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November 4th, 2010
04:57 PM ET

My Take: Seeking truth and reconciliation in Cape Town

Editor's Note: Don Golden is senior vice president of World Relief in Baltimore, MD and coauthor of Jesus Wants to Save Christians.

By Don Golden, Special to CNN

The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization was held in Cape Town a few weeks ago. I was privileged to join this collaboration of 4,000 leaders from 200 countries to engage the great causes of our time. As a representative of World Relief, a venerable Evangelical aid organization, I was eager to learn the priorities of global Evangelicals at the beginning of a new millennium of ministry.

Day one was devoted to truth – “making the case for the truth of Christ in a pluralistic, globalized world”.

The job fell to Os Guinness, the Oxford heavy weight. Offering six purposes for elevating truth as our highest priority, Guinness declared that honoring God, knowing God, empowering human enterprise, providing a gospel foundation, combating repression and transformation in Christ – all depended on a high view of objective truth.

He landed his plenary tour de force by donning the rhetorical mantle of Martin Luther declaring “here we still stand” and casting “shame on Western Christians who scornfully downplay that Jesus is the way, the truth and the Life”.

Yikes.

Michael Herbst, an inspiring German church planter, spoke about truth as the person of Jesus, “not primarily a set of propositions” but as truth looks when Jesus lived it out. He called for a “truth that served from below” with the tools of “good words and good works”.

Herbst declared that for Jesus, “to claim truth was to grant truth,” to declare to a wounded and lost world that “you are note excluded! You are not forgotten!”

Beautiful.

But my first day at Lausanne and I was feeling the tension of two related but distinct currents of thought regarding the truth Evangelicals were called to stand for.

I decided to take my questions out for some air, stretch my legs and catch the tour to Robben Island where the great Nelson Mandela made his stand.

Why my shame? And who was this shame meant for? Os Guinness is too faithful in his articulation of Biblical truth to dismiss. Yet I did not share his alarm nor could I relate to his stridency. I wondered how his truth hammer might be wielded by others less intelligent and less gracious than he is.

Truth as the lead issue raised a big question for me: Was truth the priority for the Church of the global South? Was it the top concern on the minds of African leaders? Really? I had arrived in Cape Town after a week in Malawi.

Malawi is at the low end of the human development scale. 12% of the population is HIV positive and illiterate parents raise malnourished children in mud and thatch houses. Grinding poverty turns preventable diseases into unstoppable killers.

Did the Malawi delegation tick the “objective truth” box on the Lausanne pre-conference check list? Really?

And then there is Archbishop Daniel Deng from South Sudan who was also at the congress. Was objective truth his top priority?

When I saw him in January 2010 in Juba, Sudan he was pleading for prayer for the coming Sudanese referendum. In 2011, when South Sudan votes whether or not to break away from Sudan, many fear another descent into armed conflict.

Was Bishop Deng in Cape Town organizing one-on-ones with the Lausanne powers for a redoubling of efforts to stand for truth? Really?

The deeper question at the root of my unease was this: Does evangelization happen through objective truth? Is Jesus Christ objective truth or is he the subject of God’s truth revealing action?

If truth is a person – the person of Jesus – it would be a subject based truth. In other words, truth would be subjective. And the only way to uphold truth would be through lives lived in fidelity and faithfulness to Jesus. According to the forceful logic of God’s hammer, would that be acceptable?

It was fitting that I found myself on Robben Island.

Our guide for the tour was a former political prisoner named Zoso who called us ‘comrades’. Zoso reminded me of Michael Herbst’s “truth from below” sermon as he described the pathway to freedom from Apartheid. He said, “Some of our friends fled the country but we were lucky enough to be arrested and brought here to the University of Robben Island.”

He had learned the power of suffering and forgiveness. At the tours end he actually commissioned us with the words, “We love you, we believe in you. Go from here and be our ambassadors and tell our stories”.

Beautiful.

Day two of the congress was devoted to reconciliation. As the delegates handbook put it, “To talk of a loving God seems to mock the plight of those who manage simply to survive from day to day”. Throughout the day, there were many overt calls to put truth into practice and to work for the reconciliation of our broken world. I was inspired by a clear and resounding call to Evangelicals to stand for the vulnerable.

In the end I reconciled that the Evangelical family gathered in Cape Town was dealing with real and necessary tensions.

There is a legitimate concern that our evangelism could fail from within and be redefined in socio-economic and political terms in the manner of classic Western liberalism. This is the fear of Evangelism as mere activism. Others fear a strident call for objective truth that obscures the powerful and liberating message of Jesus. This is the fear of Evangelism as mere verbalism.

These two currents of thought regarding Evangelical truth were present at Lausanne. It seems inevitable given Lausanne’s original call for “the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world."

This challenge will continually require repentance from wordless deeds and deedless words. Beyond the dichotomy between radical activism and reactionary verbalism there is a holism embodied in Jesus. For the Evangelical Church, I concluded, our calling will always generate tension.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Don Golden.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Africa • Christianity • Church • Opinion • South Africa

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Michael

    I think Don points out the struggle that the Church may be dealing with, but at the same time it should be a wake up call. Jesus called His Church to look after those less fortunate, the marginalized, the oppressed. If the church doesn't do this, and other organizations do, should this be an alarm? The alarm shouldn't be that people outside the church are doing this and getting the "credit", but should be WHY the church is not a leader in these efforts in the first place. By some of the comments here, I can see why people think Christians (and the church) are hypocrites. All words and no true action/conviction to back it up. Faith without action is "worthless" and people can easily see that. This is where the church needs a wake up call. Most churches do a fine job of presenting the gospel (no, this does not include the "prosperity gospel" which is a another topic all together). However, on the whole, people do not see the message backed up by action. And by action, I mean helping those who are marginalized, oppressed and those tossed away by society – not the "action" of preaching more words.

    December 10, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
  2. Kevin Vandiver

    ...Will We Ever...That marble is MINE, No! It's MINE. I was talking, NO! It's MY turn to speak. We can you can't, I will, you won't. Give ME back MY bike, NO! It's MY bike. This is MY park, NO! It's MY park. I own this city, Ha , I'LL get it back, Ha Ha. This is OUR territory, and You're invading; NO! I was here first. OUR guns are bigger than your guns are. Well OUR bombs can destroy more than your bombs can ‎.....STOP!.....JUST.....STOP!.....Will We Ever, let go of ALL OUR selfishness and realize that Jesus' Love is enough for ALL of US.....TO LIVE IS TO LOVE....recieve love...~Kevin Vandiver~

    December 10, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  3. Kevin Vandiver

    ...Will We Ever...That marble is MINE, No! It's MINE. I was talking, NO! It's MY turn to speak. We can you can't, I will, you won't. Give ME back MY bike, NO! It's MY bike. This is MY park, NO! It's MY park. I own this city, Ha , I'LL get it back, Ha Ha. This is OUR territory, and You're invading; NO! I was here first. OUR guns are bigger than your guns are. Well OUR bombs can destroy more than your bombs canKevin Vandiver ‎.....STOP!.....JUST.....STOP!.....Will We Ever, let go of ALL OUR selfishness and realize that Jesus' Love is enough for ALL of US.....TO LIVE IS TO LOVE....recieve love...~Kevin Vandiver~

    December 10, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  4. Iqbal khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries&w=640&h=360]

    November 6, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
    • Reality

      Why converting to Islam is a big mistake:

      Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

      This agenda continues as shown by the ma-ssacre in Mumbai, the as-sas-sinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, the Ft. Hood follower of the koran, and the Filipino “koranics”.
      And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia.

      Current crises:
      The Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.

      November 7, 2010 at 12:20 am |
  5. jeremy

    amazing summary of a true evangelical tension ... reminds me of a seminary professor's assertion (Dr. Eldin Villafañe), "saving souls is a fine Christian aim, yet we forget that they are always attached to bodies" / our scriptures certainly teach that Jesus ministered to the whole person, body and soul.

    November 5, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  6. JohnQuest

    After the conference what did the attendees do? Flaw first class back to their plush homes and regal palaces, never once, had they planned on doing anything about the suffering and pain in the world. Why should they, according to their beliefs suffering is a "gift" from God, intended to bring the suffering soul closer to God. If God were real (and thank god, God is not real), I wouldn't want any part of it.

    November 5, 2010 at 9:26 am |
    • CW

      @ JohnQuest,

      Yeah....I ask you to really think about where you will go when your soul leaves this place. Hell or Heaven...the choice is yours....yes it says in the scripture....that suffering is apart of living a christlike life. He said this b/c yes he wants a close relationship with you....and if you think about Jesus was crucified...spit on...and riduculed just like your doingin your response....are you any better? I think not....in seriousness....ponder this quesiton....I think you will want a relationship with God.

      November 5, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
    • jeremy

      to question what the attendees do or did after the conference .... only proves the inquirer's ignorance. to suggest that all those in attendance live in plush homes and regal palaces is ludacris. And I certainly hope JohnQuest doesn't himself live in that manner but writes from a slum outside Niarobi or an AIDS clinic in Burundi – otherwise, that would be hyprocrisy. the people I know to be attending this conference are coming from these hell-holes of earth, where they bring healing and hope. What can JohnQuest claim as the speech of his life?

      November 5, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      jeremy, that was a very good point, however the conversation was not about what I do or don't do, please try to leave the fallacies for believers. The reason I made the statement was the conference were for leaders not soldiers.

      From the their official web site:
      "The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (Lausanne III) will be held in Cape Town, South Africa, 16-25 October 2010. The Congress, held in collaboration with the World Evangelical Alliance, will bring together 4,000 leaders from more than 200 countries to confront the critical issues of our time – other world faiths, poverty, HIV/AIDS, persecution, among others – as they relate to the future of the Church and world evangelization."

      This says nothing about preventing AIDS, or combating Malaria or any other noble cause.

      November 5, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  7. Gary

    what a big waste of money and time

    November 5, 2010 at 8:45 am |
  8. thai seo

    good molly CNN Belief Blog , i comment your blog , this a nice blog and greatly. Great for everyone. best review for Opinion and content. i going to visit to read and comment your blog.

    November 5, 2010 at 6:11 am |
  9. Apostle Eric vonAnderseck

    http://apostleeric.com/
    The direction of the Spirit is to recover the Church from its hypocrisy by confirming the government on Jesus’ shoulders. When truth is restored to the heart then the guile will cease. There are millions of aspiring ideas of how to reach the world for Christ, but what format is the question. But God has revealed over 30 years ago by many confirming dreams and visions through many different ministers of the paradigm shift that is presently in mobilization in the Church. When the Church realizes and recognizes this strange act of God, then she can preach to the lost. God is restoring the true pattern of His government to the Church by His apostles and the foundation of truth for the true Christian priesthood, for the true fruit of the virtue of God in the heart.

    November 5, 2010 at 6:00 am |
  10. Reality

    Actually, it is the World Relief Corp. of National As-sociation of Evangelicals which puts the proper spin on Mr. Golden's comments.

    So has Mr. Golden found gold in this "non-profit". Not quite as he only makes $75,000/yr for spouting the embellished and mythical words of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus. His boss, Sammy Mah makes $210,000/yr for spouting a bit louder. In comparison, "golden-tongue" Franklin Graham pulls down a cool $800,000/yr from his daddy's "non-profitting spoutations".

    http://www.guidestar.org

    November 4, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
    • CW

      @ Reality,

      Man....why do you hate so much on the christian Bible.....Let me ask...do you earn a living doing something other than sprewing hate speech against THE BIBLE? I truly feel sorry for you....I hope you will ask God into your heard and repent....you act like Saul did until God jerked him up by his neck and showed him the TRUTH.

      November 5, 2010 at 9:57 am |
    • CW

      @ Reality,

      I meant to say is ask God to come into your heart......Please....you can be changed.

      November 5, 2010 at 9:58 am |
    • Some_Truth

      CW,

      If this god exists, he/she/it knows exactly where my neck is and how to reach me. How about if you let him/her/it take care of it? If he/she/it is depending on the likes of you for promulgation, it's quite pathetic.

      November 5, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
    • Reality

      CW,

      Once again:

      Think about the logic (or lack thereof) of the following:

      “I believe the Bible is inspired.” “Why?” “Because it says so.” Would your
      anyone let that logic pass if it came from the followers of any other book
      or person? “I believe x is inspired because x says so.” Fill in the blanks:

      x=Pat Robertson
      x=the ayatolloah Sistani
      x=David Koresh
      x=the Koran”
      x= CW

      more “logic”?

      “I believe there is One God Jehovah because He is revealed in the infallible
      Bible. I believe the Bible is infallible because it is the Word of the One God Jehovah.”

      November 6, 2010 at 11:23 am |
    • Scott McCracken

      How much someone makes isn't nearly as important as what they do with what they make. Do you know what these generous, caring, and giving people do with the money they make? I do, and if you knew them too, you would not only apologize for your uninformed remarks, you might even find yourself realizing how small you really are.

      January 18, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.