Highlights of the event
I think the highlights of the plenary parts of the conference have been:
a) The Testimony of the 18 year old girl from China who told her powerful story of losing both her mother (to cancer) and father (to religious persecution in North Korea) and how she wants to become a lawyer / missionary standing those who are being repressed by an unjust regime.
b) The testimony of Libby Little who has served as a missionary in Afghanistan only days after the memorial service for her martyred husband stands up and reads a sermon from the blood soaked pages of his journal.
c) The Testimony of Prainitha Timothy who highlighted the plight of the world’s 27 million slaves and 10-15 million child slaves in India alone.
d) Bishop Ben Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria who testified humbly and powerfully about God’s grace sustaining him despite the physical abuse on his family and the constant threat of death he faces for witnessing to the good news about Jesus in a fundamentalist Islamic part of Nigeria.
e) Singing a Latin American authored song in the sung worship time. “Con Con Con Con Podore ( With Power).” The international flavour of the singing and music at the conference overall has been excellent– there have been some terrific solos from the multicultural team. 4200 people dancing and declaring God’s praise was wonderful as was hearing the whole conference pray the Lord’s prayer in unison in 200 different languages.
f) Table groups – great idea to have us meet regularly for Bible study and reflection around consistent tables – my friends from Norway, India, Sudan and Jamaica have been great. It a) helps build community b) it gives potential for feedback c) it models that in theory our communication with eachother as delegates is as important as our listening to the speaker at the front. Ramez Attilla said at the IFES gathering tonight that other conferences (not just christian ones) want to follow this model.
Theological / Missiological Analysis
Apart from the inspirational stories , the relationship building and conversations with all sorts of interesting and amazing believers from around the world. It is hoped that Lausanne will make a significant contribution to world evangelization. Lausanne 1 did that with the tying together of social responsibility and evangelism. Lausanne 2 was slightly hijacked by the DAWN 2000 / AD 2000 church planting agendas but did help with the concept of people group. What will Lausanne 3 offer?
I would like to suggest that many of the plenary sessions have not advanced the conversation very far. We have heard the need to stand up for truth – but did not have truth sufficiently defined for us. We have heard pluralism denounced without the nuance of how pluralism can help us without leading to relativism. These presentations felt reactionary, there seemed like an overwhelming sense of pessimism, a retraction back to solid ground rather than a sense of seizing the opportunities in front of us. The thinking feels 20 years out of date with a reactionary approach to Postmodernism without the appreciation of the new aspects of common grace that are shining through at this moment in history. There are some exceptions and the voices from Africa, Latin America and Turkey have been very helpful.
I would suggest from my limited vantage point at the fringes of the congress that the themes that the Cape Town Confessions need to address are:
1. GOSPEL CONTEXTUALISATION
Antoine Ruytashire from Rwanda, a theological college principal, provided the conference with a powerful contextual analysis of western missionary practice. He challenged the conference to think about the message we have been communicating. By drawing attention to the 91% chrisianisation of Ruanda before 1994 that had insufficient depth to prevent “christian” people from participating in a genocide that killed a million people in a 100 days. There was a lack of contextualisation of the gospel hat failed to deal with the ethnic diversity of the country. Ziya Meyal also drew sharp attention to this in his presentation on evangelism and Islam arguing for the need to reexamine the individualistic gospel being presented. There does not seem to be clarity amongst platform speakers or delegates on the need for, or the nature of contextualisation. From the platform the gospel is being consistently reduced to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; as John Piper preached and Michael Ramsden reiterated – again showing the lack of awareness of the social implications of the gospel and repentance. I wonder if a bigger gospel would help to reinforce Lausanne’s commitment to evangelism and social justice as if a fuller, more contextually aware, less pietistic / individualistic gospel is preached social justice and evangelism are even more tightly integrated. There has been little talk of the gospel of the kingdom. In fact an overemphasis on the epistles rather than the whole of scripture; even outside of the bible reading sessions. A bigger gospel that speaks of our relationship with God restored, our relationship with others, our relationship with creation and our relationship with ourselves. (I have written on this subject elsewhere). I have been frustrated that we have been asked to choose between prioritising evangelism or social justice. As my friend David Westlake puts it – that is a redundant question – why do we have to prioritize. We don’t prioritize between bible reading and prayer? We have heard that we must becareful not to be distracted from preaching by too great a focus on social justice. But I have never been warned about reading the Bible too much to lead me away from prayer. because everyone knows the more you read the Bible the more you want to pray. A bigger gospel would help us with this absurd dichotomy.
2. AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE
I felt the Bible expositions have often demonstrated more about the expositors own particular agendas than the text in front of them. The scripture has been used on one very particular occasion as a platform to push a particular doctrinal position which was not actually contained in the text. If truth is a major theme and “biblical truth” at that and the expositors have been chosen “as models for younger preachers” then we may have done more damage to the cause of biblical authority than good and instead demonstrated some of Michel Foucault’s observations on the relationship between power and truth. In the cause of world evangelization – the bible is often abused in our evangelistic and apologetic presentations and preaching. How do we model submission to the Bible this relates directly to both to the nature of contextualisation and of discipleship?
Antoine Ruytashire, Renee Padilla, Ziya Meyal and Samuel Escobar have all called for a re-examination of the nature of discipleship. We have often produced shallow expressions of the gospel and then not sufficiently catechised converts to have a worldview transformation through the work of the Holy Spirit and submission to God’s word. Sometimes discipleship “programmes” have abused scripture treating the word of God as set of proof texts to be memorised rather than appreciating the richness of the genres, the flow of the narrative or the scope of the gospel. Biblical contextualised discipleship that is based not around individuals or mission agencies but around the work of the local church.
I have felt the church has taken a back seat at this event to the call for individuals to speak truth, face matyrdom and work for justice. Partly due to the overly individualised western gospel. There has been little talk about what mission should look like for the local church. I would like Lausanne to be clear about the role of the church. The church as the basic unit of mission, the church as a contextualised sensitive expression of the kingdom of God which both preaches the gospel and offers help to the needy. The church as a disciplemaking community that seeks; under the spirit’s guidance, to call people to be reconciled with God, eachother, the creation and themselves. There has been little talk so far about the church as a united body – what does it mean apart from “Ulav Rykse Tveit “ who argued right at the outset of the conference that the needs of the world are too big to be met by a divided church.