INITIAL THOUGHTS ON LAUSANNE III
Lausanne III has come to an end in Cape Town. Of course, being an international congress run over eight days and organized mainly by Americans, it was a big, bloated, jam-packed, impeccably-run, highly-sentimental extravaganza. The closing ceremony was bigger than Ben Hur (and possibly longer). At times I was inspired. At others I was bored, frustrated, or bemused. I regularly found myself encountering seemingly opposing views and positions as the Lausanne schtick of balancing both ends of the evangelical spectrum was played out. I kept saying, “On the one hand…” while remembering something on the other, such as…
On the one hand we had many references by speakers like Vaughan Roberts and Michael Ramsden to the primacy of preaching, the importance of “Word gifts” and the priority of proclamatory evangelism…
On the other hand we heard amazing stories of incarnational holistic mission among the poor in a garbage village in Egypt, in a slum in Manila, and a township in South Africa.
On the one hand we had American and English speakers telling us the centre of Christian gravity has shifted to the global South…
On the other we had people like Singapore’s Patrick Fung telling us not to put so much pressure on nations like China and that mission is “from everywhere to everywhere.”
On the one hand we heard from famed complementarian John Piper…
On the other hand we had Chad and Leslie Seagrave giving a passionate call for women to be accepted as leaders, teachers and pastors.
But overall, it has been a worthwhile event to attend, even as a pretty marginal observer. Perhaps the best way to reflect on the congress and consider its lasting impact, is to address the areas that the congress leaders themselves identified as the core business of our gathering.
The Challenge of the New Atheism. If the congress really did seriously address so-called New Atheism, I must have been out of the room somewhere. There were plenty of chest-thumping “we-have-the-truth” statements made, particularly on the first day and particularly by Os Guinness, but as for a serious attempt to develop a cogent response to pluralism, relativism and indeed New Atheism, it was sorely missing. The closest we got was from German theologian, Michael Herbst, but he was given only 10 minutes to speak. Overall, I was disappointed with the regular tone of triumphalism sounded during the plenaries. If you just landed from outer space and arrived at Lausanne III knowing nothing about the global Christian movement I think you would have gained the impression that Christianity is virtually the only religious game in town and that atheism poses no real threat to the church. But New Atheism is a serious threat and many of its proponents are sincere in their belief (or lack thereof) and genuine in their intent. To dismiss them all so out of hand seemed arrogant or insecure.
The Impact of Hedonism. The congress organizers were concerned that the church is being impacted by nominalism, superficiality and the troubling consequences of the prosperity gospel. These issues were addressed intelligently by Chris Wright in his call for us to embrace authenticity and integrity and to expose and reject idolatry. Furthermore, there were astonishingly moving testimonies that underscored these values. We heard from a young South Korean woman whose family has paid an exacting price for their mission endeavours and who is herself intent on entering North Korea as a missionary in the future. And also from Libby Little, a career missionary living in Kabul, whose husband was murdered while delivering medical aid to a remote Afghani community.
The Reality of Islam. The congress certainly went to town on this one. The challenge of the missionary faith of Islam was mentioned in multiple plenaries and there were a number of workshops (called Multiplexes or Dialogues) that addressed the topic. Again, this might have sounded a lot like motivational triumphalism, but Turkish missiologist Ziya Meral was brilliantly cynical about all the magical stories we hear of Muslims coming miraculously to Jesus. He brought us down to earth and reaffirmed how difficult it is to convert Muslims and how offensive it is to repeat these unsubstantiated miracle stories. He told us that many Muslims who convert to Christianity have lost interest after two years and many have abandoned their new-found faith after five. Meral was sobering, thought-provoking and highly entertaining.
The Globalized World. There was lots of talk about megacities, diaspora communities, new technologies, social networking, political corruption and uncertain futures for the next generation. David Wells made a decent fist of addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by globalization (although, sorry to bag Os Guinness again, his presentation on the topic was pretty lame). There were workshops on new technologies (one run by my mate from the UK, Krish Kandiah) but I didn’t manage to get along to them.
Highlights. Here’s a brief list of magic moments for me:
- Samuel Escobar and Rene Padilla – two old Latin American radicals reflecting on their battles over many years to keep holistic mission at the forefront of Lausanne thinking;
- Ruth Padilla De Borst (Rene’s daughter) delivering an excellent Bible study on Day 2.
- Joseph D’sousa’s passionate cry for justice for the oppressed Dalit people of India.
- Michael Cassidy – hero of the end of apartheid in South Africa – being, well, Michael Cassidy.
- A fiery Filipino urban missionary (whose name escapes me, I’m sorry) giving a radical and alternative perspective on addressing global poverty.