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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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
A sad but excellent report. Although I was involved with Campus Crusade during my own undergraduate years I had for many years been impressed with InterVarsity and had commended it to students going off to college. Until, that is, a few years ago when I began to see them pushing more and more of a Social Justice Warrior message. Urbana 2015 featured some disturbing talks by Michelle Higgins, a Covenant Seminary graduate who lauded #blacklivesmatter and other disturbing groups. My friend Fr. Bill Smith, a former PCA minister recently retired from ministry in the Reformed Episcopal Church, blogged about it extensively at the following links:
I am greatly concerned about the inroads that the Social Justice movement, largely informed by Liberation Theology, has made and is making in evangelicalism (my own Anglican Church in North America has not been immune). A.D. Robles has done an excellent job following and commenting on it, particularly in The Gospel Coalition, and his video blogs are well worth followig — they can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoj8VTW50xNvdrmnTHl3JoA
I have often commented, only somewhat jokingly, that as I’ve aged I’ve become less of a para-churchman and more of a churchman. I think that that kind of ministry is best done by ordained ministers sent by and accountable to the Church. RUF is the most prominent example of that (although in many places it has fallen under the influence of Covenant Seminary, where Miss Higgins’ father serves as Dean of Students) and I have been please to see some Anglican Student Ministries spring up in various places. Discernment is essential in these days.
Dear Drew Collins,
Thanks for the comment.
Good to hear from you, Drew. It’s going to be cold the next few days. I hope you can find a warm place in Charleston.
Thank you Chuck for sounding the alarm for where Urbana appears to be heading. I (vice-chaiman), along with the other members of the Board of World Witness, and its staff, are just as concerned and sadden by this unfortunate turn. Urbana has hostirucally been an instrument of God in calling many to world missions in fulfilling the Great Commission. World Witness will be researching other missions conferences that it can whole-heartedly endorse and support in the future, barring Urbana’s return to biblcal authority and Gospel-centered missions.
Dear Seth Yi,
Thank you for the information. This is good to know. We all have been bushwhacked by the turn to Cultural Marxism by the folks at Urbana.
Thank you Seth. This is good to know.
Dear Chuck (The other Mr. Wilson),
Thanks for this thoughtful and detailed article. This is very informative and should have all of us questioning our affiliations. It is obvious that this is a complete 180-degree turn from the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Dear Hank Wilson,
I am an unknown name to you although, as a longtime ARP I have followed (silently) your blog for some years. I have done this because most of what you say seems reasonable, correct and well analyzed. It’s about time I thanked you for your efforts. Done! Moving on… This article is downright scary. I am like you, having recommended Urbana to young folk since the late 70’s and 80’s when my wife and I were Short Term Missionaries with Wycliffe. If this is where Intervarsity is going then I am truly frightened with their presence on so many campuses around the country. As a followup to your blog, I ran across this review from Christianity Today. Not sure how to add links here but
here is a copy. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/december/urbana-2018-gen-z-missions-intervarsity.html In Windows you can highlight it and right click I suppose. Any thoughts on their take?
Dear Bruce Bodenstein,
Thanks for the comment. Also, Bruce, thank you and your wife for your service to our Lord Jesus as short term missionaries.
My answer to your question is painful.
One, for you and me, “Missions” equal evangelism in another country or in another culture. At Urbana 18, “Missions” was addressing what was deemed social, political, economic, sexual, or environmental inequities/abuses. The great need of the church is addressing “the person in this life” and NOT “the person for the life to come” (if there is a life to come).
Two, the “Christianity Today” article does not clearly define what “Christian” means. For you and me, “Christian” does not include “social warriorism” or “cultural Marxism.”
BTW, Bruce, the most encouraging thing I noted in the “Christianity Today” article is that Urbana is dying. Why would a Bible-believing, Christ-centered, and gospel-proclaiming person want to attend Urbana where “Jesus is the only Savior” has been jettisoned for “Another Gospel”?
I could say more, but does this suffice?
‘Communists read Karl Marx, anti-communists understand Karl Marx’ Svetlana Alexievich (Nobel Prize winner)
Dear Ron Auvil,
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