Samuel Escobar - "A Time for Mission"
8:30PM Jul 8, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today it's our honor to be speaking with Dr. Samuel Escobar. Dr. Samuel Escobar is the author of A Time for Mission: the Challenge for Global Christianity published by Langham global library. And Dr. Samuel Escobar is a leading Latin American theologian, the author of our text and currently teaches at the Protestant Faculty of Theology at the UEBE in Madrid, Spain. Dr. Escobar. It's an honor to be speaking with you today.
Thank you, good to be here.
Dr. Escobar, we understand that you were one of the key participants in the International Congress on world evangelization that was conducted at Lausanne in Switzerland in 1974. It was this congress, of course, that introduced the motto "the whole church taking the whole Gospel to the whole world." Now at a distance of some 45 years, what do you see as Lausanne's enduring legacy in global mission?
Well, last time it was preceded by Berlin Congress of Evangelism in 1966. It was an effort from Billy Graham to try to extend the the enthusiasm for evangelization to around the world. And so after the 1966, Berlin Congress, there were several regional congresses, and it was evident that evangelicals around the world were thinking along the same lines. And that moved things to 1974. I had the privilege of being in the program committee of the 1974 congress, because at that time 1973 I was living in Canada, and I was leading Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in Canada. So I participated at in the preparation of the problem. And in a way we could say that the problem was an expression of a moment of evangelicalism around the world in which there was coincidence. And I think of this this was providential. I don't think it was, it was just accidental. And of course, the Lausanne covenant expresses quite well. On the one hand, the commitment to evangelize unto nations and to plant churches, on the other hand, The the intention to do that, but at the same time, along biblical lines, respond to the social needs of people wherever they were. Of course this was more urgent to Latin America, in some parts of Asia and Africa and they awareness about the need to put together zeal for evangelism and commitment to the whole gospel was very strong.
How did the formulation of the Lausanne covenant affect your own thinking on global mission perhaps in the years immediately after Lausanne?
well, in my years of teaching mission in the United States and talking about it, in other places and now teaching here in Spain. I use basically the covenant as a point of reference. And if you may remember in the book I quote, some of the articles of the covenant. I think that there are two articles there which are key that give you an idea of the process that it plays. One is the article number five, the server's responsibility of the church. And the other one is the thing about evangelism approach. And after Lausanne, there were some gatherings in which some points of the covenant were started in dead with case studies and also biblical reflection, and also evaluation of what was going on. Then I could say that in this foury five years, I have seen a change of attitude among evangelicals in the which they-they, they see they have convinced that we can put together on the one hand, zero 40 badges and on the other hand, commitment to the whole of the gospel that responds to the needs of the whole person. And that this has been a significant change on the the literature reflects, today, one moving find organizations that would say, we can with our service evangelism exclusively, no. There is more government In denominational mission agencies, there is a commitment last.
Dr. Escobar, I've heard stories about how at the Congress as the panels were putting together the documentation for the Lausanne covenant, there was the thought that maybe the Lausanne covenant wouldn't have much of an emphasis on the church's responsibility for social action. But it was precisely the presence of theologians, perhaps yourself Exactly. At the congress who made a push for the inclusion of this clear statement on the church's responsibility on social action, would you be willing to tell us your version of the story? How is it that the Lowe's and covenant came to include this clear emphasis on the church's responsibility for social action?
Yeah, well, as it stated, I was in the program committee, and Paul Legion was an evangelist still interested So the very evangelist, he was he was the chair of the process of preparing the problem. And he was a person that believed both in in the urgency of evangelism and at the same time in a commitment to a Roth. So there was some debate, of course, there was some debate, there were some people that were not keen in carrying a reference to social realities. It's, it's, it's a story that that we need to remember. Michael Cassidy from South Africa, was present in Berlin. 1966 great evangelist, Mike. And also in Lausanne seven before in Berlin. He was put with the South Africans. So he was put in a, you know, segregated. They wanted to put him in a segregated situation, living situation, hey, he wouldn't take that on because some of the white people that were delegates to this evangelism Congress protested because they, they gave them no hotel rooms, facilities in which there was no segregation. That wasn't the extreme position in which it was possible to be totally blind, about the sorts of demands of the gospel. That has changed. Of course, change that means is a fascinating story. story. In the case of South Africa, I have had the opportunity because of the United Bible Societies have been is of Avigail for an evangelical conference and experiencing the change, but at the same time witnessing that, it hasn't been an easy transition. And so in some parts, there was resistance to the idea of social concern but, but especially from other parts of the world, and from the minorities in the United States, there was an awareness that, that we have to combine the two elements, the zeal for the salvation of people, and at the same time, the commitment to the gospel that included the wealth of teaching of scripture in this There has also been a process over discovery. I have a Bible Dictionary, translated from English. I wouldn't tell you which of these is. But if it is a revolutionary that does not have an entry from poverty or the poor, how can you have a Bible Dictionary? There is no reference to poverty or the garbage God Testament, the Psalms and the prophets, they got on the board. But, but it shows you know that there has been a process of awareness that has taken time and for some people still s3 We are in the process. You know, I have seen I have seen the change in in the United States when I wasn't there first in 1959. I remember getting a bus from New York to go to Miami. And when we when I entered in the bus, it was a segregated It was not segregate. It was not segregated, but it was some way or other. I was taking us to the point. No, but when we entered into gene the first step, to have lunch, all the black that the robot to see in the backseat and the driver was a beat. If he held an eye Say embarrassed to tell me that I could now sit in one of the front seats. So to change that, that was 1950 when I went to lead in the states and teach there in 1985, the mayor of Philadelphia was an African American. And, and the school where I talked was cool. 40% 45% of the students were African American or Hispanic. 85 and there was a way there was the the Commission's that this has taken maybe boom, but it has happened. That has been a change.
Dr. Escobar Thank you. Very much for the reply in chapter three of your text, the time for mission the challenge for global Christianity. This chapter is titled A brave new world order and you discuss how globalization affects the task of world evangelization. In your view, what are the greatest challenges and opportunities that globalization poses for the task of world evangelization?
Well, as you read, as you read the book of that, you see that the gospel from the start that grows frontiers and this has meant many questions and many problems, you will work chapter six, and you have the first series faster problem rapidly How is because of social realities, you know, which we will All wheels are right, the hell? Or is this only for widows of the local Jewish population? How about those who did they ask for it? And there was there was no know a difference and the apostles have to respond. So when when they they want to start to move out of the president call the Holy Land, he moves along with the movement of people. And so my grace from moving people from country to country from continent to continent, has always been the back ground of their way of communicating the gospel and that as men, that the whole process of translation of Scripture has made us aware that we cannot leave culture aside, when we try to communicate the gospel, there must be a way by which to make the gospel understandable to people from other cultures that may be down the street. We have to at least try to understand their a language. And this is not a new story. A but but in the Lausanne process, you know, it happened, but it's it's nice picture it seems. So, today, we are aware of the globalization process, but I I watched on TV, the Syrian Syrian people know as refugees moving out of their country and walking like very poor people in the, in the roads, trying to get you back. the fascinating thing is that when we read the history of nations, the people who evangelize what's today friends go if you won't move on, so we're cioms Senior merchants that we're moving, in this case because of business, but it was people that were moving. And so in a way, the process of going across borders we did last should not new and all the questions brings to not it's not a new reality. But the only thing is that we forget it. We forget it. AB Simpson famous evangelist, who founded the Christian missionary Alliance, he was a Persian tea and minister in New York, beginning of the 20th century. And, you know, he, he realized that the neighbors among whom he was evangelizing when it comes, so he had to do something about it. He talked to the the chairs the board, they will support him to study Italian, they wouldn't consider that important and so, the Christian missionary Alliance cameras out of the vision of a person who was creative in two ways on the one hand, or realizing That always may have been a great thing, but they have to change because the world has changed. And that mission involves the disposition of the missionary to learn any language to come close to the people that we are willing to serve. And now in my country in Peru right now, because you're a missionary Alliance is one of the largest non Pentecostal denominations. They have been very successful in evangelism. Now, compare. This is another interesting fact about nation from Peru. One of my former students of a Bible Institute, or the alliance in Peru, came as a missionary to Spain. He started to work as a missionary in Madrid and the key found that his church The church was founded with attract Latin American migrants, of course. And he realized that you could not communicate the gospel to these new migrants without paying attention to their situation their conflicts their needs. Therefore, as my words my friend, Sunita, who is this pastor who has found more than one church in in Spain has gone back to Peru. And we have right now, the problem of having more than 200,000 Venezuelans who are riding away from their country, you know, the pressure, all sorts of problems, political pressures, etc. And they are Come into the other Latin American countries. And soon the problems start. Because somebody else will say, these people come and they take over our jobs, maybe they add a little separate, they will see us as a people with whom they may or may be able to express obedience to God's command or fab you do with your neighbor. So, this pastor dysprosium busto, founder the church, in my videos has read the Malibu for his vision and mission other lands, readers in Lima in Peru that they may become aware of what Jesus said. I was a foreigner and you received So this is the these are the challenges that globalization poses. And of course there is the great, but that now they drive to mission evangelism to plant churches is coming from the smoke is coming from these countries that were in the past receivers of missionaries. But in the, in the previous situation of globalization, it was the European nations are the powerful, financially powerful nations of the United States, the nations from the world and missionaries came. So in a way it was a nation from above. And some of the problems that we have to try to understand them studying mythology have to do with that fact. But now it's mission from below you know it is this means these people who clean houses etc. They ones who are emptying the churches mural to be know to be the practitioners, okay? called gospel in Europe in this Europe was to be the source it's it's happening. I'm so thankful to love that in Spain, the persons of migrants from Latin America and Eastern Europe and Africa also has been a challenge, a challenge to a society interpretation. But as churches, how open I know is we have to do something about it. And, and without much debate, no theological debate, we have to do Something and they're doing it. So my wife was born here with air of a nation here in Malaysia. Nine churches have put together an effort to respond to the needs of the poor. And there hasn't been any debate. Yes, this has to be done. This is what the Bible says. Globalization is quite a challenge.
Thank you so much for that response. Dr. Escobar. Dr. Escobar in chapter four of your book, which is titled post Christian and postmodern. You know that Western societies have by and large abandon traditional Christianity for post modernism, in what ways might Christian mission need to be reinvented or reshaped given the influences of post modernism today?
Yes. holds more than modernism is is In a place like Spain, for instance, you know, we could say that there are places in Spain which are pre modern, because they are rural places. Traditionally, then there are modern but the new generation especially, is postmodern, in terms of the attitude and the belief in relation to truth, the possibility that there is truth they talk about the false truth, which is a game of complete relativism, and nothing is true. No, no story. Talking about Christianity as a story is a narrative. No soul, no narrative can be a source of truth. Every one has its own narrative. So there's this kind of relativism. However, there are new ways of, of getting people interested in the Gospel. In the case of Spain, right now, music has become a very, very effective way of making people aware of the message of the gospel. And it's interesting that it is the gospel music. Now we have gospel courses all over the Spanish cities, and those that are similar attracted by music, like gospel music. And so we start to think of the music theory question just a difficult one is if they want to sing in the gospel choir and they are not believers in Christ. So for the leaders of the choirs this is, this is a dilemma. May this be a way by which they will become believers? Who knows? Some will say no or say, well, let's try that it is it is a way of communication of the gospel that goes beyond the traditional. Another very important element that I find is the narrative, the narrative. I put it this way, man, you know, comes with a question, but it's not the first commandment. There's poems of God Love your neighbor as yourself, and who is my neighbor? And Jesus as I give you a three point sermon. No, just tell your story. He goes into tell the story. And it's the story. It's the narrative that has the power to communicate. But of course, we have to adapted the language of the new generation so that the truth is translated into the language of immersion. And translation has been a key element ignition through the centuries. But it's not in the Champions of rapid portion of their belief in the Bible as the source of the patient pays. So wherever they have gone as missionaries, they have done ranges scripture. They are we have a scripture in almost 1900 and something languages, but there is in 200 languages. There's some parts of Scripture translated. This translation process goes on. It continues. It is costly. It demands and requires color. But it's taking place. And I know some of the summer instability wasters people that wake the people who have worked in my own country, in my own country that are renting large groups, these two groups, and I know women and men who have dedicated their lives the way in which angle with the peace Put lambda language translate in this picture. And I have also seen the joy of the person from this or that trial. I usually weekly invited me to go when I was ministering in Peru once a year to, to minister to them and in the jungle. I remember, you know, the joy of the native, who said to me, was now the Gospel of Mark. In my language, God speaks my language. Yeah, that's tremendous. But there has been weigh the costs. And there has been the need for revision or revision, but also for a scientific approach to the understanding of the language and to have a good translation of Scripture.
Dr. Escobar, we're very grateful for your time. This morning. And if I can close our interview with one question that we've been asking all of the interviewees on this program, and that is this, what would it mean for the church to be united today? How would we recognize this unity? And what is it that we can do as Christians to pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed in john 17?
That's a great challenge. That is a great challenge. And it's not easy. It's not easy. My way of reading this book to the Romans is by paying attention to is it's initial logical context. Because in chapter one, the Romans pro tennis have his mission to go to Spain, and he wants to stop in Rome on their way. And then in chapter 15 he comes to describe his reasoning to all this pain and his whole of the church in Rome will help them. And then you have in the 16th chapter along these two greetings. Just a long list of names and readings, when you start to, to study that carefully, you realize that there were at least five house churches in Rome, to whom he sends greetings. And apparently, they did not have, you know, a unity that would be, make them a church is where, how spot, five coats, churches, and so part of the intention of Romans is tending that in Christ makes it so explicitly against all oceans. The Romans also Christ we are one receive one another. So tremendous does of course not just because it's not easy to receive the other, but if you are not able to see someone that was made by God made you and who are the same God who loves you love so is this person whatever is raised or whatever their social status sometimes sadly So, but at the same things that divide the people out in the world, divide people in the church. Disagree theologian Manos love wolves I met him in your slack When you will, slavery existed as a nation and you know, it was a terrible thing when that can that country was broken and terrible war started. But he, he was he's acquired, you know, to GCA. And that time we have a meeting of illogical people, urological writers and teachers from Africa, Asia, America, we had a meeting in about three months after the meeting, yours lovely Lisa beard. And I could see Aussie at the city where we had been, you know, they bombardments the explosions. And these people who have been part of one nation, you know, we're now killing each other. And so me too. level has studied in depth, the way in which people form their identity, the way in which each one of us form our identity. And he says that it is exclusion. I am not like this. I am. So when I am going to a film where I am, I do it by exclusion. And the gospel tells us the contrary. So, his book, which is a wonderful book is exclusive and embrace because what they lost to us is embrace that churches have to learn how to accept this fact. You've come from a Puritan tradition you come from Adaptive provision, you'll come from this our tradition, we have the four churches in the same area. We pitch this school we want Jesus Christ to be known, and we want to leave like, guys. So, one way or other we have to learn how to embrace. And then that is what makes possible. being truly a church that will help the missionary is going to stay with us for what they want to be one and the acceptance, the mutual acceptance. That's the challenge. Today, AWS continues to be a challenge.
We've been delighted today to be speaking with Dr. Samuel Escobar, author of a time for mission the challenge for global Christianity available from Langham global library. Dr. Escobar, thank you so much for your time today and your insights.
Thank you for giving me a chance.