Wednesday, October 20, 2010

From Edinburgh to Cape Town

As a conservative evangelical who reads history, I think Edinburgh ended really badly. It failed to value theology and formed a movement that would later de-emphasize conversion and focus on social justice and eventually walk away from so much of what they treasured at Edinburgh (Ed Stetzer).

I have to wonder if Cape Town is substantively any different? I am not holding out hope that the doctrinal foundations are any more secure in 2010 than they were in 1910.

I freely admit to not being at either Edinburgh or Cape Town. But what I have seen in the blogs and articles in the run up to Cape Town, I am not convinced that this Lausanne group yet has an handle on what the gospel actually is.

I hope I am wrong.

Missiologist David Hesslegrave writes on “Will We Correct the Edinburgh Error? Future Mission in Historical Perspective.” It would be worth your time as well. Others have recommended Arthur  Johnston’s The Battle for World Evangelism (though I am not sure this is still in print).

World evangelism needs a renewed commitment to the gospel itself. Will Cape Town lead this? In another hundred years (should the Lord tarry) will people be talking about the Cape Town error?


joel shaffer said...


I think you are comparing apples with oranges. The two are extremely different. Capetown is based on the Lausanne Covenant which is in part, a confession of faith (could be stronger, I admit). However, Edinburgh had no such affirmation of faith to sign and they purposely avoided doctrinal issues according to the Hesselgrave article that you link. This is not the case when it comes to Capetown/Lausanne. There are many papers, blogs, and speakers that are addressing doctrinal issues with mission.

As for the gospel, I am curious why you say that they don't really know it? Here is what everyone at Capetown is required to affirm about the gospel (Although it is within the context of evangelism)

"To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gifts of the Spirit to all who repent and believe....."

Well, you also referenced Johnston, writer of "the battle for evangelism." Although he does a good job tracing the demise of the mainline church's missionary endeavors throughout the 20th century, he then tries to link the mainline slippery slope into liberalism with a present and future evangelical slippery slope because he didn't agree with Lausanne adding social action as part of the mission of the church (even though they made evangelism primary) Therefore I believe he fails miserably towards the end of the book.

Do I believe there are some concerns with Capetown? Absolutely. I am uneasy about everything and the kitchen sink being Mission. I am with Stephen Neill who made the point, "When Mission is everything, than Mission is nothing."

However, unless they decide to scrap or change the Lausanne covenant, which all of these conferences are based on, then there won't be the parallel demise that Edinburgh took because Edinburgh chose not to include any theological stance for the sake of unity.

Larry said...

Thanks Joel for commenting.

My comment about not being sure they have a handle on it is because of the social justice emphasis as part of the gospel, or even , in some cases, as more foundational than the gospel proclamation. Some go so far as to say that proclamation serves deeds, that deeds are primary and word explains the deeds. That is troubling to me because I don't see that pattern in the NT.

Furthermore, I don't think the results since 74 at Lausanne give us much reason to hope. Since then, peripheral issues to the gospel have actually become more central and less controversial. Andrew Jones (Tall Skinny Kiwi) commented on what was disputed back then (the role of social issues) is not disputed now; it's just accepted. Andrew thinks that is good. I think that is bad.

Having a doctrinal stance such as the covenant will not ensure there is no demise. I think, already, there has been a demise. The gospel proclaimed dose not seem as central as it could be. We have major themes such as water, HIV/AIDS, sex trafficking, poverty, etc. all of which are important issues, none of which are the gospel. We have a generation of people who think that gospel ministry is digging wells or providing HIV medication. I think an argument can be made that that is the direct result of the philosphy underlying the Lausanne statement on social issues. And I don't think that is a good thing. And I want to be clear, I am not against water, medication, or freedom. I am not for poverty, sex trafficking, or the like. Those are things Christians can and should address. I am simply saying that that is not the gospel.

A conference on world evangelism should, IMO, be about evangelism, not about these other issues.

Stott's two wings sounded good, but one is badly wounded and getting little to no attention.

My point is that this is a cause of concern, and in 100 years, we might be having the same conversation about Cape Town that is being had about Edinburgh.

I wonder if Lausanne is not similar to the NAE where there was a doctrinal statement, but no enforcement mechanism. I don't know ...

Thanks again, and feel free to come back at me on this.