Since 1946, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship sponsored Urbana Conference has probably been the leading platform in the evangelical Christian community for challenging young Christian men and women to a life of evangelism as missionaries. Held every three years, the most recent Urbana Conference occurred in St. Louis, MO, on December 27-31, 2018.
I attended college and seminary with friends who found their way to the mission field through an Urbana challenge. In the past, I have either given or raised funds for students to attend Urbana. The folks at our Associate Reformed Presbyterian World Witness office encourage our college students who are contemplating a missions career to attend Urbana.
As stated above, Urbana 18 occurred last month. What was the emphasis? Was it a “One Way Missionary” challenge? Do you know about the “One Way” challenge?
Before heading to the mission field, “One Way” people packed their belongings in a coffin and purchased one way tickets to the destinations to which God had called them for ministry.
A. W. Milne (https://walterbright.org/2013/08/07/when-he-came-there-was-no-light-when-he-left-there-was-no-darkness/) was a “One Way” man. He spent 35 years in ministry to the cannibal tribes in the New Hebrides in the South Pacific. When he died, the people to whom he gave his life in ministry for their conversion to Christianity buried him in the middle of their village.
They also erected the following epitaph:
When he came, there was no light.
Urbana 18 — The Promotion Video
When he left, there was no darkness.
A. W. Milne’s “One Way” kind of challenge for radical Christian missionary evangelism was not heard at Urbana 18. The emphasis of Urbana 18 was on cultural Marxism.
I learned the following from the video promo for Urbana 18.
- One, the “Me Too” movement has exposed sexual abuse in the evangelical church, and evangelicals are culpable — even for the abuses of Roman Catholic priests and bishops.
- Two, in East Asia, certain mega-church pastors have pilfered funds from their congregations for family businesses, and we are responsible.
- Three, in 1537, Martin Luther wrote On the Jews and Their Lies, and Luther is directly accountable for the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi racism and the Holocaust in the 1930s and 40s, and evangelical Christians should repent of their admiration of Luther.
- Four, since many of the Afrikaners who developed the political doctrine of apartheid in South Africa were evangelical Christians, white evangelicals in the United States are also to be blamed.
- Five, all evangelical Christians bear the responsibility for the Rwandan civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi in 1994 since many of the Hutu and Tutsi claimed to be Christians.
- Six, issued in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, the Doctrine of Discovery averted a war between Spain and Portugal by dividing the unexplored New World between Spain and Portugal; therefore, all Christians are responsible for the Doctrine of Discovery and its aftermath (and I suppose white evangelical Christians should live in an everlasting state of penance since the Spanish and Portuguese are Europeans).
- Seven, the demise of the Native American peoples is directly attributable to white evangelical Christians.
- Eight, since many white Europeans and many black Africans prompted and profited in the black slave trade, white American evangelicals are to be held accountable for slavery.
- Nine, since some white southern Christians left church services to attend a lynching of a black man, all white evangelical Christians in the South are responsible for such atrocities.
- Finally, very subtly the following message is communicated: the task of Urbana 18 is to make all these sins and failures known so that socially awaken young people will go and call for the appropriate social, political, and economic reparations and penances necessary for the undoing of all the failures and sins identified. This, therefore, is the role of Christian Missions.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago in the 1950s, a young man by the name of Jim Elliott heard a different kind of call to be a missionary. A call which led him and others to Ecuador and death in their effort to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to an unreached tribe (https://www.crossway.org/articles/jim-elliot-was-no-fool/).
Scott Bessenecker begins his talk with a story about a conversation with a man who was reading Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am not a Christian. He asked the reader if he were not a Christian because there are so many messed up people in the church. The man said “Yes!” Bessenecker responded to the man saying the reason there are so many messed up people in the church is because God loves messed up people. The man reading Russell’s book did not know what to make of Bessenecker’s response. Bessenecker responded, “I don’t know what to do with my statement.” Indeed, he does not know what to do with the statement. He honestly seems surprised that sin happens in the church and church members are messed up people. He functionally redefines sin as failure to be socially, environmentally, and economically aware. Theologically, he does not know how to define sin, and he certainly does not know the Biblical correction for sin.Talk Given by Scott Bessenecker on Revelation 18
The follow is a list of things I learned from Bessenecker.
- One, evangelical Christians do not tell the truth about themselves. Bessenecker then informs us his retirement fund is invested in energy companies which are paying the governments of Syria and Sudan for drilling rights, and then these governments are committing genocide in order to secure the aforementioned oil fields. He says Christians should come out of the Babylon of such economic entanglements; however, after listening to his talk, I am not sure he has taken the advice he gives.
- Two, using Isaiah 3.14, Bessenecker accuses evangelical Christians of having “the plunder of the poor in your houses.” This is a stretch. In the context of Isaiah 3, the prophet addresses the elders and leaders of Jerusalem. Isaiah’s condemnation is not a general assessment of the evangelical community of 2019.
- Three, sin is redefined as abusive global economic forces.
- Four, it seems the new original sins are racism and patriarchy.
- Five, the proclamation of the church is “Stop the ‘unfettered access to the earth’s resources.’”
- Six, coming out of Babylon equals being content with a simple lifestyle.
- Seven, the great need of the hour is “kingdom economics.” That is, the church needs to push wealth out to the marginalized peoples of the world.
- Eight, Missions is championing “the marginalized, the incarcerated, the ex-offender, the asylum-seeker, the desperately poor. . .” and the illegal immigrant.
- Nine, Bessenecker calls Urbana 18 a Missions Conference where the participants are learning what it is to carry the good news of the kingdom of God to the world as he has defined the kingdom of God— a new economy.
- Ten, the old concept of Missions is a Babylonian-infested gospel which is like smallpox-infected blankets that were given to Native Americans — a gospel of racism, hyper-individualism, patriarchy, environmental abuse, greed, and consumerism.
- Eleven, Bessenecker informs us of one of his acts of contrition. He did not use his free “Delta Miles” to fly his family to where he was. Yes, coming out of Babylon is uninstalling video games, using public transportation instead of private transportation, not exchanging an old cell-phone for a new one, and by promoting certain people who have been passed by because of their race or gender.
Having started his talk with an illustration about a conversation regarding atheism, I was surprised that Bessenecker’s use of the Bible was only incidental, if not accidental. I wonder how Bessenecker’s form of cultural Marxism challenges young people to give their lives in Christian Mission?
What is my conclusion? Bessenecker is promoting cultural Marxism over Biblical Christianity. I doubt if he encouraged the participants of Urbana 18 to sing the following words:
Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one,
Lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.
A fellow South Carolinian, Dominique Gilliard spent most of his 25 minutes advocating for prison reform. As a matter of fact, the role of Missions is to reform the prison system. Since the Apostle John, the author Revelation, was in prison when he wrote the Book of Revelation, the Book of Revelation is an appropriate platform for a discussion on race and prison reform.
A fellow South Carolinian, Dominique Gilliard spent most of his 25 minutes advocating for prison reform. As a matter of fact, the role of Missions is to reform the prison system. Since the Apostle John, the author Revelation, was in prison when he wrote the Book of Revelation, the Book of Revelation is an appropriate platform for a discussion on race and prison reform.Talk Given by Dominique Gilliard
Below is a short list of interesting things I did not know.
- One, before getting to the meat of prison reform, Gilliard spent eight minutes lamenting that he was too young to have known Martin Luther King, Jr. and to have participated in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. I did not know Martin Luther King, Jr. was a voice for the evangelical community for Missions. I was of the mistaken opinion King admired Mahatma Gandhi over Jesus Christ and held Socinianism over orthodox Christianity. Furthermore, let us not forget that Saint (Archbishop) Oscar Romero has commissioned evangelical Christians to deal with social oppression which is believing in Christ and being converted.
- Two, the imperial power of the United States is evidenced in mass incarceration. In a large graph, Gilliard illustrated how incarceration has increased by 800% since 1973. The increase is shocking. As I survey the landscape, I see this increase related to the judgment of God for our abortion culture and the many assaults on the nuclear family.
- Three, “slavery has never been truly abolished” in the United States. Incarceration is a form of exploitative slavery which is morally bankrupt, and the evangelical church is censurable for thinking of black and brown people as super-predators and animals.
- Four, people are not incarcerated for their crimes; rather, people are incarcerated because they are black or brown or poor or illegal immigrants or mentally ill.
- Five, the criminal justice system is broken. Many people are housed in local jails because they are mentally ill. As one who has functioned in the world of mental heath, I testify that Gilliard is correct. Mental health facilities are woefully inadequate and underfunded to deal particularly with the problems of people who suffer with the effects of alcoholism and drug abuse, especially when they commit crimes.
- Six, in Romans 8.38-39, I thought Paul’s statement of nothing can separate us from the love of God was an affirmation of eternal security. Gilliard turns Paul’s teaching upside down. He informs us the statement is a declaration that God’s redeeming love is not thwarted by the heinousness of our sins. Well, yes, that is true; however, that is not what is taught by Romans 8.38-39. He is of the opinion evangelical Christians teach “meritocracy” in salvation.
- Seven, Gilliard informs us that no one should be defined by the things he has done, unless a person is a racist or something which he disapproves. Well, John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace was an ex-slaver who helped sell many African people into slavery. Should we celebrate him as a “saint” or eternally condemn him as a racist?
In conclusion, I wonder why the folks at InterVarsity chose Gilliard to speak at Urbana 18, their premier conference on Missions, instead of someone like Chuck Colson? Colson was a convicted criminal who spent time in a federal prison. After his conversion, he spent the rest of his life in prison ministry. Colson was able to tell story-after-story of men and women who were converted to Christ in prison. Interestingly, Gilliard told no stories of conversions. Does he have any stories to tell?
Danielle Strickland, a member of the Salvation Army, is a compelling and passionate communicator. She is easy to listen to, and her personal story of conversion is riveting.
Danielle Strickland, a member of the Salvation Army, is a compelling and passionate communicator. She is easy to listen to, and her personal story of conversion is riveting.Talk by Danielle Strickland
She taught me the following things.
- One, the words, “Holy, holy, holy” in Revelation 4.8 (and Isaiah 6.3) are not about God’s transcendence and otherness. “Holy, holy, holy” is an exclamation of “Holy cow! Woe! Look at God!” Strickland fails to connect Revelation 4.8 to Isaiah 6.5 where Isaiah says “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
- Two, according to Strickland, the beauty of Jesus is He is seen in the faces of everyone. I foolishly thought the beauty of Jesus is seen in His deity, His life, His death on the Cross, His resurrection, ascension, session at the Father’s right hand, and soon return. I was left with the feeling she has trivialized Revelation 4.8 and Isaiah 6.3.
- Three, Hebrews 12.14 reads, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” According to Strickland, this “holiness” is not imputed holiness but what is seen in people, even a Muslim girl she met on a plane.
- Four, the glory of the gospel is “knocking on the dumpsters” of systemic violence, mass incarceration, things which have people stuck in isolation, sexism, patriarchy and working diligently to correct those abuses.
I wonder. Does Strickland know the anthem of the Salvation Army? Every time I have seen a Salvation Army band in a parade the band played a song with these words: “Onward Christian soldiers, Marching as to war, With the Cross of Jesus, Going on before.” Whether she knows the song or not, she has lost the message that Jesus is the Savior — the Savior who, by the Spirit of God, has washed, sanctified, and justified sinners who were sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, practitioners of homosexuality, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers who were destined not to inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6.9-10).
To be fair, not all the Urbana speakers were like the ones I have noted. However, good water is made undrinkable by poisoned water. I think of the television commercial for a water filter were a man is invited to drink water which is contaminated by an acceptable amount of lead. No, thank you, I do not want to drink water with any amount of lead!
Sadly, whatever Urbana and InterVarsity are today, these folks have abandoned an uncontaminated call for Christian Missions for an admixture which promotes a form of social Marxism. This is “another gospel” (Galatians 1.6), and it brings not God’s blessing but God’s judgment.
The glorious old gospel song reads:
We’ve a Savior to show to the nations,
who the path of sorrow has trod,
that all of the world’s great peoples
may come to the truth of God,
may come to the truth of God.
Well, do the folks at Urbana even know We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nation? What song do they sing?
Once the cultural Marxists who call themselves Christians have abolished all the social, political, environmental, and economic inequities they rail against, what then?
In Matthew 23.15, Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”
A final question: why on earth is our Associate Reformed Presbyterian Office of World Witness supporting Urbana? Do they not know better?
I know this: I have given and raised my last dollar for students to attend Urbana to be taught cultural Marxist evangelism.
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson