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Evangelicals Face the Future

by Jay Gary, Mar 1, 1978

face_lIn early 1977, Dr. Billy Graham and Dr. Hudson Armerding and Dr. Donald Hoke, director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College gathered a group of twenty leaders together to consider the future of the church and evangelicalism in the last 23 years of 20th century.

Hoke claims Hiley Ward’s warning in the Images of the Future rang in their ears:

We must conciously work toward creating the future we desire, or else the great decisions of the future will be made by someone else. If we refuse to take responsibility for the future, others will make the future, both theirs and ours.

Traditionally, Hoke admits, that “evangelicals have thought much more about prophecy but little about our more immediate earthly future. But what if Christ does not come– for 100, or 1,000 years?

This initial gathering gave way to a larger invitational consultation on evangelical concerns, December 14-17, 1977 in Atlanta, Georgia. The purpose of the consultation was “to encourage evangelical leaders to think futuristically and begin long-range planning for the church in the face of possible alternative futures.”

Three goals of the conference was stated:

1. To identify the problems and opportunities facing the evangelical church in the last quarter of this century.

2. To formulate strategies and policies, principles and actions appropriate to meet these problems and opportunities.

3. To explore methods for communicating effectively to the church the means by which the above strategies may be implemented for the task of world evangelization.

Hoke admits, “The exciting experience of the Consultation revealed that these goals were far too ambitious.” He cited Dr. Ted Ward, who said,

The timeliness of this particular topic within this particular conference is dramatic. There is a rising demand for a metaphysical base for resolving dilemmas of science and society. In fact, I think futurism itself is becoming redefined… as I see it — ‘futurism is a matter of becoming aware of our moral dilemmas and seeking social transformation.’ The issue, of course, that divides human beings is where they seek for those social transformations.

Hoke notes, “Participants felt that evangelicals have a long way to go in understanding issues of the future and then in plotting alternative paths that will glorify God and meet the needs of an exploding, suffering world. ”

One participant noted that “the doors of the mind were opened to the exciting and challenging world of futurism, with its utopian and dystopian scenarios for the next 20 years. Another noted that the focus was “futurism, not prophecy. A very important point. It has theological significance.”

The working papers of the consultation, plus responses was published in Evangelicals Face the Future, (William Carey Library, 1978).

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