Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Today's Global Context of Evangelism and Its Challenges and Opportunities

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Today's Global Context of Evangelism and Its Challenges and Opportunities

Article excerpt

In its epoch-making gathering in 1910, the Edinburgh Missionary Conference prayed to achieve the "evangelisation of the world in our [their] generation." The conference was clear and correct to believe that evangelism is the heart of Christian mission. There will be no Christianity without Christians, just as there is no church without believers. Unfortunately, theological sophistication and over-consciousness of political correctness and the presence of other faiths, especially in the West, have put evangelism in the backseat of mission discussion. It is high time to restore evangelism to the centre of Christian mission, although the approaches used will need to be "as wise as a serpent" in the delicate religious context.

A changing global Christian landscape

The shift of global Christianity toward the South and the East, especially in the second half of the 20th century, has been well established. Today, more than two-thirds of the world's Christians live in the southern continents (or the global South): Africa, Asia and Latin America. This change is in part a celebrated fruit of centuries of Western Christian mission, from the 16th century Catholic mission to Latin America and parts of Africa and Asia, to the modern Protestant mission in the 19th and 20th centuries. The rising of Pentecostal/charismatic Christianity, initially in the West, quickly spread in the South and gave birth to countless forms of "spiritual" churches in all the southern continents. The rise of the African Independent churches and the Chinese house church networks represent the extent to which this particular form of the Christian faith adapts into local spiritual/religious and social contexts. Unfortunately, this exceptional gain has been dwarfed by the steady decline of churches in the modern Christian heartland--the West. This partly explains why Christianity has receded in the last one hundred years by 2.6 percent (from 34.8 percent in 1910 to 33.2 percent of the world's population). (1)

This recent shift, however, should be understood in the larger context of changes in global Christianity. The Atlas of Global Christianity, a volume published to celebrate the centenary of the Edinburgh Conference, reveals the North-South shifts of global Christianity in each millennium of church history (as seen in Graph l). (2) In the first millennium of church history, the concentration of Christianity was in Asia Minor and North Africa, until the rise and expansion of Islam marking the end of this era. (3) The second era is the flourishing of Christianity in what is called the "West." The golden period of the second era is between 1400 and 1910, coinciding with the colonial expansion of Western power.

What the change implies

It is immediately clear that several points are emerging from this global and historical survey. The first is the tremendous missionary achievement in the last 100-year period, which saw, in fact, the largest gain in the entirety of Christian history. The staggering net of 1680.5 million new Christians were added, from 613 million (in 1910) to 2292.5 million (in 2010), a growth of 3.75 times. The growth in Africa is most dazzling: from 11.7 million (in 1910) to 494.7 million (in 2010), a 42.3-fold growth. (4) In addition to the work of Western missionaries, this tremendous expansion can be attributed to several major factors: a series of revivals; the rise and spread of Pentecostal/charismatic Christianity; the strengthening of local leadership; the appearance of indigenous forms of Christianity; among others.

Second, in spite of this historic spread, in the same period world Christianity's share of the world's population dropped from 34.8 percent to 33.2 percent: thus, a recession. As mentioned above, while the South accomplished a tremendous gain, the North has lost its Christian ground, cancelling out the gains in the proportional terms. During the same period, Islam, another global and increasingly missionary religion, recorded a substantial gain: from 12. …

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