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The Shifting Sands of Western Mission

It comes as no surprise that Western evangelicals are redefining mission for the “postmodern context.”

We’re moving from spreading Christianity to living it. From “hard-core proselytizing” (al Qaeda in Christian wineskins) to social justice and humanitarian work.

Missionaries have become “vacationaries,” going abroad short-term to serve others, rather than share the gospel. Mission means “we are a living demonstration of the love, righteousness and justice that God intends for the whole world.”

A few thoughts . . .

This postmodern “shift” is over a century old. There’s nothing new here. For a 100 years Western religious leaders and theologians have been discussing, defining and redefining mission.

In the modern-postmodern West, the heart of mission is always shifting from the need for salvation through Christ alone—to the challenge of making this world a better place.

Evangelism is labeled “proselytism” or merely “saving souls.” Both those who preach the “prosperity gospel,” and those who preach the “social gospel,” agree that the focus of salvation is this world, rather than the next. Compared to the rest of humanity, Western believers are living in paradise. Why would we long for the world to come when we have it all now?

What’s the fruit of the shift? We have a century of data. When we move from a gospel centered on salvation through Christ’s atoning death there is only one story to tell. Inevitably, we lose, not only the gospel, but the capacity to make this world a better place.