Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Evangelical Left Seems a Little Grumpy These Days

If this article in Christian Week is an accurate reflection of Rene Padilla's views, then he appears to be confused and angry.

He criticizes presentations at the recent Lausanne Congress in Capetown which emphasize evangelism and tries to re-define evangelism as discipleship. He is quoted as saying:
"Superficial evangelism is not going to get the job done," says René Padilla, a renowned evangelical scholar from Latin America, currently living in Argentina. "Jesus talked about making disciples who learned to obey everything he has taught."
OK, if this was all he said it would not necessarily be a problem. Jesus, in the Great Commission, commanded his followers to preach and baptize (evangelism) and to then teach these new believers to "obey all things I have commanded you" (discipleship). One cannot be a disciple without being converted and to convert people and then leave them in a state of only superficially understanding the faith is to fail in the mission. Both are necessary; to play them off against each other or debate which is more important is a non-starter. You can't disciple a person who has not responded to the preaching of the Gospel and you can't say that conversion/baptism is all that is needed.

But Padilla doesn't seem to see it that way. He called one presentation by a speaker from Campus Crusade for Christ a "waste of time" that demonstrated "the syncretism of American evangelicalism," which he characterized as "the market mentality and the obsession with numbers and calculation." In this one statement he manages to combine anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism and anti-evangelism prejudices!

The article also describes him as being critical of John Piper for preaching that we as Evangelicals ought to be concerned about the eternal salvation of people as well as their material lot in this life.

Padilla was also unhappy with John Piper's strongly stated desire for the global church represented by the Lausanne movement to agree, "for Christ's sake, we Christians care about all suffering—especially eternal suffering."

"Why especially?" asks Padilla. Why are the needs of people after they die a higher priority than their needs now? "This doesn't mean we don't proclaim. But proclamation is not the first thing." He points to Ephesians 2:14-18: "Jesus is our peace, does our peace and proclaims our peace. To be; to do; to say. Why say that the most important thing is to say? To be; to do; to say. Put them in that order. Christ is our peace."

I don't understand Padilla's objection here. All Evangelicals believe that lost people need Christ and that those who die outside of Christ are lost eternally. This is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. If Padilla does not believe that, he is free to believe whatever he likes but Evangelicals have always believed it and always will.

Why would he want to single out Piper for criticism? Is it because Piper is challenging the left-wing emphasis on "social justice" or "the social gospel" and calling people back to biblical basics? I don't know but Padilla certainly seems angry about something. He is quoted as saying:

Padilla is encouraged that "a lot of third world people at the congress are critical of the strategy for the evangelization of the whole world." The three key global issues, he contends, are discipleship, globalization (poverty) and stewardship of creation. "In a congress like this, these are the key issues we should be exploring to see what we can do about it.

"But here we are again with the obsession for numbers—how to make more converts; how to build megachurches. I wonder when U.S. people are going to learn to listen to what others are saying, all over the world," says Padilla.
Padialla may be encouraged that a lot of Third World people are critical of the strategy for world evangelization, but I am not. His priorities of "discipleship, globalization (poverty) and stewardship of creation" sound just like the liberal priorities of the World Council of Churches. An emphasis on evangelism is not somehow uniquely "American" and most third world Evangelicals would be surprised to hear that Padilla thinks it is because for them it is simply biblical.

If Padilla wants to promote the liberal agenda and denounce the priority of evangelization, he is free to do so. But he should not expect much of a hearing from Evangelicals. Maybe that is what makes him so cranky.

1 comment:

Gordon Hackman said...

I'm a little mytified by Padilla's aparent obtuseness in asking the question "Why especially?" It doesn't seem like an overly difficult question to me, unless one is intentionally avoiding the obvious answer, which is that eternal suffering is, in point of fact, eternal, meaning never-ending, unlimited, etc. By contrast, whatever suffering is endured in this life, however awful, eventually will come to an end.