A Participant’s Account of Lausanne III
by Allen Yeh
Lausanne has revitalized their movement by launching their Third Congress on World Evangelization (October 17-24, 2010) in Cape Town, South Africa. The first was held in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland (where the movement got its namesake); the second in 1989 in Manila. For much of the 1990s, the Lausanne Movement lay rather dormant. But now it has renewed its fervor and exploded on the world scene, becoming a household name once again.
Lausanne I was famous for bridging the gap between evangelism and social justice that occurred as a result of twentieth-century dichotomistic thinking. Lausanne II brought new insights for mission at the advent of the fall of the Iron Curtain. Lausanne III was held since the rise of the Internet and the shift of the center of gravity of Christianity to the global South. Because so much has changed in the last twenty-one years, perhaps there was even more to discuss regarding the changing face of mission between Lausanne II and III, than between Lausanne I and II.
Mission and Theology
Lausanne is built on the twin pillars of mission and theology. Many significant Christians in history were either evangelists/missionaries, theologians, or both. During the Congress, I attended a scholars’ reception for professors and academics. Chris Wright (chair of the Lausanne Theology Working Group) and Doug Birdsall (executive chair of Lausanne) touched upon this point as well.
Birdsall said that a missionary/evangelist brings the gospel to a people, while a theologian brings the gospel through a people—and both are needed. Wright described it this way: every Paul (theologian) needs an Apollos (evangelist), because theology is missional. The Lausanne Movement itself started with an evangelist (Billy Graham) and a theologian (John Stott). This was true of William Carey, the father of modern missions, who built his missionary work on the theology of Andrew Fuller. And it was true at Lausanne III, where Birdsall, a career missionary of twenty years in Japan, had the sharp theological mind of Wright backing him.
Unfortunately, looking around the room at this scholars’ reception, I noticed that there were only two black men and very few women in the entire packed room. As someone involved in theological education, I am concerned for diversity in seminaries and universities. We need more black and female scholars. It has been proven that if the leadership is diverse, the constituencies will follow.
I was also invited to be part of a 20-person think tank called Lausanne Analytica (modeled on Oxford Analytica). While I appreciated this endeavor, likewise I noticed that there was not a single Latin American or African present. The Majority World already has more Christians than the Western World does. As such, except for areas of Unreached People Groups, what they are lacking is not evangelism, but resources and training. One of the most necessary missiological priorities today is to mobilize local Christians to minister in their own contexts. Bringing theological training without Western culture is difficult without an understanding of contextualization, a topic which unfortunately was not touched upon much at the Congress. However, at the closing service, many multicultural images of Jesus were shown—a powerful example of contextualization and a demonstration that the Word must be incarnated among us, which is where theology and mission intersect.
At the U.S. delegates’ meeting on the last day, one of the most powerful and practical talks was given by Al Tizon, professor at Palmer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He gave five injunctions on how we need to change theological education, given that the U.S. plays such a powerful role in this endeavor by drawing international students who often go back to their home contexts to minister. He had five suggestions: (1) make it financially feasible for international students to train in the U.S.; (2) diversify faculty to reflect the global nature of the Church; (3) dismantle racism in structures, policies, and procedures; (4) integrate compassion and justice ministries with proclamation; and (5) model the art of civil disagreement. His suggestions were both prophetic and practical.
In the last two days of the Congress the egalitarianism vs. complementarianism debate emerged. Several preachers made a case quite strongly for egalitarianism. This was, perhaps, one way an American mindset dominated the proceedings. Many Majority World contexts are culturally patriarchal and complementarian, so this sense of “equality” among men and women (though something I would affirm) came across to some as an imposition of American values on the rest of the world. Of course, the intention of the egalitarian speakers was for affirmation of all individuals à la Galatians 3:28 (in race, gender, and class); however, it was delivered in such a way that it offered no room for discussion or debate.
Perhaps the most significant accomplishment among the four stated goals of this conference (the other three being truth about the uniqueness of Christ, identification of key missiological issues, and the emergence of new initiatives in mission) was the network of friendships and partnerships that have emerged. Many of the world’s evangelical leaders are now connected as never before.
A unique feature (and strength) of this Congress was the table groups. This allowed for good input and discussion. Each group was intentionally diverse; my group had an Australian, a Nigerian, a Uruguayan, a Brit, a South African, and myself—an Asian American. We were from different backgrounds, races, denominations, ages, nationalities, and genders, yet there was a mutual sense of unity as evangelicals devoted to God’s mission. The Bible studies were framed around Ephesians, which emphasizes the role of the Church and the glory of God.
One of the biggest disappointments was that the 200+ Chinese delegates were unable to come. The Chinese government stopped them as they tried to board their flights to South Africa. China has the second-largest population of evangelical Christians in the world by sheer number, so their presence was greatly missed. Yet it was also through Asia that some of the brightest stars shone—testimonies by a young North Korean girl, an American woman who lost her husband as a martyr in Afghanistan, a Muslim-background believer, and a call to humility by Patrick Fung of OMF highlighted the plenary sessions.
Finally, a mention must be made about Africa itself, which shone as a beacon on a hill from the beginning of the Congress to the end. The host continent showed itself as the new center of world Christianity and a continent shining with the light of the gospel.
Dr. Allen Yeh is a professor at Biola University, teaching humanities in the Torrey Honors Institute and missiology in the Cook School of Intercultural Studies. He has been to nearly fifty countries.
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp.94-96. Copyright © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.