of Christian philosophy are the lessons of translating the Gospel, “special revelation,” into the language of secular thought, while not losing the meaning, but instead making it clearer.

Christian philosophy makes the spiritual wealth of Christianity accessible to the inquisitive mind of the modern thinker. But it is also significant that this thought is translated, read and analyzed by all the richness of human culture for Christianity, through the prism of its dogmatists. If it is beyond doubt that all truth is from God, then it is also undoubtedly true that all of this multi-faceted and compartmentalized truth is worthy of attention and study.

Christian philosophy assumes not only a diversity of ideas, but also a group of people, united by a presumption of faith, rationality, culture, and creativity. This is the ideological foundation for the formation of a Christian intelligentsia, the ethos of which is Christian humanism. The Church will always accent theocentrism (Christocentrism), while the secular world focuses on anthropocentrism, but the role of the Christian intelligentsia is to consider the connection between God and man and the interpretation and practical realization of the doctrine of the Incarnation.

A Christian intelligentsia can become a channel of influence on the public awareness, a social sphere where theology and philosophy come together and find expression in culturally-acceptable forms.

Culture emerges as an alternative to power. Structures of the last “hermeneutic of suspicion” can be traced in Christianity’s history, missiology, and theology.  Converting nations to Christianity by force turned out to be impractical (not to mention unethical), and public consciousness rebelled against faith imposed from above. In a situation of true worldview pluralism, where no single religion or denomination lays claim to a monopoly and privileged status, dialogue becomes the main form of testimony, and Christian philosophy becomes the methodology and theory of argumentation in such dialogue. Evangelical churches don’t have financial or political resources, but they can exert intellectual and spiritual influence. In the words of the first apostles, Christians don’t intent to contend with the world in political power and money, because they have another power, which can transform, heal, and renew: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you” (Acts 3:6). Christians must remain politically and economically weak, because it allows Christians to focus on what is most important to them: the Word and teaching.

Ethical universalism, the global characteristic of Christianity, can be the directional, evaluative and ethical marker for globalization, and an important aspect of dialogue between (as opposed to clash of) civilizations. According to a study by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP), 48% of Europeans believe that Christian values play a key role in the development of dialogue between various cultures and religions[2]. Europeans have ceased to heed the Church’s claims to absolute authority, but they maintain their loyalty to Christian worldview principles and the Christian ethos of good neighborliness, without which pluralistic Europe would cease to exist as a cultural-historical type. This experience is valuable for Russia, whose diversity can be either enriching or conflict-causing.

The universalism of Christianity requires both a theological (for the Church) and a philosophical (for the outside world) foundation. According to Pope Benedict XVI, the success of the latter is a condition for fulfilling the Great Commission, and an intersection between the two means of seeking after God was predestined from the beginning: “We must recognize the hand of fate—the intersection of Biblical faith and Greek philosophy was indeed providential.” [3]

In the first few centuries of Church history Christian philosophy helped formulate the fundamental tenets of Christian doctrine and defend them in open discussion. It is clear that today there is an even greater demand for such a synthesis.

Christian philosophy achieves a synthesis of faith and reason, a perceptive faith and believing reason. Here the possibility of another reason becomes clear, not self-sufficient, not proud, but serving and loving, capable of tearing its focus away from itself and turning it to higher things.

If Evangelical churches, having traveled the long path of internal revolution and the fight for the right to exist in Russian society, consciously reject enculturation, socialization, and the consolidation of Christian intelligentsia, they will run the risk of marginalization and condemnation. The growth of Christian philosophy can activate the intellectual powers of Evangelical churches; act as an important sign, potential, and beginning of the creation of a socio-cultural identity; claim, formalize, and cement its place in the overall cultural and religious picture of Russia.




[1] Troehsch E. Die sociallehren der christlichen Kirchen und Gnippen // Gesammelten Schriften. Tubingen, 1923. Bd. 1. 3. Aufl. S. 361-377.

[2] “Study: Christianity Still Plays an Important Role in the Lives of Europeans” // http://www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=3&id=33874

[3] Ratzinger, J. (Benedict XVI) Faith, Truth, and Tolerance. – М.: ББИ, 2007. - С. 148.
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