Twenty-five years of ‘Turn to the Living God’

Reissued evangelism resources urges Presbyterians to be ‘reconciled, renewed and sent to change the world as Jesus did’

May 26, 2016

LOUISVILLE

As Presbyterian World Mission’s evangelism catalyst, I often ask myself, “What should ‘evangelism’ look like today?” “If he were here among us, how would Jesus reach the unreached with the gospel and change the world?”

A while back I discovered a small document titled Turn to the Living God: A Call to Evangelism in Jesus Christ’s Way. This booklet includes a unanimously approved resolution adopted by the 203rd General Assembly (1991). It articulates the church’s commitment to global evangelism, a commitment as critical today as it was in its first printing 25 years ago.

To recognize the 25th anniversary of this inspirational document, Presbyterian World Mission and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Evangelism have reprinted Turn to the Living God. We hope you will read or re-read this resolution and share stories, resources and best practices for declaring and displaying Christ’s love. I recommend that you use the study guide on page 34 as a tool for interaction during Sunday school classes or other groups. We also hope you’ll join in supporting the ministry of evangelism of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) at home and abroad.

Here are statements from some people who worked on the document a quarter of a century ago:

The Rev. Dr. John R. “Pete” Hendrick, professor emeritus of Mission and Evangelism, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, served as chair of the committee that wrote Turn to the Living God. He says, “Hearing that Turn to the Living God was to be reissued, I reread it. It inspired me, gave me new courage, and is leading me to reach out to some friends and family who are without the Gospel. May that happen all across the Presbyterian Church!”

“If we want to be better witnesses, a fresh look at Turn to the Living God will help us by driving us back to the Gospels themselves,” says the Rev. Dr. Jefferson Ritchie, associate director for mission, The Outreach Foundation and a former mission co-worker in South Korea. “The document claims to be only a beginning effort to see the way of Jesus in evangelism. The discoveries we make for ourselves about Jesus’ evangelism will become a powerful motivation for us to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

The Rev. Margaret Orr “Peggy” Thomas, retired coordinator for interfaith relations, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), served as a staff representative on the “Turn to the Living God” committee. She remembers the project well and says, “Using the expression, ‘the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world,’ Turn to the Living God cries out that we should not have parts of the church doing evangelism and other parts doing interreligious activity as though the two never meet. We are all called to a style of evangelism that respects people of faiths other than our own. We do so by relating to them, not in judgment, ‘but in awareness of the limitless, saving presence, power, and grace of God.’”

The Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, professor of World Christianity and Ecumenical Studies, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and former director Global Mission Ministry Unit [now Presbyterian World Mission], describes the reaction of “Turn to the Living God” in 1991. “It was a breakthrough document that expressed the joy of sharing the gospel and that placed evangelism in the context of a holistic faith in Jesus Christ. In this document, evangelism is not seen as an alternative to justice but part of a holistic witness to both justice and evangelism as calls of God for our time.”

Turn to the Living God calls for the church to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to:

  • announce the good news that in Christ Jesus the world is reconciled to God
  • tell all nations and peoples of Christ’s call to repentance, faith, and obedience
  • proclaim in deed and word that Jesus gave himself to set people free
  • offer in Christ’s name fullness of life now and forever
  • call people everywhere to believe in and follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior
  • invite them into the community of faith to worship and serve the triune God

—Concluding affirmation in “Turn to the Living God”

The printed version of Turn to the Living God will first be presented during the breakfast that Presbyterian World Mission and the Evangelism Office are co-sponsoring June 21, during the gathering of the 222nd General Assembly in Portland. However, the redesigned anniversary edition is available now for free download at pcusa.org/calltoshare25.

To order a printed copy of the 44-page Turn to the Living God anniversary edition at a nominal cost, contact Stephanie Caudill at stephanie.caudill@pcusa.org or call 800-728-7228 x5279. Booklets may be ordered now for shipment after General Assembly.

As a way to help the church engage in evangelism, Congregational Ministries Publishing publishes the Engage curriculum in English, Spanish and Korean. Each of its three units—Engage Gospel, Engage Discipleship and Engage Mission—includes seven sessions designed to make spreading the good news of Jesus Christ easier for growing disciples. Engage resources are available at pcusastore.com or by calling Presbyterian Distribution Service at 800-524-2612.