What do we mean by “evangelical”? Bishop Mortimer Arias’ work, Announcing the Reign of God: Evangelization and the Subversive Memory of Jesus has heavily influenced how I answer that question. I understand that the term evangelical (which is not an actual biblical term) is loosely derived from the Greek words, euaggelion which is translated as the “Gospel,” and the verb euaggelizo where we get “to evangelize.” However, modern Christians have imposed culturally imperialistic assumptions into evangelism (euaggelizo) that virtually defines “evangelical” by external activities typically related to proselytizing.

Bishop Arias notes that before the incarnation, the term euaggelizo[1] had primarily been used in a political context. Prior to Christ’s pronouncement that the Kingdom of God had come, euaggelizo typically referred to the over-throw of an established government, the proclamation of a victory in battle, or the return of the emperor.[2] The concept conjured up the implications of a regime change.[3]

The implications seem obvious. The Kingdom of God came into conflict with the empire — the kingdom of man. Evangelism as conflict and Evangelicals as subversives would logically follow suit. However, that seems far from today’s reality.

Today Evangelicals are far from subversive[4] and hardly embody the values of the coming Kingdom. In 2006 it seems Evangelicals have been co-opted by the empire and sadly this is reflected in many prominent evangelical events.

For example, both the 2006 Lausanne Younger Leaders Gathering in Malaysia and the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization hosted by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism in Pattaya, Thailand were events where I met many dynamic and captivating people. However, I left both meetings a little disappointed by the un-realized potential of which Lausanne seemed not to take advantage.

As one who is embedded in the post-modern/post-denominational Christian expression, I believe Lausanne has the potential to bring continuity and accountability at a time when the Church seems to need it the most. Unfortunately, Lausanne has yet to achieve this. Let me present a few observations.

First, at both Lausanne meetings I attended, I was concerned with the market-place focus. It seems that in my experience with global Christianity, the West has over-emphasized the social or cultural invasion of enterprise and marketing in our Christian culture. We should grieve the fact that the Church has relied on businesses for organizational or leadership development rather than theologically rooted paradigms. In the community I am a part of, we have tried to find organizational structure within our theological understanding of the Kingdom, which of course does not reject businesses, but subverts a culture whose approach is based in marketing innovations.

My sense is that the market/business focus of many of the Lausanne conversations is a strategic (not theological) attempt to legitimize Western social conditioning of our financial conquest as mission. I wonder if an alternative to Jeffery Sach’s book, The End of Poverty could be written from within Lausanne with a title such as The Beginning of Poverty. The redemptive beginning of poverty is when the non-poor, Western Church embraces simplicity as a lifestyle celebration. It happens when suffering, not industry, is the calling. It is when our voluntary commitment to live on less allows our impoverished brothers and sisters to actually live.

We have allowed the cross of Christ to be co-opted by society rather than inviting people into a theology of suffering that was consummated on that same cross. We feel a desperate need to market the gospel to a post-literate society on their terms, rather than allowing the Gospel to engage transformational conflict in a shameless Western society that would not recognize Christ if faced with Him today. Rather than announcing the regime change of the Kingdom over the empire, we have started perfecting our efforts to “gimmick-out” the Gospel.

Second, during many conversations in Malaysia, I heard that today Lausanne seems less like a movement and more like an aging, ailing institution that panders itself to the trends of Western Christianity. From what I understand, when Lausanne was founded in 1974, a group of young men and women from all over the world gathered in order to help conservative Evangelicalism define itself by making relevant commitments to engage the needs of the world through biblical theology. What they came up with was called the Lausanne Covenant and was drafted in the true revolutionary spirit of the Evangelical kingdom. Today, I wonder where the spirit of revolution is in Lausanne.

This raises the present-day validity of the Lausanne Covenant (widely viewed as a defining statement for Evangelicals). It seems the application of the Covenant has become somewhat out of touch with today’s world. Though the truth contained in it is unchanging, the manifestation of its content at best grasps for relevancy. It seems more of a fossilized statement than an organic proclamation.

The context the Covenant addressed has changed dramatically. The Lausanne Movement displays integrity by consistently embodying the beliefs of what was documented over 30 years ago. However, today’s demands for evangelical engagement require fresh language to address the questions the Covenant fails to answer. Institutionalizing the Covenant only keeps Evangelicals stuck in the ghetto of the language of the original statement. Though Evangelicals are not externally defined by statements or creeds, the expression of who we are, whether it is through a covenant or some other representation, demands relevancy because the Gospel provides answers for every relevant human need.

For example, contemporary language has changed, which necessitates the reframing of various concepts of the Covenant in more humanizing ways with more inclusive nuances — not an inclusion that legitimizes what we must be in conflict with or reject from a biblical standpoint, but that includes other evangelical non-Protestant Christian traditions, the poor, the oppressed, and “the other.”

If the Covenant wants to remain an organic pronouncement, then educating a younger generation of Lausanne participants is necessary. If Lausanne has the courage to re-imagine the Covenant, it will also display a tremendous amount of courage in continuing to groom, critique, and imagine an organic movement that is not triumphal, but submitted and surrendered to the Kingdom of God.

So, rather than merely casting stones and calling Lausanne archaic, we need to call Lausanne back to its roots, a call to faithfully fulfill its original intent, authentic theological engagement with the pressing needs of the real world.

Finally, my greatest concern is that Lausanne lacks an accurate composition of participants for a present-day, global ecclesiology.[5]David Chronic says, “While Lausanne does in fact reflect current Western evangelical ecclesiology in its legitimizing men and white-Westerners, I do think that Lausanne does not reflect the current and global face of the Church, which is non-Western with a majority of women.”[6]

Lausanne’s disconnection is a failure to capture a sense of the global Christian mosaic. The global Christian mosaic is younger, more feminine, non-Western, ecumenical, and poorer than Lausanne’s event participants. In 2004, this global face was not the majority, but a token minority. At the Malaysia meetings I understand that 23% of the participants were women and that for the 2010 meetings Lausanne hopes for 40% female participation, far from adequate or appropriate.[7]

Even after all this, I do have hope for Lausanne. Great people with brilliant minds exist at Lausanne. Dr. Roger Parrott, the Chairperson of the Lausanne 2004 Forum, listens to the young, humanizes the dignity of the poor, and is not afraid to take non-traditional approaches as noted in his opening message at the 2004 forum, “Service of Challenge.”

We must ask ourselves, would Christ be a Lausanne Evangelical in 2006? I believe Christ would have embodied the truest expression of evangelicalism and held us to that standard. I believe Christ would press us to a standard that thoughtfully addresses pressing and relevant issues such as: the global AIDS pandemic; the implications of globalization; sexual orientation and identity; peace, conflict, and justice; post-doctrinal ecumenical evangelicalism; environmental stewardship; oppression, injustice, and poverty.[8]

At a meeting like the one Lausanne recently hosted, would Jesus find the need to turn the tables of the empire? Would he turn to fight the wares of the dominant consciousness’s grasp on Christian expression? Would he scatter the goods of market place driven Christianity, toppling tables of tradition and stagnant memory?

[1] In his book, Bishop Arias builds his argument around the deponent form (evangelizomai) of euaggelizo which essentially means the same thing, but occurred more commonly in earlier Greek.
[2] Bishop Arias cites Kittle and G. Freidrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964), 2: 706-725.
[3] See chapter 1, “The Good News of the Kingdom” in Bishop Arias’ book Announcing the Reign of God: Evangelization and the Subversive Memory of Jesus, (Fortress Press, 1984).
[4] In an interview with Christianity Today, John Stott laments the emergence of Evangelicals over the past 60 years, remembering when Evangelicals were a “despised minority” that is now on the “ascendancy, which is a very dangerous place to be.” “Evangelism Plus: John Stott Reflects on Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going,” Christianity Today (October 2006) 94-99.
[5] Philip Jenkin’s work, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity(Oxford University Press, 2002) has put the demographics of global Christianity at the forefront of scholarship demanding that the Church come to terms with its implications.
[6] David K. Chronic, WMF Regional Coordinator for Europe/Asia, who also participated in the 2004 Lausanne Forum, e-mail to the author on November 6, 2006.
[7] Noted during discussions with Sandy Kim, the administrative assistant to Doug Birdsall, executive chairperson of the Lausanne Movement.
[8] There are a number of Lausanne Occasional Papers that attempted to take on some of these issues; in fact, I was part of the drafting committee that put together the paper on Holistic Mission in A New Vision, A New Heart, A Renewed Call Volume One: Lausanne Occasional Papers from the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization in Pattaya, Thailand, edited by David Claydon, (William Carey Library, Pasadena, CA 2005) 211-288. Though the poor were central to the discussions in writing the document, their presence and participation was absent.