Nearly 20 years ago Dr. J. H. Bavinck made this observation in his book, The Impact of Christianity on the Non-Christian World:
“There was a time and it does not lie so far behind us - when men dared to think and speak quite optimistically with respect to the missionary task. That was the period in which men talked of ‘the evangelization of the world in this generation.’ That time is now past. The last decades have taught us that missionary work is infinitely more difficult and complicated than was formerly thought.
There is validity in ]3avinck’s emphasis on the complexity of the task. The longer I walk this world with God, the more I realize how complex the problem of world evangelism really is. I see men struggling to integrate their faith with their cultural heritage, their loyalties their nationalistic attitudes and their responsibilities to self and family and community – and I see how infinitely deep and. involved this problem is.
But Jesus would not settle for anything less than a whole world. That is one of the great differences between Jesus and most of His followers. He faced the task in its entirety, while most of us settle down with one little chunk of the job. Jesus told His disciples to go “into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” What would it mean if the Church today took this commission seriously and faced the job in its entirety?
I for one believe that the critical moment is upon us when Christians must accept world evanReJ3sm as the task committed to us for our generation. Let me add, too, that I believe that the Church today has the resources to do the job. If scientists can dream of a manned landing on the moon, how can the Church do less than dream of winning a world? We need to get on with the business of realizing our dreams.
Although Jesus’ followers were commissioned to communicate – His parting words bear this out -- Christians today are doing a very poor job of communicating. All too often we simply voice our own orthodoxy amid the rushing traffic of a world jammed with other issues. Inch of the time we are out of touch with the key issues that have captured the thinking of the world around us. And we soon discover that we don’t get an audience by telling the world I-b is occupied with the wrong questions. Jesus. can teach us to communicate better than that.
To communicate the Gospel effectively to the world around us w must begin by ridding ourselves of certain false assumptions mistaken notions that have, often unwittingly become a part of our outlook. Let me he more specific.
1. We are deluding ourselves if we think that most of the world is waiting eagerly for our Christian message. The world could&t care less if the message is never preached. To recognize this gives us a better idea of our starting point. We must use every possible means to demonstrate that our message today is needed – that it answers the issues of our times.
2. We are deluding ourselves if we think that witness is all talk. Talk is useless unless saturated with understanding of the people we are trying to reach and. set aflame with Christian love. This requires a great deal both of doing and talking. We must show people that we care not only about their eternal destiny but that we care about them also here and now. Evangelism involves the whole man.
Said, an old farmer who was visited each year at the time of the evangelistic campaign: “Every year during revival meetings you people come and talk to me about my soul,” he said. “But between one revival and the next I never see you. I wish you cared less about my soul and more about me.”
3. We are deluding ourselves if we think that Western missionaries and the Western cultural encrustations of the Christian Church will be accepted without question in the rest of the world.
Surely I do not question the wisdom of God, but for the sake of the Gospel I often wish that Jesus Christ could go directly from Jerusalem to Asia, Africa and Latin America, without being routed ‘by His followers through Great Britain and the United States.
Orientals today are not really rejecting Jesus Christ. They are rejecting the
Western interpretation of Jesus – the Western trappings of most of contemporary
need to give these people a chance to confront Jesus Himself.
4. We are deluding ourselves if we think that our responsibility ends when our words of witness have been spoken, that it is then up to the other fellow to understand., appreciate and accept what we say.
Too often we act as if we have made our one and final pronouncement; if the listener doesn’t understand it let him go to hell. But the fact that a. man may be prejudiced against Christianity does not mean we are free of our responsibility. We must answer the questions his prejudice raises.
At what point, we may ask, have we successfully communicated with the Moslem, the Buddhist, the Communist? When does a man know enough to make an honest decision?
We must come to grips with people’s indisposition to listen and treat it on its own grounds. We must meet people where they really are. A Japanese, for example, will say “yes” because he feels it is impolite to say “no.” Awareness of this must become a part of our equation in communicating. We must help him understand, not change his language.
5. We are deluding ourselves if we think that the pressing issues of our day are best understood and described in an exclusively theological frame of reference. Our world has little time for theological abstractions.
From the point of view of the people we must reach, we are too often building straw men. Our language is not the language of the street. In this we have again missed a cue from Jesus. He spoke the language of the people. He was earthy, colorful, vivid in his speech. Why is it so difficult for us to be equally direct and simple?
6. We are deluding ourselves if we think that heroic missionary and’ evangelistic, efforts of the past will stir the young people of today.
The Westerner has been too arrogant about his heroes. Missionary heroes of the past fail to stir the imagination of young people today. “So what,’1 they say. “It takes courage to walk through Mississippi today, too.1’ They look at the missionary and ask, “What are you running away from?”
In all this we must recognize that our stability lies in a clear-. cut commitment to the Gospel o Jesus Christ. But jeopardy lurks in our easy cliches and unwarranted assumptions.
Let’s not be so lofty that we cannot accept the best help available from disciplined scientists in communications, human relations, anthropology, sociology and other related fields. In addition to everything else, I believe that Jesus Christ was the very best sociologist of His times. How else can we explain the insights in His conversation with the woman at the well of Sychar? The well was a point of contact for Jesus just as Mars Hill was a point of contact for Paul. Today’s point of contact has changed. It is more apt to be Time Magazine or the Reader’ s Digest rather than the well of Sychar.
I think it tragic that there is little communication among the hundreds of missionary societies working throughout the world, very little knowledge of what is being done, scant detail on the successes or failures being experienced. No doubt the funds are available in the Christian community to evangelize the present generation; from a business viewpoint, however, it is perhaps just as well that they have not been made available. If any large corporation deployed its people and its finances in the manner that Protestant missions have done, the stockholders might well question the company’s management.
I am grateful to be able to report, however, that a project is now under way to help meet this problem and to grapple with the huge task of communicating the Gospel more effectively throughout the world. We have tried to combine the very best in management and scientific skills with persons of foresight from the missionary and theological community. Involved in the project are key men who have proved themselves in the Apollo program to put man on the moon, the Surveyor moon program and other similar ventures. Teamed with them are experienced missionaries and specialists in the study of church growth.
The approach has been to apply the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT), originally developed for the Polaris missile program, that has subsequently become a valuable tool in other government, industry and engineering tasks. It has been used successfully in political campaigns and in other tasks for promoting ideas or products. In applying this approach to the evangelization of the world the question arises: “What mist take place before the goal is reached?” In other words, sooner or later we must face the question of the best use of our resources in the task to which we are committed. Hit-or-miss methods will no longer suffice.
scientific community brings
three things to this project:
1. Organizational and management ability to define, plan and administer a wide variety of projects, both centralized and decentralized.
2. Scientific knowledge about the world in which we live and about its people.
Modern machines in the form of high speed computers that can handle and interpret
large masses of data and that therefore permit accurate consideration of this
data and consequent improvement in decision making.
The missionary community brings three things to this study:
1. A history of past failures and. successes,
2. Concepts of what might be successful if the resources were mobilized.
3. A knowledge of the theological basis of missions and means to evaluate whatever concepts are brought forth in terms of God’s work.
We must not forget our dependence on the Holy Spirit. We must continue to increase our emphasis on prayer. God’s formula is still “by my Spirit.” But God will hold us responsible if we do not apply the very best tools available to our task.
Is it too much to believe that these very tools, now being used to put man on the moon, could have their ultimate purpose in bringing the Gospel to every, creature? With all my heart I believe that these tools have come to the kingdom for such a time as this. How can we dare to have less vision than those who are involved in the great scientific exploits of our times? This is a time for faith that proves itself. Faith has been described as a blind leap into the hands of God.” We must take that leap rather than shrink from the challenge of our times.