December 8, 2014 / Praxis
Karen Swallow Prior meditates on the slow marriage of North and South.
November 1, 2006
Last month almost 500 participants from over 110 countries gathered in Malaysia for Lausanne’s Younger Leaders Gathering (YLG). While the primary mission of the conference was somewhat effuse, conference attendees enjoyed networking with Christian believers from all over the world, were challenged with reflections on global missions from plenary speakers, learned about various facets of Christian leadership in workshops, and worshiped together in diverse nationalities and tongues.
YLG was by most accounts a classically evangelical conference: biblically based (Biblicism), deeply concerned with personal conversion (conversionism), calling others to action (activism), and maintaining a consistent emphasis on Christ’s atonement on the cross (crucicentrism). Much of the programmatic trajectory of the week centered on communicating the spirit and legacy of the original founders of the 1974 Lausanne movement headed by Billy Graham and John Stott. The original meeting provided international ecumenical glue for Protestant churches and para-church organizations and proffered a vision of unity by underscoring the need to the spread the gospel to un-reached people groups.
The 2006 YLG was billed as a forum for dynamic young evangelical leaders from across the globe. Amongst the international attendees at the conference, it is important to note the ambivalence voiced towards the week’s programming, spurring the Lausanne leadership to provide a ‘graffiti wall’ for attendees to publicly display their thoughts on the conference. While the spirit of unity in serving Christ was alive and healthy at YLG, many noted the lack of women speakers (there were two woman speakers among all plenary and workshop speakers), a consistent slant towards presenting evangelization as personal conversion (rather than social or incarnational actualizations of the Gospel) and an ecumenical inconsistency shown in the lack of any Catholic and Orthodox attendance and/or dialogue. In short, the mission of the Lausanne movement—the whole Church bringing the whole Gospel to the whole World—raised numerous questions among attendees about what theology was being brought to bear upon such a goal.
YLG encouraged the next generation of Evangelicals to continue the spirit and heritage of Lausanne. For this to happen the dissonance that exists towards the movement by some of its young leaders must be honestly engaged. The younger generation of evangelical leaders are, for better or worse, a product of the evangelical church. Therefore, it is important that the spiritual children of the leaders of Lausanne bless the labor of the previous generations by being indelibly grateful for their leadership and critically engaged with the work they’ve been a product of. In that spirit, the following essays were written by domestic and international conference attendees who were asked to respond to the question: After attending Lausanne’s YLG, do I want to be an evangelical?
 The question of who is evangelical can be a difficult one to answer, but for the purposes of this essay, I have referred to British historian David Bebbington’s work. His four categories provide a general framework that captures the ethic and spirit of the evangelical movement. Although these categories are broad and contextually limited (in fact, the Lausanne Covenant is a fuller proclamation of what it means to be an evangelical), I believe they are valuable in showing the interconnectedness of evangelical communities. David W. Bebbington,Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s(London: Unwin Hyman, 1989)
To my knowledge this is true as far as young leader attendees present, but there was a presentation by a Catholic gentleman who has worked closely with evangelicals and is now recognized by the Vatican with his ministry to bring the Jesus Film to Catholic families. This was a powerful demonstration of ecumenical ministerial cooperation and to me was one of the most powerful moments of the conference.
 This question was initially proposed by Dwight Friesen as we discussed the conference experience on the flight home from Malaysia. We think this is an interesting question because it alludes to the emphasis on personal choice in regards to identity often espoused by evangelical ideologies.
Chris Keller is Founding Editor of The Other Journal and a psychotherapist in Seattle, Washington.