In February 2019, EFCA pastors and church leaders gathered at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, for the annual Theology Conference. The focus of the preconference was on the theme, “Evangel, Evangelical, Evangelicalism and the EFCA.”
In this session, Greg Strand, executive director of theology and credentialing at the EFCA, introduced the preconference and the discussion on the term, “evangelical,” which has its roots in the gospel, the evangel, but has recently been questioned.
“What does it mean to claim to be an ‘evangelical’ today? Is the term worth retaining? Because of what is happening in our culture regarding racial, political, sexual and moral issues, some—maybe many—are questioning whether or not they want to retain the term, ‘evangelical.’ People are still processing how we think about this: how do we retain our faithfulness to the Scriptures? How do we love God and others? How do we live out the oneness created by Christ in the Church?” — Greg Strand
In the first session of the 2019 EFCA Theology Preconference, “Evangel, Evangelical, Evangelicalism and the EFCA,” Dr. Mark Noll explored the historical and global perspective of the word, “evangelical,” within a 21st Century context.
In Dr. Noll’s lecture, he outlined definitions for “evangelical” and “evangelicalism” and unpacked how white Americans and African-Americans can share so much in their personal religion, yet differ so drastically in their political allegiance.
“The very high level of white evangelical support for Donald Trump is like nothing seen in America’s recent religious-political history except for the even higher percentage of support that Bible-believing African-Americans have given to Democrats since the 1960s. To mention this one other, exceedingly strong political connection immediately spotlights why the word, ‘evangelical,’ is in trouble.” — Dr. Mark Noll
Dr. Noll serves as the research professor of history at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and professor emeritus at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana.
Daryl Williamson on “Evangelical” in the Early Twenty-First Century: An African-American Perspective
Pastor Daryl Williamson of Living Faith Bible Fellowship in Tampa, Florida, offered perspective on how many African-American Christians relate with the term, “evangelical,” and how that affects the way in which they view themselves today.
“Black and brown Christians have awakened to the reality that there are multiple ‘Chrisitanities’ in our country. In some ways, these different ‘Chrisitianities’ are not varieties. They are not merely cultural divides. They are, in significant ways, theological collisions. I think this quote from Frederick Douglass, will help us a lot: ‘Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference. So wide that, to receive one as good, pure and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked. To be friend of one is of necessity to be enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable and impartial Christianity of Christ. I, therefore, hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.’” — Pastor Daryl Williamson
To conclude the 2019 EFCA Theology Preconference, Pastor Daryl Williamson and Dr. Mark Noll participated in a panel discussion on the topic of, “Evangel, Evangelical, Evangelicalism and the EFCA,” moderated by Greg Strand.
In Noll and Williamson’s discussion, both address and respond to their original messages, field questions from the audience, and discuss the roots of the word, “evangelical,” and its implications on different individuals and communities today.
“A pastor cannot deal with the great crises of civilization—race, economics, warfare—directly or with much effect. In fact, if a pastor begins to try to emphasize these matters, the underpinning of a gospel message is going to disintegrate. Nonetheless, the inscape and the outscape—the meaning of the gospel for myself, my family, my group, my tribe, and the meaning of the gospel for the other—have to be the essentials. Whether it’s ‘evangelical,’ ‘true Christianity,’ ‘real religion,’ ‘on fire for God,’ ‘Bible-believing,’ the term doesn’t make a single bit of difference. The Scriptural teaching of God loving sinners when no one had the right to be loved, as a message for the self and for the world, is the high calling for pastors to fulfill.” — Dr. Mark Noll
God created all things with a telos, a purpose and end-goal in mind. Some consider that the doctrine of Creation focuses only on the origin of the universe and is concerned only with the past. This year’s Theology Conference unpacked why this is not so, exploring the theological significance and various implications of Creation.
“While acknowledging the importance of origins and questions related to the age of the universe, we now turn and consider Creation through the telescope, so that we can focus more broadly on the theological significance and implications of the doctrine of Creation more comprehensively. Specifically, we consider how affirming the truth of God’s Creation affects us, human beings created in the imago Dei, the image of God, who are the culmination of God’s Creation. The doctrine of Creation is foundational, not just for beginnings, but also for endings, and additionally, for everything in between.” — Greg Strand
In Dr. McCall’s lecture, “The Doctrine of Creation and God,” he unpacked the “who” question related to the doctrine of Creation and the link between the doctrine of Creation and our call as ministers of the gospel.
“There is not one lost soul, not one broken sinner, no one in the entire creation about whom Jesus does not cry out, ‘he is mine!’ Jesus has this authority because He’s the Creator. He has this authority, and He now stands sovereign over it all. And He exercises this authority through His disciples, through those hesitating and doubting worshipers. ‘All authority has been given to me.’ Do you see the link between Creation and redemption? Do you see the link between Creation, redemption and those who are called to gospel ministry? ‘All authority has been given, therefore go and make disciples.’” — Dr. Tom McCall
In Dr. Madueme’s lecture, “The Doctrine of Creation and Human Origins,” he discussed how the different types of divine revelation affect our understanding of human origins and the biblical account of Creation.
“Yes, the biblical authors almost certainly believed a host of things that we now know to be untrue scientifically. They were human beings just like us. But God, in His providence, guaranteed that none of their false beliefs or assumptions affected what He communicated infallibly in Holy Scripture. Even if you think the biblical authors wrote down things that may have been derived from a broader set of erroneous beliefs, God’s superintendence held sway. God ultimately determined what was preserved in the communicative intent of Scripture.” — Dr. Hans Madueme
In Dr. Nelson’s lecture, “The Doctrine of Creation and Human Work,” he unpacked God’s vision for human work through the lens of Creation, Scripture and his own pastoral journey.
“In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-11, Paul—the one who cares for the poor, collects an offering for the poor, who believes in justice for the poor passionately—says, ‘someone’s unwilling (not unable) to work? They should not eat.’ Because Paul knew Torah. He knew the cultural mandate. He knew biblical anthropology that is not just, ‘we are human beings,’ [but] ‘we are also human doings in glorifying God.’ We are redeemed, not only to be new creations, but to do new creation work.” — Dr. Tom Nelson
In her lecture, "The Doctrine of Creation and Human Dignity," Dr. Cunningham explored how we—as pastors, leaders and lay people—might approach complex bioethical questions (stem cells, infertility, surrogate pregnancy, beginning and end of life) from a Scriptural perspective.
"We are living in the MedTech age, a digitally medicated, technologically sophisticated, medically advanced, scientifically awe-inspiring, but potentially and increasingly dehumanizing reality. How are we to navigate moral choices that do not have quick and easy, black and white answers?...In Genesis 1:26-28, God said, 'Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness...' We are image bearers, made in the image and likeness of God, created beings. We represent God's authority." — Dr. Paige Comstock Cunningham
Dr. Wilson spoke for the first part of this episode and answered questions for the remainder of it. In his lecture, he described, in detail, three affirmations that connect with the story of Jesus.
"The incarnation of Jesus affirms Creation and embraces the goodness of human sexuality; the resurrection of Jesus reaffirms Creation and enshrines human sexuality for all of eternity, and the life of Jesus reveals the order of Creation and embodies genuine human sexuality." — Dr. Todd Wilson
Dr. Moo serves as associate professor of theology at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Well-grounded in both Scripture and science, Dr. Moo challenged the audience to consider the human factor and climate change. He acknowledged the political controversy, debates and discussion about the role of creation care within the gospel.
"It is my conviction that perhaps the most important issue we face today is our relationship to Creation and how we faithfully care for it—especially for the poor who are affected most by our actions. Part of our faithful service and worship of God includes caring well for His Creation, and perhaps we may have failed in that in too many ways in recent times." — Dr. Jonathan Moo
In the final day of the 2019 Theology Conference, Dr. Michael Wittmer’s concluding message was on "The Doctrine of Creation and Human Destiny.” Dr. Wittmer serves as professor of systematic and historical theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also director of the Center for Christian Worldview.
"Learn about the circumference of creation. In some ways, the end is the same as the beginning. In some ways, the end is also way better—it’s more than the beginning." — Dr. Michael Wittmer