Occasional Paper

Following Jesus in Our Broken World

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Editor's Note

This is an edited version of a paper delivered at the Consultation of the Lausanne Theology Working Group in partnership with the WEA Theological Commission, ‘Following Jesus in our Broken World’, held at Limuru, Kenya, 12-16 February 2007. © Lausanne Theology Working Group. Download the full PDF

‘The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world’. This is the resounding vision of the Lausanne movement. Emerging out of the epoch-making first Lausanne Congress of 1974, Lausanne has functioned as a forum for a wide range of individuals, agencies and networks all around the globe that have world evangelization as their common concern. It has provided space to think together, channels of communication, opportunity for groups with special interests to meet, reflect and strategize together, publications, information for prayer and action. The Lausanne Covenant has formed the doctrinal and missiological back-drop for all this ferment of activity over three decades.

The Theological Working Group is one of several working groups within the Lausanne movement. Originally formed and chaired by John Stott, it has sought to engage in the theological reflection that needs to undergird practical mission. It is a core commitment of Lausanne that all valid forms of Christian mission in practice need to have theological grounding, and that all valid evangelical theological reflection should have missiological out-working and implications – no mission without theological rationale; no theology without missional relevance. Over the years the Lausanne TWG has held consultations and produced many significant statements and publications. Details of these, and all Lausanne’s publications, can be found on the Lausanne website, lausanne.org.

Meanwhile, the World Evangelical Alliance has also been much involved in theological and missiological reflection, through its Theology Commission and Missions Commission. Further information on these also can be found at www.worldevangelicalalliance.com. So since we share so much in common in theology and vision, it was agreed that we should hold forthcoming consultations in association. And we are additionally grateful to the WEA-TC for offering their journal, the Evangelical Review of Theology, as the vehicle for the first product of this process.

Thus it was that the newly re-constituted LTWG planned a small international consultation in February 2007, gathering about thirty men and women in Limuru, Kenya. It was deliberately conceived as an agenda-setting conference, in which we attempted to identify and discuss some of the most urgent matters confronting the church of Christ in its mission in the 21st century. We knew we could not deal with all these issues in depth, but wanted at least to open them up, with a combination of six full length reflective papers, and a larger number of shorter case-studies, earthing our discussion in the gritty realities of mission at the sharp end.

The most obvious fact about the world around us today is its brokenness. At every level, from international relationships to personal disintegration, the fragmenting and divisive power of sin is appallingly evident. As the small steering group considered this, however, we quickly moved from speaking of ‘the broken world’ to ‘our broken world’, since as Christians and evangelicals we have to confess not only that we have our own share of brokenness to grieve over, but also that in many ways we ourselves are part of the problem, even while we believe we have been entrusted with the good news of the only solution. The actions and attitudes of those who claim the name evangelical, or who are known by it in the world at large, are far from innocent in relation to the brokenness of the human family. Far from any up-beat triumphalism about the state of world evangelicalism, we believe there is a place for contrition, repentance and radical re-connecting with some of our root values in biblical godliness and Christlikeness, in humility of heart and modesty of claims.

Another most obvious thing about the world today is the depth and extent of religious dividedness, and all the dangers it is generating. There are those, of course, who blame so much of the world’s strife and violence on religion itself – and they are not wrong. In such a climate, the Christian claims about the uniqueness and finality of Christ, and of the exclusive nature of the truth claims that he himself made and that the Bible makes concerning him, are reviled and rejected as intolerant and aggravating. But is the pro-posed alternative, religious relativism and pluralism, as tolerant as it is alleged? Is it even coherent as a philosophy? John Azumah rightly puts the Christological question in first place, where it has always been, of course, since New Testament times.

In a postmodern world the very nature of truth is disputed. If we want to claim that Jesus is the Truth, in loyalty to the claim he made for himself, then we are now compelled to do so in a climate that radically undermines any such allegedly absolute claim at all. Mark Chan helpfully surveys some of the major features of the postmodern mind and culture, and equally help-fully suggests ways in which the church must find effective ways of responding.

The great majority of Christians are not ‘professional’ Christians, in the sense of being engaged in some form of paid pastoral or evangelistic work. They are professional Christians in the sense of being engaged in the great marketplace of human work. And the marketplace is increasingly globalized. My own contribution tackles the problem that so many Christians have a dichotomized view of their lives in which so-called ‘secular’ work is devalued as of little importance, other than as a platform for evangelism. A stronger view of creation, culture, work, and the Bible’s own vision of the new creation would reject such a dichotomy. I am very aware that the issue of globalization itself has not been addressed in this paper, and this is a gap that will need to be filled in future consultations.

Ethnic division is a highly visible aspect of human brokenness, so much so that Christians are tempted to see ethnic identity itself as a bad thing (betraying the influence of modernity as they do so). Dewi Hughes argues differently and exposes some of the contradictions in 19th and 20th century mission theory and practice in this area. Christian mission in this century needs a more carefully thought-out understanding and practice in relation to ethnic identities.

Nothing, however, seems to deliver more brokenness, in every conceivable sense of that word, than violence and war. Christian mission today not only has to struggle with the fact that it operates more and more in contexts that are riven with large and small scale conflicts, but also has to face up to the unpalatable truth that so much Christian mission originates from countries which, though professedly (or assumed to be) Christian, are deeply and appallingly implicated in violence and war. Jonathan Bonk exposes these very uncomfortable realities in an article which is bound to challenge evangelicals to examine their consciences and allegiances.

And for all sorts of other reasons, the sheer scale and quantity of human suffering in our world tears at our emotions. If Jesus was moved to compassion by the relatively small crowds of needy people he encountered, what possible response can there be to the mountain of agony endured by millions all over the world? Isaiah Dau leads us in some reflections on this in the light of the cross and other biblical resources.

In addition to these six papers, the conference considered a dozen other case-studies, in which Christian mission in relation to various kinds of brokenness were illustrated ‘on the ground’. For reasons of space, only one of these can be included here. Athena Gorospe describes the situation of overseas Filipino workers—a major contemporary diaspora – and critiques the variety of theological and missiological responses that are commonly made to this and similar phenomena.

A major Lausanne III congress is planned for late 2010, and in preparation for that LTWG will be revisiting the above agenda, taking the Lausanne slogan apart and asking what we mean by ‘the whole church’ (in 2008), ‘the whole gospel’ (in 2009), and ‘the whole world’ (in early 2010).

Chris Wright

Chair, Lausanne Theology Working Group