Religion: A Challenge from Evangelicals

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ON THE SECOND COMING: "We believe that Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly, in power and glory, to consummate his salvation and his judgment... We reject as a proud, self-confident dream the notion that man can ever build a Utopia on earth."

A note of self-criticism was often heard at the congress, beginning with Billy Graham's keynote address. The sometime White House preacher told his audience that it was a big mistake "to identify the Gospel with any political program or culture. I confess tonight that this has been one of my own dangers in my ministry. When I go to preach the Gospel, I go as an ambassador of the kingdom of God—not America."

Some of the Third World Evangelicals at the congress—who made up a vocal half of the participants—added other critical views of some past Evangelical efforts. In one of the meeting's most provocative speeches, Rene Padilla, an Ecuadorian Baptist who works in Argentina, assailed the sort of easy Christianity that the U.S. has often exported. "A Gospel that leaves untouched our life in the world ... is not the Christian Gospel but culture Christianity, adjusted to the mood of the day," Padilla warned. "This kind of Gospel has no teeth. It demands nothing." Accordingly, Padilla cautioned Evangelicals to resist the temptation of trying to make the maximum number of converts.

Though conversions are wanted, "faithfulness to the Gospel should never be sacrificed for the sake of quantity."

The final text of the Lausanne Covenant similarly confessed that we have "become unduly preoccupied with statistics."

Statistics were nevertheless paraded.

There was pleased talk about the successes of evangelism in Brazil, for in stance, where the number of Protestants (2.6 million in 1970) continues to grow at three times the rate of population in crease. There are now 91 million Christians in Africa south of the Sahara — about 30% of the population — and projections indicate that the percentage may reach 50% by the year 2000. In one area of Java, there are now 53 Chris tian congregations where none at all existed just seven years ago.

Though enthusiasm is hardly as epidemic as it was in the heyday of Protestant overseas missions in the 19th and early 20th centuries, there are probably more Protestant missionaries in the field today than ever before — more than 35,000 from North America, perhaps another 20,000 from other parts of the world. At the Lausanne conference the Rev. David Howard, missions director of U.S. Inter-Varsity Christian Fellow ship, reported that the number of American students interested in foreign missions is unprecedented. Since last December, 1,000 student members of Inter-Varsity alone have signed pledge cards for overseas service, and 4,000 others said they would answer a call.

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