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?
- 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.