A Response to Christopher J. H. Wright’s “Whole Gospel, Whole Church, Whole World”
What does it mean for the whole gospel to be taken by the whole church to the whole world? It means asserting the lordship of Christ in all areas of life even as we confront the realities of our various contexts. For me the context is the African continent and more particularly Kenya.
We cannot relegate the lordship of Christ to the private realm so that in the public life we are guided by our ideologies of nationalism, militarism, or tribalism. Christ must be Lord in all areas of life—social, political, economic, and, spiritual. In Africa, for example, we value community as expressed by one of our philosophers: “I am because we are and because we are therefore I am.” But what we see now in social relations is the breakdown of the family due to urbanization. The communal element is threatened by the forces of individualism and xenophobic responses witnessed in many African nations, including Rwanda, Kenya, and, more recently, South Africa. We have been scarred by wars from the north to the south due to the hoarding and misuse of resources by greedy leaders in collusion with multinationals. We need to restore the type of caring for one another that is the hallmark of biblical Christianity. We need good governance in our countries so that we can deal with corruption. We long for leaders who care for the downtrodden and serve the people rather than leaders whose main aim is to accumulate wealth. Africa is a rich continent. We need to ask: How can its resources be used for the good of the needy rather than for the greed of a few who are in power?
Kenya is 80 percent Christian, but Christianity has not had an impact on politics and economics. Rather than preaching the whole gospel, we have preached a one-sided gospel that has failed to meet people’s material needs. Some have reacted to this by preaching the prosperity gospel. Though this reaction is skewed, it is a clear wakeup call. We need to carefully consider Wright’s words about drawing from both testaments. The example of Jesus seeing his mission from Prophet Isaiah will show us the way: “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” This has been known as “God’s preferential option” for those who are oppressed and downtrodden, bringing release to the captive in all kinds of situations.
By the whole church
Due to the enormity of the task, one part of the church cannot do it alone. Though we have been divided, we need to recapture the holism of the church as affirmed in the Apostles’ Creed: we believe in the “holy catholic Church” and “the communion of the saints.”
The body of Christ has many gifts and the church in various geographical regions of the world has varied gifting that will enrich the message of the gospel. Unlike missionaries of the past who called the cultures they encountered “barbaric,” we must nurture and affirm a church that sees value in culture and seeks to become Christ incarnate through various cultural expressions. This might mean that Africans could bring to the gospel the sense of community, music, and celebration; Asia could bring mysticism and respect for the elders; the West could bring its sense of order and time. If we blend the best our various cultures have to offer, we will glimpse the rich tapestry Revelation describes when it talks about “every tribe, language, people and nation” gathered at the throne of God. And what a joyous day that will be.
The whole gospel will also begin to judge the shortcomings and the sins of culture. No longer will one predominant culture sit in judgment of another, but all of us will bow together to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, allowing him to deal with all our inadequacies.
To the whole world
More than ever before we realize that what we do in one part of the world seriously affects another. The gas emissions of the West cause global warming, melting the ice in the Arctic Sea as well as the snow on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Indeed, we have become a global village, but one in which the glaring differences are more evident than ever before. The potential for good is very great, but the threat for evil is also a looming reality. Access to the internet is getting faster for one part of the world while another has not even seen computers. Thus, the digital divide is ever widening. One part of the world struggles to survive with a dollar a day while another greedily wastes its resources. And while the “walls” of the cold war have been torn down, other walls have been erected, dividing the Christian world from the Muslim world, the rich from the poor, the havesfrom the have nots. The havesprotect their interest through creating more stringent immigration rules while the have nots resort to desperate measures in order to immigrate to new lands.
What does the lordship of Christ and the gospel have to say to these desperate situations? I agree with Wright that “the gospel must be big enough, and our mission must be wide enough, to include the power of God to transform disease, hunger, brutality, human trafficking, slavery, gender violence, poverty, injustice, ethnic cleansing, and all forms of tribal, caste, and ethnic hatreds and oppression.” We need to reach unreached pockets of humanity in what was formerly the “Christian world” so that every sphere of life is touched, because, as Abraham Kuyper has said, there is no part of the creation where Christ does not say this is mine
If there is a time in history when the rallying cry should be for “the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world” it is now. God help us make this a reality in our generation.
Emily Choge is a lecturer in religious studies at Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya, a Langham Scholar with a Ph.D. from Fuller Seminary, and a contributor to the Africa Bible Commentary. She is an advocate for the needs of refugees displaced by war.
This article was a part of a special series called ‘The Global Conversation’ jointly published by Christianity Today International and the Lausanne Movement in the months leading up to Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization to help prepare the global church for the issues to be addressed at the Congress. Each lead article had several commissioned responses, and was published by dozens of publications around the world. (View all Articles)