After a period of engagement, Eastern Orthodox and evangelical Christians have hardened their attitudes toward each other, resulting in a curtailment of dialogue between the two groups.
The evangelical missions journal Transformation (July) notes that the dialogue and cooperation that emerged in the 1990s and early 2000s between Eastern Orthodox and evangelicals was mainly over recognition of a common conservatism in doctrine and an attempt to resolve conflicts over the latter’s evangelizing in former communist areas. For several years the World Council of Churches facilitated many of these talks. The Baptists, one of the most populous Protestant denominations in the former Soviet Union, also engaged in conferences and dialogue with Eastern Orthodox through the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague (although neither communion has engaged in official dialogue).
But in recent years, “those advocating any kind of engagement are liable to come under attack from their co-religionists as well as those from the other side of the fence,” writes Tim Grass. Romania was considered a promising place for evangelical–Orthodox relations, given the country’s history of religious pluralism. Several studies of Orthodoxy were conducted by Romanian evangelical scholars with the appreciation of the Orthodox.
But in the last five years, interest in following up this emerging dialogue has receded, especially on the Orthodox side. England and the U.S. remain the few places where Orthodox–evangelical initiatives have formed, mainly because Evangelicals have higher visibility in the field of theological studies and the lack of conflict over perceptions of one group poaching on the other’s religious territory. Grass concludes that any dialogue in the future will most likely be unofficial—mainly because of evangelicals’ lack of structure and hierarchy—and engaged in projects of joint concern, such as dealing with the importance of preaching for the Orthodox and renewed appreciation of the patristic heritage for evangelicals.
(Transformation, Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, St. Phillip and St. James Church, Oxford OX2 6HR, UK)