[Update: After three years of serving as Director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, Chris Castaldo has transitioned into a new role as senior pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville. While no longer working full time for the BGCE, Chris continues to write and speak for us in projects that pertain to gospel renewal. This includes his role as a regular blogger for Evangelvision. Our commitment, however, to gospel renewal among nominal Christians remains strong and we are prayerfully considering the next phase of our commitment to this issue.]
In a culture haunted by fragmentation, hi-tech distractedness, and the loneliness of individualism, where hearts—even Christian hearts—feel like empty theaters of longing, God’s life-giving presence is needed more than ever.
Unfortunately, it is possible to have membership in a church without possessing a vibrant, informed, and intentional Christian faith. Such people may be called “partially evangelized” in the sense that while they are called Christians, they have not truly identified with Jesus’ death, resurrection, and public life to which we are called in the gospel.
In the Old Testament, Pharaoh represented the worldly threat against God’s son, Israel: oppression, poverty, injustice, and various forms of indignity, forces that exist among God’s people today, to which we might also add anxiety, fear, and despair. While acknowledging these threats, Moses simultaneously recognized God’s saving power. On the Plains of Moab he reminded Israel of their blessed deliverance and of God’s promise to do so again in the future. This is where we live; Moses’ future is our present.
According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, there are a total of 132,060,000 Americans who identify with the Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Sociologists of religion tell us that three out of every four of these are partially evangelized, thus leaving over 99,000,000 such people in the United States. Herein is the particular need that we wish to address: to provide Christians with the requisite training for understanding, building bridges, and effectively relating the gospel among their partially evangelized friends and loved ones.
There are three particular places where a need for this ministry is most acute: in families, the workplace, and on college campuses. Since it is in these places that Christians enjoy ongoing relationships with the partially evangelized, Gospel Renewal training considers the various challenges and opportunities associated with each of these contexts.
Because the Church has the greatest message in the world, Christians, of all people, should be the clearest communicators and the most compelling examples of life. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of training, most Christians are unable to integrate faith and public life. Our vision is to remedy this problem by training pastors, church leaders, and congregations to actively embody and proclaim the gospel.
There are several ways that Gospel Renewal is poised to offer training: workshops, private church seminars, church leadership consultation, conferences, retreats, and through various forms of media such as Ministry of Gospel Renewal (MGR) director Chris Castaldo's blog, books, and podcasts. Since the release of Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic, each of these mediums has been central to Pastor Castaldo’s ministry. Whether in churches, conferences, colleges, seminaries, or radio interviews, Gospel Renewal—the reality that the gospel changes everything and therefore it must be central to our lives—has been the leading edge of Pastor Castaldo’s work.
Of all places where the MGR might be located, the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College is ideal. Known for its world-class scholarship and leadership in equipping the church for global evangelism, the BGC has the credibility, influence, and a platform to effectively reach the 99,000,000 people in need of gospel renewal.
What is now only a trickle of Christian identity, God desires to make a deep river of faith (Ezek.47); what is a small cloud, God wishes to develop into a torrential rain (1 Kings 18:44); what is a modest-sized lunch, God will multiply a thousand times over into a feast (John 6). The Ministry of Gospel Renewal exists for this purpose, to see partially evangelized men and women across our land converted, embracing scripture, and engaged in the manifold dimensions of public life as devoted followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
At the Billy Graham Center’s dedication on September 13, 1980, Dr. Charles Malik challenged the Wheaton College community and the newly dedicated Billy Graham Center (BGC), to pursue a thoughtful and principled engagement with the wider Christian tradition and the world, an engagement that would reflect the gospel-centered legacy of Billy Graham himself. While numerous ministries have grown in and from the Graham Center over the years—vital works such as prison ministry, Muslim outreach, and ethnic and cross-cultural training—Dr. Malik’s particular challenge regarding the wider Christian tradition has gone unmet.
Fast-forwarding to September 2011 when BGC executive director Lon Allison approached Castaldo, then pastor of outreach at College Church in Wheaton, about starting a new ministry at the Center aimed at fulfilling Malik’s vision. Allison was familiar with Castaldo’s burgeoning ministry among Catholics and former Catholics based upon Chris’s book, Holy Ground. A former Catholic himself, Allison appreciated Castaldo’s conscious balance of theological substance and warm-hearted, pastoral sensitivity.
An exploratory conversation between these men about the prospect of creating a new ministry at the BGC resulted in enthusiasm. Over subsequent months, they enjoyed additional meetings, and in January 2010, seeing what appeared to be the Lord’s hand of affirmation, Allison submitted a Gospel Renewal Ministry proposal to Wheaton College President Phil Ryken and Provost Stan Jones. After receiving approval, Castaldo submitted his resignation to College Church in Wheaton.