November 1, 1998
The East German Church and the End of Communism
by John P. Burgess
Oxford Univ. Press
185 pp.; $35
The Turned Card: Christianity Before and After the Fall
by Desmond O'Grady
Loyola Press, rev.
and expanded ed.
231 pp.; $22.95
Apart from Serbs smashing another ethnic neighbor in the former Yugoslavia, Eastern Europe is long gone from the newspapers, evening news, and consciousness of most Americans. The doughty, but struggling economies of the region hardly factor in the rush of goods and services that so captivates American perceptions of the wider world. With the breaking of the Marxist-steroid affinity, even sports in Eastern Europe have gone to pot. Croatia's surprising run in the World Cup is only the exception that proves that rule. This lack of concern by Americans for the regions of the former Soviet empire is a shame for generally human reasons, but also for specifically Christian concerns. In almost all of the former Communist countries, some form of Christian faith survived (often heroically) through the years of oppression, and in almost all of the countries today several forms of Christian faith are active in struggling for the souls of the people.
Yet books have not yet caught up to the Christian significance of what went on and has been going on in Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the former East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and the former Yugoslavia. These two books, while a help, are at best propaedeutic for fuller studies yet to come. John Burgess spent a year and several shorter excursions in East Germany before 1989, and he has returned several times since the Wende of that year. His account is helpful on how theological discussions before 1989 prepared the way for Lutheran East Germans ...