Gordon in the News: last updated 11/06/2010

An "Ephesians" Moment In Cape Town

“I’d be able to glean more from this conference if I: a) were omnipresent and: b) required no sleep. Conclusion? God is enjoying the Lausanne III Congress more than anyone.”

—Paul Borthwick, Christian ministries faculty at Gordon

The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town (Oct. 17–25) drew 4,000 invited participants from 197 nations, including a contingent from the Gordon College and Gordon Conwell communities. Possibly one of the most representative gatherings of Christian leaders in history, 90% of participants were from the two-thirds world—Africa, Asia, South America—with the remaining 10% from North America and Europe.

“By now we’re familiar with the shift in the center of gravity in global Christianity from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern—but it was eye-opening to be in those demographics,” said R. Judson Carlberg, President, who attended with his wife, Jan, and other colleagues from Gordon. “If you look at photos of the Edinburgh conference in 1910—a watershed gathering for world missions—you see a large hall of American and European men. In my ‘table group’ in Cape Town, by contrast, I was the oldest and whitest person, and the only one from the United States. My table companions—men and women—were Christian leaders from the Philippines, Ghana, Japan, Belgium and Latvia.”

Stan Gaede, scholar in residence at Gordon and Christian College Consortium (CCC) president, found the “sharing and learning—even the intense but gracious disagreement—most encouraging. There’s less denominational splintering, an appreciation for a range of church traditions, greater appreciation for what we have in common. There was a willingness to listen and learn to a degree I have not seen before.”

As a sociologist of culture and religion, Gaede came away with questions, too. “Will this moment lead to less theological clarity, more shallowness of thought? As we gain breadth, are we also likely to become a tad more thin (in word and deed)? Is this a temporary euphoria or will it have lasting results?”

Carlberg noted differences in theological emphases between the 1910 Edinburgh gathering on world missions and the Cape Town Congress. “In 1910 dispensationalist ‘end times’ theology was ubiquitous, but it was not evident at Lausanne III. What we did hear were themes of reconciliation, justice, partnering in ministry internationally. But the hope behind these themes was the same as it was a hundred years ago: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

The location itself—Cape Town, South Africa—was a telling indication of new demographic realities. “South Africa has been called a land of ‘tragic beauty,’ said Paul Borthwick, adjunct professor of Christian Ministries at Gordon. “Though apartheid has been dissolved, the rich-poor contrasts are still severe. Yet the poor people who live in townships continue to be this country’s greatest beauty. Capetown is San Diego and Tijuana in one city.”

“The stories we heard of martyrdom and persecution were a shock to our systems,” Carlberg noted, “but it was a good kind of shock. Spiritual battles are so much closer to the surface in the two-thirds world than here. When you are living the reality of not knowing where your next meal is coming from, and of life-and-death situations, you have a much deeper reliance on the Holy Spirit. I came away convinced that we can’t really understand the challenges of the 21st century—and thus be able to convincingly proclaim the gospel—unless we can hear, understand and speak this language of suffering.”