For 35 years one of the simplest ways to define evangelical Christianity has been to refer to the Lausanne Covenant, the document that emerged from the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974. Convened by American evangelist (and Christianity Today founder) Billy Graham and British clergyman John R. W. Stott, the congress brought together 2,300 church and missionary leaders from 150 countries, including a substantial number of leaders from the then-nascent evangelical communities of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The Lausanne Covenant became a milestone in evangelical history, confidently proclaiming the continued need for evangelism when much of mainline Protestantism had lost confidence in biblical faith, while also reclaiming social responsibility when many fundamentalists disdained justice as a "liberal" concern. (Read the Lausanne Covenant at Lausanne.org/covenant.)

In October 2010, the Lausanne Movement will convene another congress, this time in Cape Town, South Africa. The majority of participants will be from the Majority World, where evangelicalism is now thriving dramatically. For the next year, Christianity Today, in partnership with the Lausanne Movement and fellow Christian publications around the world, will address some of the principal issues that confront the contemporary church as we seek to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel in all its historic depth and breadth. We are calling these articles the Global Conversation.

Taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, in obedience to the Great Commission, is an inescapable imperative. A definition of world evangelization that has won assent from Christians of all stripes was memorably summarized in the Lausanne Covenant—the document substantially crafted by John R. W. Stott and affirmed by the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974: "Evangelization requires the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world."

The "three wholes" in this ringing phrase had been part of Christian discourse for some years before Stott drafted the covenant. Indeed, they go back to the apostle Paul, if not to the patriarch Abraham. But to keep the conversation within living memory, a stirring statement by the Dutch theologian Willem Adolf Visser't Hooft makes the point:

The command to witness to Christ is given to every member of his church. It is a commission given to the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world. When the church recognizes that it exists for the world, there arises a passionate concern that the blessings of the gospel of Christ should be brought to every land and to every man and woman.

This quote is all the more striking since Visser't Hooft was writing in 1961 on behalf of the World Council of Churches. Yet he seems to use the word whole primarily in a quantitative sense. For Visser't Hooft, the whole church means "every member." The whole world means "every man and woman." The whole gospel means all "the blessings of the gospel." That is surely better than some missionaries taking some blessings of the gospel to some people in some parts of the world. But the three wholes have more substantial, qualitative implications, implications that are worthy ...

Read MoreRead Christopher J. H. Wright's complete article
The Conversation Begins
Selected writers respond to Christopher J. H. Wright from around the globe.

Considering the Lausanne movement and its development since 1974 from a Latin American missiological perspective, I am moved to thanksgiving to God for its reality and promise. Some of us feared that ...

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What does it mean for the whole gospel to be taken by the whole church to the whole world? It means asserting the lordship of Christ in all areas of life even as we confront the realities of our various ...

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Christians are so adept at theological reductionism that thousands of denominations have spun off from the teachings of Jesus. Many of these versions of Christianity are differentiated by slight hermeneutical ...

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The Conversation Continues: Readers' Comments

Displaying 1–3 of 62 comments

Aaron Benscoter, US

May 13, 2011  10:27pm

Encouraging to see that more and more followers of Jesus are identified that the Gospel is bigger than one transaction. A focus on the full biblical message will likely appeal to today's cultural pastors-educators and academica and the media-instead of drawing their (perhaps well-placed) ire. Carry on.

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Erin Anthony

March 03, 2011  11:17am

I was so encouraged when reading this article. So many times in Christian/Evangelical churches today, "feel good" messages are preached. While I do believe there is a time and place for these messages, I also think that through time, the Gospel has been watered down to reach people emotionally, rather than preaching the "whole Gospel". Without teaching the effects of sin at the Fall, there would be no need for redemption through Christ's death on the cross. The "whole Gospel" connects through the entire Bible, thus reestablishing our ultimate goal on Earth to bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Trent Ballard

November 17, 2010  4:01pm

Finally, someone talking about the whole gospel from the whole bible. Too many missiologists are NT only which is ridiculous. Mission is rooted in creation as evidenced by Gen 1:26-28--that we are blessed to take the image and realities of God and his kingdom to the ends of the earth. And we must not forget, ROM 1:15 that we are to preach the whole gospel both to the unbelievers and to believers. Grace is not just to get us saved, but from where we live our lives in the resurrection power of Jesus every day. Its time for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed----you are God's people OT and NT ekklesia----live like it!

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The Lausanne Movement

For More Conversation

The covenant, explored

After Lausanne 1974, John R. W. Stott explained the process behind the covenant the Congress had adopted, and its key points of significance.

Chris Wright on "the whole church"

Chris Wright talks about the breadth and depth of the phrase "the whole church."

Southern voices on evangelism

Samuel Escobar describes some of the many distinctive contributions from Global South theologians in the wake of the 1974 Congress.

When the poor are still with us

Can Christians address poverty without personal relationships with the poor? Christopher Heuertz suggests why our approach to poverty is often inadequate.