The 23 students in the first graduating class of the Protestant Saint Petersburg Theological Academy clearly have their work cut out for them. Seventy-four years of communism have left Russian Christians in a deep hole from which to climb. The country still lacks religious freedom and educated Protestant ministers, and it does not help that Russia’s Parliament and president were recently shooting at each other in Moscow.

The school was established in 1990 to give Russian evangelicals the intellectual credibility “to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Orthodox,” says Arthur DeKruyter, pastor of Christ Church in Oak Brook, Illinois, and cofounder of the academy with Russian pastor Sergei Nikolaev.

The school is an accredited institution on a par with Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Wenham, Massachusetts, or Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, says DeKruyter. Its course offerings include apologetics, missions and evangelism, comparative theologies, and modern cults.

Nikolaev, the academy’s president, says, “There was a very visible lack of educated ministers; so the main purpose was to give education for professionals—pastors, evangelists, church educators—to do missionary work.”

Evangelicals want to make an impact on Russian Christian life, and, De-Kruyter says, “you can’t do that when you are being looked at as novices and not academically oriented.”

DeKruyter received personnel and accreditation help from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he serves on the board of directors. Students are drawn from throughout Russia, where they also return after graduation to work as pastors, Christian educators, and church planters.

Western teachers

Richard Muller taught one of the first ...

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