Monday, 24 March 2008

Sydney Evangelicalism and a social conscience

Katoomba Easter Convention is one of the flagship events of the Sydney Evangelical scene. This year there were interesting signs of a new social conscience developing.

The theme of the conference was money. In the past Katoomba has tended to have a pietistic view of the issue in which the teaching has emphasised that the Christian must not love money. There has also been a call to give generously to ‘gospel’ ministry (i.e. evangelistic agencies).

Both those emphases were far more balanced this year. John Dickson named the pietism in question time, saying that “people sometimes say to me that what matters is our attitude to money, but I say no what matters is what we do with it!” All three speakers, John, David Jones and Mervyn Eloff were very clear that Christians have a responsibility to care for the poor, and that our generosity must extend to that as well. Mervyn, a pastor from Cape Town, South Africa had great insights from the African context in which he faces obvious poverty on a daily basis.

I did not hear every talk, so others may not see it like this, but for me the climax of the conference was John Dickson’s exposition of James 2:14-26. It was one of the best expositions I have heard from the Katoomba platform. In all his talks John’s awareness of the historical context was obvious and well used. In this talk the punch of James 2 was driven home. He finished the talk with a series of statistics about the paucity of Australian giving for all charity and for overseas aid, and a challenge that we should be as generous to the poor as we are lavish upon ourselves, a provocative yet practical idea. I found it personally challenging, and at the same time delightful. It felt more like a TEAR conference, or a Tony Campolo talk or even a Bono rally (John will like that!). I could hardly believe that this was Katoomba!

It will be interesting to see what the reaction is to the conference. My impression from the buzz and the question times at Mountain Camp was that people saw the point and were wrestling with a proper response.

I hope and pray that KEC 2008 may be something of a landmark in the Sydney evangelical scene. It may have helped catalyse a concern which has been growing for a while, that ministry and mission must include care for the marginalised and poor and an attempt to impact the structures of society for the sake of mercy and justice.


John Davies said...

This is an encouragting development. I've long been concerned about the sad reluctance of "evangelicals" (who ought to be better acquainted with the "evangel", or gospel, which gives them their label) to become serious about issues of social justice. We await developments with interest.

Ian Smith said...


That is one of the most encouraging things I have read for a long time. Like many, I have been concerned about the drift in Sydney Evangalicalism - that is scared of talking about issues of justice; and yet constantly talks of righteousness?? Maybe we are now able to really tackle some of the issues raised in the NT, and apply them to the world in which we live with renewed vigour. A Christian world-view on career, money, economics and related disciplines need to be discussed and enacted by those who are committed to the authority of Scripture.

I hope Katoomba Convention continues to engage with these issues.