A Theology of Evangelism in the Global South

As we consider the missionary pattern modeled by Jesus, and
the meaning of his death and resurrection, we face the
uniqueness of his person and work.

The Lausanne movement that started after the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization (Lausanne I) had a significant impact on the practice of mission around the world. One could trace back a great number of evangelistic and missionary efforts that have flourished in the past thirty-five years to the inspiration of Lausanne 1974. However, the genius of the Lausanne movement was to promote mission activity and also theological reflection on that activity in light of God´s Word. Liberated by its missionary thrust from the bonds of sterile fundamentalism, evangelicalism was again able to rediscover the holistic dimensions of Christian mission clearly presented in the Bible.

The Lausanne movement has restated theological convictions characteristic of evangelicalism; however, it has also deepened evangelicals’ understanding by responding to contemporary questions. This is evident, for instance, in the selection of documents edited by John Stott under the title Making Christ Known,1 which offers an account of the years between 1974 and 1989. The nine lengthy documents that start with the Lausanne Covenant are a good record of the points of agreement of missionaries, evangelists, and theologians about burning issues related to evangelism.

Almost all of these documents strike a balance between the theological foundations and the pragmatic consequences. The lists of participants in this reflection include evangelicals from every region of the world. Thirty years later, the massive three-volume work A New Vision, A New Heart, A Renewed Call2 gives an idea of this process of practice and reflection currenty going on around the world. It is a series of Lausanne Occasional Papers produced during the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization that took place in Pattaya, Thailand, 29 September 2004 to 5 October 2004. There are currently sixty-one papers which record the global process of missiological reflection that is carried on by new generations of practitioners and theologians.3

By the time the Lausanne Congress took place in 1974, a process of developing a theology of evangelism had already started in the Global South. After the Second World War, to the Protestant missionary work of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (which had always had an evangelical ethos) was added the evangelical missionary activism of the post-war period, especially from North America.

The fruit of those labours was the development of vibrant evangelical churches in the Global South that had a great evangelistic dynamism. By the 1960s, a new generation of evangelical leaders in Africa, Asia, and Latin America started the quest for a theology of evangelism that would match their activism but also respond to the tremendous social tensions of that decade.

The 1966 Berlin World Congress on Evangelism that preceded Lausanne I became a catalyst for this ferment because it was followed up by a series of regional congresses on evangelism in which a questioning of the received Western evangelical theology took place.4 The urgency of communicating the gospel in a context of poverty, revolution, strife, oppression, and violence required a fresh understanding of the gospel and new models of missionary action.

Because of this preceding process, Lausanne was not the missiological and theological monologue of European or North American evangelicals, but became a brotherly global dialogue of a community that had grown beyond expectations, a dialogue in search for ways of obedience to the missionary imperatives of Jesus.

Evangelism in Jesus’ Way
As a Latin American, I consider John Stott´s series of four Bible studies about the Great Commission (Berlin 1966) a milestone. In his study of the Gospel of John, Stott argued that in this version of the Great Commission we not only have the imperative “I send you” but also the model of action “as my Father sent me.” In response to the social dilemmas of the 1960s in Latin America, we had developed an understanding of evangelism that was built over a Christological structure that shaped both message and method.

René Padilla developed it, and I also used it in my presentation about the social responsibility of the Church in the 1969 Latin American Congress at Bogotá.5 Since then, as good evangelicals, we have kept a central focus of our reflection on Jesus Christ; however, in the Global South we have tried to deepen our understanding of this basic Christology. There are recent expressions of this approach from Asia in Ajith Fernando´s study “Jesus: The Message and Model of Mission,”6 and from Africa in Tokumbo Adeyemo´s “Profiling a Globalized and Evangelical Missiology.”7

Padilla offers a fresh restatement of his position in a paper on the theological basis for holistic mission.8 Elsewhere, I offer an account of the development of this Christological search in Latin America.9

As we consider the missionary pattern modeled by Jesus, and the meaning of his death and resurrection, we face the uniqueness of his person and work. We must acknowledge that it is a scandalous truth, a puzzling reality. It was surprising for his own contemporaries, as we see in the Gospel stories, and it continues to be a challenge to human logic in these times of religious pluralism.

One of the most forceful expressions of this Christological conviction that I know of is the chapter entitled “The Scandal of Jesus” in the book The Recovery of Mission by Sri Lankan theologian Vinoth Ramachandra. Ramachandra reminds us of Jesus´ claims to enjoy a unique filial relationship with God, to be a unique fulfillment of the Jewish scripture, and to be in a different category from other human beings.

This uniqueness is part and parcel of the gospel we proclaim, and as Ramachandra very ably demonstrates in his book, it is truth that is consistent with the logic of the gospel story. It is this uniqueness that makes Jesus Lord of all and the Lord of mission. As an evangelist in Asia, Ramachandra knows that in the pluralistic religious world in which he proclaims the gospel, this uniqueness of Jesus brings controversy:

It is this traditional claim—that in the human person of Jesus, God himself has come amongst us in a decisive and unrepeatable way—that constitutes an offence to a pluralist society. It is this that invites the scorn of the secular humanist, the puzzlement of the Hindu, and the indignant hostility of the Muslim. The same range of response was encountered in the Greco-Roman world that the earliest followers of Jesus inhabited.10

Mission in Bold Humility
Similar to other theologians in the Global South, Ramachandra points out the humility and the spirit of service of Jesus Christ as well as his orientation toward “the others,” breaking up all kinds of exclusions, both social and religious. He goes on to state:

But it is here that Jesus stands as unique. One can search all the religious traditions—indeed all the great literature—of humankind and you will not come across one like Jesus, who makes seemingly the most arrogant claims concerning himself yet lives in the most humble and selfless manner conceivable, Jesus of Nazareth simply confounds our imagination.11

Elaborating on this point, Ramachandra warns us about our way of evangelizing which should be free from any kind of triumphalism and attitudes of superiority that marked traditional missionary methods or apologetics:

Since the gospel announces the sheer grace of God towards unworthy sinners, it can be commended to others only in a spirit of humility. Why I should have been chosen to bear witness to this gospel which has nothing to do with my personal qualities, let alone merit? It is all of grace.12

To describe this attitude South African missiologist David Bosch used the expression “bold humility.” This bold humility is the only way ahead for world evangelism. Writing about India and China today, Ramachandra reminds us that in these places, “for the first time in her history, the Church can no longer be identified with the power blocs of West and East.”13

And this is a blessing because it takes us back to the point where evangelism is to be carried on in the days of the Acts of the Apostles, with no other strength than the truth of the gospel, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the qualities of the lives of the evangelists as disciples of Jesus.

Theology also has a critical and corrective function. The reference to humility, servanthood, suffering, meekness, and deprivation in the evangelistic style of Jesus must confront the warfare style that is involved in the idea of “crusades.” Fernando calls our attention to the fact that “with the breakdown of a rationalist stranglehold of modernism in the West, there is now a greater openness to the supernatural among Christians too.”14 Reminding us of the so-called “spiritual warfare,” Fernando refers to the rugged individualists who pioneered mission in the past and their contemporary successors. He adds these comments:

Sometimes it is not easy for these rugged pioneers, now influenced by this fresh emphasis on victory over opposing forces, to harmonize their battle emphasis with the emphasis on the meekness and gentleness of Christ and servanthood. There is a sense that they must win, in a worldly way, every battle they encounter with forces (human and supernatural) that oppose their work.15

Some of us in the Global South feel uncomfortable when the language and attitude of strategists of evangelism reflect more the style of such rugged pioneers than the style of Jesus.

Mission in Context
The contributions from the Global South in the Lausanne movement have also emphasized the need to take seriously the context of mission and evangelism. Issues such as culture, education of leaders, spiritual conflict, and persecution were addressed in paragraphs ten to thirteen of the Lausanne Covenant with due regard to context. The need was recognized for an evaluation of the social, ideological, and spiritual struggles that surround and condition the missionary enterprise in order to design a relevant type of discipleship for our own times.

There are no standard formulas that may be used for a valid communication of the gospel. The truth of Jesus Christ has to be expressed in response to the situation of the evangelist. Joseph D´Souza, a mission leader from India, writes,

It is quite obvious that Indian missions will have to chart their own course and come out of the shadow of imported ideas and ways of working. We need to stay true to the foundational gospel principles of regeneration, reconciliation, and redemption. Our own Christian communities need transformation first. We must not be pressurized by the “hurry up” mentality of our own day and go in for short-term results, statistics, and decisions of which we have had many millions.16

This is also forcefully stated by Kwame Bediako, an African theologian from Ghana who offers us an analysis of the sacralization of power that takes place in African societies and the need to affirm the Lordship of Christ in a meaningful way within that context. He concludes,

All Christian churches in Africa exist in contexts of religious pluralism and, in such contexts, they will have to learn to continue to worship God and his Christ, witness to the gospel, learn to survive in joy, and strive for peace and justice and democratic freedom for all.17


1. Stott, John, ed. 1996. Making Christ Known. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Eerdmans.

2. Claydon, David, ed. 2005. A New Vision, A New Heart, A Renewed Call. Pasadena, California, USA: William Carey Library. Three volumes.

3. All Lausanne Occasional Papers are available at: www.lausanne.org.

4. For a brief summary, see my 2000 article “Evangelical Missiology: Peering into the Future at the Turn of the Century.” In Global Missiology for the 21st Century: The Iguassu Dialogue. ed. William D. Taylor. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Baker-WEF, 101-120.

5. My paper was published by Evangelical Missions Quarterly and later became a chapter in the 1972 book Is Revolution Change? ed. Brian Griffiths. London: InterVarsity Press.

6. Fernando, Ajith. 2000. “Jesus: The Message and Model for our Mission.” In Global Missiology for the 21st Century. Ed. William D. Taylor. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Baker, 207-222.

7. Ibid, 261-263.

8. Padilla in Claydon, 2005. Vol I, 216-231.

9. Escobar, Samuel. 1994. “The Search for a Missiological Christology in Latin America,” In Emerging Voices in Global Christian Theology. Ed. William A. Dyrness. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Zondervan, 199-227.

10. Ramachandra, Vinoth. 1996. The Recovery of Mission. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Eerdmans, 181. The section from which I quote is actually the concluding section of the book. The first part is a masterful study of some contemporary Asian theologians from an evangelical perspective.

11. Ibid, 203.

12. Ibid, 273.

13. Ibid, 278.

14. Fernando. 2000, 214.

15. Ibid.

16. D´Souza, Joseph. “The Indian Church and Missions Face the Saffronization Challenge.” In Taylor, op.cit., 400.

17. Bediako, Kwame. 1995. Christianity in Africa: The Renewal of a Non-Western Religion. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press—Orbis.

Samuel Escobar was born in Peru and ministered in Latin America under the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. He was chair of missiology at Palmer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, USA. He spoke at Lausanne 1974 and was a member of the committee that drafted the Lausanne Covenant. Presently he lives and teaches in Spain.