Welcome to the July issue of Lausanne Global Analysis.
Whether you are planning to read the full articles or just the executive summaries, we hope that you find this issue stimulating and useful. Our aim is to deliver strategic and credible analysis, information, and insight so that as a leader you will be better equipped for the task of world evangelization. It’s our desire that the analysis of current and future trends and developments will help you and your team make better decisions about the stewardship of all that God has entrusted to your care.
In this issue we address the legacy of Lausanne 1974 after 40 years. We also analyse the prosperity gospel, an issue that has emerged more recently, which was not on the missiological radar screen as a major challenge to world evangelization (although the call to a simple lifestyle in The Lausanne Covenant may have hinted that the issue was on the horizon). Our articles on evangelical responses to Hinduism and current issues facing churches in China highlight challenges faced by the church in the two largest countries on earth, together comprising one-third of the world’s population. Yet, in spite of the pressures, in both places the church is growing, in contrast to the Middle East where the visible church is shrinking rapidly, as our final article on regional Christian demographics highlights. However, even there, signs of hope are present.
Billy Graham once said that perhaps the most significant contribution in his ministry was the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization and the resulting Lausanne Movement. ‘This year we commemorate the 40th anniversary of that epoch-making congress, which was in my view the most significant world mission gathering in the Christian era’, writes S. Douglas (Doug) Birdsall (Honorary Chairman of The Lausanne Movement). Three great contributions of global significance emanated from the first Lausanne Congress: The Lausanne Covenant, holistic mission, and the new missiological paradigm of unreached people groups. Lausanne ’74 also gave birth to a global movement. ‘This is a gift from God through the magnanimous spirit of people like Graham and [John] Stott . . . I trust that the next generation will be informed and inspired by what happened 40 years ago in Lausanne’, he concludes.
‘The prosperity gospel teaches that believers in Jesus Christ, as part of their heritage from God in this life, are entitled to certain spiritual and physical blessings by right’, writes Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu (Baeta-Grau Professor of Contemporary African Christianity and Pentecostalism at the Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon, Ghana). What raises concerns among evangelical Christians in particular is the emphasis of this gospel on material things as prime indicators of faithful Christianity. The prosperity gospel also finds it difficult to deal with pain and disappointment. The propagation of the prosperity message raises a major challenge for Christian mission in our time, especially because many upwardly mobile young people are attracted to its promises. ‘Current missionary enterprise and theological study must continue to articulate solid responses to a gospel that sounds fascinating but is alien to the values upheld by the Lord of mission, Jesus Christ’, he concludes.
Recent incidents in Wenzhou and Beijing among other factors have stoked fears of a government campaign against both legal and illegal churches. ‘These incidents reflect the changing nature of Chinese churches—and China itself—and how this impacts the relationship of churches and state in China’, write Thomas Harvey (Academic Dean of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, Oxford, UK), Paul Huoshui (a specialist on religion and politics in China, affiliated with the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory Law School), and David Ro (Director of the Christy Wilson Center for World Missions at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary). For example, Christians now represent powerful business and social interests in the growing mega-cities of China. The recent incidents ‘reflect a growing wariness of Christianity by government leaders, although not so far the nationwide crackdown that some have predicted’, they conclude.
Hinduism claims over 900 million followers worldwide, making it the third largest world religion. The vast majority, over 827 million, live in India. The gospel has contributed to the welfare and holistic development of many marginalised communities among Hindus. ‘In many places, however, the bearers of the Good News have failed to incarnate the gospel in such a way that the community had the opportunity to investigate the Good News authentically’, writes Rabbi Jayakaran (Chairperson and Managing Trustee of PeaceMakers, India). We are sometimes unable to separate it from Western cultural wrappings and often a young person is told that family and community practices are evil and s/he has to choose between family and faith. ‘We need to make ourselves vulnerable by daring to unpack [the gospel] and offer it to communities to inspect, alter, accept, or reject’, he concludes.
‘In recent history, one of the most profound changes in the global religious landscape has been the unrelenting proportional decline of historic Christian communities in the Middle East’, writes Gina Zurlo (Assistant Director at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts, USA). Christians from these historic communities are now present all over the world, and Christians from all over the world are increasingly drawn to the Middle East. The dual migration trends of Christians to and from the region present a unique challenge for supporting Christians in the Middle East as minority communities under intense social and political pressure. ‘All Christians have a renewed responsibility to promote dialogue and cooperation across religious differences in light of the changing religious landscape of the Middle East’, she concludes.
Please send any questions and comments about this issue to [email protected]. The next issue of Lausanne Global Analysis will be released in September.