Neo-Evangelicalism and Its Impact on Missions
Because the assigned topic is wide-ranging and my competence is limited, it would seem the part of wisdom to approach it descriptively rather than definitively. Not only does it take in considerable territory, but also the subject of Neo-evangelicalism as it relates to Missions is still very much ‘current events’ and therefor involves rather subjective judgments. And yet sufficient years have elapsed since the New Evangelical phenomenon first manifested itself to begin to draw certain conclusions. Although it is a brief history, it is nonetheless a revealing one and worth pondering. Accordingly, the thought is to let history speak, to look at the subject from an historical, rather than a specifically theological, perspective. Through such an historical overview, the doctrinal issues at stake will inevitably surface and be placed in an understandable frame of reference.
The plan of procedure will be to consider Neo-evangelicalism successively as a mood, as a movement, and finally and more extensively, for such is our primary concern in this gathering, Neo-evangelicalism as a missiological influence. Hopefully in this way we will at least touch all the main bases and cross home plate with some sense of having dealt with the issue before us.
It was some years after Harold Ockenga, in a 1948 Fuller Theological Seminary convocation, first called for a ‘New Evangelicalism’ that observers of the religious scene became aware that something different was indeed afoot. When the significance began to dawn on them in the late 1950’s, they tended to regard it as an in-house affair, peculiar to the Fundamentalist/Evangelical tradition. Actually it was part of a revolutionary ferment in the larger Christian world triggered by the events surrounding World War II. In the West, the Neo-orthodoxy of the 1920’s and 30’s began to give way to a more radical
Neo-Liberalism. In the Third World, rapidly emerging from colonialism, the classical Liberal and Evangelical theologies both were challenged by various ‘ethnotheologies’ – African, Asian, and in Latin America, by a ‘Theology of Liberation.’ It was an isolated thing, therefore, when elements in Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism—the two terms had been almost interchangeable—began their move toward a Neo-evangelicalism and when a Neo-reformed emphasis started to take shape among certain heirs of Reformed orthodoxy.
Still it came as a jolt to many when in 1959 Edward J. Carnell, Ockenga’s successor as Fuller Seminary President, published a broadside against Fundamentalism. 1 Beginning with an attack on Fundamentalist separatism, as represented by J. Gresham Machen – an attack certainly viewed with favor by his denominational publisher – he went on to lash out at the anti-intellectualism of Fundamentalists. Especially did Carnell savage what he regarded as their cultural barrenness, prudish life-style, and failure to do justly and love mercy. His overall thesis was that "Fundamentalism is orthodoxy gone cultic," 2 concluding that "the fundamentalist is so intimidated by the cult that his sense of social grace has all but atrophied."3 Most significant for the future was his statement, "While we must be solicitous about doctrine, Scripture says that our primary business is love." 4
Carnell’s book, with its derisive attitude and almost bitter invective, was to reflect the feelings of an increasing number of young and not-so-young Evangelicals. Vernon Grounds, by this time President of Conservative Baptist Seminary in Denver, recognized "with a wry smile the truth in the liberal jibe, ‘Fundamentalism is too much fun, too much damn, and too little mental." 5 Not that the New Evangelicalism had as yet taken concrete form with a definite program of action. Charles Woodbridge, perhaps its earliest critic, would later write from a militant Fundamentalist stance, "The New Evangelicalism originated not as a system of carefully thought out theology but as a theological mood or attitude quite different from that of the stalwart ‘Old Evangelicals’." 6 Carnell seemed to agree when he wrote about "a radical atmospheric change within American orthodoxy." 7 At the outset, therefore, Neo-Evangelicalism was a contagious mood rather than a coherent movement.
Yet its future direction was set, and its broad outlines were fast taking shape. Instead of separating from the liberalized denominations, the New Evangelicals would seek to penetrate them and recapture them for their brand of orthodoxy. Instead of being truculent and combative, they would be tolerant and loving. Instead of living in a spiritual ‘ghetto,’ they would interact with contemporary culture. Instead of being obscurantist in matters of scholarship, they would not ‘duck’ the hard questions raised by evolutionary science and the historical criticism of the Bible. Of course, there was no thought at the start of abandoning high Scriptural ground, but it would eventually lead to the concessions which have such grave implications for the Missionary Movement today, yes, and which bear on such related matters of concern as the identifying of social concern with the Gospel. Indeed, early on, Dr. Ockenga went so far as to state: "The New Evangelicalism differs from Fundamentalism in its willingness to handle the social problems which Fundamentalism evaded. There need be no dichotomy between the personal gospel and the social gospel. The true Christian faith is a supernatural experience of salvation and a social philosophy." 8
From its first decade, therefore, Neo-evangelicalism was committed to an Aristotelian view of the wholeness of life, personal and social, mind and body. Implicit in this was a rejection of the Platonist dichotomy between body and soul, between their world and the next. Heaven and hell, the eternal consequences of faith and unbelief, would, logically, no longer be determining categories for the Neo-evangelical mind-set. Happily numbers of this persuasion have not followed out the logic of their position and have retained a keen sense of the lostness of men without Christ. Their concern for souls has been better than their underlying philosophy. However, they cannot completely escape the logical implications. They have, to a greater or lesser degree, embraced the mood, the spirit of the age. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote prophetically from prison about a different kind of world in the making, ‘a world come of age.’ Others have written about the ‘new man’ and the ‘new consciousness’ of our time. In much the same vein, Neo-Evangelicalism would offer the Christian world the ‘New Evangelical man’ who has shed the baby clothes of an immature Fundamentalism and come of age at last.
As if to confirm the fact that the stage for Neo-evangelicalism had been set in advance by other forces, there was a succession of contributing developments on the larger Fundamentalist/Evangelical scene. Notable among these was the emergence in 1949 of Billy Graham as a national figure. In short order, leading Evangelicals, some friendly to the new emphasis, were cultivating him and co-opting him for their programs. Because his own higher education was limited and because he had had some bad experiences with the Fundamentalist ‘right,’ Graham was especially susceptible to blandishments from the Evangelical ‘left.’ Gradually he became the popular symbol of the New Evangelicals, his high status with the public heightening their status as well. Moreover, his irenic disposition inclined him to adopt their more open attitude towards religious Liberals, if not toward Liberalism itself. Before long, his Crusade policies closely mirrored their rejection of separatism, their cordiality to the Conciliar churches, and their distaste for doctrinal exclusiveness. There can be no question that in its early years Neo-Evangelicalism rode the coattails of Billy Graham.
Parallel with Graham’s ‘Cooperative Evangelism’ was the impact made by a number of Neo-Evangelical journals, without which the movement’s headway would have been considerably slowed. In 1952, Donald Grey Barnhouse definitely took his influential magazine, Eternity, into the Neo-evangelical camp, and shortly thereafter Robert Walker did the same with Christian Life, later combining the Neo-Evangelical and Charismatic emphases. But it was the launching of Christianity Today in 1956, which was to have the most widespread impact for Neo-Evangelicalism as a movement. Not that it adopted the extreme position of some other publications, but in its espousal of ‘Cooperative Evangelism’ and in its seeking to reach main-line Protestants, it contributed mightily to what it called ‘Conservative Evangelicalism,’ the very expression suggesting that there is a ‘Liberal Evangelicalism’ as well.
Equally essential to the success of any religious movement in our day is its having what C.H. Spurgeon called ‘smithies’ where the Gospel ‘steeds’ are ‘shod’ and then sent out to minister. Already we have noted that the New Evangelicalism came to birth and grew to adolescence at Fuller Theological Seminary. From its beginnings in 1947, Fuller trained many able and articulate young men, not all of them committed to the Neo-evangelical approach. By the late 1950’s, however, there were rumors of a division in the Fuller faculty. With the withdrawal of a number of the original professors who were committed to the older Evangelicalism, those with the more advanced views were now free to push them to accelerate change. Meanwhile, other seminaries, Christian colleges and eventually Bible colleges came under increasing Neo-evangelical influence as older faculty members retired and younger men took their place. One should not underestimate the stress, which the New Evangelicals had from the start placed on intellectual respectability and academic attainment. Together with secular colleges and universities, Evangelical institutions were now demanding earned doctorates of their teaching staff, most of which had to be earned under Liberal auspices, usually, though not always, with some theological softening in the process.
That the winds of theological change were blowing through the halls of hitherto orthodox schools soon became evident. In 1957 Harold Ockenga had insisted that "the New Evangelicalism adheres to all the orthodox teaching of Fundamentalism." 9 Most interesting is the fact that Fuller Seminary at its inception had presented itself as the West Coast conservator of the "Princeton Theology" of the Hodges and Warfield. By 1966, however, there plainly was doctrinal drift, especially from the Hodge-Warfield view of Scriptural inerrancy. A Seminar on the Authority of the Bible convened at Wenham, Massachusettes, in June of that year, revealed a growing rift right down through the ranks of Evangelical theologians and Biblical scholars. What has since come to be known as “The Battle for the Bible” became common knowledge in 1970, when the Fuller Board and Faculty, under the leadership of David Hubbard, altered the Seminary’s Doctrinal Statement at a number of points, redefining the Scriptures as infallible in matters of faith and practice but not inerrant in matters of history and science. It was the signal that Fuller had officially embraced the historical-critical method.
Throughout the 1970’s the gulf between adherents of the older Evangelicalism and the New Evangelicals grew wider and wider. When a Fuller professor, Paul Jewett, wrote a book which, for all intents, denied the Bible’s infallibility in matters of church practice, a former Dean of the Seminary, Harold Lindsell, took it upon himself to expose the doctrinal slippage at Fuller and elsewhere in two successive volumes. Not only so, but others across the nation raised a banner with their International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. The battle was joined and continues to this day in the Evangelical Theological Society and elsewhere. In addition to the tensions in theology, Neo-evangelicalism has prompted sometimes acrimonious differences with insistent calls to ‘radical discipleship’ from such crusading publications as Sojourners and The Other Side, from such outspoken advocates as Ronald Sider and John Yoder.
It would be a mistake to toss the term ‘Neo-evangelical’ about too freely. Donald Bloesch of the Presbyterian seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, after listing churches and individuals under the Neo-Evangelical heading, rightly offers this caveat:
What is important to recognize is that every person and fellowship mentioned in this section, as in the rest of the chapter, is moving. While some may be neo-evangelical or neo-fundamentalist in this period, in another few years they may belong very properly to another category. Some neo-evangelicals are returning to fundamentalism, whereas others are breaking through to a catholic concept of the church. 10
Even so, some of the early Neo-evangelicals, alarmed at the turning the movement has taken, are today in the forefront of the flight for inerrancy. By the same token, many true Neo-evangelicals abjure the term, not wanting to be categorized and feeling perhaps that they have moved beyond it.
While watching our words, we can still speak of Neo-evangelicalism for practical purposes. There is a general movement of thought, which has permeated large segments of the old Fundamentalist/Evangelical constituency—and taken in others outside it. Bloesch, as we have indicated, does not shrink from naming names:
Churches where neo-evangelicalism has made a significant impact include the Evangelical Free Church, the General Conference Baptists, the Conservative Baptist Association of America, the Evangelical Covenant Church, the Salvation Army, the Evangelical Church of North America, the Wesleyan Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., the Southern Baptist Convention and nearly all the Presbyterian communions. 11
If one friendly to the movement can write in such specifics, certainly others of us can, with reasonable care, do the same. Moreover, if Neo-evangelicalism is as pervasive as Bloesch suggests, we most assuredly are justified in calling attention to its inroads into Missions as conceived and practiced in this ninth decade of the 20th Century. This we shall now attempt to do.
Almost invariably associated with the ‘science of missions’ or ‘missiology,’ as understood today, is Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions. What Gustave Warneck proposed in the last century and J. H. Bavinck outlined three and more decades ago, the leadership of the Fuller School—beginning with its founder, Donald McGavran—has brought to a high state of development. With the Seminary fathering the New Evangelicalism, one might expect the Neo-evangelical approach to influence the way in which its School of World Mission has tackled the relatively new missiological discipline. Reflecting this influence is the volume, Contemporary Theologies of Mission, 12 co-authored by McGavran and by his successor as Dean, Arthur Glasser.
Surprisingly, it is McGavran, a product of the liberal Disciples of Christ denomination, who is less sanguine about the prevailing Conciliar theology of mission. He deplores the fact that for "most of the mainline missions" the light for worldwide evangelization and church expansion has "already turned red" and that for "evangelical missions, one by one, here and there" the light is beginning to turn from green to red. 13 He regards as an 'erroneous hermeneutic' the way in which "the modern-day social context is allowed to determine the interpretation of the sacred text," 14 insisting that to call the changing of social structures ‘evangelism’ "accords neither with common sense nor with the Bible." 15 Indeed, he expresses the fond hope that his readers "will have the Great Commission in mind whenever they use the word ‘mission.’" 16
Rather is it Arthur Glasser, with personal roots in Fundamentalism, who looks more kindly upon Conciliar theology and the whole Conciliar apparatus. "The evangelical," he writes, "can easily underestimate the complexity of the task and make superficial or simplistic judgments regarding the Conciliar theology of mission." 17 As for the differences which do exist, he maintains that "the issue is not between Christians and non-Christians, for Jesus Christ is freely confessed as Lord both within and without the Conciliar movement." 18 Yes, according to Glasser, "all those who are theologizing on the Christian mission confess that Jesus is Lord." 19 Because, in the Fuller professor’s words, "the Spirit is struggling within the churches that they might more fully rise to the complex challenge of their world-wide mission," 20 "we must respond to openness with openness, seeking to be both fair and irenic." 21
Throughout Glasser never masks his personal feelings regarding those who attract or repel him. Lamenting "the polarization between ‘social gospel’ liberals and fundamentalists" between the two World Wars, he rejoices in the "reconciling presence" more recently of "the neoevangelicals with their capacity for appreciating those elements in Barthianism that represent a genuine return to Reformation theology." 22 He goes on to record, even more emphatically, his negative feelings about Fundamentalism: "The disastrous fundamentalist-modernist clash of the twenties has brought depressing consequences in its wake. The ‘separatist’ withdrawal mentality caused many Bible-believing Christians to abandon their churches, retreat from culture, and forsake the arena of intellectual encounter." 23 Not only does he pay his ‘respects’ to Fundamentalism, but, going behind it in history, he writes ‘finis’ over the simple motivation of Pietism: "Gone are the narrow presuppositions of the early Pietists whose missionary understanding had but a single focus, an overwhelming concern for the spiritual condition of the ‘heathen.’" 24 For Glasser there must now be the double-focus of Gospel proclamation and social concern. Nor, going back behind Pietism, are the creeds of Christendom entirely safe from Glasser’s strictures: "Few evangelical theologians ….. appear to have sensed how hopelessly inadequate, from a missionary point of view, are the historic creeds whose exposition and defense have always been an evangelical priority." 25
How are we to explain this pilgrimage of Arthur Glasser from Fundamentalism which climaxed in his drafting an "Open Letter"” at the 1983 World Council Assembly in Vancouver urging Evangelicals to throw in their lot with the Conciliar movement? Once again he is quite open in revealing some of the contributing factors. He writes of Conciliar missiology, "Evangelicals have derived much benefit from pondering the new literature on the subject." 26 Not only has Glasser read widely -- one might say ‘unwisely and too well’ -- but he has also sought and been sought by Conciliar types with whom he has engaged in continuing dialogue. In an almost artless biographical manner he tells of repeated encounters during the 1960’s and 70’s which broke down suspicions, his and others, and led to mutual appreciation and recognition. At the same time, he notes his impatience with the older leadership of the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (I.F.M.A.) which was resistant to the changes he desired and his corresponding admiration for forward-looking Evangelicals who had broken with Fundamentalist stereotypes. 27?
Lest any feel that the discussion thus far has been a bit too personal and pointed, let it be remembered that Arthur Glasser has been taken at his word. There can be no gainsaying his missionary earnestness and love for Christ, but there must be some questioning of his conclusions and the route, which he has arrived at them. Moreover, some understanding of the subjective appeal of Neo-evangelicalism is basic to recognizing the rationale behind its objective positions as they have been worked out over the years. When was it that the Neo-evangelical viewpoint began to assert itself in the area of missions? When did a convergence between a considerable part of the Evangelical missionary movement and the Conciliar theology of mission begin to take place under Neo-evangelical auspices? Glasser takes as his "starting point" the Third Assembly of the World Council at New Delhi in 1961. 28
What was there about New Delhi that was so significant for the future inter-action of the Conciliar and Evangelical outlooks on the missionary task? For one thing, the Assembly, under conservative Lutheran pressure, expanded the World Council’s Basis to include references to Holy Scripture and the Trinity. This was hailed by Evangelical observers, including Billy Graham, as a very positive sign and most promising for Evangelical/Ecumenical relations. A second action was the vote to incorporate the hitherto distinct International Missionary Council as the World Council’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism. This, while it occasioned great concern among conservative missions people, fired the imagination of a few I.F.M.A and E.F.M.A. (Evangelical Foreign Missions Association) member societies which had been edging closer to Ecumenical involvement through contact with such I.M.C. spokesmen as John Mackay and Lesslie Newbigin. Already they had adopted some of the Ecumenical vocabulary, substituting ‘mission’ for ‘missions,’ and now the absorption of the I.M.C. indicated to them that the World Council would become a force for global evangelization.
Evidently they had not attended closely enough to the total New Delhi Report which expressed itself unabashedly in universalistic terms, maintaining that the atonement through Christ "embraces all creation and the whole of mankind" and acknowledging "the wisdom, love and power which God has given to men of other faiths and of no faith." 29 Not only was universalism to be explicit in the world Council’s new mission involvement but a new concept of evangelism as well, as set forth in these words, "The attack upon social abuses and reconciliation, as well as preaching, Christian fellowship and worship, are all bound together in the message that is proclaimed." 30 Nor were these simply words. The new Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) was soon staffed by younger men who sought to implement actively the new philosophy of ‘mission.’ By the time of the Commission’s first meeting at Mexico City in December 1963, a secular agenda was well in place, reinforced by the public commitment of other World Council commissions to a Gospel of social change and even political revolution.
Over against the new Conciliar notion of evangelism as relating to all human need and as directed at the structures of society, Evangelicals in 1966 held two noteworthy gatherings. First came a Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission at Wheaton, called jointly by the E.F.M.A. and I.F.M.A. Its "Wheaton Declaration," drafted in large part by Arthur Glasser, struck a sorely needed note, very different from World Council pronouncements. Yet its ‘Confession’ of Evangelical flaws and foibles suggested that a strange wind was blowing: "We have sinned grievously. We are guilty of an unscriptural isolation from the world that too often keeps us from honestly facing and copying with its concern ..…. We frequently fail to communicate the gospel in a relevant winsome fashion." 31 Interpreting the ‘Declaration’ for an Ecumenical readership, Horace Fenton of the Latin America Mission wrote: "It was significant that the element of contrition was more in evidence at Wheaton than in some of our earlier, smaller gatherings. The fact that the Declaration began with a confession ... was cause for thanksgiving." 32
The second major Evangelical event of 1966 was the World Congress of Evangelism at Berlin in the fall of the year. Largely funded by the Billy Graham organization and officially sponsored by Christianity Today, its theme of "One Race, One Gospel, One Task" stressed the unity of mankind in need of Christ’s salvation, the uniqueness of the Biblical Gospel, and the proclamation of that Gospel to all men. As at Wheaton, this was a far cry from the this-worldly message, which had that very summer come out of the World Council’s Conference on Church and Society at Geneva. It could be said that the Congress fairly reflected the ministry and concerns of Billy Graham, although Frances Schaeffer warned against the non-evangelical sponsorship of many Graham crusades. Especially commendable was the financial provision, which enabled many Third World evangelists to attend. In short, the Berlin Congress represented ‘Conservative Evangelicalism’ come to influence and affluence since World War II. It sought to maintain a centrist position between Conciliarism and Fundamentalism. But could its sponsors and speakers continue to hold middle ground?
There were telltale signs that its chosen ground was already being eroded. The verbal substitution of ‘mission’ for ‘missions’ was generally accepted. Strong pleas were entered by Paul Rees and John Stott for more evidence of social concern. There was an emphasis on ‘Evangelical pluralism’ which might one-day be extended to include non-evangelicals as well. Quite plainly the Berlin participants were being affected by developments in the Conciliar camp. Some degree of cross-fertilization was taking place, and not even the radical extremism of subsequent World Council meetings -- Uppsala 1968 and Bangkok 1973 -- could altogether put a halt to the transmitting of Conciliar signals in an Evangelical direction.
At the Uppsala Assembly there was a dramatic intensification of the Conciliar drive to view salvation in this-worldly terms. The basic question raised, as whether the Gospel was one of personal conversion or social responsibility, with the answer a foregone conclusion. True, some proposed a synthesis of personal and social emphases, but, for all intents, it was the struggle for social justice, which prevailed. ‘Mission’ was to be carried out, not with the aim of Christian conversion, but in terms of political and social activism, which might at times involve violence. All of this prompted protests from Conciliar Evangelicals in attendance. Yet it would seem the mood of the Assembly swayed them more than they the Assembly. Wrote Peter Beyerhaus:
"In Uppsala the conservative evangelicals were heavily influenced by the dynamic of the challenge presented by the social problems of the Third World. In contrast with the earlier tendency of identifying mission with proclamation, John R. W. Stott, the main speaker for the evangelicals suggested the definition: ‘Mission equals proclamation plus service.’" 33 Of John Stott’s key role in bringing about Evangelical/Conciliar convergence more can and will be said.
If Uppsala 1968, preoccupied with Third World problems, "lifted up humanization as the goal of mission," maintaining that "the fundamental question" was now that of "the true man" rather than that of "the true God" 34 as heretofore, and if it continued to redefine ‘evangelism’ as the restructuring of society that man might truly be man, then Bangkok 1973 gave this specific missiological shape. Under the theme of "Salvation Today" this meeting of the Commission of World Mission and Evangelism sought to establish social and political salvation as the mission of the Church in a revolutionary era. For World Council leader, M. M. Thomas of India, "Salvation Today" meant physical well-being, material abundance, peace in the world and justice among all peoples. Only by this road could modern man realize true selfhood and dignity. As for the Church, its function was not to propagate itself but to further the movements for societal change. Although the final Bangkok Report somewhat tempered Thomas’ sentiments, Emilio Castro, CWME’s Director eventually to become the World Council’s General Secretary, could announce: "The missionary era has ended; the era of world mission has begun."
Throughout this period Evangelicals were holding their own conferences in various world areas – at Singapore in 1968, at Minneapolis and Gogota in 1969, and at Amsterdam in 1971. In both the Singapore and Minneapolis gatherings the call for increased social involvement became more insistent, with Leighton Ford, Billy Graham’s associate and brother-in-law, leading the way. A Singapore speaker approvingly quoted a Ford article in the Ecumenical Review decrying "conservative evangelicals who tend to regard evangelism merely as an isolated, individualistic religious experience." 35 At Minneapolis Ford himself issued a call for a "revolutionary evangelism" by Christians who have "earned the right to speak" through seeking for justice in society. As for the Bogota Congress, meeting in the midst of Latin American ferment, it issued an appeal for Evangelicals to become actively involved in social concerns. At Amsterdam, too, stress was placed on the social implications of the Gospel but without de-prioritizing Gospel proclamation.
Any discussion of the Evangelical missions scene, especially as impacted by Neo-evangelicalism, must acknowledge the role of the triennial Urbana Missionary Conventions sponsored by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. Not only have multiplied thousands of young people been motivated to become ‘world Christians,’ but Urbana speakers have, by and large, pointed the way to a broader Evangelicalism, Glasser noting that they have "contributed significantly to the development of a mood of evangelical ecumenism within the worldwide church in our day." 36 In the 1957 Convention Donald Barnhouse had rattled the rafters with his call for "One world, One Church, One Lord," with special emphasis on "One Church," but it was in 1970 that the gifted Black evangelist, Tom Skinner, electrified the students and student leaders with an address that climaxed on this note:
“You will never be radical until you become part of this new order (God’s Kingdom) and then go into a world that is enslaved, a world that is filled with hunger and poverty and racism, and all those things of the work of the devil. Proclaim liberation to the captives, preach sight to the blind, set at liberty them that are bruised, go into all the world and tell men that are bound mentally, spiritually and physically, "The Liberator has come!" 37
Certainly Skinner’s words are not to be exactly equated with the Conciliar concept of ‘liberation,’ but it would be blind folly not to recognize a certain similarity.
Returning to the Ecumenical arena, it was in 1972, just prior to Bangkok, that the World Council’s Theological Education Fund released a report entitled, Ministry in Context, which called for the replacing of the time-honored missions term ‘indigenization’ with ‘contextualization.’ According to the report, ‘contextualization’ moves beyond ‘indigenization’ in that it "takes into account the process of secularity, technology, and the struggle for human justice which characterizes the historical moment of nations in the Third World." 38 In the minds of its coiners, ‘contextualization’ relates, not only to the cultural aspects of church life and worship, but to the adapting of the Gospel to the total cultural situation. This could simply mean adapting the presentation to different cultures, or it could mean accommodating the message as well. As used by advocates of the new Conciliar theology of mission, it has seemed to provide a convenient justification for their altering the meaning of salvation, of evangelism, and of the whole ‘mission’ concept.
All these developments within and without the Ecumenical Movement were the background for the International Congress on World Evangelization at Lausanne in mid-Summer 1974. Arthur Johnston of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School sees Lausanne as a watershed in what he has denominated "The Battle for World Evangelism." Far and away the dominant human figure was John Stott who delivered the first plenary paper and was the principal drafter of the ‘Lausanne Covenant.’ In the background of all Stott’s thinking seem to have been Conciliar developments during the preceding months and years. Following up his earlier definition at Uppsala that "Mission equals Proclamation plus Service," he underscored his conviction that social service was an integral partner with evangelism in the mission of the Church. In his own words, "I now see more clearly that not only the consequences of the commission but the actual commission itself must be understood to include social as well as evangelistic responsibility." 39 Not only so, but he now saw the Great Commission as committed to the Church as a whole rather than to burdened individuals and societies. He could see no reason to resist the Conciliar formula that the "Church is Mission" and went on to describe ‘mission’ as "a comprehensive word, embracing everything which God sends his people into the world to do." 40
It was Stott who summed up Lausanne for Ecumenical readers. He reported that he saw four aspects of the Lausanne message: An uncompromising commitment to the Biblical Gospel; the centrality of the Church in the purpose of God and evangelism; the need to take culture seriously; and the recognition of a cosmic conflict. 41 He rejoiced that "the Planning Committee had the courage to invite speakers whom they knew to be controversial and made no attempt to censor them." 42 In addition, he stressed "the need for theological debate with the liberation school" and described the ‘Spirit of Lausanne’ as a "welcome humility" which permitted "the bracing winds of freedom" to blow. 43
By no means should one convey the impression that Stott spoke for all the Lausanne delegates. Several speakers, including Billy Kim and Francis Schaeffer, came down hard on the side of Biblical inerrancy and forced a strengthening of the Covenant’s statement on Scripture to read that the Bible is "without error in all that it affirms." Donald McGavran held out for the primacy of evangelism over social concern as against Stott’s stressing the equal partnership of the two. And, indeed, the Covenant was to declare that "in the Church’s ministry of sacrificial service evangelism is primary." However, it was John Stott and his friends who had seized the initiative and then maintained it throughout the Congress. Other Evangelical voices were simply reacting to them, even as they themselves were responding to Conciliar initiatives.
Eight years before at Berlin, Beverly Shea was reported to have said, "The wheat was so high, you couldn’t see the fences." A similar euphoria pervaded Lausanne, and not without some good reasons. Commenting on the Lausanne ‘Spirit,’ Byang Kato would write:
"Lausanne has been a tremendous blessing to thousands of Christians around the world. It could lead to a phenomenal revival throughout the world within this decade. But unless evangelicals are on their guard and are willing as defenders of the faith to face ridicule, the International Council on World Evangelization could become a tool for ecumenical pressures towards their unification of the world." 44
Kato then went on to suggest that much would depend on the positions taken and the policies pursued by the Continuation Committee appointed to follow up Lausanne. As it turned out, the Committee was to go through a two-year period of some inner conflict over both purpose and personnel, but in January of 1976 its direction was set when Leighton Ford was elected chairman.
There can be no question that Ford’s thinking, in social and ecclesiastical matters especially, has been greatly influenced by John Stott. Just how determining Stott’s influence has been on Ford and others is suggested by Johnston: "It took twenty-five years for the WCC to accomplish what Stott’s paper at Lausanne accomplished in the two years after Lausanne." 45 He refers to Stott’s persuading the Continuation Committee that authority for evangelism is derived from the Church, not directly through the Great Commission. Moreover, Stott was continuing in this same time frame to seek Conciliar rapprochement, telling the delegates to the World Council’s Fifth Assembly at Nairobi in 1975:
"Ecumenical leaders genuinely question whether evangelicals have a heartfelt commitment to social action. We evangelicals say we have, but I personally recognize that we have got to supply more evidence that we have. On the other hand, evangelicals question whether the WCC has a heartfelt commitment to worldwide evangelism. They say they have, but I beg this Assembly to supply more evidence that this is so." 46
Is one reading too much into these words if he draws the conclusion that John Stott would like to bring as many Evangelicals as possible into the Ecumenical orbit?
Again, the Stott influence on the Lausanne Continuation Committee has been manifest in subsequent Lausanne-sponsored consultations and conferences. He served, for example, as Chairman of the 1978 Willlowbank Consultation on "The Gospel and Culture" which fully endorsed and pushed the contextualized approach to the Gospel proclamation. Indeed, in his Foreword to the Willowbank papers he states:
"The major challenge to the world wide Christian mission today is whether we are willing to pay the cost of following in the footsteps of our incarnate Lord in order to contextualize the Gospel. Our failure of communication is a failure of contextualization." 47
To this day Stott continues to be the commanding personality among those Evangelicals who have embraced the newer approaches to ‘mission.’ After giving rather negative marks to the 1980 Lausanne Consultation at Pattaya, Thailand, the ecumenically oriented Evangelical, Waldron Scott, reported with satisfaction, "the most appreciated speaker was the ever-popular John Stott of England." 48
If this paper has focused upon the positions taken by Arthur Glasser and John Stott -- not, hopefully, upon their persons -- it is because these two men symbolize the coming together of two streams which have produced an Evangelical missiology quite different from that espoused by those who see the missionary imperative primarily, though not exclusively, in terms of heaven and hell, the saved and the lost. On the one hand, Glasser represents the American movement broadly characterized as Neo-evangelicalism. In its fevered reaction against Fundamentalism -- and even Establishment Evangelicalism -- it has rushed to embrace concepts and categories which are Biblically suspect, to identify themselves with men and movements that have to be considered sub-evangelical. On the other hand, Stott represents an Anglican Evangelicalism, which has stuck through thick and thin to an Established Church of the most diverse components. By reason of its ecclesiastical connection, it has learned to look the other way when faced with heresy and to go along with the commitment of the Church of England to the World Council. Illustrative of its compromised situation has been the two Congresses of Anglican Evangelicals at Keele in 1967 and at Nottingham in 1977. Keele was to put social action on a par with evangelism, while Nottingham, with John Stott in the chair, resolved that "evangelicals should join others" in the Establishment in working toward "full communion" with Rome.
It is the writer’s conviction that, for the cause of the Gospel as a whole, the converging of these two streams augurs nothing good. The appeal of winsome personalities such as Glasser and Stott, carries much weight with younger Evangelicals, as do their cultural grace and intellectual acumen. Moreover, the American Neo-evangelical and Anglican Evangelical, by their openness to change, have meshed with the mood of the hour. From a strictly human standpoint it would appear that they are riding the wave of the future. There is, however, another way of looking at things. A. W. Tozer gave expression to it a generation ago when asked by Philip Howard the meaning of the New Evangelicalism: "My brother, wait a few more years. The Liberals of today will soon pass into oblivion. Today’s changing Fundamentalist will soon become tomorrow’s Modernist. Then God will raise up a new generation of those true to His inerrant Word that will be valiant in flight against the enemy." 49
As for Missions in particular, it could well be, as Arthur Johnston fears, that the weaknesses of Berlin 1966, and especially of Lausanne 1974, will lead to the same sort of collapse by Evangelical Boards and Societies as that which eventually overtook the mainline Denominational Boards after Edinburgh 1910. Certainly the issues at stake are crucial. Peter Wagner aptly quotes Sherwood Wirt: "When social action is mistaken for evangelism the church has ceased to manufacture its own blood cells and is dying of leukemia. When social action becomes more important than evangelism the church has forgotten to breathe and is already dead of heart failure." 50 Such words are to be taken seriously, coming from one who in his earlier ministry knew Liberalism from the inside. Even more crucial is the matter of Biblical authority. Not only do Conciliar Liberals assert their own autonomy by making the Bible say what they want it to say, but even an acclaimed exegete like John Stott is now twisting the Scriptures to make them accord with his viewpoints. I refer to his using John’s version of the Great Commission to prove that the Commission means service, with Gospel proclamation and social action the two manifestations of that service. 51 Yet, alarming as all this may be, however damaging to Biblical missions, God once again will have the last word. "This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness among all nations and then shall the end come." 52
Because this Caucus is largely concerned with the Christian mission and message to the Islamic world, one or two added comments may be in order. The Conciliar theology of mission has virtually abandoned all thought of seeing resistant Muslims come to Christ, while the Neo-evangelical theology of mission, now rather distinctive by itself, seeks ways and means of making it easier for Muslims to accept the Christian Gospel. Bright and clever minds are employing cultural anthropology and contextualized theology to build bridges to the followers of Mohammed. The problem is that, because their ‘Christian-Qur’an Hermeneutic’ is first cousin to the ‘New Hermeneutic’ of the Liberal Conciliarists, they make so many concessions as to render the message they offer almost more akin to the 'Injil' of the Qur'an than to the Gospel of the New Testament. Again, we can rejoice that the Biblical approach to the Muslims, with the core of the message unadulterated, will continue to make its impact until the end of the age, Islamic opposition, Conciliar pessimism, and Neo-evangelical experimentation to the contrary notwithstanding.
Some, no doubt, would accuse the present writer of harsh strictures and too sweeping generalizations. As for the generalizations, it would seem that sufficient evidence has been brought forward to lay that charge to rest. The repeated words and actions of men are not to be shrugged off; they must be taken seriously. As for any undue harshness, that should be repented of and promptly. However, talk of ‘love’ can also serve as a smokescreen to obfuscate the real issues. This, it would seem, is what Charles Kraft was guilty of in his response to Richard Heldenbrand’s article calling into question his and others’ proposals for Muslim evangelism. Wrote Kraft, "Our differences result from my distaste for the combative approach to witness and my willingness to experiment with forms of witness that would show the kind of Christ-like love that we profess to recommend." 53 Once again love-talk would be used to cover more than a multitude of sins.
Summing up our discussion, the debate narrows down to the question as to whether eternal issues or this-worldly concerns are primary. The Neo-evangelical has ever increasingly been tending to major on the affairs of this life. How revealing is the title given to the published papers of the Willowbank Consultation, "Down to Earth!" with John Stott acknowledging that the answers given "are all basically cultural." 54 Then, too, the Neo-evangelical joins his Liberal counter-parts in rejecting any dichotomy between body and soul. One missions professor, a veteran of many conferences and consultations, has asked, "Does the bugaboo of dichotomizing, the one great, unforgivable missiological sin of the 80’s, keep us from distinguishing between the relative importance of the body and material things and the eternal value of the soul?" 55 Wherever we have turned a hard heart to man’s physical and material needs, we stand reproved by God’s Word. But wherever we have turned a blind eye to the spiritual needs of men, we stand doubly condemned. May God grant us the sight and insight of F. W. H. Myers "St. Paul"
Only like souls I see the folk thereunder,
Bound who should conquer, slaves who should be kings,
Hearing their one hope with an empty wonder,
Sadly contented with a show of things.
Then with a rush the intolerable craving
Shivers throughout me like a trumpet call:
O to save these, to perish for their saving,
Die for their life, be offered for them all!
6. Charles J. Woodbridge, The New Evangelicalism, Bob Jones University Press, 1969, p. 23
7.Edward J. Carnell, “Post-Fundamentalist Faith,” The Christian Century, August 26, 1959, p. 971.
10. Donald G. Bloesch, The Future of Evangelical Christianity, Doubleday, 1980, p. 35
12. Arthur F. Glasser and Donald A. McGavran, Contemporary Theologies of Mission, Baker, 1983
29. Cited by Arthur P. Johnston, The Battle For World Evangelism, Tyndale House, 1978, p. 144
31. The Wheaton Declaration, East Asia’s Millions, June 1966, p. 84.
32. Horace L. Fenton, Jr., “Debits and Credits: The Wheaton Congress,” International Review of Mission, October 1966, p. 478
33. Peter Beyerhaus, Missions: Which Way?, Zondervan, 1971, p. 59
34. Draft for Sections: Uppsala ’68, International Review of Mission, January 1968, p. 34.
35. Quoted by Johnston, op. cit., p. 247.
36. Glasser and McGavran, op. cit., p. 115.
37. Tom Skinner, Christ the Liberator, Inter-Varsity Press, 1971, pp. 208,9.
38. Report of the Theological Education Fund, Ministry in Context, October 1972, p. 20.
39. Quoted by Johnston, op. cit., p. 302.
40. John R. W. Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World, Inter-Varsity Press, 1975, p. 35.
41. John R. W. Stott, “The Significance of Lausanne,” International Review of Mission, July 1975, pp. 291-4.
44. Byang H. Kato, “An African Perspective,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, October 1974, p. 311.
45. Johnston, op. cit., p. 298.
46. Response to Mortimer Arias, International Review of Mission, June 1976, p. 33.
47. John R. W. Stott and Robert Coote, Ed., Down to Earth: Studies in Christianity and Culture, Eerdmans, 1980, p. viii.
48. Waldron Scott, “The Significance of Pattaya,” Missiology, Jan. 1981, p. 60.
49. Editorial, “The Current Mood of Evangelical Christianity,” The Sunday School Times, March 12, 1960, p. 199.
50. Quoted by C. Peter Wagner, “Evangelical Missions and Revolution Today,” Missiology, January 1972, p. 98.
51. Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World, op. cit., p. 23.
53. Charles H. Kraft, “Response to Richard Heldenbrand,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, July 1982, p. 140.
54. Stott and Coote, Down to Earth, op. cit., p. viii.
55. John A. Gration, “Key Issues in Missiology,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, January 1984, p. 77.
This paper by the late Dr. Fredrick W. Evans, Jr., was read at a meeting of some concerned Evangelicals who met at Four Brooks Conference Center, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, between July 9 and 11, 1985. The meeting was called to discuss the spread of a new theory of missions known as Contextualization. At the end of the meeting, A STATEMENT OF MISIONARY CONCERN was adopted. Because of the brevity of the STATEMENT, Dr. Evans was asked by the signers of this document to write a fuller explanation of its purpose and interpretation of its contents.
Almost two decades have passed since the issuing of this STATEMENT, but its relevance is not diminshed. Rather than pay full attention to the Biblical givens regarding missions and specifically, the role of the Holy Spirit in conversion, certain voices are still clamoring for some type of contextualizing the Christian message in order to facilitate conversions of non-Christians.
The Statement of Missionary Concern as well as a paper by Rev. Bassam Madany “Rethinking Missions Today” are also available on this web site.