Theological News Apr 2004 Vol 33 No 2




Former TC Study Unit Leader Writes on 'Our Vision for Future'

Dr. Ronald Sider, who led the WEA TC Study Unit on Ethics and Society from its inception to 1986 when it was engaged an extensive program of creative work writes especially for our 30th Anniversary on 'our vision for the future'.

Something quite astonishing has happened in the last thirty years. Thirty years ago, most evangelical leaders would have said that the primary mission of the church was 'saving souls'. That is where most of our time and money for mission should go. Today virtually every evangelical leader agrees that biblical Christians must engage in both evangelism and social action. In that same period, evangelical leaders have recovered some of the force of the biblical concern for the poor, and vast, successful evangelical relief and development agencies have emerged. That represents enormous progress.

How do we build on those gains in the next couple of decades? We need a lot more work to translate the theoretical theological agreement on holistic ministry (combining evangelism and social ministry) into successful, practical, concrete programs at the grass roots, congregational level. We also need a lot more analysis to know much more about the different ways that evangelism and social action fit together. And we need continuing vigilance to make sure that in our growing evangelical social concern, we do not lose our passion for and vigorous sensitive practice of evangelism.

We also need a lot more evangelical preaching and teaching about God's special concern for the poor. I doubt that one evangelical preacher and teacher in ten (at least in affluent nations) talks as much about justice for the poor as the Bible does. As affluence (in itself a good gift) spreads among Christians all around the world, heretical gospels of wealth and practical neglect of the poor become increasingly powerful temptations.

The global evangelical community also desperately needs much deeper theological and socio-economic reflection on the whole area of politics. All around the world, as the number of evangelicals explodes, evangelicals are jumping into politics-often with disastrous results because we have not taken the time to study what the Bible and Christian history have to teach us about wise, biblical political engagement. The Bible seems to care both about the poor and the sanctity of human life, both about the family and racial justice and care for creation. Why then are not most evangelical political voices pro-life and pro-poor, pro-family and pro-creation care and pro-racial justice?

Finally, I think we urgently need to take seriously the oneness of the worldwide body of Christ and work out better, more effective ways for different parts of the global church to listen to each other. American Christians need to hear what Christians in the South think about global economic trends and American military and political power. North American and European churches urgently need to hear from African and Asian Christians on human sexuality, family life, communal limitations limitations on individualism-and the list goes on and on.

Versatile Indian Leader Honoured with Festschrift to Mark his Retirement

Dr. Ken Gnanakan, founder of ACTS Ministries, theologian, educator and evangelist has been honoured with a Festschrift to mark his retirement. It was presented to him on the occasion of the celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of ACTS Ministries in Bangalore, India held on Jan 7, 2004.

The 516 page book was published by Theological Book Trust, and is priced at Rs 150/-. It is titled Work, Worship and Witness which is the philosophy and motto of ACTS. It contains 26 articles contributed by his friends and associates from India and abroad, arranged in four sections-Work, Worship, Witness and Other essays. It also includes a brief biography of the subject, and lists his contributions and writings. Five of his close colleagues have shared the editing: Brian Wintle, E. James, J.B Jeyaraj, P.M. Raj and Richard Gnanakan.

The editorial includes this tribute:

"This book is a collection of essays, published in honour of someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the Church in India and beyond. A majority of the essays dwells on the three components of the motto of ACTS Institute-Work, Worship and Witness. But in addition there are essays that have been included in recognition of the wide range of interests of Dr. Ken Gnanakan, varying from music and its usefulness in worship, to the environment and our stewardship of it to drawing and painting and other forms of art that add beauty to our lives"

Dr. Gnanakan is Vice-Chairman of the WEA Theological Commission and has been involved in several of its study units over a period of almost 20 years. His now working on a publication and study materials on environmental stewardship. He was also Chairman and then Secretary of Asian Theological Association for 20 years.

Death of Leading China Watcher Dr. Jonathan Chao

Dr. Jonathan Chao, founder of China Ministries International which incorporates the Chinese Church Research Center, died on Jan 12 in USA at the age of 65 after battling cancer. The son of a Presbyterian minister, he was born in China in 1938, and raised in Japan but moved to USA in his youth. With an early call to missionary work, he graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary (MDiv) and the University of Pennsylvania (PhD). He foresaw the needs for Christian leadership in China when it opened up more to the outside following the Cultural Revolution and took many initiatives in response, including the formation of organisations like the Chinese Church Research Center. He travelled very frequently to China ministering especially with the house-church movement providing Bible study and leadership training, often at great personal risk. Widely regarded as the premier Chinese theologian of the 20th century, he lectured extensively in Asia and USA, and wrote many articles and books, including A History of Christianity in Socialist China, 1949-1997 (1998).

One of the many organisations that he helped found is China Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong The President, Dr. Wilson Chow (a member of the WEA Theological Commission) has written an appreciation of Dr. Chao, which includes the following:

"The death of Jonathan Chao saddens us deeply. His life, however, continues to shine and evokes in our heart a joy of celebration and thanksgiving, for his was a life of unreserved dedication to the Kingdom of God with a single-minded focus of developing contextual theology and theological education in China. He will always be remembered by colleagues and students at the China Graduate School of Theology as one of the founding fathers. He was in fact the vision bearer at the early stage in the founding of the school. CGST is deeply indebted to his vision, his leadership and tireless labor for the laying of a solid foundation, without which CGST can hardly be what it is today. His unwavering commitment to evangelical theology, his three-fold vision for China - evangelization of China, Christianization of Chinese culture and the Kingdomization of the Chinese church-will remain a constant inspiration to all of us at CGST, and we thank God for giving us the privilege to have worked closely with him for the cause of Chinese theological education.

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WEA Theological Commission Celebrating 30 years 1974-2004

In this issue of Theological News we continue our emphasis on the 30th anniversary of the WEA Theological Commission with features on our first chairman and one of our most successful Study Unit leaders. This emphasis is supported by articles in this quarter's issue of our Evangelical Review of Theology.

The first chairman was Dr. Byang Kato who was appointed in 1975 but served only a few months before his accidental death by drowning later that year. Born in Nigeria in 1936, he was converted and after initial training at a local Bible college and service as a youth worker, counsellor and teacher, studied at London Bible College (BD) and Dallas Theological Seminary (STM, ThD). He served as General Secretary of Evangelical Churches of West Africa and of The Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar (AEAM now AEA). He was also Vice-President of the WEF.

Kato was the first evangelical African to gain a doctorate, but although he had to do this at an overseas institution, he was committed to developing an African theology and opportunities for high level theological study in the African context. He was concerned about the dangers of importing western ideas and theologies. At a time when there was a great emphasis on traditional religions and culture, Kato took a firm line against syncretism and believed that the Bible must judge every culture. He aimed for a biblical theology rather than a western or an African one.

He was an excellent scholar, and had he lived longer, he would have been an influential force for evangelicalism in Africa and beyond. As it was, he made a significant contribution through his ministry as a Bible school teacher and evangelical leader. Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology and Bangui School of Theology (BEST) both are indebted to his vision.

His writings which are not numerous or extensive include Theological Pitfalls in Africa (Kisumu, Kenya: Evangel Publishing House, 1975); African Cultural Revolution and the Christian Faith (Jos: Challenge (SIM, 1975); Theological Perspective in Africa: A Collection of Papers and Addresses. (African Christian Press, 1985); Biblical Christianity in Africa (Africa Christian Press, 1985) and The theology of eternal salvation, in Issues in African Christian theology (edited by S. Ngewa, M. Shaw and T. Tienou (East African Educational Pub, 1998).

ERTs first number (Oct 1977) included his article, Black theology and African Theology, and Christianity as an African religion appeared a short time later in Vol 4 No 1 Apr 1980. An evaluation of his theology by Dr. P. Bowers appeared in Vol 5 No 1 Apr 1981, Evangelical Theology in Africa: Byang Kato's Legacy. Our anniversary feature article by Dr. Kato in the April 2004 issue is reprinted from Theological Pitfalls in Africa. Dr. Ronald Sider was convenor of the Ethics and Society Study Unit of the WEA Theological Commission from its inception in 1977 to 1986. During this time he led the Unit in a range of progressive and fruitful activities which included conference, publishing, lecture tours and the journal Transformation which remained with the TC until 1988 when it was sponsored by others.

Dr. Sider is best known for his book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: A Biblical Study (1977, 5th edition in preparation) which quickly became a popular and influential book on the simple life style. Much of his work with the TC Study Unit was focused on this theme. Some of this work appeared in books edited by Dr. Sider for the TC, including Lifestyle in the Eighties: An Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle,(Paternoster, 1982) and Evangelicals and Development: Towards a Theology of Social Change (Paternoster, 1981).

He writes: "Greetings to all the participants in the Theological Commission. I have wonderful memories of my years on the Theological Commission and coordinator of the Unit on Ethics and Society (1977-1986). What an incredible privilege to meet and dialogue with evangelical Christian leaders and theologians from all around the world. And we did have lively debate! I think of the 1980 international conference (co-sponsored by the WEF's Unit on Ethics and Society and the LCWEs theological unit chaired by John Stott) discussing the pledge to adopt a simple lifestyle made by the many thousands of evangelical leaders who signed the Lausanne Covenant. Or the conference the very next week, also in the UK, on evangelicals and development."

We are pleased to present a recent article by Dr. Sider in the April issue of ERT originally published in Christians and Politics beyond the Culture Wars: an agenda for engagement, edited by David P. Gushee (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000). Building on the gains of his earlier work in raising the level of awareness of evangelicals in holistic mission, Sider's vision in this essay is to translate the theoretical theological agreement on holistic ministry into successful, practical, concrete programs at the grass roots level of the congregation and every day politics, without losing any of the passion for evangelism.

Dr. Sider is currently President of Evangelicals for Social Action, Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry and Public Policy at Eastern Seminary (Philadelphia, USA) and Director of the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy at Eastern Seminary/Eastern University. Holding MA and PhD degrees from Yale University, he is also author of many other books including Just Generosity (1999) and Churches that Make a Difference (Baker, 2002). More details of the work of these two key TC leaders, whom we are pleased to recognize in our thirtieth anniversary features, may be found in the article, 'Discerning the Obedience of Faith - A Short History of the World Evangelical Alliance Theological Commission, Part 1: 1968-1986' by David Parker appearing in the April issue of ERT. The other two parts covering the periods 1986-1994 and 1994-2004 will appear later in the year. This issue also contains an article for the founding Executive Secretary, Dr Bruce Nicholls, 'Our Christian Response to the Global Environmental Crisis'

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