Dear Brother Arthur:

I greet you warmly in Christ. You and I are good friends, and have many concerns in common.

In your recently published Battle for World Evangelism (Tyndale) you have been somewhat critical of the Lausanne Committee in general, and of me in particular. I hope that this open response may be a helpful way to ventilate the issues further, although you will appreciate that I write only for myself and not for the Lausanne Committee.

I understand your book to have a double purpose, namely (1) to trace the tragic decline of commitment to evangelism in the ecumenical movement during this century, and (2) to warn the Lausanne movement against a similar process. Your topic is important. I genuinely applaud your personal dedication to biblical truth and world evangelization. Let me spell out the reasons why on balance I am glad your book has been published.

First, you are entirely right to deplore the ecumenical betrayal of the unevangelized millions, and to attribute it to the loss of biblical authority and the consequent growth of universalism and syncretism. Strangely enough, I myself in 1974 wrote a similar though much shorter sketch, “The Rise and Fall of Missionary Concern in the Ecumenical Movement 1910 to 1973,” which was published in Vocation and Victory, an international Festschrift in honor of General Erik Wickberg of the Salvation Army. And I think you know that at both the fourth and fifth Assemblies of the World Council of Churches at Uppsala and Nairobi, respectively. I pleaded publicly for a return to biblical evangelism.

Second, watchdogs are valuable, in the church as in the home. We need them to warn us of approaching danger, and we would be foolish to ignore their warnings. The Lausanne Covenant itself calls for “both watchfulness and discernment to safeguard the biblical Gospel.”

Third, your paramount concern is that evangelicals will continue to submit to Scripture. You write: “The complete truthfulness and final authority of Scripture provides the essential parameters for evangelicals.” In this the Lausanne Committee is, of course, in complete agreement with you.

Fourth, I welcome your candor. In fact, I constantly long for more evangelical openness. Nothing is lost and everything is gained by candid and charitable dialogue with one another.

At the same time, it seems to me that we also need both precision and penitence. I confess to having been upset by your tendency to generalize and to make dark innuendoes about “the evangelical left,” “the conciliar elements within the Lausanne Committee,” supposed departures from biblical inspiration, and espousals of unbiblical tradition. This kind of vagueness only spreads suspicion.

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Next, you disapprove of the penitent note in the covenant. But why? Frankly, I miss this note in your book. You write as if ecumenicals are always wrong, and evangelicals always right, and as if any idea that comes from Geneva must ipso facto be misguided. Surely, however, we need to admit that we evangelicals have also had our blind spots, for example, on slavery and race. You rightly urge vigilance against liberalism; I want also to urge vigilance against prejudice. You think I react too positively to Geneva; I think you react too negatively. Should we not be willing to listen to anybody who wants to speak to us, while agreeing with them only if they agree with Scripture?

Let me stay a bit longer on this vital question of Scripture. In your evaluation of paragraph two of the covenant, you seem to me to blow hot and cold. You begin by saying that it “reasserted the authority and inspiration of Scripture” and you generously describe its statement as “beautiful, powerful and relevant,” so that “evangelicals need not be apologetic or ashamed because of it.” You also rightly say that the covenant must be interpreted in the light of the Congress as a whole, and not in isolation from it. But then you express two criticisms. The first is that nothing is said about the supremacy of Scripture over tradition. In this I agree with you. I think the covenant would have been helpfully strengthened by such an addition; in fact, I wish you had yourself proposed it, since you were there as a participant. Second, you express hesitations about the clause “without error in all that it affirms.” But this was intended as a clarification, not as a loophole, and it was one of the alternatives submitted to the drafting committee by a respected group of theologians from what you would describe as “the evangelical right.”

I come now to the question of Christian social responsibility on which you concentrate. You write that this “has always been a concern among evangelicals,” since “the Scriptures obviously teach both evangelism and socio-political responsibilities.” Fine. You then go on to emphasize the primacy of evangelism. You correctly point out that the Lausanne Covenant itself affirms this, namely, that “in the church’s mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary.” So at its first meeting the Lausanne Committee faithfully echoed these words in the definition of its purpose, adding that “our particular concern must be the evangelization of the 2,700 million unreached people of our world.” You are unfair and inaccurate to criticize us for disloyalty in this matter. As a member of both the committee and the executive I can say from personal knowledge that we have consistently striven to develop an agenda that reflects a primary commitment to world evangelization.

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At the same time, speaking for myself, I think that this distinction between evangelism and social action is often artificial. Although some individual Christians are called to specialist ministries (some as evangelists, others as social workers, and so forth), the Christian community as a whole should not have to choose, any more than Jesus did. In many missionary situations such a choice would be inconceivable. The evangelist could not with integrity proclaim the good news to the victims of flood or famine while ignoring their physical plight, or to Latin American Indians, Filipino peasants, or ghetto blacks while ignoring their exploitation or deprivation.

What then is the proper relation of evangelism to social action? This is the theological question that Lausanne left unresolved and that still needs to be pursued. Your own repeated emphasis is that social action is the consequence of evangelism. Let me concede this for a moment. What is the implication of it? Supposing we go out exclusively to evangelize, and that under the blessing of God converts are won. Presumably they, being the “consequence” of our evangelism, are now free to become involved in social service. But then we ourselves are in the position of those converts, for we ourselves are the consequence of other people’s evangelism. Why then should we not also, on your own premise, engage in social action? I think the logic of your argument brings us closer to one another than you realize.

You quote other evangelical leaders to the effect that service is both the “means” or “bridge” to evangelism (i.e. it is useful because it confronts people with the Gospel) and the “fruit” of evangelism (i.e. it issues naturally from conversion). Thus explained, service leads both to and from evangelism. I accept both these truths, but do not feel able to stop there. It seems to me that Scripture itself goes further, and indicates the kind of “partnership” between evangelism and service that you say you cannot accept. Certainly the “words” and “works” of Jesus belonged indissolubly to one another. In one sense his works made his words visible, were a visual proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom, and elicited faith. Christian good works of love have the same nature and effect. You say that the Gospel is completely self-authenticating, and I know what you mean. I, too, believe in the gracious authenticating work of the Holy Spirit. But does not the Gospel lack credibility whenever Christians contradict it by their lives?

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In another sense, the works of Jesus were just plain compassion, irrespective of their evidential value. Must we not follow the example of Jesus? I do not build my case entirely on John 20:21, as you imply, but also on the “great commandment” to love our neighbor, which you do not mention.

Brother Art, you say that I have “dethroned evangelism as the only historical aim of mission”: I would prefer to say that I have attempted to “enthrone love as the essential historical motivation for mission.” If we see our brothers or sisters in need (whether spiritual or social), and have the wherewithal to meet their need, but fail to do so, how can we claim that God’s love dwells in us?

I express my sincere love for you in Christ, and my earnest desire to continue this discussion.

Ever your friend and brother,

John R. W. Stott

John R. W. Stott is rector emeritus of All Soul’s Church, London, England.

John R. W. Stott (1921 – 2011) is known worldwide as a preacher, evangelist, author, and theologian. For 66 years he served All Souls Church, Langham Place, in London, England, where he pioneered effective urban evangelistic and pastoral ministry. During these years he authored more than 50 books, and served as one of the original Contributing Editors for Christianity Today. Stott had a global vision and built strong relationships with church leaders outside the West in the Majority World. A hallmark of Stott's ministry was his vision for expository biblical preaching that addresses the hearts and minds of contemporary men and women. In 1969 he founded a trust that eventually became Langham Partnership International (, a ministry that continues his vision of partnership with the Majority World Church. Stott was honored by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World."

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