Theological News On-Line
Published by Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance
Welcome to WEA Theological News On-Line - this is the on-line version of our printed quarterly, WEA Theological News (ISSN 0260-3705). WEA TN On-Line is issued approximately six-weekly. The content of the printed and on-line versions overlap but are not identical. We also publish Evangelical Review of Theology. For more information, visit our website www.worldevangelicalalliance.com/commissions/tcpubs.htm
We welcome news reports on theological matters for both versions - they can cover theological institutions, conferences, publications, faculty, trends and developments, etc. of interest to evangelical theologians around the world.
For more information on the work of the Theological Commission, contact the Executive Chair, Dr Rolf Hille firstname.lastname@example.org
In this issue:
by Rev Dr David Hilborn, Head of Theology, Evangelical Alliance UK Member, WEA Theological Commission
The Assembly of the World Council of Churches took place from 14th-23rd February in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Although the World Evangelical Alliance is not a member of WCC, it was invited to send observers. WEA International Director Geoff Tunnicliffe and I duly attended, and gained valuable insights into the current state of the ecumenical movement.
The theme of the Assembly was 'God, in Your Grace, Transform the World'. Introducing this theme at the opening Plenary, WCC Moderator Catholicos Aram I stressed that it had been deliberately couched in the form of a prayer. The WCC Assembly, he said, was 'essentially a spiritual event', and the programme certainly featured a good deal of worship, praise and reflection. Participants gathered every morning a large tent for common prayer, which drew on a wide range of styles and traditions; there were daily Bible studies based on the theme, and evening services were led by various confessional groups represented at the Assembly.
In addition to the normal plenaries and business sessions, the Assembly also featured a 'Mutirão' or 'meeting place' comprising ecumenical conversations, workshops, exhibits, drama and dance, and, of particular interest for me, a 'Theological Cafe', at which authors discussed their books in an informal setting.
As the main business of the Assembly got under way, the new WCC General Secretary, Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya, highlighted the need for WCC to reach out to churches, organisations and networks that were not part of its structures. He also commended the new 'consensus' approach to decision-making which WCC had adopted for this Assembly. Rather than debating motions and amendments in adversarial, parliamentary style, delegates would be asked as sessions progressed to indicate their mood on various points by raising an orange card for approval or a blue card for disapproval. With some exceptions, this did seem to increase procedural fluency, although where necessary votes were still taken in a conventional manner.
The period leading up to the Assembly had seen a number of contentious issues rise to the surface. The Orthodox communities had expressed concern at a perceived intensification of the Council's familiar social justice agenda at the expense of 'faith and order' matters, and a special consultation with them had been organised in 2002. From an Evangelical perspective, this consultation secured significant assurances, not least on the Trinitarian and Christocentric bases on which the WCC officially operates. Despite this, it was clear that tensions remain over the Council's approach to mission and other faiths. The Programme Book of the conference indicated clear disagreement on so-called 'wider ecumenism' - that is, the extension of non-convertive fellowship to other religions in preference to evangelism. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave a thoughtful and carefully balanced presentation on this question, but responses to what he said ranged from clear reaffirmations of the uniqueness of Christ and the centrality of his cross, to starkly pluralistic and even syncretistic soteriological statements. In a later session on Christian unity, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke movingly of the world Church's role in the defeat of apartheid, but disconcerted more evangelical participants with a reading of John 12:32 which suggested not only that all are loved by God, but that all would be saved (cf. John 3:14-15!).
The Porto Alegre Assembly marked the mid-point of the ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence, and many proposals and resolutions related to this concern. In a passionate speech, Olara Otunnu highlighted the appalling genocide presently taking place in northern Uganda, and called for more urgent action to halt it. Otunnu is a former UN under-secretary and current president of the LBL Foundation for Children, but he is also an Evangelical whose father was a leader in the East African Revival. While this issue proved uncontroversial from an Evangelical point of view, a later presentation on the Middle East regrettably confirmed widespread Evangelical suspicions of WCC's political and theological bias. All the images of violence presented here were of Israelis harassing Palestinians; but we saw nothing of the carnage caused by Islamist suicide bombings. Similarly, although Rowan Williams had bravely broached the subject in his speech, the issue of the persecuted Church barely registered here.
While such partiality proved problematic and will need to be addressed if the World Council is ever significantly to broaden its Evangelical constituency, Geoff Tunnicliffe graciously chose to focus on common ground between WCC and WEA in a special press conference for Evangelicals and Pentecostals held on the Monday of the Assembly. In a prepared statement, he stressed WEA's commitment to integral mission, particularly as demonstrated by its sponsorship of the Micah Challenge programme to support delivery of the UN's Millennium Development Goals. "If we ignore the world, we betray the Word', he said, "But if we ignore the Word, we betray the world". He endorsed the call for urgent action on Uganda, and underlined WEA's common commitment with WCC to the relief of HIV and AIDS.
Also on the panel at the press conference were Dr Michael Ntumy, chairman of the Church of Pentecost, Ghana, and Rev. Norberto Saracco, Director of the International Faculty of Theological Studies in Argentina and Pastor of Good News Church in Buenas Nuevas. Saracco is also International Deputy Director of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. Questions ranged widely, but Geoff Tunnicliffe fielded queries on what holds WEA back from fuller participation in WCC, on the perceived US domination of world Evangelicalism, and on the similarities and differences between Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. In response, he pointed out that only 10% of Evangelicals are from the United States, and that even these are not monolithic in their politics or theology. The centre of gravity for Evangelicalism, as for the Church in general, is shifting to the global South, he added. That shift is due substantially to the growth of indigenous Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and less to the importation of American models of church and mission, influential and valued though these have been in some situations. On the differences which persist with WCC, Tunnicliffe pointed to historic divergence on the authority of Scripture and the evangelistic imperative, and questioned the move in some strands of WCC towards an ecumenism of other faiths. However, he reiterated that despite these long-standing differences, WEA would seek to engage as constructively as possible with WCC in future. As it does so, however, he suggested that it would not be helpful simply to compound Evangelicalism with Pentecostalism, even though most Pentecostals are Evangelical and many are members of WEA. Pentecostalism is a more obviously ecclesial tradition and so fits well into the existing structures of WEA, he said. Evangelicalism, by comparison, is a non-ecclesial, trans-denominational movement which should be seen as parallel to WCC as a whole, rather than as a confessional sub-division of it.
This discussion of the similarities and differences between Evangelicals and Pentecostals also featured prominently in a joint meeting for the two groups, which was convened by Geoff Tunnicliffe and attended, among others, by Huibert van Beek of WCC's Geneva staff. Dr Van Beek acknowledged that since most Evangelicals relate to WCC as representatives of their respective denominations rather than as Evangelicals per se, it could be hard to discern a distinctively Evangelical voice. More work would need to be done on this in future.
An honourable exception to this problem of Evangelical profile and voice was provided by Norbert Saracco. As well as speaking at the Evangelical-Pentecostal press conference, Saracco also addressed the plenary on Church Unity, where he powerfully advocated a 'new ecumenism for a post-denominational era'. The ecumenism of 'reports and papers' represented by the WCC had had value, he said, but it has now played itself out. Instead, the world Church needs to develop a more organic, grass roots ecumenism which recognises the need to proclaim the whole gospel to the whole world.
No doubt Evangelicals will continue to struggle with the prevailing ethos of the WCC, but it must be said that Geoff Tunnicliffe and I were warmly welcomed in the various meetings we had with key World Council figures in Porto Alegre. Granted, having assumed the advertised seminar on human sexuality would represent the balance of opinion within the Assembly on this issue, I found myself in a PR drive for the 'lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered' Metropolitan Community Church. But elsewhere in the programme, and also behind the scenes of the Assembly, real effort seemed to have been made to take our concerns on board. This was particularly true of the warm reception we received at a meeting for leaders of 'world communions'. It remains to be seen whether this effort will be consolidated, but we can surely pray that as God in his grace transforms the world, he will also transform the WCC so that it better reflects the shape and theology of an increasingly Evangelical world church community.
More information www.wcc-assembly.info
The WEA Theological Commission expanded membership scheme is attracting interest by theologians in different parts of the world. The new scheme which was announced at the beginning of the year allows for three new categories as well as the existing core group of Commissioners. The new categories are Affiliates, Associates and Partners.
Affiliates are Theological Commissions or like bodies affiliated with National and Regional Fellowships of the World Evangelical Alliance (or bodies nominated by such Fellowships to represent them). The other two groups, Associates and Partners, are drawn from a wider circle and consist of individuals or institutions who are interested in the work of the WEA Theological Commission and who are desirous of supporting its objectives and programs financially, prayerfully and practically. Individuals are known as Associates, while institutions such as seminaries, theological associations, churches, denominations, or mission bodies are known as Partners.
The TC has planned these new categories to allow for a much wider range of involvement in its work by individuals and by seminaries and theological associations. A spokesman for the TC said that it was particularly keen to contact national theological commissions wherever they exist so that a closer bond could be established for the sharing of resources and networking of personnel. The TC is also committed to encouraging the formation of national and regional TCs in areas where they do not yet exists. National evangelical associations are specially invited to contact the TC so this process can be advanced.
Further details and an application form for membership may be obtained from the TC Australian office (email email@example.com). It is expected that arrangements for the new scheme will be fine-tuned as experience is gained.
From January 5-7, 2006 about 60 Asian Baptist theologians met at the Christian Guest House in Bangkok, Thailand for a symposium on Christian Higher Education. The theme of the symposium was "The Church in Asian Society." The conference was sponsored by the Asian Baptist Federation and the Asian Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary (ABGTS). Dr. Lilian Lim, until recently Academic Dean of the Singapore Baptist Theological Seminary, now serves as full time President of the ABGTS and Dr. Stephen Tam, Professor at the Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary is Administrative Dean.
The Asian Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary was originally formed as a consortium of those Baptist seminaries throughout Asia founded largely by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. However, with the paradigm shift in missiological strategy, the ABTGS became independent and now is open to all Baptist seminaries in Asia. Baptist seminary professors and leaders came form the following countries: Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, and India.
The Asian Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary is making a significant contribution to theological education in Asia. ABGTS has more than 250 students engaged in post graduate studies. At present it has its own accrediting system, but its doctoral degree is equivalent to those offered in North America. Obviously with changing times in Asia and the Pacific Rim becoming the world's economic powerhouse, Asian Baptist seminaries will need to effectively train young men and women in the ministry. That is precisely the vision of ABGTS and what it is doing! Thank God for the visionary leadership of the Asian theological educators.
BWA News February 2006
by the Right Reverend Dr Mouneer Anis Bishop of Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt
Five years ago, Egypt started to rebuild Alexandria library which was burnt down in the 7th Century. This library was one of the wonders of the ancient world. The international community helped Egypt in this very important project. The library now stands as a magnificent building facing the Mediterranean Sea. This project was a great inspiration to the Episcopal Diocese of Egypt to revive the Alexandria School of Theology (AST) once again. The original Alexandria School of Theology was the first to be founded in the world in the 1st Century.
Our aim behind starting AST is to equip ministers and leaders for ministry. We adopt a very nontraditional way of teaching. It involves academic lectures and seminars over the weekends and practical placements of the students during the weekdays. These placements are in churches, hospitals, schools, prisons and community development centres. We want our students to be open-minded and have a better understanding of people from other faiths and denominations. Muslim Imams are invited to teach about Islamic faith and to respond to questions from the students. Bishops from the Orthodox and Catholic Church also lecture about their own traditions. This helps students to have respect for others and to understand better how they can dialogue with them.
The Episcopal Diocese of Egypt covers North Africa and the Horn of Africa. One of the objectives of the Diocese is to build bridges between different Christian denominations and other faiths. We also are keen to have a holistic approach towards ministry. This is why we have community development centres, schools, hospitals, clinics and other services. We hope that the AST will equip leaders who are capable of running such ministries.
In the future, we hope to provide short courses for overseas students in the area of Islamic studies, church history and Old Testament studies. Living in Egypt for the duration of these courses will help overseas students to understand the context of their subject matter better. We would appreciate your prayers and support for our new school of theology.
Level 6: newsletter of Australian College of Theology Dec 2005 Used with permission
The UK mission training centre, Redcliffe College in Gloucester has announced two new appointments to its academic faculty. Dr Kang-San Tan, from Malaysia, will become Head of Mission Studies in September 2006. Dr Tan has worked with OMF International for the last fifteen years, initially as Home Director in Malaysia, and more recently as Director of Mission Research. His main research interests are in the areas of Asian Theology and Religions (Islam and Buddhism). He is also a well-known speaker and writer on the international mission scene, along with his wife, Loun Ling who graduated from Regent College, Canada. She is also an experienced pastor and teacher and there will be opportunities for her to use her skills within the life of Redcliffe.
Commenting on his appointment to Redcliffe, Dr Tan said, "I am delighted to be joining the College's dynamic community. Redcliffe's willingness to appoint a non-western colleague as Head of Mission Studies speaks of the College's bold efforts in charting new directions in mission training.
In a further appointment, Rob Hay of Generating Change has become Director of Research and Partnership Development. He will be integrating his existing research projects including the WEA ReMAP and Your Story studies into a new department which will resource and facilitate all Redcliffe related research. He will also be developing further teaching provision on leadership, good practice in mission and related areas.
Redcliffe College's Principal, Rev Dr Simon Steer said that this double appointment represents a further strengthening of Redcliffe's team and signals the College's commitment to prepare people effectively for God's mission in the world.
He continued: "Dr Tan has a global reputation as a missiologist and is an outstanding teacher and writer who will bring invaluable non-western perspectives. Rob Hay is one of the most gifted of the younger generation of mission thinkers with excellent research and networking skills."
Press release from Mission training centre, Redcliffe College UK. www.redcliffe.org
WHEATON, Ill. (ABP) -- One of evangelical Christianity's premier scholars will leave one of it's premier institutions of higher learning for a position at a premier Catholic university, according to news reports.
The website of the magazine Christianity Today reported Feb. 9 that Mark Noll, longtime professor of history at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., will leave there for the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., at the end of this academic year.
Noll is perhaps best known in Christian circles for his 1994 book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which criticized evangelicalism's tendency toward anti-intellectualism. However, his 2001 book, America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, raised his stature -- and that of evangelical historical scholarship -- in the wider academic community.
Noll's departure "is one of the most painful announcements I've had to make" in his tenure at Wheaton, said Stan Jones, the school's provost, according to the magazine. "Noll is an exemplar of all that's good in Christian academia. He set the standard of what it means to be a Christian scholar and a Christian teacher."
Wheaton, sometimes referred to as the "Harvard of evangelicalism," is considered a center of conservative Protestant scholarship. One of the Chicago-area school's most famous alumni is evangelist Billy Graham. However, in recent years, Notre Dame has attracted a large group of evangelical scholars. Prominent Baptist scholar George Marsden has been a longtime leading light in the school's history program. Noll will be groomed as something of a replacement for Marsden, according to Christianity Today. "We're delighted to have him," John McGreevy, chair of Notre Dame's history department, told the magazine. "We feel we have a strong program already. Mark will augment that."
Noll also is a leader in promoting dialogue between Catholics and evangelicals. McGreevy said Notre Dame would be a fertile environment for such efforts. "Notre Dame is a good place to do that," he said. "There are lots of serious Catholics and Protestants who want to think about those issues."
Associated Baptist Press, February 14, 2006 (6-17)
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) has been unable to reach a consensus on global climate change and will not take a stand on the issue, the Washington Post reports. The decision disappointed environmentalists who had hoped that evangelical Christians would prod the Bush administration to soften its position on global warming. Over the past four years a growing number of evangelical groups have embraced environmental causes.
In October 2004 the leadership of the NAE, which is the nation's largest evangelical organization, declared that mankind has "a sacred responsibility to steward the Earth and not a license to abuse the creation of which we are a part." Rev. Ted Haggard, NAE president, called the environment "a values issue." But there has been some internal resistance; in a letter to Haggard last month, more than 20 evangelical leaders including Charles Colson, James Dobson, the Rev. D. James Kennedy, and the Rev. Richard Land urged the NAE not to adopt "any official position" on global climate change, citing a 'lack of consensus among the evangelical community on this issue.
Calvin DeWitt, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin who is a leading evangelical supporter of environmental causes, called the statement "a retreat and a defeat."
Religion Today Summaries Friday, February 3, 2006
WEA Theological News On-line
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