Last week I attended a fascinating online event hosted by Langham Partnership. Mark Labberton (president of Fuller Seminary and editor of Still Evangelical?) was the speaker and his topic was: Evangelicalism: Still or Not Yet? How the crisis of American (White) Evangelicalism requires the restoration of its soul by rediscovering its source and hope.
An impetus for the event is not hard to discover. The identity of Evangelicals in the US has become entangled in the morass and mire of political public discourse and many people are wondering what it means to be Evangelical or if the term should be cast off entirely. Let me give two quick observations from the event and then introduce a new project which answers some of the challenges which these thoughts raise.
First, American Evangelicalism needs to give an account of itself to Global Evangelicalism. The online event was opened by Riad Kassis, a Lebanese biblical scholar who was been involved in international leadership of several organizations. In this particular Zoom format the participants could not see how many were attending or where they were from, but Kassis welcomed a large and diverse group. Kassis then moved to the topic at hand and set the tone for the talk in a very interesting way. His opening remarks were gracious but pointed. This was not a gathering of Global Christians looking to learn from Americans as ‘experts’ or ‘key-holders’ of what it means to be evangelical. This was a gathering of concerned Christians looking for American Evangelicals to give a reasonable explanation for what has gone on among its ranks. It was compelling to see what many would consider a role reversal as the Church of the ‘developing’ world took time to hold the feet of the American Church to the fire.
Second, the Western tradition of Christianity needs to be in contact and conversation with the Global Church in order to sustain its health. Mark Labberton gave a humble and insightful response to the challenge posed by Kassis. Much of what he said is worth noting, but here I simply want to point out how he directed American Evangelicalism to look outside of itself. Labberton suggested that the parts of the American Church which seem to have come through the past few years in the best shape are those which maintain the best connections globally. He suggested that Christians in the US have a lot to learn from (for example) the African churches which have had to live without access to dominant forces of cultural power.
This need to listen to the Global Church sets up an introduction to Voices, a new website by Langham Partnership which aims to facilitate and amplify the voice of Christian leaders from the majority world. I’ve only just begun to dig through the site myself, but there is already a lot of good material gathered here. A video of a previous webinar on what American Christians can learn from Majority World Christians would be a great place to start.