Lausanne shift on the gospel?

The lausanne movement was pioneered by the incredibly humble and gifted duo of John Stott and Billy Graham. So it was with interest I came across this new video on their website.

I was pleased to see that as a month of prayer is focussed around the subject “What is the gospel?” As you may know we have been thinking hard about this subject to make sure that we are being biblically faithful.

John Stott’s work helped the church re-engage with the call to engage in holistic mission and so it is interesting to see this new video from the new exec director of the Lausanne movement Michael Oh. It is a bold move that Michael’s first public statement is tackling head on this currently contested area. This is the first time I have seen Michael speak so it feels like the new exec director is laying out his stall – making his mark – so lets take a look at what mark he wants to make. The question is “Is there a shift in emphasis when it comes to the gospel from the Lausanne movement?”

Here’s 4 things I enjoyed about Michael’s presentation:

1. Energy and fluidity

Michael speaks with a dynamism and excitement – a smile goes a long way in good communication.
He doesn’t appear to be reading – its a memorised sermon spoken with passion.
Michael seems like a really nice guy – warm and engaging.

2. We never graduate out of the gospel

Its a bit of cliche but its true none the less. We need to keep allowing the gospel to reshape and reform our life and thought and action.

3. Rhetorical flourish

Nice little refrain about “God is… and we are not…”

4. Emphasis on the Lordship of Christ

Good to hear emphasis not just on christ as saviour but as master and lord.

Six things that slightly worry me:

1. Michael’s gospel is pretty individualistic

– no mention of the church or the new creation
– the emphasis is on personal salvation of the individual soul to eternal life
– interesting when the the Lausanne Cape Town theological groups The gospel creates a new reconciled humanity in the one family of God

– Michael is quick to mention eternal conscious torment – (hell gets a double mention) which could be a deliberate sign to conservatives like John Piper who wanted to make this the central part of the Cape Town congress – see live blog here. I know you have to be quick and concise in these kinds of things – but what you chose to leave out and what you chose to repeat reveal a lot.

By mentioning this and not for example – connecting the gospel to Israel’s story ; is Lausanne signalling a move away from thinkers like John Stott, NT Wright, Scott McKnight and a further move towards the conservative right – Piper, Grudem et al? The statement “We don’t just get the gospel – we get God” – sounds a lot like “God is the Gospel” by John Piper.

2. Michael’s gospel is relatively Marcionite

Nothing about the Christ as the fulfilment of Israel’s story. Nothing about Israel at all. Interesting when the the Cape Town theology working group stated : “ The gospel tells the story of Jesus in the light of the whole Bible”

3. Michael’s gospel has little about Jesus

– Jesus gets name checked twice but otherwise the gospel is seen almost exclusively as the transfer of sin and judgement
– It’s what Matt Chandler might call the gospel on the ground – its the four spiritual laws – facts about Jesus rather than the story of Jesus
– There’s no mention of the birth, life or resurrection of Jesus – interesting when the working group made a point of underlining the latter: The gospel proclaims the saving message of the cross and resurrection

4. Nothing about justice or reconciliation of all things

If lausanne did anything for global mission it was the historic lausanne covenant which clearly stated:

Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead.

But none of this is emphasised. This sounds like a pietistic escapist gospel that doesn’t call us to any kind of worldly engagement other than evangelism.

5. Michael’s gospel is full of Pauline proof texts

Interesting use of scripture – it seems a long way from the expositional approach of Uncle John Stott and instead of lots of contextless proof texts mainly from Paul’s epistles.

  • Romans 1:7
  • Romans 1:16 x 2
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21 – imputed righteousness underlined a number of times.

Fascinating what is included and what is excluded. Especially in light of the Cape Town Theology working groups statement about even the Pauline gospel.

Paul’s definition of the gospel, then, includes both the central historical facts (Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day), and their scriptural context and frame of meaning. Our understanding of “the whole gospel”, therefore, needs to include both also. We point to the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, and we locate the full significance of that within the rest of all that God has said and done in the Bible as a whole. The Bible tells the whole story of what God has done to save the world.

6. Michael’s gospel isn’t quite Trinitarian

Interestingly nothing is mentioned of the work or person of the Spirit. What would Mike Reeve say?

CONCLUSION

  • OK so Michael is new to the job, perhaps he hasn’t had a chance to reflect on the findings of the Lausanne studies from Cape Town.
  • It was a short video no one can include everything.
  • It was an inspirational piece not a learned theological statement.
  • This is only day 1 – maybe the balance will come out in the next part?

But on the other hand – this does seem to be a key topic in global theology and Michael must know that otherwise he wouldn’t have made it the focus of his work. You learn a lot from what someone excludes as of secondary importance.

Either way – a global dialogue to make sure we are being faithful to scripture not just to one particular evangelical tribe’s reductionist take on the gospel is always worthwhile and it what historically made Lausanne truly great.

 

13 thoughts on “Lausanne shift on the gospel?”

  1. Yes… Yikes. This is in contrast to the recent arguments of the likes of NT Wright and Scot McKnight about the need to recover a more Jesus-defined Gospel. Thanks for the link and thoughts.

  2. Krish, thank you for passing along this video. I think your analysis is fair and not overextended. The first thing I did was watch the video, and I thought that I was listening to a Piper sermon, possibly with more wrath and sin emphasis. Then I read your analysis and saw that you highlighted nearly the same thing. I thought the tone was similar to Chandler’s recent book as well. To me this is very surprising given the heritage of Lausanne. I am new to Michael Ho so I googled (yes the verb) his name, to find his wikipedia page that says he has written extensively for Desiring God.

    On a somewhat related note, I recently reviewed a sampling of Piper’s writing looking for evidence that Piper frames his gospel through ‘justification by faith’, and I simply did not find it. He certainly covers this topic often, but I found explicit comments in God is the Gospel and his Justification book that show that he believes the gospel is bigger than simply justification by faith. I wonder what your thoughts are on this? McKnight clearly claims that Piper’s view of the gospel is ‘justification by faith’.

  3. Thanks Krish. Having been at the Cape Town Congress and been ‘underwhelmed’ but the whole experience, as well as struck with the underlying tension, much of it arguably caused by John Piper’s determination to get ‘hell’ in there, I can’t say this is much of a surprise.
    I went to the congress wondering if Lausanne had done its job – do those under 45 really know that much about it, and did it achieve something hugely significant when it comes to settling the gospel as holistic? Should it not be celebrated and finished? I thought ‘yes’ to all.
    From this next development and all that you draw attention to it does leave me concluding that Lausanne as we know it has definitely finished and has now become a vehicle for a particular stream of evangelicalism with very particular emphases.
    As you say, what often is most telling is what you leave out as well as what you choose to include in a short presentation. Strikes me that this is designed to tick the boxes of a certain few – the key buzz words covered, and in my cynicism perhaps for the benefit of certain funders? – and to assure that Lausanne is now heading a very particular route that will not include a large proportion of evangelicals. Of course that’s what it seems chain people were trying to ensure before the last congress and which caused us at EA at the time to watch with growing concern.
    I sincerely hope I am wrong but suspect not. Getting increasingly tired of this very limited gospel and particularly the lack of Jesus in it!

  4. Hi Krish, Thanks for this. I agree with your concerns – and with your caveat that this is only one brief statement, which might be put into context later.
    Two other points, though:
    1. The opening list of the ‘wonderful fruits of the gospel’ is entirely negative – a list of things we are freed from. I agree with all of them, of course, but where are the positives, the things we are given? Incorporation into Christ, adoption as God’s children, the fulness of the Spirit – these are more centrally the fruits of the gospel than deliverance from guilt and shame.
    2. My biggest concern was in the ‘rhetorical flourish’ section, where our sinfulness and our createdness appear to be conflated. Michael says (about 1min in): ‘What is the Gospel? It is that God is creator, and we are creatures; it is that God is Lord and we are to be his blessed servants; it is that God is God, and we are not; it is that God is holy, and we are not, we are sinners, worthy of hell; it is that God is centre of all things, he is worthy, he is to be worshipped, and we are not, nor any created thing…’
    Now, I agree that each point in this list is true, but these truths do not belong together in a list. It is certainly true that at the heart of the gospel is the truth that God is creator, Lord, centre, …, and that this is a big part of the good news. It is also true that God is holy and we are sinful – although I’m not sure I would define that statement on its own as ‘good news’ – but the Bible holds out a memory and a certain hope of human beings who are holy and not sinful.
    To be a creature is a proper part of being human, something good, something to be acknowledged and, yes, celebrated as good news; to be sinful is not a proper part of being human; it is something to be confessed and bewailed; that in Christ we have been, justified, made holy (positional sense), and that by the Spirit we are being renewed, made holy (ethical sense) is the good news to be celebrated.
    To confuse createdness and sinfulness is, just, really bad theology – and it sounds uncomfortably like Michael is making that confusion here.

    1. hmm. That was more digestible with the paragraph breaks I tried to insert – sorry!

  5. Hi Krish
    Well, I thought he packed a lot into 4 minutes! To be fair, he would have needed a lot more time to thoughtfully unpack the broader implications of all that was brought to a focus in Jesus. And he did make at least two allusions to synoptic gospel texts.
    I’m not a great Piper fan, being ‘instinctively Arminian’, but the older I get the more I think that all kinds of Jesus-loving, Bible-honouring people have something to contribute in terms of Truth and praxis.
    In particular, I appreciated the ‘feel’ of Michael – he comes across as having a passionate relationship and appreciation for the Lord; not always the case, eh?
    Cheers Krish. Have a great day!

  6. Krish, since the first week of prayer content is available in full on the Lausanne prayer page, I wonder what you think of the next 6 days of content, all in one way or another attempting to enlarge what Day 1 started in answers, “What is the Gospel?” Those who have left comments here, what do you think after reading the rest of week 1? Any thoughts?

    Of course, being a prayer initiative, hopefully we’ll not just read them to critique, but also allow ourselves to be led into prayer. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

    1. Jack, great word about the focus being prayer, indeed. Also, upon your suggestion, I looked at the rest of the material. It does go on to address a few of Krish’s concerns, regarding the Trinity for instance, but many of Krish’s critique still stand, for instance the Marcionite approach (less one Hosea quote, yet there were more quotes from modern folk than anyone before the cross in the prayer guide.) My main impression is that the video says many things that the text accompaniment for that day does not say. They nearly seem like two different documents all together. There is no reason they need to be identical, but the video really seems to stand on its own apart from the content and tone of the rest of the week’s material.

      1. Sean, thanks for your thoughts. I guess I’m building part of my expectation on 3 things: First, it seems that the whole month is going to be a slow unpacking both of the Gospel itself AND the ramifications of the Gospel. The 4 themes for the week seem to imply a broadening of scope. That causes me to expect even more concerns to be addressed. Though a full Biblical Theology of Salvation may be too much to ask, leaving us with NT heavy content.

        Second, this is a prayer initiative, aimed at leaders specifically, all who are connected with the Lausanne Movement, which from the very beginning has been about World Evangelization…not necessarily the entire evangelical thought world. So is it fair to expect, even in 31 days for a prayer guide to cover every aspect of the Gospel, particularly as it pertains to World Evangelization? I don’t think so, so I don’t expect it.

        Third, I really do hope we come at this from a “believe the best about brothers and sisters” approach. So far, we’ve thrown John Piper under the bus…and why? Is it because their ministry there in Minnesota has helped advance world mission, adoption in the church, help for those considering abortions, and a number of other Gospel outcomes more than most other churches in the U.S. So, yeah, is this an in depth soteriological study, or are they simple reflections on the root and fruit of the Gospel which are meant to drive us to pray?

        1. Jack, great comments and thoughts. Though I still think the video itself is significant being Michael Oh’s first impression in his new role, and in my opinion, some things feel like a step in a bit of a different direction, I am happy to out all of that in a greater context and to also to believe the best in Michael, or anyone for that matter. I’m sure you would agree that to believe the best does not require one to leave ideas at the door, but it certainly means to refrain from judgment of attitude, or anything along those lines. I have been personally blessed by Piper’s ministry. Desiring God was a foundational book in my life. Many of my friends go to his church and have worked directly for Piper. With the emphasis being prayer, I think I should at least be praying for world evangelism as much as I’ve written comments on this post! Thanks again Jack.

  7. Hi Krish,

    It may be both significant and helpful to submit both others’ and our own strategic communication efforts to detailed critical analysis. Especially when it comes to communicating the scriptural Gospel! Therefore I welcome both your approach and your analysis.

    Your comments are – as always – stimulating and thought-provioking. In this specific instance, however, I’m afraid my impression is that you may have overstated your case. I would offer the following four reasons for this, Krish:

    -As an inspirational piece, Michael’s message is not delivered with exegetical or systematical precision, but rather as a personal reflection and invitation.

    -As an introductory video, Michael’s video is intended to lead the viewers into the daily reflection and prayer resources. In fact, the week 1 resources cover quite a few of the key issues that you mention as left out.

    -As an invitational statement, Michael’ seems right in focussing on the cross of Christ. As Uncle John Stott wrote in The Cross of Christ: “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ ”

    -As I reflect on your comments, it seems to me (to be honest) that your citical attitude towards John Piper – whether justified or unjustified – colours your analysis of this message from Michael Oh.

    Every blessing
    Lars

    1. Thanks Lars – always good to hear from you.
      There is lots about John Piper that I like – see my blog post here. But I am noting that there is a shift in Lausanne’s thinking away from the dominant influence of Stott et al towards Piper et al. I just want us to be aware of this – if that is deliberate move that is Lausanne’s prerogative but if it is a drift then there are things we can do to balance it out.

      Because Michael is asking us to consider whether we have correctly grasped the gospel – it is only fair to ask if Michael has articulated the gospel accurately.

      I have in my comments tried to leave room for grace – cutting him some slack as it were. I did no research to see which camp Michael is from and tried to judge what he was saying on its own merits – turns out Michael had written a lot for desiring God and so my critique that he preaches a gospel that connects more with one side of the evangelical community may be fair.

      I hope I have offered my analysis in a spirit of grace and humility so i am happy to be corrected.

      Blessings
      Krish

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