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Evangelicalism (Part 3/4)

DR. SCOTT W. SUNQUIST

President & Professor of Missiology


 

Evangelicalism, from the beginning, broke down walls (Ephesians 2:14).

The Evangelical movement was a cross-cultural, international, trans-Atlantic, interracial, classless movement. When I teach about the Reformation and the Evangelical movements (in both Europe and North America), I talk about their democratic impulse. Both the Reformation and Evangelical revivals pushed against hierarchy (bishops, princes and kings) and connected directly to people from all walks of society. Preaching to coal miners in England, and preaching to slaves in the Caribbean are essential characteristics of Evangelicalism. Both movements were re-centering Christianity on the Bible, and personal experience: the Bible read and preached, and the personal experience of conviction of sin and of grace in conversion and salvation.

Evangelicalism in North America is not marked by these traits much today. Has this type of Evangelicalism survived?

The great reversal of Christianity that occurred in the 20th century reveals for us that we find more of genuine Evangelical Christianity in Africa, and in the growing churches of Asia, the Pacific Islands and Latin America.[1] The Protestant mission movement should be given credit for this reality today. But, as the great Nigerian historian Ogbu Kalu used to remind me again and again, it was Evangelicals that fired up and led the missionary work in Africa. Without Evangelicals from Europe and the United States, there would be no great Christian movement in Africa today. African Christianity is African, cross cultural and Evangelical. The last quality enabled the first two qualities.

The hope of Evangelicalism in North America is connected to our larger, global, fellowship. The narrower our Evangelicalism (white, English language, United States), the faster we will decline and lose our credibility and witness. If we are more closely connected to the global church—in fellowship, in education, in mission—the more healthy we will be in the future. Cross-cultural connections, in genuine fellowship, discipleship and mission, is our health and future.

It is a very Christian thing, really. We must die to self and allow the new life to come from our global partners. We must decrease (in our assertions that we have the right teachings and theology) and learn from the global church. This is not to belittle the good theological work that was done in the West. But, the theological issues of the reformation (Pope as the final authority, idolatry, pilgrimage sites, true penance) are different than today. We no longer live in Christendom where theological “battles” are about what a true Wesleyan or truly Reformed theology is. Our theologies today must be answering new questions about hedonism, violence, religious pluralism, racism, political resistance, and the classic enemy of the church, avarice.

The global church has had much more experience living as a minority in a broader pluralistic culture that resists or even persecutes the church. This is our new normal and global Evangelicalism must be our paraclete in this pilgrimage.

[1] See Sunquist, The Unexpected Christian Century, The Reversal and Transformation of Global Christianity, 1900-2000.

SWS


Scott W. Sunquist, the new President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Monday morning on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses and good ideas.

Attentiveness

Read more from Scott on his blog: Attentiveness.

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