LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Two scholar-statesmen made the case for Christian witness to all humans – indeed, to all of the creation – in the Big Tent workshop “Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ through Collective Impact.”
Michael Parker aimed to rehabilitate the work of evangelism in post-colonial outreach. Hong Jung Lee called on the church to recontextualize mission as an act aimed not simply at humans but at all creation.
During the Aug. 2 workshop, Michael Parker, professor of history at the Evangelical Theological Seminary and teaching elder of the PC(USA), confessed the collective guilt caused by past generations’ reckless treatment of people-groups’ cultures and values in the name of promoting the good news of Jesus’ love. He also acknowledged that those sins are still being committed by some well-intended but misguided believers, especially some short-term mission workers who zoom in and carry out some project of their own design without even trying to get to know the very people they are aiming to help.
“But,” he protested, “to say all missionaries are cultural imperialists is a false stereotype.”
Referring to the stance of the World Council of Churches, Parker said, “Evangelism does not have to be proselytism. It can simply be witness.”
He said many believers reject evangelism for one of three reasons:
- They might have succumbed to a religious relativism that “doesn’t fly.” It’s simply not true that all paths “lead to the same conclusion,” Parker said.
- Others discount evangelism because “they have forgotten how powerful and liberating the gospel can be, especially for those who have never heard or understood the message.”
- Still others just find evangelism uncomfortable. Parker cited a statement he said was famously, though incorrectly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” In fact, Parker said, Francis was an outspoken cross-cultural evangelist who did say, “’Let your deeds support your words.’”
Hong, general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Korea, said the church should jettison its anthropocentric mindset in favor of a complete-life approach that regards the whole of creation as the object of God’s mission in the world. This “kenotic (self-emptying), interdependent order of God’s economy of life,” Hong said, is the true locus of the mission of the Savior who declared, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
The “ongoing process of healing and reconciliation sustains the integration between justice and peace and their mutual coexistence for life,” he claimed. That process entails witnessing all dimensions of the wholeness and totality of the gospel: “spiritual-vertical, social-horizontal and ecological-universal” which have “mutually interpenetrated each other in the web of life. Healing and reconciliation is the core of God’s economy of life and it is both spirituality and strategy of God’s mission and evangelism in Jesus Christ.”
He offered a “tangible new vision and strategy of the collective impact on mission and evangelism.” And he offered this slogan for sharing the gospel: “weaving God’s web of life locally and interlocally at global level in a kenotic, interdependent way.”