From 11-15 February 2008, the Lausanne Theology Working Group (LTWG), in partnership with the World Evangelical Alliance Theological Commission, convened its working consultation on “The Whole Gospel” in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This was the first in a 3-year project led by LTWG chair, Dr. Christopher J. H. Wright. The series focuses on three expressions used in the Lausanne Covenant: the whole gospel (2008), the whole Church (2009), and the whole world (2010). Key theological and missiological challenges facing the Church will be discussed in preparation for the Third Lausanne Congress to be held in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2010.
Thirty-one participants representing twenty countries (with sixty percent of the countries represented being from the Global South) were in attendance for the strategic 5-day meeting. Three members of the Lausanne Strategy Working Group were also present to encourage robust communication, cooperation, and cross-fertilization between the two working groups.
“The Whole Gospel” consultation followed closely the tone set by the LTWG’s 2007 Limuru consultation on “Following Jesus in Our Broken World.” The group discussed theological issues, missiological implications, and case studies along six main themes:
- The gospel in biblical revelation
- The gospel and the achievement of the cross
- The gospel and the power of the Spirit
- The gospel in historical reception
- The gospel in mission and culture
- The gospel and ethics
Participants grappled with identifying what the whole gospel is, where it is manifested, how it is communicated, and above all, how it is demonstrated in changed lives and communities.
The group affirmed that the full gospel requires the full Bible. Every part of the Bible contributes to what makes the gospel to be good news, though clearly the centrality and objective reality of God’s accomplishment through the cross of Christ must be affirmed as the key to the whole biblical story.
Other essential dimensions of the gospel include the powerful work of the Holy Spirit and his demonstrated victory over all other spirits, and the very existence of the Church as the community of reconciled sinners, transformed and transforming.
The gospel is good news that must also address the unjust and oppressive conditions that perpetuate poverty and all that it entails, for the whole gospel is for the whole person in every dimension of human experience.
The group also reflected on the balance in tension of recognizing, on the one hand, that God has done in Christ all that constitutes the gospel, but on the other hand, the fullness of that accomplishment is eschatological and will be seen in all its glory only when people from all ethnic and cultural identities throughout history bear witness to the transforming power of the gospel in their own differing contexts. In that sense, we have the whole gospel in the historical accomplishment of Christ, and we have yet to see the whole gospel in its eschatological fullness.
The group also acknowledged the powerful ethical core of the gospel, especially in the clear demands of Christ on what it means to be a disciple, to respond to the good news in radical obedience to his teaching and following his example. This led the group to recognize the need for the Church to be self-prophetic and repent of, on the one hand, the glaring inconsistency between our profession and our practice, and on the other hand, our complicity in promulgating incomplete and false expressions of the gospel, our reduction of the gospel to mere assent to cognitive doctrines, the promotion of a prosperity gospel, and the commercialization of spiritual experiences. These considerations will lead naturally to what it means to be the “whole Church” if we are to be the bearers and the model of the authentic gospel.