At a major conference at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts recently, 500 evangelicals met to discuss how to "renew the evangelical mission."
Why this conference at this time? In the words of Os Guinness, co-founder of the Trinity Forum and a plenary speaker, "I am grateful to be an evangelical, and to know why, but never have I met more people who are confused, restless or angry at what evangelicalism has become. Nothing could be more timely than this conference and its themes."
The ten speakers, including such luminaries as Miroslav Volf and Lauren Winner, offered their perspectives on what true evangelicalism is and what its mission should be in today's world. Foremost among the critiques of what evangelicalism has become were, first, evangelicals' identification with the religious right and second, the narrow focus of evangelicals on church growth, to the exclusion of essential elements of the gospel.
In an interview in the Boston Globe Magazine, Gordon-Conwell professor David Wells, to whom the conference was dedicated, remarked, "I believe that older alliances between the Republican Party and various segments of the evangelical world are a lot weaker now. And I do think that what you have, especially amongst younger people, is a yearning for what is real and authentic and a deep distaste for what is hypocritical, and they find an awful lot of conventional political life to be phony and fabricated and manipulative."
Conference speaker Guinness also warned against extremism: "Christian sayings such as, 'love your enemies' -- they're forgotten. People are attacking their enemies. They're certainly not on the side of Jesus in this," reported the Religion News Service.
Speakers exhorted participants to repent and remember the core of the gospel with its focus on love and sacrifice. The group sang a new hymn which included the words, "We have spurned God's way and sought our own."
The calls to love, to spiritual transformation, and to more thoughtful and nuanced political engagement were a refreshing alternative to the louder evangelical voices usually showcased by the media. May the media take note of these voices, and may the ripple effects of this conference influence evangelical churches far and wide. We would do well to have more of this thoughtful, deep, compassionate evangelical voice in our national conversations.
Margaret Benefiel, PhD, author of Soul at Work and The Soul of a Leader works with leaders in health care, business, churches, government, and non-profits to help them stay true to their souls. Visit her Web site.