Langham Partnership Vision Weekend
I’ve had the privilege for nearly fifteen years of being a ‘fellow traveler’ with the people and mission of the Langham Partnership.
I’ve sometimes felt like an adoptive member of the family, sometimes a bit like odd Uncle Harry who turns up at holidays and bellows his opinions too loudly from a corner of the living room, sometimes a strategic collaboration partner, sometimes Langham’s very own Serial Party Crasher, and quite often the recipient of that beautiful surprise we call friendship. Along the way, I’ve come to love and admire the people and the mission of Langham.
Now I have no official authorization to coin the phrase ‘The Langham Tripod’. But old friends usually tolerate the liberties that old friends take, or at least overlook certain foibles. So I’m going to do it.
I love the thing after all, this ‘Langham Tripod’ with its scholars, its preachers, and its writers. I think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.
What, after all, could be more organically aligned with the work and the vision of John Stott … more importantly, what could be more attentive to the deep needs of the global church, with its odd mix of strengths and poverties than a sustained engagement with:
- the study of Christian Scripture and Christian theology at the most rigorous, most generation-shaping level?
- the conscientious proclamation of the Christian gospel?
- the dissemination of books that emanate a careful engagement with Scripture and a love for the Lord of his church?
I love this tripod thing, and over many years as a fellow traveler of Langham … a Langham Watcher of sorts … I have come to admire and now to applaud Langham and its newly named (by me) Tripod.
In my view, it’s just the thing. Just the thing for the Global Church that has come of age in our generation … just the thing for tending to areas where that beloved Church suffers some of its deepest impoverishment … just the thing for a Western Church that is groping and seeking to come to terms with this question:
What is the core of our mission in a world where the center of gravity of Christian faith has, as is so often said, migrated away from its old keeps and strongholds and into the heart of the Global South?
It’s just the thing, and I’m honored to speak of it from my angle of vision.
When you’re a guest, you don’t pick favorites. So I won’t do it.
But I will say that Langham Scholars is the program I knew first and have known the longest.
It’s an odd thing about the now formidable armada of Langham Scholars who occupy positions of responsibility and influence around the world. As I interact with such people and become impressed by them—a not unusual occurrence—it’s often something late in the conversation that triggers the question from me …
Are you by any chance a Langham Scholar?
Very often the answer is ‘yes’.
Frankly, I’m impressed.
In not all that many years, Langham Partnership has managed to leverage and extend Uncle John’s extraordinary gift for recognizing outsized talent and uncommon gifting … and then has got behind these people to offer them the opportunity to develop that gifting to the highest level.
Some doctoral supervisors in the UK and North America have learned along the way that many of the most inquisitive minds, the most compelling scholars-in-the-making have been honed not by the high schools, preparatory colleges, and universities of the West, but rather by hard-pressed families and fraying institutions in places like the Palestinian Territories, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, and countless other nations of what we’ve come to call the Majority World.
Thankfully, most of those Langham Scholars who have studied in the West return to their places of origin and serve diligently over the course of a lifetime with fruitfulness that would have not been imaginable if there had been no John Stott … and if there were no Langham Partnership.
When I was at Overseas Council, we typically worked along side of 130 Majority World seminaries in 70 countries at any given moment. Some of them were regional powerhouses. A few of these schools had long and honorable trajectories of service to their region and beyond it. Many had known bumpy transitions between missionary leadership and national leadership, a transitional chapter that is now a decade or two or three behind them. Lots of them were peppy, entrepreneurial outfits with a God-sized vision, a minuscule resource base, and an attitude of ‘if the Lord is not in this, we’re toast.’
Here’s what I want you to hear:
Many of these schools would be a shadow of what I know them to be if it had not been for the Langham Scholars among them.
These are women and men who are comfortably global in their skin. At the same time, they are deeply rooted in a given context … able to speak from it and to it and—on important occasions—able to speak as representative voices from that place they know so well. Either of the two famous post-colonial maladies—that sad, low self-esteem of the colonized on the one hand or the defensive aggression of the almost uncolonized on the other hand—are usually absent from such people. I tend to lay this virtue at the feet of John Stott himself, for his combination of strength and astute humility lives on in Langham Scholars everywhere. Sometimes legacy is a beautiful thing. It certainly is when you hang around Langham. Happily, when this kind of virtue goes all the way down to the core of the organism—as it does at Langham—this virtue becomes a shared aspiration. It becomes contagious.
The story gets even better in recent years as our brothers and sisters in the Global South have stepped up to prepare and launch doctoral programs of their own …. partly to reduce the calamity of ‘brain drain’ to the West but mostly to root the training of a generation’s finest leaders in the soil where they will in fact do most of their leading. Langham Partnership has been a key player in putting some robust wind in the sails of this movement. It’s one of the most encouraging developments I’ve seen in my entire life. If you gather the movers and shakers of this historical phenomenon in a room, the number of Langham Scholars on the roster would be jaw-dropping. A number of them sit with us in this room today.
And as a result of this daring initiative from the Majority World, more and more Langham Scholars are being honed and polished in Majority World doctoral programs. I hope we’ll hear more about this during this Vision Weekend.
I hope you can sense that, after 30 years in Majority World theological education and 13 years of fairly constant presence in Global South theological seminaries, I’m a true believer in the uncommon potency of the Langham Scholar … and in the catalytic influence of the Langham Partnership.
And yet … the story gets better.
Because there are books …
And not just any books …
You see, a good book is not as good as a live conversation with a wise author. But it’s the next best thing.
I like to think of a book-less life as an existence where the only wisdom that is accessible comes from (a) people who are alive right now and (b) people who are alive right here (where I am).
But if I’m going to escape my time-and-space bubble, I’m probably going to read.
And if I’m going to read, I’m probably going to read the work, sadly, of people who look and sound a lot like me.
Or, if I’m a Majority World church leader trying to make sense of my world and of the gospel as it infiltrates my world, sadly I’m probably going to read books that have been written by people who have never set foot on my soil and who know nothing of my people and my context. Because those are, by and large, the only books that are going to be available to me.
Unless, that is, a Langham Literature battles its way forward against the headwinds of a thousand economic and institutional gales and actually gets books by superb Majority World authors into print and then into the hands of eager readers.
Which, happily, is exactly what these crazy people do!
Take a look at their booklist or their book table or talk this weekend with the be-scarvèd Pieter Kwant or one of his minions. The work of Langham Literature is extraordinary work and makes it possible for our brother and sisters in the Global South—as it makes possible for us!—to take up and read … superb books by Majority World authors who, much more often than not, wield their pens as mature disciples of Christ who are canny as snakes and gentle as doves.
Our Langham friends are also developing skills in encouraging their Langham Scholars along the mine-strewn path that leads from the conclusion of doctoral research on to the publishing of accessible reads for a broader public. This is huge, but I’m not going to talk about it, except to say that Langham Literature stands there, ready to make the best output of their Langham Scholars available in writing to the wider church. If you want to know more about this highly effective, low-profile endeavor, talk to Dr. Ian Shaw, who is with us this weekend and up to his armpits (if I may use such a Pennsylvania farm boy term on such an august occasion as this …) in that very work.
Talk about synergy …. This is genuine kingdom-of-God synergy!
And then there’s Langham Preaching.
It’s probably no secret in this company that the Church as a whole suffers from a Famine of Biblical Preaching. Frankly, it’s awful. People shrivel up and die under its leaden sky.
And if you think it’s difficult to find biblically rooted, culturally aware, gospel-saturated preaching in San Diego or Chicago or Hayward, Wisconsin or Sunnyvale or Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania … I dare you to walk with me in Lagos or Moscow or Buenos Aires or Lahore.
The state of preaching … is … truly … awful, whether we understand it as a famine of biblical preaching or an epidemic of Silly Pulpiteering.
Sometimes the whiff of heresy floats in the air, but far more often we’re talking about good people—sinners saved by grace and well-intentioned servants—who simply do not know how to find their way to the kinds of preaching for which our hearts and minds yearn.
I was a in Medellín, Colombia a few months ago. The seminary in that city that Karen and I are ramping up to serve had recently said goodbye to a small army of some 200 preachers who had recently swarmed the modestly sized campus for the annual Escuela de Predicación Transformadora … School of Transformative Preaching. That’s what we know as Langham Preaching, rooted now in Colombian context, lives, and language.
These South American preachers are not the same population as Langham Scholars. These are, in the main, grassroots, self-taught gospel preachers. Some of them will be consumers and readers of Langham Literature publications. Most will not.
These are the men and women who are shepherding the numerical majorities of God’s people in Colombia and in many other places in the world. They are preaching Sunday upon Sunday, but also—many of them—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and … well, you get the picture.
They are the foot-soldiers of gospel proclamation.
You see, I cut my teeth in Latin America alongside this kind of person. Mario was an auto mechanic and a bit of a drunk until a street preacher in a park caught his ear. He found himself sobbing and loving the forgiving Jesus he met in the evangelist’s words before he had words to explain what was happening to him. Within months, his extended family and a bunch of neighbors—not all of them, mind you—had responded to his testimony and had become his little flock.
He was such a genuine pastor because he knew intimately the hard-scrabble life of his people. It was his own life, too.
Mario spoke with such a frictionless empathy with his people. He loved the Bible, but as he moved beyond his first-generation proclamation, he simply didn’t know how to connect the Bible he read ceaselessly with the people he loved so zealously.
He could not connect the dots … he had no hermeneutical method … he knew neither a reliable route from text to context nor from context to text. Beyond simple evangelism, he could not speak for his people the reality that he knew from his bones outward.
The potential upside of people like Mario, to whom the Lord has entrusted deeply embedded proclamation ministry, is huge … if only someone can help them find a toe-hold into life-long development as preachers of the gospel. Someone who knows their context and the fire in their bones in the way that they know it.
This is exactly what Langham Preaching is doing, exploring various modalities, figuring out what works and what does not when providing intensive preaching training to veteran practitioners.
Honestly, Langham Preaching looks to me like the logical next step after Langham Scholars and Langham Literature. I mean, what else would you do but this …
I was delighted to find myself speaking with our brother from Lahore, Pakistan last evening and to learn that Langham Preaching is thriving in … (You heard it here first!) … Pakistan! Just great stuff.
WRAPPING THINGS UP
The Langham Tripod …
- If careful thinking and the scholarship that turns it into a life-long discipline means anything for Christ’s church …
- If making hard-won wisdom available to expanding circles of Jesus disciples means anything for his people …
- If the astute and loving proclamation of the best news ever is the heart and soul of a thriving global church …
… then it’s no wonder that a guy like me can take a long gander at the Langham Partnership and know that these fellow travelers have stumbled upon—no, rather, have been lovingly led into—one of the single most cost-effective, scalable, God-pleasing, church-empowering ministries that I’ve ever known.
So that’s my story … and I’m stickin’ to it.
Read Full Post »