As Noll notes in the Preface to this third edition, this chapter is a bit of a gamble, because the “interpretation of recent history is always risky.” Nonetheless, he discusses here two very important events of the past 50 years, one from the Catholic family of Christianity, and one from the evangelical-Protestant sector.
The first, known as the “Second Vatican Council” is the most recent “ecumenical council,” which you learned more about in chapters 2 and 3. (It’s called the “Second Vatican Council” because it was the second council held at the Vatican in Rome.)
The second event also gets its name from its location. The Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization was held in Switzerland in 1974. The focus of this meeting places it in the tradition of the Edinburgh Missionary Conference, which was the subject of chapter 12.
Both of these events share a theme: how to respond to the modern world. The Catholic church had spent the 400 years since the Protestant Reformation “circling the wagons,” as it were (see chapter 11). Especially as the world changed rapidly in the 19th century (think of the Industrial Revolution and the impact of Darwin’s theories, just to name two elements), the Catholic church rejected “modernism” and stuck to its traditional emphases. However, by the mid-20th century, it had become clear to many that the world was passing the Catholic church by. The Council was devoted in many ways to “aggiornamento,” or bringing the church “up to date.”
Similarly, the Lausanne Congress reflected a changing Christian world in a variety of ways. First, despite some of the images that are available, the delegates to the conference were much more international in representation. Second, as Noll notes, the conference explicitly responded to weaknesses they saw in the work of the World Council of Churches; they certainly felt that the need for traditional “conversion to Christ” had not passed, even as Christianity had spread across the world. Third, the conference also saw the challenges of the contemporary world, especially in social justice issues. They sought to address the changing world through their meeting (and future ones), and through the covenant that they shared.
Two links that might be helpful here:
- Summaries of the 16 documents of Vatican II (full texts can be found elsewhere online): http://www.vatican2voice.org/4basics/sixteen.htm
- The Lausanne Covenant: https://www.lausanne.org/content/covenant/lausanne-covenant
So, some questions to consider:
- In the quotation from him given in the chapter, Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) suggested that Vatican II dealt with “the type of faith which corresponds to the life of the modern Christian….” As you look at the primary expressions of Christianity that surround you, which ones do you think “correspond to the life of modern people,” and which ones (however valuable they may be) are rather “old-fashioned”?
- Noll notes that there were “conservative” and “progressive” sub-groups within the Catholic church, as gathered at the Second Vatican Council. Do you see similar sub-groups in your own faith tradition? Around what issues do they have conflict? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the possibility of reconciliation between these groups? Why or why not?
- The Vatican Council is now over 50 years old, which means that the changes it enacted have become quite widespread within the Catholic church. In your experience, do Protestant understandings of Catholicism reflect the changes that have taken place? Or do they mirror more a traditional, pre-Vatican-II Catholicism? If the latter, why do you think this is so? How could Protestants become more aware of the new developments in Catholicism?
- Noll provides excerpts from the Lausanne covenant (and the link to the whole is above). When one compares this text with earlier ones from the “conservative” wing of Protestantism (say, for example The Fundamentals from the early 20th century), one notices continuity in theology, but a much greater concern for social matters. As you consider the Christian expressions around you, do you see a greater focus on theology (e.g., thinking correctly) or social matters (e.g., doing things about the problems of the world)? Or is there a balance there, in your mind? Why do you think this is so?
- The Lausanne Congress was a type of “ecumenical” meeting, as they were discussed in chapter 12. What benefits do you see in meetings like these – where people from different denominations come together to discuss a particular topic? What negatives are (or could be) there?
- Noll spends some time describing the role that people like Billy Graham and John R. W. Stott played in the Lausanne Congress. How have you seen individual personalities shape religious movements (or aspects of Christianity)? How can this be a positive thing? How can it be negative? Feel free to give examples!
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