Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Evangelism in Evangelii Gaudium, the Cape Town Commitment, and Together towards Life

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Evangelism in Evangelii Gaudium, the Cape Town Commitment, and Together towards Life

Article excerpt


The term "evangelization" has a very broad meaning in Evangelii Gaudium, encompassing everything that is subsumed under "mission" in The Cape Town Commitment and Together towards Life. For those two documents, "evangelism" is just one aspect of mission, namely the verbal communication of the gospel message. In their underlying theological propositions, the three documents are very similar. There is one fundamental difference, though: Evangelii Gaudium focuses on affective transformation, while the other two stress ethical renewal.


To analyze the use of one term (or two, in this case: evangelism and evangelization) in three different documents from three different church traditions is a risky undertaking. Differing uses of key words easily obscure the fact that with regard to their underlying theological propositions the three documents are very close. In the following examination of the Lausanne Movement's Cape Town Commitment, the World Council of Churches' (WCC) Together towards Life, and Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I reveal that differences in language, rather than pointing to divergences in the directions of these documents, illuminate their different points of departure, and they throw a light on the particular emphases the authors want to make to their particular audiences. In this paper, I therefore will start with an analysis of the terminology in the three documents before coming to a synthetic overview.

"Evangelization" in Evangelii Gaudium

Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, (1) gives a purposely broad definition of evangelization (2): "To evangelize is to make the kingdom of God present in our world" ([paragraph] 76). (3) In this way, it is clear that "Jesus is the 'first and greatest evangelizer'" ([paragraph] 12), and that "in every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God" ([paragraph] 2). This broad definition allows seeing the church both as an agent of evangelization and as its first recipient: "The Church does not evangelize unless she constandy lets herself be evangelized" ([paragraph] 174). Evangelization, in the most general sense of the word, actually means an ongoing process of becoming ever more "Gospel (4)-form"--individuals, local congregations, whole churches, cultures, and societies all need to be evangelized, that is, have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ ([paragraph] [paragraph] 3, 7), and then, returning his love, need to be shaped by the Holy Spirit to grow into a more mature faith and a more kingdom-form shape ([paragraph] [paragraph] 178-181). (5) At the same time, the whole church, every congregation, and every individual believer are called and empowered by the Spirit to be evangelizers ([paragraph] [paragraph] 119-120). This broad definition of evangelization has a number of important implications.

First, it allows seeing the church and each individual Christian as agents of evangelism without creating a strong believer--unbeliever dichotomy. Christians who evangelize are simply those who have already encountered God's overflowing love (6) and share this love with those who have not yet experienced it. And while they do so, they are evangelized by those whom they encounter, (7) because "whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God" ([paragraph] 272). Evangelism is necessarily dialogical ([paragraph] 238). "Conversion" is not a single act, but a constant reorientation toward the kingdom of God (8); faith is a journey and the church is a people on a "pilgrim way towards God" ([paragraph] 111), a "missionary disciple" needing to constandy "grow in her interpretation of the revealed word and in her understanding of the truth" ([paragraph] 40).

Second, this broad definition allows subsuming any and every activity of the church under "evangelization" as long as it serves the overall aim of witnessing to the kingdom of God. …

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