Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rene Padilla on the Cape Town Lausanne Congress

Rene Padilla blogged about the Cape Town Lausanne Congress, appraising the future of the movement and offering significant critiques. Very helpful analysis. (The original post is in Spanish, so here's a Google-translated English version.)

The future of the Lausanne Movement

C. Rene Padilla

The figures relating to the Third International Congress on World Evangelization held in Cape Town, South Africa, from 17 to 24 October under the theme "In Christ God was reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19) are impressive. There were more than 4,000 participants from 198 countries. In addition, there were about 650 Web sites connected with the Congress in 91 countries and 100,000 "hits" from 185 countries. This means that many thousands of people around the world were able to attend meetings via the Internet. Doug Birdsall, Executive Chairman of the Lausanne Movement, probably right in saying that Cape Town 2010 was "the most representative global evangelical meeting in history." Without doubt, this achievement was largely the result of his long effort to make that happen.

Equally impressive were the many practical arrangements were made before Congress. Besides the difficult process of selecting the speakers for the plenary and for "multiplexes" (elective seminar) and the dialogue sessions, translators and participants from each country represented, there were two tasks that must have involved a lot of work before Congress : The Global Conversation Lausanne to enable people around the world make their comments and interact with others taking advantage of contemporary technological advances, and the drafting of the first part (the theological) of Cape Town Commitment prepared by the Working Group Lausanne Theological directed by Christopher Wright.

A positive assessment of Lausanne III
The best way to check the value of a conference like Lausanne III to analyze the concrete results it produces later in connection with the life and mission of the church. For this reason, this assessment of the conference just held in Cape Town has to be considered merely as a preliminary assessment.
Each of the six-day program (with one day off between the third and fourth) had a theme:
1) Monday: Truth: check the truth of Christ in a pluralistic world of globalization.
2) Tuesday: Reconciliation: Building Peace of Christ in our broken and divided world.
3) Wednesday: World Religions: bearing witness to the love of Christ to people of other religions.
4) Friday: Priorities: discerning the will of God for evangelizing in our century.
5) Saturday: Integrity, call the church to return to humility, integrity and simplicity.
6) Sunday: Partnership: co-participation in the Body of Christ for a new global balance.

Each of these key issues, described as "the greatest challenges to the church in the next decade," was the theme of Bible study and theological reflection each day in the morning. The biblical text that was used in the series entitled "Celebrating the Bible" was the letter to the Ephesians. One of the most positive aspects of the program was the inductive study of the passage of the day in groups, each consisting of six members sitting around a table. This provided the group members the opportunity to learn together and pray for each other, develop new friendships and build alliances for the future. Bible study group was followed by exposure of the Ephesians passage selected for that day. Without minimizing the importance of music, drama, visual arts, stories and performances of "multimedia", a high percentage of participants felt that the time devoted to "Celebrating the Arts" could have been reduced to allow more time "Celebrating the Bible", an activity greatly appreciated.

Special mention should be made of several of the witnesses who gave the plenary sessions in the morning some people whose life experience clearly illustrated the theme of the day. Who that has been there will ever forget, for example, the young Palestinian and Jewish youth who spoke together about the meaning of reconciliation in Christ above racial barriers? Or the American missionary who spoke of witnessing the love of Christ with people of other religions, and told how many Christians, including her husband, a doctor, were killed by Muslims, while returning from a remote village where they had been moved to serve by Christian compassion in Afghanistan?

In the multiplexes and the dialogue sessions each day in the afternoon were explored in depth the practical implications of Bible study and biblical reflection in the morning. Indeed, the most important debate on the various topics are not necessarily carried out within the limits of time allocated in the program but in informal discussions outside the formal agenda. Anyway, the fact that much of the rich reflection on issues related to contemporary global problems occurred in the afternoon sessions. These participatory sessions, which were taken into account the understanding of the diversity of perspectives represented, the contextualization of ideas, models, contacts and materials, and commitment to joint action plans, will be the basis for the second part of Commitment Cape Town. The plan is to publish the document in two parts (the theological and practical) with a study guide at the end of November.

Of the twenty multiplexes that were offered during the Congress, was especially focused three issues that could be considered as the most critical for the Southern Hemisphere: globalization, environmental crisis, and the richness vs. poverty. These three factors are closely linked together and, given the enormous impact they have on millions of people in the world of big majorities, they deserve much more attention than they have received so far by the evangelical movement.

Serious deficiencies
The official definition of its mission, the Lausanne Movement exists to "strengthen, inspire and equip the Church to world evangelization in our generation, and encourage Christians to their duty to participate in public affairs and social." A careful analysis of this definition reflects the dichotomy that has influenced a large segment of the evangelical movement especially in the western world: the dichotomy between evangelism and social responsibility. Because of this dichotomy, closely related to the dichotomy between secular and sacred, the Lausanne Movement aims to "strengthen, inspire and equip the Church for evangelization" but only "encourage Christians" about their social responsibility . The implicit assumption is that the primary mission of the church is evangelism conceived in terms of oral communication of the Gospel, while participation in matters of public interest and social good works by which Christians fulfill their vocation as "Light of the World" for the glory of God (Matthew 5:16) - is a secondary duty for which Christians do not need to be strengthened, inspired and equipped, but only encouraged.

In biblical exposition on Tuesday based on Ephesians 2 (the second day of the Congress) became clear, from the biblical text, that Jesus Christ is our peace (v. 14), made our peace (v. 15) and preached peace (v . 17). In other words, in Christ, being, doing and proclaim peace (shalom, life in abundance) are inseparable. The church is faithful to God's purpose in so far as it extends the mission of Jesus Christ in history stating specifically the reality of the Gospel not only for what it says but also what is and what it does. The whole mission of the church is rooted in the mission of God in Christ, a mission that involves the whole person in community, to all creation and every aspect of life.

Bible exposition based on Ephesians 3 the next day put in relief the urgent need for the Lausanne Movement to clarify theologically the content of the mission of God's people. In contrast to what was said yesterday, the designated speaker for Wednesday said that while the church is concerned about all forms of human suffering, she is particularly concerned with eternal suffering and thus is called to give priority to evangelize the lost.

A serious deficiency of Lausanne III was not giving time for serious reflection on the commitment God expects of its people regarding their mission. Unfortunately, no time to discuss the commitment of Cape Town, on which the Theological Task Force led by Christopher Wright had worked for one year with the intention to circulate at the beginning of Congress. The document was distributed only on Friday night and no action was taken for participants to at least write their personal comments on it before the close of the conference in response to specific questions. According to the Executive Committee, had no time for that! The negative stance taken by the organizers of the program on the recommendation of a group of elderly participants interested in ensuring that all participants see the document as his own not only works against this purpose. It is also a sign that the Lausanne Movement is still very far from achieving the partnership, without which no basis to be considered a global movement.

In contrast to the treatment she received the document produced by the Theological Task Force on Wednesday devoted a full plenary session on the strategy for world evangelization in this generation, a strategy developed in the United States on the basis of a list of "unreached people groups" prepared by the Strategic Working Group in Lausanne. This strategy reflected the obsession with numbers, typical of the market mentality that characterizes a sector of the evangelical movement in the United States. Moreover, according to many participants of the Congress who know first hand the needs of their countries in relation to evangelism, the list of unreached people groups did not do justice to the real situation. Interestingly, the list contained no people group in the United States!

Another shortcoming of Lausanne III was that, as noted by the Special Interest Group on Reconciliation and towards the end of Congress, there was no official mention of the fact that he was performing in a country that until recently was dominated by apartheid and still suffer social injustice resulting from this policy. Indeed, Congress was held at the International Convention Centre was built on land that is claimed to sea with the debris of the Southern District of Cape Town where, in 1950, the district was declared for whites only area. Consequently, about 60,000 black residents were expelled from the area by force and their homes were completely destroyed. However, the organizers of Cape Town 2010 turned a deaf ear to the request of the Special Interest Group on Reconciliation Congress officially rejected "theological heresies that supported the apartheid" and lamented "the socio-economic suffering is this legacy of apartheid. " One wonders how serious the Lausanne Movement leaders in their commitment to the Lausanne Covenant, which stipulates that "the salvation message also contains the message of trial of any form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not fear denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist "(paragraph 5).

The partnership in mission and future of the Lausanne Movement
A fact now recognized and often mentioned those interested in the life and mission of the church globally is that in recent decades the center of gravity of Christianity has shifted from the North and the South West and the East. Despite that, all too often Christian leaders in North and West, especially in the United States, continue taking it for granted that they are responsible for designing the strategy for the evangelization of the world. As stated on the page about the "Day Six - Partnership" of the book containing the detailed description of the Congress program, "the basis of organizational leadership, control of financial resources and decision-making power of the strategy tends to remain in the north and west. "

Sadly, the biggest obstacle to implementing a true partnership in mission is the wealth of the North and West, the wealth that Jonathan Bonk, in his important book on Missions and Money (Misiones and money) has described as "a Western missionary problem ". If this is so, and if the Lausanne Movement is to contribute significantly to fulfilling the mission of God through his people, it is time that the missionary force connected with this movement, including his strategists, renounce power Money and model of missionary life in the incarnation, earthly ministry and the cross of Jesus Christ.


Tim Liu said...

This is the first time I have heard someone criticize the idea of the "countdown" of unreached people groups and linking that to a western obsession with statistics. Do you know if this is a common view of people not from the west?

Al Hsu said...

I'm not sure how common a critique it is, but that particular session on unreached people groups was certainly the least well-received session at the Congress. A list of unreached people groups to target sounds sensible, but once we all looked at the actual list, it quickly became clear that it was fairly problematic. My own table group included folks from Malaysia, India, Ethiopia and the UK, and all of us took issue with how "unreached people groups" were identified in our respective countries. We identified groups that we knew had significant Christian presence, church plants, etc. that were described as "unreached" while other entire people groups were not mentioned at all.

The positive spin might be that God is at work in ways that metrics can't fully account for. A more cynical take would be that the very enterprise of tabulating and targeting a checklist of people groups oversimplifies very complex ethnographic realities and trivializes the nature of the work.

Historically, Ralph Winter's discussion of unreached people groups at the original 1974 Lausanne Congress was a significant contribution compared to previous notions of reaching "nations" (in terms of just the geopolitical states). But the discussions at Cape Town probably highlight some of the limitations and downsides of how unreached people groups are understood and strategized about. I'm not sure what a better alternative might be, but it's certainly a live discussion right now.

Tim Liu said...

Very interesting. I have always heard that the Josuha project was the recognized listing, but I guess that is clearly not the case. Thanks for the info. (By the way, that Google translation is amazing!)

Foggy Blogger said...

I have had the privilege to sit at the feet of both Dr. Escobar and Dr. Padilla at various times. I'm not surprised by Padilla's critique of the conference. He has been very outspoken on the dichotomy in the west between evangelism and social justice (its stated very powerfully in the spanish)

Two thoughts come to mind, based solely on his critique. (i haven't read the Lausanne docs or visited their website...yet)

A. He points out that no unreached people groups in the US were pointed out. What this suggests to me is a general ignorance of US Christians as to what's really going on in their own country. I agree with him on this point based upon my own subjective experiences and a crude knowledge of history the missionary movement in the US. Too often missions are portrayed as reaching out to the other, who lives overseas in some impoverished backwater. We also promote this fallacy in our discussion about poverty. Which brings me to my second point.

B. Padilla points out that the wealth in the North and West is greatly hampering the partnerships between the various groups. I agree to a point. There are pockets of deep cyclical poverty in North America, that are virtually ignored by Christians and aid groups. Plus in these economic times the North/West is not as rich as it thought it was, and that is a source of great anxiety.

But i think what is truly hampering partnerships is reality of the changing face of Christianity and religion in the West. Many of the organizations at these kinds of events are only shadows of their former glorious selves. What is going on now is an attempt to hang on to that past and to preserve their legacy. This is coming at great expense to the newcomers to the table.

Finally while conferences like Lausanne are great and good things do come out of them. Very rarely do they impact the believer in the pew or the pastor of the small church or the missionary couple fundraising to go to some developing country. The challenge, as always, is how to get those people involved and ready to advance the directives and visions agreed upon at these kinds of events.

Just a few thoughts i hope you dont mind me sharing :)

Tim Liu said...

I'm interested in more detail about what are considered unreached groups in the US. Are they primarily socio-economically defined, or ethnically? Is there somewhere i could read more about that?

SF said...

Thank you, Al, for posting this. I think Rene Padilla's critique needs to be heard. One may not agree with everything he said, but his voice must be heard - and be heard sincerely.

My concern is that we tend to do one of the other - ie. either verbal proclamation or social action. In my context I know many good Christian friends who are very committed to social action (and peace activitism). But in doing so they try very hard to make verbal proclamation secondary. On the other hand, there are many who truly think that social justice is optional extra.

Al, what do you think about Chris Wright's session? I wasn't there. But I watched it on Mike Bird's blog.

Al Hsu said...

SF - My general take is that it's okay if some folks emphasize verbal proclamation and others emphasize social action as long as they don't invalidate the legitimacy of each other's work. Just in terms of people's temperament, giftedness and sense of calling, many people are going to gravitate toward one or another (it's hard to do both simultaneously). And that's okay in a larger 1 Cor. 12 ecclesiology of many parts of the body. Indeed, evangelists and activists need to do more partnering precisely because most are not gifted to do both. But as Lausanne affirms, word and deed go hand in hand and in fact can fuel one another when done rightly.

I'm looking at my notes from Chris Wright's plenary talk, and my impression was largely positive. He was certainly right to highlight that the church's witness is hampered by its own idolatries of power, popularity and wealth. And humility, integrity and simplicity are certainly good correctives to emphasize. But I don't recall any major concrete takeaways beyond that. It was late in the Congress, so I was probably pretty foggy and overloaded by then!

Foggy Blogger said...

Hi Tim, I would say the definition is both. There are native american tribes and rural/urban poor that have not been reached by the gospel. But there's not alot of attention given to them. Or they get recategorized into a different type of mission category. I kind of tackle the subject in my blog. But there's not alot of information out there.

Anonymous said...

Other significant people groups largely missed in US: disability groups, especially those who use different language(s) (and have complex internal cultures, such as the deaf. Youth who are 2nd and 3rd generation gang members (BTW, most US gang members are white -- this would be neo-Nazi, skinhead, etc.) People who have become unknowing adherents of an Eastern theology through counseling, medicine, exercise class, etc without understanding it is counter to Christian theology.