by Horace L. Fenton, Jr.
What is our essential saving message in evangelism? It seems like a foolish question: does not everybody know? Are not all professing Christians pretty well agreed on the message we preach?
What is our essential saving message in evangelism? It seems like a foolish question: does not everybody know? Are not all professing Christians pretty well agreed on the message we preach?
The answer is no-not in our day. Instead there seems to be a marked difference of opinion, a great divergence over our basic evangelistic message. It would be an oversimplification to claim that the two parties to the controversy are on the one hand individuals and organizations aligned with the ecumenical movement, and on the other hand those of a nonecumenical orientation. But it frequently is men of ecumenical persuasion who are challenging the message that many of us believe is the Gospel we have been called to proclaim.
The wide difference of opinion can be seen in a series of articles published in The International Review of Missions, official quarterly organ of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches. These articles make it plain that the controversy over the message of the church for our times is not a quibble about secondary details. Rather, we see a basic divergence, a crucial issue that merits careful consideration.
In 1961 Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, editor of The International Review of Missions, asked the late Dr. Kenneth Strachan, then general director of the Latin America Mission, to write an article on Evangelism-in-Depth for the magazine. Dr. Strachan complied. Bishop Newbigin submitted the manuscript to Rev. Victor E. W. Hayward, acting director of the Division of Studies and research secretary in the Division of World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches, who then wrote a critique of Dr. Strachan’s article, and of the philosophy of Evangelism-in-Depth. Bishop Newbigin in turn gave Dr. Strachan opportunity to reply to Mr. Hayward. The three articles were published in The International Review of Missions in April, 1964.
Apparently there was considerable interest in these articles. In the October 1964 issue of the magazine three lengthy comments on the "debate" were published. They were written by Dr. Markus Barth, professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (United Presbyterian); Martin Conway, study secretary of the World Student Christian Federation (a World Council related group); and Rev. Emilio Castro, Methodist pastor of Montevideo, Uruguay. Mr. Hayward’s further comment was published in the January 1965 issue of the magazine.
These articles reveal that the term evangelism or the equally common phrase the message o f the Gospel have widely different connotations, depending on the background and outlook of the person using them. Moreover, it seems fair to state that to many leaders of the ecumenical movement the goal of evangelism and the Gospel message to be proclaimed are not in any sense what evangelicals understand them to be. It is perhaps a service to our readers to point out some major differences between the two points of view.
Dr. Strachan’s original article entitled "Call to Witness" represented an attempt to present the philosophy behind Evangelism-in-Depth, and the basic message that has been the heart of this movement. He insists that neither the philosophy underlying the movement nor the message at the heart of it are new, since they can be traced directly to the New Testament. If this claim can be validated, it would naturally follow that the blessing of God might be expected to be upon this ministry and that Christians everywhere might be stimulated by it to move out in fresh evangelistic advance.
Mr. Hayward is not at all satisfied with either the philosophy of Evangelism-in-Depth or the message. In his article entitled "Call to Witness – But What Kind of Witness?" he says he is "raising a question which would seem deeply to divide Christians."’ We agree. What is at issue is not a superficial divergence of opinion but a profound difference withfarreachingimplications.
In what way does Mr. Hayward take issue with the understanding of the Gospel message at the heart of Evangelism-in-Depth? Chiefly, he seems to believe that, without denying the necessity or importance of the salvation of the individual, our basic call should be to proclaim the redemption of the world. That is, to announce to men everywhere that, whether or not they believe it, God has redeemed the world through Christ. He feels that Dr. Strachan (and all other evangelicals who share the same conviction about the Gospel message) limits the Gospel by addressing it to individuals, by expecting its fruit to be the winning of individuals from the world into the church of Christ, and by failing to proclaim that the correlate of the Gospel is the world, not the church.
In stating his convictions, Mr. Hayward insists that he writes not as a representative of any organization, but only on behalf of those who share his theological position. He says that he is not a universalist, since he recognizes that we must never "deny the need for rebirth before men can enter the Kingdom of God." He says further that he knows that men cannot build the Kingdom, and that they must be called out of the world before they can be sent into it.
We accept his words at face value, but we confess that many of his later statements seem to contradict them. What shall we make of his statement, "From the side of the Christian, the Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Communist is already `the brother for whom Christ died"’?2 I cannot be sure what Mr. Hayward means by this statement and especially by his word "already." If he means that since these men are part of the world for which Christ has died, they are thereby the objects of His love, we wholeheartedly agree. But if Mr. Hayward means, as do so many ecumenicals (who also deny that they are universalists), that these men are already redeemed – the only tragedy being that they do not yet know it – we take exception. Men like Karl Barth and D. T. Niles are quick to say "we are not universalists, but…" And having said this, they make statements that seem to claim the benefits of Christ’s redemption for all men, altogether apart from repentance, faith, and regeneration. Mr. Hayward denies that he would omit these basic elements. But he seems more concerned about the danger of eliminating other parts of the message. He asks, "When we preach the Gospel, do we tell men only of a personal salvation offered to those who have faith, or do we declare to them that in Christ God has already performed a mighty act to win back this fallen world into the joy of His purposes?"3
In his reply to this question, Dr. Strachan is careful to point out that while we must not be forced into an either-or choice in these matters, the Gospel message is addressed to individuals, demanding their response in repentance and faith. This is where evangelism must begin. In his reply article "A Further Comment," he writes: "No one will deny that the Gospel has implications that go far beyond the individual and the church, that embrace all of creation and the whole range of human life… But any interpretation of the ultimate outreach of the Gospel which overlooks or minimizes the conditions of repentance and regeneration which God has specified needs to be corrected in the light of Scripture."4
Dr. Strachan points out the danger of a statement like Mr. Hayward’s, that "the scope of Christ’s redemption is as universal as the total life of man."5 Commenting on this, Dr. Strachan asks: "What does he mean? If he is referring to its potential universal efficacy and its bearing upon all human existence, then there is no basic divergence between us. But if he thereby allows for the benefits of redemption to accrue to vast portions of mankind apart from the conditions of appropriation laid down; if God’s ultimate triumph is affirmed byconvenientlyoverlooking the demands of God which result in conflict, judgment and punishment, then there is indeed a basic difference of conviction. The problems involved in God’s present apparent defeat and in the how of His ultimate triumph are not to be minimized, but they are beyond us. We can take comfort in such Scriptures as John 10:10; Romans 5:18 and 11:32; and I Corinthians 15:22, and accept by faith that somehow, sometime, God’s Person will be vindicated. But we dare not read into them more than what, in the light of other revelation, they contain. Surely we have no basis, therefore, to ignore or belittle the mysteries of evil, conflict, and rejection which do result in divine judgment and eternal destruction according to the teaching of Scripture, but which somehow will not thwart God’s ultimate victory of grace as well as righteousness."6
TO WHOM, AND HOW
Mr. Hayward says, "The objective of witness is all creation, or all the nations." And he adds, "Surely this indicates that the Gospel is addressed, not to isolated individuals here and there, but essentially to men in their social and corporate structures of existence."7 This is an interesting observation, and he gives some explanation of it, but he is far from clear in relating it to our practical task today: "…the Church’s witness to the Gospel will be faithful only if it is addressed to mankind section by section, telling each of God’s good news for the human race as a whole."8
Dr. Strachan then raises this question: "Speaking as a missionary evangelist with a job to do here in Latin America, I would like to ask Mr. Hayward just how in actual practice (particularly where evangelicals constitute a small minority) such a witness as he proposes could be carried out? And how would he square this with the apostolic pattern of witness directed to the individual in the midst of his family, the household, the community or the multitude, but ever to him as an individual?"9
Mr. Hayward obviously has a different view from ours, not only of our message but of our mission. He confesses, "Whether rightly or wrongly, the impression I have after reading about `Evangelism-in-Depth’ is that the motivation of this call to the churches to unite is that they may be more effective in winning all possible into the Church, because all the world outside is doomed to perdition."10
Mr. Hayward asks: "Do we invite people into the Church because it is only within the believing community that the effects of the Gospel can be enjoyed? Or are Christians commissioned to preach to all and sundry the good news that, whether they believe it or not, they now live within a world for which the Son of God has died and which God is even now reconciling to Himself? Is Christ . . . the Saviour of an elect minority? Or do we proclaim Him . . . `the Saviour of the world’?""
Mr. Hayward seems to make no vital distinction between the world that is the object of God’s love, and "the world" as a system opposed to God in which Christians find themselves but of which they are to be no part (John 17:16); for which they are to have no love (1 John 2:15); and which they are to overcome by their faith in Christ (1 John 5:5). As a result, he charges us with lack of concern for the world for which Christ died and then in turn fails to emphasize that the church is indeed the means whereby men are not only drawn to Christ but from the world system.
Is all this just a controversy between two men concerned about evangelism? Is it merely a disagreement over whether Evangelism-in-Depth represents a valid way of making Christ known? If it is only these, it is only of passing interest. But if, as we believe, Mr. Hayward is urging the preaching of a Gospel which, for all the prayerful and earnest study we can give to it, we do not find to be an adequate representation of the New Testament message,then much isat stake.
We must of course be open to criticism about ways in which, despite good intentions, we ourselves have not proclaimed a full-orbed Gospel. We are often vulnerable in this regard, but when a critic like Mr. Hayward chides us for neglecting areas that he deems vital, and seems to give only passing mention to elements that we find at the heart of the Gospel, we must reply with Dr. Strachan:
"I cannot help feeling that the emphasis on the simple basic facts of the Gospel is not merely practically and psychologically essential and sound, but that it is in the final analysis theologically correct. Does not this characterize the witness and the preaching of the apostles? Does not the Apostle Paul sum up his proclamation of the Gospel very simply in such words as: `You know that I kept back nothing that was for your good: I delivered the message to you; I taught you in public and in your homes; with Jews and pagans alike 1 insisted on repentance before God and trust in our Lord Jesus’ (Acts 20:20,21). `And now, my brothers, I must remind you of the Gospel that I preached to you… that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised to life…" (1 Cor. 15:1-4) . Therefore it does not seem to me a fair demand to make of any organized effort, that it bring forth in its initial presentations more than those basic facts of the Gospel which are required to command that response which God desires and exacts. Anything more tends to cumber and confuse. The remainder belongs to the subsequent teaching ministry of the Church and of its shepherds."12
The issue here is not Evangelism-in-Depth, which is a movement unquestionably characterized by weaknesses and failures as the work of imperfect but regenerate beings. No, the real issue is the message and mission of the church in our day, or any day.
NO LONE VOICE
Nor is the issue Mr. Hayward’s personal beliefs. If he were only a lone voice, his opinions might cause us little concern. But he speaks the language of many in the ecumenical movement. And while we are willing to believe that he does not speak for the movement as such, he does admit to being the spokesman of those who have like theological beliefs–of whom there are many in places of leadership in the World Council of Churches.
Our concern about Mr. Hayward’s statements is deepened by the growing chorus of voices in Christendom that seem to misinterpret the Gospel. Some indeed go farther than he does in neouniversalistic tendencies, but it is only necessary to quote them briefly to see a marked similarity between their position and his. Here is D. T. Niles, in a study book commissioned by the World Council of Churches: "Will all men be reclaimed? That is not our side of the problem… There are those who insist that no genuine and urgent conviction about the mission of the church is possible unless one is able to say positively: some will be saved and others will be damned… It is certainly true that those who are able to state the matter in this way do have a sense of urgency about their evangelistic and missionary responsibility; but the issue must nevertheless be pressed as to whether the whole drift of the teaching of the New Testament allows for so simple and simplified a conviction…. Can it be that anyone will reject Him even at the last? That is a speculation to which the New Testament does not lend itself."13
Here is Canon Max Warren, of the Church Missionary Society, declaring, "The difference between them (the nonChristian) and us, which is itself of grace, beyond our understanding, is that we know we are redeemed and they may not."14
Paul Tillich, not a leader of the ecumenical movement, but a world renowned theologian, writes: "First of all, one should not misunderstand missions as an attempt to save from eternal damnation as manyindividuals aspossible among the nations of the world. Such an interpretation of the meaning of missions presupposes a separation of individual from individual, a separation of the individual from the social group to which he belongs, and it presupposes an idea of predestination which actually excludes most human beings from eternal salvation and gives hope for salvation only to the few – comparatively few, even if it is millions – who are actually reached by the message of Jesus as the Christ. Such an idea is unworthy of the glory and of the love of God, and must be rejected in the name of the true relationship of God to His world." Tillich also writes: "I myself, in the light of many contacts and friendships with Jews, am inclined to take the position that one should be open to the Jews who come to us wanting to become Christians. Yet one should not try to convert them; rather, we should subject ourselves as Christians to the criticism of their prophetic tradition."15
Mr. Hayward and others who talk in similar terms cannot be accused of completely abandoning the Scriptures. Indeed, Mr. Hayward is obviously endeavoring to establish his case on biblical foundation. But he does the very thing he accuses evangelicals of: he bypasses those Scriptures that are not in accord with his position. And many of those who advocate a change in our evangelistic message do so in a more violent way. Following one of the basic principles of neo-orthodoxy, they seem to feel free to accept those portions of Scripture that appeal to them and to reject or ignore those that do not – in this case, those that tell of ultimate judgment and condemnation. They equate Christ’s ultimate triumph (a fully biblical concept) with the ultimate salvation of all men (an unbiblical position). They conveniently forget, as Camell points out, that there "is one pronouncement in Scripture about which there is no ambiguity whatever. It is the consistent witness of all the writers that since the mercy of God is extended to men within a day of grace, the opportunity to embrace this mercy is limited to this life only …. In the Gospels, Jesus Christ brought man into the most exalted conception of the Father by clarifying the law of love. But with every clarification of God’s love He included a somber warning of the Father’s wrath and vengeance against those who spurn that love….Facts are facts, and one cannot alter them by an arbitrary a priori. If anything is known about Jesus Christ, it surely is His teaching that God’s grace will not always strive with man."16
There is a mighty conflict going on today, not only between the world and the church but within Christendom itself. That conflict centers not only in the nature of our message and mission, but behind that issue the question of the ultimate authority of the written Word of God. For us, this authority is final. By the Word itself we humbly seek to test and evaluate every theological controversy, every attempt to adjust or modify our message and mission. Recognizing that we have much to learn from the Scriptures and from those who would help us understand biblical teaching, we must still take our stand on the ground to which we believe the Lord has brought us.
We want to be relevant to the world, but we want above all to be faithful to Christ. As Dr. Strachan points out: "And there is much to be done in making both Church and Gospel relevant to the age in which we live. But the question can be legitimately asked: In what ways is the Church to relate to the world in its needs? And by what measure – the world’s judgment or the judgment of Him who calls and sends forth – is the degree of our relevancy to be determined? `In stewards, it is required that a man be found faithful,’ and in the final reckoning the degree of our faithfulness in adhering to the terms of our mission will determine the extent of our relevancy in the world.""
These are not academic matters with us. They deal with the Gospel by which we have been brought into relationship with God, and with the message we have been commissioned by God to preach. We expect some day to have to give an answer for our faithfulness to the message of the crucified, risen Christ.
1. Victor E. W. Hayward, "Call to Witness-But What Kind of Witness," The International Review of Missions, LIII (April, 1964), 201.
2. Ibid., p. 206.
3. Ibid., p. 208.
4. R. Kenneth Strachan, "A Further Comment," The International Review o f Missions, L111 (April, 1964) , 210, 211.
5. Ibid., p. 211.
6. Strachan, loc. cit.
7. Hayward, op. cit., p. 206.
8. Hayward, op cit., pp. 206, 207.
9. Strachan, op. cit., pp. 213, 214.
10. Hayward, op. cit., p. 205.
11. Ibid., p. 204.
12. Strachan op cit., p. 212.
13. D. T. Niles, Upon The Earth, pp. 90-92, 97.
14. Max Warren, The Theology of the Christian Mission, ed. Gerald H. Anderson p. 236.
15. Paul Tillich, The Theology of the Christian Mission, ed. Gerald H. Anderson, pp. 283 284, 288.
16. E. J. Camel], A Philosophy of the Christian Religion, ch. 9. »Strachan, op. cit., p. 214.
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