Global Evangelical Ambassador: American Christian Right, Secularization, Venezuela Crisis, and Climate Change (Interview)
The general editor behind an award-winning book assessing the history, culture, and beliefs of the 600 million Evangelicals around the world, says that the American Christian Right does not define the Evangelical experience and reflected on reasons for growing secularization in the West.
Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century, which has been recognized with the Gold Award for Education Resources in the third annual Illumination Book Awards, explores numerous far-ranging topics affecting the lives of Evangelicals around the globe, including the central pillars of what it means to be an Evangelical.
Dr. Brian C. Stiller, the global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance and former president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, who is also the general editor of the book, shared with The Christian Post in an interview that David Bebbington, a professor of history at the University of Stirling in Scotland, provided in 1989, a four-pillar definition of what it means to be an Evangelical, which continues to be "quite conclusive."
Stiller summarized the pillars: "That the Bible is trustworthy; Jesus and His death and resurrection are the only means of salvation; conversion is the means by which the spirit enters us and transforms us into the likeness of Christ; and we're called to be His witnesses in all aspects to a suffering and lost world."
As for the inspiration behind such an ambitious project, Stiller, who lives in Toronto, Canada, noted that he wanted to correct the impression that is often made in media that an Evangelical is defined by the American Christian Right.
"Living as a Canadian, you are overwhelmed with American information and news. Along with that comes a defining of an Evangelical out of the American religious right. It's so dominant, that one assumes in Canada that an Evangelical here is like they are in the States," he told CP.
Stiller said that he found there were not many books at all attempting to tackle the history and beliefs of Evangelicals on a global scale, and felt that it was time for a project to look at that diversity and separate the term from how it is often defined in the context of the American social-political sphere.
"I realized how important it was to define who we are as followers of Christ in a larger context," he said.
The question of what is an Evangelical has been hotly debated in the midst of the 2016 U.S. election season, with some, such as Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, even stating that he is starting to "hate" the word.
Stiller insisted, however, that around the world "Evangelical" is still seen as a good word.
"It's a good word, it's a wonderful biblical word – 'The Good News.' It's a word that [Martin] Luther used to describe those who left the Catholic church. Around the world, the word 'Evangelical' is a good word."
He repeated that just because it is used by a particular group in the U.S., does not mean that "we should let that small group define it for the world."
A number of chapters in Evangelicals Around the World address the growing number of believers in the Global South, and the marked progression of secularism in the West. Stiller offered that the number of Evangelicals in America, Canada and Europe has not changed dramatically over the last few decades, but said there are several different reasons for why the larger public is turning away from faith.
"There's no doubt that public dishonoring of the name of Christ will hurt some people. That has been true in America, Africa, Latin America, and Asia, as we know," he said, referring to church and leadership scandals.
"I don't thinks statistically you can draw a line between those public failures and people leaving the church, but I'm sure on an individual basis you can find many who have left the church," he noted.
The WEA Global Ambassador said that loss of confidence in the Roman Catholic Church and Mainline Protestant churches, which he explained took a "liberal theological shift" in the early 20th century, has driven away many believers.
"The Evangelical community has not been able to recoup what the Catholics and the Mainline Protestants have lost," he maintained.
Other chapters in the book explore the relationship between Evangelicals and various religions, with globalization bringing people of different faiths closer together geographically.
Stiller, who last week visited Venezuela in the midst of its economic crisis, said that he has had in-depth conversations with leaders in the Catholic Church, including with Pope Francis in 2014, and has mixed feelings about the prospects of the relationship between Evangelicals and Catholics improving in the near future.
"I met with the chair of the Venezuelan Bishops Conference, and we had a wonderful time of prayer, and discussing the current crisis in Venezuela," he said.
"I do know that there are some countries with Catholic majorities, where Evangelicals have been persecuted," he said, pointing to countries in Latin America and Italy, among others.
Stiller shared about his observations in Venezuela: "What I learned there is that there is an enormous move of God within the Evangelical Pentecostal world. It brought some push-back from the Catholic church at first, and some feel, really badly done by the Catholic church, but what I have seen is that the new kind of preaching has spilled over into the Catholic church, and brought renewal to its worship services and to the involvement of laity."
One major issue Pope Francis has been urging Christians to unite on has been in tackling climate change and environmental degradation. Stiller said that he feels Evangelicals should own this issue, and shared that God called on humans to co-manage His creation.
"That was the first assignment given to our parents. It is our mandate. We know [from] Scripture, the Earth is the Lord's, this is God's world. I think that is a position one can find resonance within the Evangelical community."
He suggested that the reason some Evangelicals have resisted the environmental movement is that it has often been driven by some with a more socialist, central government-management philosophy, which they feel uncomfortable with.
"The fact is we have polluted our rivers, we are emptying our oceans of its produce. I flew over sections of the Amazon on Friday, seeing huge patches of trees being cut down for fields. And the Amazon is the great set of lungs for the world," Stiller shared.
"Increasingly we are recognizing [that] this role of managing and caring for the environment in a prudent and balanced way is a call from Christ, and it is part of our mandate," he added.
"We cannot hide our heads in the sands. We are being willfully disobedient to the Lord if we allow His Creation to sink into desecration."
Returning to the topic of his trip to Venezuela, where Stiller had the opportunity to speak with both political and religious leaders and give the Minister of Religion there a copy of Evangelicals Around the World, the WEA Global Ambassador shared that in the midst of the crisis, he experienced something of great inspiration.
While in Caracas one night, where the crime rate is high and masses of people are lined up from early in the morning at the stores for food, suffering the consequences of what Stiller called a Marxist government that has bankrupted the country, he walked by a long line of protestors who started screaming and shouting at him, assuming he is an American and part of the problems that led to the financial collapse.
Further down the street, however, he encountered 2,000 Christians in deep prayer and worship at the Iglesia Evangelica Pentecostal in Las Acasia, the largest Evangelical church in the country, embodying a radically different attitude.
Stiller said that the contrast between the angry protestors and the prayerful Christians, though living in the same harsh conditions, provided a "stark reminder of the nature of the kingdom of Christ."
Evangelicals Around the World is available on Amazon.com.