InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's (IVCF) Urbana missions conference, at its past several triennial gatherings, has focused on developing ethnic and racial diversity in missions. At Urbana 96, with representatives from at least 117 countries attending, organizers went further, arguing for the "de-Westernization" of the gospel.
"We must allow other cultures to truly express themselves," said Virgil Amos, general director for Ambassadors Fellowship. "All over the world, people call Christianity 'Western,' which, of course, is ironic since it started in the East. But we have made it culturally Western."
In a step toward this goal, Urbana's organizers diversified many of the staples at the five-day, year-end conference in central Illinois. For example, many of the plenary speakers were Latinos and Asians. The worship songs, often sung in languages other than English, were played on non-Western instruments.
"We saw the worship as a rehearsal for worship in the kingdom," said worship leader Phil Dyer. "That means it's not necessarily English, Western, or linear."
CROWDED HARVEST FIELD: Ralph D. Winter, head of the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, California, told students that Christianity must be taken out of its Western context if the gospel is to reach Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists effectively.
"We're reaching closure in taking the gospel to all the nations," Winter said at one of the more than 200 seminars offered during the week, "but followers of Islam and Hinduism look at Christianity and see sex obsession, drinking, drugs, and family breakdown."
Winter ventured into the minefield of adding cultural context to evangelistic outreach. He reasoned that new breakthroughs will come from within indigenous cultures.
"In Africa, ...1