Theological News Oct 2004 Vol 33 No 4




Progress at 30 Year Mark for Theological Commission

The WEA Theological Commission marked the thirtieth anniversary of its formation with a planning and strategy meeting in Bangkok characterized by plans for progress and development and the enlargement of its membership and scope. A short history of the TC has been published during 2004 in the Commission's journal, Evangelical Review of Theology.

Three new members were appointed to expand the representation of the TC. They are Dr. Carver Yu of China Graduate School of Theology, Hong Kong replacing Dr. Wilson Chow who has stood down, Dr. Claus Schwambach of Brazil and Rev. Per Pederson of Armenia. (Profiles of the new members will be published in later editions of TN). This increase in membership is in line with previous plans to fill vacancies in TC membership. Further appointments are being considered from Africa and other localities.

In a further important development, the TC decided to introduce new categories of involvement which will allow theologians and organizations to be actively linked with the Commission. Theologians will be able to become Associates and institutions such as theological associations, churches, missions and seminaries will be invited to become Affiliates. Both Associates and Affiliates will pay a subscription fee which will bring them the TC journal and newsletter and they will be able to participate in TC activities and contribute to its programs. The TC also considered new study projects to cover topics in bio-ethics, Christianity and other faiths, and the uniqueness of Christ. A project on the theology of theological education is due to be completed early in 2005.The environmental stewardship study headed by TC Vice-Chair, Dr. Ken Gnanakan, has just been completed. The 134 page booklet on this topic was launched at the Bangkok meeting (see separate story).

Reports presented to the meeting indicated that the re-issuing of the CD-ROM of TC materials has been successful. Steps were also taken to develop the internal structure of the TC allowing for smoother administration and greater focus by its members on theological reflection. Funding continues to be a serious problem for the TC, but it is hoped that the new initiatives adopted at the 2004 meeting will lead to an improvement. Plans were developed for the next major function of the Theological Commission which will be a joint consultation in September 2005 with the Korea Evangelical Theological Society on the topic, 'The task of evangelical theology for the church for the 21st century.'

One of the most significant parts of the Bangkok 2004 TC gathering was a joint session with the Lausanne movement's Theology Working Group (TWG) which was meeting at the same venue. The Lausanne TWG, which has been dormant for some time, has been revived and is focusing on the impact of varying ways of interpreting Scripture for the task of evangelism. Both the TC and the TWG shared perspectives on their work and showed interest in working together in the future, as they have done from time to time in the past. Members of both groups went on to participate fully in the 2004 Forum on World Evangelization

WEA TC 1974-2004 Celebrating 30 years (conc.)

In this issue, we conclude our special focus on the 30th anniversary of the formation of the WEF/A Theological Commission. The October issue of Evangelical Review of Theology carries the final part of the short history of the TC, since 1994. It also features articles by earlier TC leaders such as Donald A. Carson, Patricia J. Harrison, Roger Kemp and James Stamoolis.

The highlight of the work of the TC in the mid-90s was the consultation held at London Bible College in 1996 with the theme, Faith and Hope for the Future. It was attended by about one hundred people from virtually every major area of the world. The aim of the conference was to prepare papers and a final consultation statement analyzing contemporary trends in the light of the theme, Towards a Vital and Coherent Evangelical Theology for the 21st Century, identifying key issues for evangelical theology and proposing responses on a global basis across a range of topics. It was intended that the findings would provide useful insights for the evangelical public and guidelines for future theological reflection. In particular, they would provide the essence of a program for the TC Study Units in the following triennium.

However, the work of the TC did not capitalise on this promising event, mainly because there was no Executive Director appointed to replace Dr. Bong Ro who had completed his term in 1996. Also, it was clear that there had been a change in the financial prospects of the TC, and there were new circumstances in global evangelicalism which also had to be considered. So the new Executive, led by its chair, Dr. Rolf Hille of Germany, sought to restructure and re-focus the organisation.

Soon new concepts began to be emerge. The new vision centred on the TC being transformed from a standing commission of about fifty members into a dynamic international network of theologians and institutions coordinated by a small executive. The emphasis would change from large periodic consultations to flexible ongoing activities, aided by the growing availability of electronic mail and the internet. In 1998, a missiologist Dr. James Stamoolis, formerly of IFES and Wheaton College, was appointed Executive Director. He soon became deeply engaged in widening the TCs links with other arms of the WEF, especially in its overall leadership and its missions interests. He also saw the potential of involvement with the Amsterdam 2000 evangelism conference sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

The Publications ministry of the TC continued, and a CD of past issues of ERT and other documents was produced in association with the WEF as a ministry tool for participants of the Amsterdam conference. It was later made available to the general public as a commercial product, quickly selling out the entire stock. However, the financial pressures created by this project and the general organizational and financial difficulties of the WEA at the time were a critical problem for the TC. The TC conducted a mini-consultation on ecclesiology in conjunction with the WEF General Assembly of 2001, the last event of Dr. Stamoolis' period of ministry. Business sessions allowed for the gradual refinement of the new vision of the TC in its role of promoting biblical truth by networking theologians. The rebuilding of the membership gradually took shape as the Executive Chairman, Dr. Rolf Hille, once again took responsibility for leadership. Acute financial problems soon emerged which inhibited the immediate implementation of new programs, but despite this, the TC began to network more fully, associating itself with regional theological bodies and associations for consultations and other projects.

As the TC came to its 30th anniversary, the WEF had undergone a radical restructure of its own and a name change (now World Evangelical Alliance). The TC worked steadily towards its goal of expansion and service in cooperation with other bodies. Meanwhile its publishing work was boosted by the re-issuing of the CD and the ongoing journal program. The study program was working on various projects, and serious consideration was being given to establishment of a global network of evangelical theologians.

It was clear that the organisation was finding significantly different ways of pursuing its original goal of helping its evangelical constituency discern the obedience of faith. The task of defending, confirming and extending the gospel on a global level was now more complex than it had been thirty years earlier. However, there had been a rapid growth in the numbers of insightful theologians in all parts of the world who could contribute to the task. Furthermore, the advent of vastly improved communications, travel and publication methods provided new and effective means to advance biblical truth through networking of theologians. There was still the conviction that the global evangelical family represented in bodies like the WEA and the Lausanne movement needed a coordinated means of engaging in intense theological reflection from an international perspective.

Theological Commission contributes to Forum on World Evangelization as Lausanne movement plans for future growth (abbreviated)

Members of the WEA Theological Commission were active participants in the 2004 Forum on World Evangelization held at Pattaya, Thailand, under the sponsorship of the Lausanne Committee in partnership with the Great Commission Roundtable. As a result of an invitation by the organizers, TC members were among the leadership teams and panels of several Issue Groups (IG) through which the work of the Forum was conducted. They were involved in studying reconciliation, bioethics, and emerging forms of the church.

The biggest contribution was made to the IG on the uniqueness of Christ which was convened by TC Executive Chair, Dr. Rolf Hille. In their report, this IG stressed the importance of making Christology a matter of public discussion because of the challenge that contemporary worldviews pose for the basic message that Jesus is the unique, supreme and universal Saviour of the world. The Report to the Forum plenary from the IG on reconciliation, which included panelists from many conflicted areas of the world, produced a sustained standing ovation. The Bioethics group reported a breakthrough on relating the difficult and complex issues which it studied with evangelism and pastoral care.

Official statistics indicated that the Forum drew 1517 participants from 115 countries, almost 60% of whom came from the majority world; less than one third were aged 50 years and above, but less than a quarter were women. Marking thirty years since the original Lausanne conference, it was also fifteen years after the previous major event (Lausanne II at Manila, 1989). The Lausanne movement had met in the same location in 1980 and some regarded the 2004 Forum as Pattaya II rather than Lausanne III.

The WEA was not officially represented at the Forum but Secretary General, Gary Edmonds, sent a warmly worded greeting which was read at the opening ceremony. Mr. Edmonds said, "In the days that you will spend together, I am trusting that you will encounter the living Lord in fresh ways. Our world needs humble leaders who have met with the God of all creation". He added, "Let me urge you to seek solutions that will equip the local churches to rise to their highest calling. I am convinced that the local churches are the sustaining instruments of God for the transformation of our communities and nations. May God use this consultation to spread his glory over the entire world."

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