. ‘Discerning the Obedience of Faith’: A Short History of the World Evangelical Alliance Theological Commission
What we know today as the World Evangelical Alliance began in England in 1846. It has grown and developed into a vibrant network of evangelical Christians from many nations.
Just over forty years ago, the World Evangelical Fellowship, as it was then called, sensed that more attention on theology and theological education from the evangelical perspective was necessary. First, the Theological Assistance Program (TAP) was begun in order to encourage and support theological education, research projects, and publications, especially in majority-world countries. Soon afterwards, its successor, the Theological Commission (TC) was formed, with its first full meeting held at London Bible College, September 8–12, 1975. As Dr. Bruce Nicholls, one of the founders and primary shapers of the TAP and then the TC, wrote, the Commission “... provides an open space where theologians and educators can meet. It is a catalyst for new ideas and projects” (35).
This short, yet detailed historical monograph, written by TC leader David Parker, was originally published in 2005, and has been updated and expanded for the fortieth anniversary of the Commission. From the beginning, the TC has been involved in theology and theological education in numerous ways. It has held “consultations”—gatherings attended by an ever-increasing number of evangelicals, both Western and non-Western. Its journal, the Evangelical Review of Theology, began in 1977. Encouragement of global theological institutions continued the work of the TAP, notably with lecture tours and the library development fund. The International Council of Accrediting Agencies (ICAA) was also sponsored initially by the TC. In the early days, leadership of the TC was provided by Bruce Nicholls, John Stott, and Sunand Sumithra, and many others whose names are too numerous to list here.
Throughout the late 1980’s, challenges threatened the continued progress of the work and unity of the TC. This book describes the leadership changes, the move of offices to Bangalore and Korea, financial worries, and tensions between the TC and the ICAA. Dr. Bong Ro, Dr. Peter Kuzmic, and others feature in the work which the TC did during this period to stabilize and continue its varied activities. Study units, consultations, and publications continued on topics of ethical issues, evangelism, and political developments such as the changes in the communist world. In the 1990’s, a new challenge appeared: the TC’s role was reimagined as dealing not directly with theologians and schools in various nations, but in training, strengthening, and coaching the approximately seventy National Evangelical Fellowships (NET) and regional theological associations which had been formed through the years to do this work. However, many of these national organizations later disappointingly turned away from the WEF and the TC for support and guidance elsewhere.
In the year 2000, the TC, under the leadership of Dr. James Stamoolis and others, worked together with Billy Graham on the Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam. In this new century, a renewed vision for the TC was formulated, and continual conferences around the world revitalized the worldwide networking and theological work of the Commission. It has continued to serve to the present, not without challenges, as “a prophetic evangelical voice that is globally representative, faithful to Scripture, theologically informed and which speaks with clarity and relevance to both the church and the world” (127).
This slim book is chock-full of details, names, and events—highly informative, but very dense to read. The open discussion of highs and lows in this organization’s history is refreshingly honest. The two Appendices give the vision statement adopted in Vancouver in 2000, and a comprehensive list of chairmen, general meetings, and publications of the TC. All in all, this is a useful and important volume for anyone interested in the history and work of the Theological Commission and the history of evangelicalism in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.