Educator and evangelist Lonnie J. Allison encouraged students at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School to saturate society with Christianity during a campus visit Tuesday, Sept. 7.
Dr. Allison, director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and Associate Professor of Evangelism and Spiritual Formation in the Wheaton Graduate School, spoke during the divinity school’s opening convocation of the fall semester in Andrew Gerow Hodges Chapel.
Basing his remarks on passages from Acts 19, which finds the Apostle Paul in Ephesus, Allison noted how the message of the Gospel shapes societies. “Every city and nation is ruled by eight major institutions,” he said, citing religion, commerce, government, education, the arts, media, leisure and family.
Regarding religion, he said that in Ephesus the Gospel started doing its work through the city’s existing religious system. “When you go into a city,” he advised the students, “don’t think your job is just to transform your church. You’re there to change a city.”
During the early era of Christianity, through 350 A.D., more than half of the Roman Empire embraced Christianity, noted Allison, offering three reasons how such a small group could have such major impact in a relatively short time. Besides the fact that the message of the cross of Jesus Christ reached the elites as well as the poor, there was also a social dimension. During the plagues, he said, aristocrats would flee the cities, leaving the bereft to die, but the Christians did not leave.
“When the aristocrats returned, they found their loved ones had been cared for by the Christians.”
Also, he noted, Christians had a high view of women and children. “The church of Jesus Christ felt everyone was created equal,” he said.
Allison told how he had come from a background devoid of Christianity, but discovered God during his teenage years in California. “I realized then that Jesus Christ doesn’t just save souls, but could saturate societies,” said Allison, whose early Christian experience was influenced by culture, such as the movie Camelot and its depiction of a society moving toward goodness.
“I was discovering that God could change me from the inside out, and that He could change the world, too,” said Allison, a former professional actor who is now considered one of the leading strategists for world evangelism. An ordained minister with the Evangelical Covenant Church, he serves on the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism and other boards and committees involved in sharing the Gospel worldwide.
The service was the divinity school’s 17th opening convocation, pointed out dean Timothy George, who became its founding dean in 1988.
The convocation also included the signing of the subscription to the confession of faith by Paul R. House, who joined the Beeson faculty this year as associate dean and professor. The signing of the covenant is a tradition for all new Beeson professors.