“Ten years after Newsweek proclaimed the Year of the Evangelical, the evangelical movement was perceived in terms of Elmer Gantry exploitation and manipulation and confrontational politics. Its cognitive content and its life-ethic had both suffered to the point that the vitality and even survival of the movement may be questioned.”

According to theologian Carl F. H. Henry, evangelicals’ sense of their own identity and purpose, as well as their public image, have never been more murky and maligned. So Henry and more than 350 Christian leaders convened last month at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, to try to hammer out a concise definition of evangelical belief and practice.

Wait And See

Expectations for Evangelical Affirmations ‘89 were as diverse as the backgrounds and theological views of the participants. And though most of the pastors, theologians, educators, and church officials welcomed the opportunity to gather and address the widely perceived need of clearer definition, they also adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward the focal point of the conference: a statement of evangelical affirmations.

“This could prove to be a historic point in the evangelical movement,” one pastor commented. “But we won’t know if it’s history for five or ten years.”

During the four-day meeting, a writing committee composed of seven scholars from Baptist, Calvinist, Lutheran, charismatic, Reformed, and free-church backgrounds worked to draft the statement. Small-group discussions and a plenary session of conference participants provided revisions and additions to it. Editing of the document continued after the conference adjourned and produced an 1,800-word statement (which at press time was not yet in its final form).

“This is not an attempt to produce some sort of creed, but to identify a core of doctrinal and moral beliefs—what individuals and churches need to stand for to be called evangelical,” said Kenneth Kantzer, cochairman with Henry of the Evangelical Affirmations ‘89 conference and chairman of the writing committee. “It is our response, based on time-established doctrines, to some of the crucial, flash-point issues of today.”

Starting With Inerrancy

Papers discussing evangelical positions on salvation, the authority of the Bible, social and personal ethics, ecumenism, modern science, and church-state relations were presented during the conference by scholars including Henry, J. I. Packer, David Wells, Harold O. J. Brown, Kantzer, Donald Carson, Robert Newman, and Os Guiness. Ideas from those papers helped shape nine statements of affirmation that will form the body of the document.

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Though other issues were addressed, biblical inerrancy provided the initial rallying point for conference committee members, presenters, and responders. Still, conference organizers expected some debate over the issue and were surprised that it drew relatively little discussion from the conference at large.

“We affirm the full authority and complete truthfulness of Scripture,” reads part of the draft statement on Holy Scripture, which later identifies such a view of the Bible as the “formative principle” for evangelicals. “Attempts to limit the truthfulness of inspired Scripture by asserting error in such matters as history or the world of nature depart not only from the central tradition of the Christian churches but also from the Bible’s representation of its own veracity.”

Cease To Exist

Strong disagreements did surface over the position of annihilationism, a view that holds that unsaved souls will cease to exist after death. Debate arose in the final plenary session over whether such a view should be denounced in the affirmations.

A representative from the Advent Christian General Conference, whose churches hold such a view, argued strongly against such a move. Noting that his denomination is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals, he pleaded with the group not to exclude Advent Christians from evangelical fellowship on the basis of that single position.

A show of hands revealed the conference was almost evenly divided on how to deal with the issue in the affirmations statement, and no renunciation of the position was included in the draft document.

Overall, however, organizers were pleased with the cooperative spirit and consensus of the group. “We were trying to do what Luther and Zwingli failed to do,” Kantzer said at the close of the meeting. “With the range of opinion we knew we had here, we accomplished as much and more than I thought possible.”

Though many conferees voiced concern over the rough form of the preliminary statements and criticized the haste with which they apparently were drafted, they nonetheless granted general agreement with the statements at the conclusion of the conference.

Kantzer admitted that work on the document had “started too late.” But he said it was purposely left until the consultation convened so there would be no feelings that the statement was “shoved” upon anyone. Any delay in producing a final version, he said, was to assure that every comment was taken into consideration.

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When completed, the affirmations will be distributed and promoted by the National Association of Evangelicals, which assisted in the planning of the conference, said NAE president John White. A December follow-up meeting for NAE members and other denominational leaders is also being planned, pending board approval, he said.

Papers presented at the conference will be published next fall by Zondervan.



Media Violence Condemned

The Vatican has issued a statement condemning pornography and violence in the media, urging communication leaders to “bear the responsibility” in preventing the spread of objectionable materials. “At a time of widespread and unfortunate confusion about moral norms, the communications media have made pornography and violence accessible to a vastly expanded audience, including young people and even children,” the Vatican said.

The statement urged “self-regulation” as the “first and best line of defense,” but also noted that “sound laws must be enacted where they are lacking.”

Vatican officials said this was the first church paper devoted to the issue and followed a five-year study.


Memory of Quake Remains

Though more than six months have passed since a devastating earthquake shook Armenia, the towns and villages in the area look as though tragedy struck only yesterday. “The people are still grieving; every day they see the rubble, and it is a fresh reminder of their loved ones who were killed,” said Abraham Champorian, pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Hollywood, California, who returned from a visit to the area in May.

Relief supplies continue to arrive, including aid from American-based Christian organizations (CT, Jan. 13, 1989, p. 62), but more than 514,000 Armenians remain homeless, living in temporary shelters near the rubble. Most buildings that remain standing will eventually be torn down because they are unsafe. Relief officials estimate it may take two or three years to restore life to the cities hit hardest by the earthquake.

Champorian, who visited Armenia on behalf of World Relief, an arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, was most impressed by the spiritual hunger of the people. “The people never asked us for money,” he said. “Always, they asked for Bibles.”


Fighting for Air Time

The Evangelical Alliance of Great Britain has expressed opposition to positions taken by the British government in its white paper “Broadcasting into the 90s.”

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Among the positions taken by the government in the paper is that programs should “omit all expression of the views and opinions of the persons providing the [broadcast] service on religious matters.”

Said Peter Meadows, spokesman for the alliance, which represents over one million churchgoers, “The government is saying that broadcasters may express views of hedonism and materialism. Yet someone wishing to speak up for a spiritual dimension to life must remain tight-lipped.”

Meadows believes the government has overreacted to the problems of American televangelists. He acknowledges the “extraordinary excesses” of a few broadcasters, but adds they are “not representative of religious broadcasting.”


Freedoms Fan Abortion Issue

Abortion has become an issue of debate in Poland’s increasingly open political arena, pitting Catholic church loyalists within the government against Communist party members. Encouraged by Poland’s recent legal recognition of the Catholic church, the first since Communist rule began 33 years ago, opponents of abortion have begun to speak out more freely.

Members of Poland’s Parliament submitted a proposal that would ban abortions altogether and provide jail terms for women and doctors who violate the ban, and another Parliament member has suggested a nationwide referendum on the issue, according to a report from the Associated Press.

Poland has one of the world’s highest rates of abortion; more than half of all pregnancies are terminated, according to estimates by the Catholic church. Since late February, when the abortion bill was introduced, Polish media have carried lengthy reports on the issue, abortion foes have marched, and abortion advocates have circulated petitions.


Evangelical Groups Banned

The West African nation of Gabon has banned two evangelical organizations, according to a report from News Network International. President Omar Bongo signed a presidential decree stating that the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship and the Bethanie Evangelization Association were “dissolved and forbidden to meet.”

The government offered no explanations for the action, but missionaries and pastors said the move appears to be in line with its current policy of reducing the number of religious groups in the country.

More than a dozen groups have been banned in recent years, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Way International, the Children of God, and the Salvation Army, which the government claims is a paramilitary group. Missionaries report that forbidden groups continue to meet secretly in the country.

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Briefly Noted

Preaching: Billy Graham, in London, June 14-July 2. After the London meetings, Graham will preach on July 29 in Budapest, Hungary, in the country’s largest outdoor stadium.

Broadcasting again: In Nicaragua, Pat Robertson’s “700 Club,” which was taken off the air in 1979 after the Sandinista Revolution. Also returning: “Iglesia,” produced by the Roman Catholic Church; and occasional broadcasts of evangelistic programs by Luis Palau.

What Was Affirmed

Excerpts from the draft statement of Evangelical Affirmations ‘89 (final draft to be released at a later date):

“We acknowledge that evangelicals have not consistently reflected the ethical values they profess, and we recognize the need to confess our sins before God.”

“In the last decade of the twentieth century, evangelicals confront a hostile world. In doing so we encounter a number of troubling issues that must be addressed. Evangelical Affirmations ‘89 seeks to clarify the character of the evangelical movement and to affirm certain truths critical to the advancement of the church of Jesus Christ.”

“We affirm that the incarnation, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ constitutes the gospel through which a gracious God reaches out to all humanity.… All those who are not born again are lost.”

“We must respond to the plight of the destitute, hungry, and homeless; of victims of political oppression and gender or race discrimination and apartheid; and of all others deprived of rightful protection under the law. We confess our own persistent sin of racism, which ignores the divine image in humankind.”

“We encourage efforts that help believing churches move toward fellowship with one another in the name of Christ, the Lord of the Church,” but “we distance ourselves from any ecumenical movement that seeks to establish a world church on the premise of religious pluralism and denies normative Christian doctrines.”

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