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How Missionaries Lost Their Chariots of Fire

Western Christianity has been on a century long journey to redefine what “mission” is.

Earlier this year, Brad Greenberg reflected in an article for the WSJ on the changing nature of Christian mission since Edinburgh 1910.

Here are a few edited points and quotes from the article. I’ll have more to say later.

The 1910 World Missionary Conference was a watershed moment for Protestantism. Meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, the assembled 1,200 Protestants believed that Christianity was on the cusp of spreading to every corner of the world, and that Christ would come again once every ear had heard the good news of salvation.

But Edinburgh 2010, the centenary conference that concluded in June 2010, drew only about a quarter of the crowd and received attention only from a few Christian publications. The modern master plan was less ambitious as well: a call to global missions and “to witness and evangelism in such a way that we are a living demonstration of the love, righteousness and justice that God intends for the whole world.”

At Edinburgh 1910 , people thought they were going to take over the world, now many of our students wonder if they should even try.

C. Douglas McConnell
Fuller Seminary

The overwhelming majority of American missionaries today are “vacationaries.” Joining mission trips of two weeks or less, they serve in locales where Christianity already predominates.

82% of short-term missions today go to countries in the most-Christian third of the world. Only 2% land in the Middle East.

Robert J. Priest
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Christians today typically travel abroad to serve others, but not necessarily to spread the gospel.

The purpose, then, of their visit is to battle the ills of poverty and to stretch their own spirituality.

The work these missionaries do reflects a paradigm shift—from spreading Christianity, to living it. In a postmodern context it goes against the grain to go in and do hard-core proselytizing. To millenials, it really feels like al Qaeda in Christian wineskins. That’s a good shift.

David A. Livermore
Cornerstone University

Missions experts note rising interest in strictly social justice and humanitarian work, even on short-term visits.

In part, that is what Africa needs [according to Brad]. The Pew Forum reported in April that neither Christianity nor Islam had much opportunity for further growth in sub-Saharan Africa. At least 90% of people in the 19 countries surveyed identified themselves as Christian or Muslim, so the pool of potential converts outside those religions remains small.

Ttwo decades ago half of my graduate students believed building churches abroad was their top priority. Today, it might be 10%, The majority identify fighting trafficking, orphanage work, HIV-AIDS, and poverty, as more important.

Scott Moreau
Wheaton College

Full text: Brad Greenberg: How Missionaries Lost Their Chariots of Fire