Momentum is Building!
A host of documents discuss completion of the task by 2000 A.D.
by Ralph D. Winter
What is God trying to accomplish, by when? Many people today, like Simeon of Luke 2, are trying to understand.
Trying to understand more about angels, the medieval philosophers asked "How many angels could dance on the head of a pin?"
Even less pertinent than that,other church leaders debated the proper colors of priestly vestments at the moment of the Bolshevik Revolution.
Jesus wept as he looked out over Jerusalem. "You did not know the time of your visitation!"
Rocksreally do not know what is going on.
Trees react to the breezes.
Animals take into account what they sense.
Human beings may act like animals.
But God has planned much more than that! God wants us to "think His thoughts after Him."
If we really expect to stand in His presence some day, and to "see Him face to face", if we really believe He is in control, then we will seek to know His thoughts. The disciples were very concerned about getting their lunch. Jesus said, "My food is to do the will of my Father and to finish His work." Today we are closer to that fulfillment than any previous generation.
Can't we, then, take note of the amazing "Momentum Building" as we near the end of the century?
These are not new people speaking. These new documents represent responsible new statements about basic issues which are not yet completely clear. But we are getting closer!
1. Mission Handbook: North American Protestant Ministries Overseas, 13th Edition, (MARC, 640 pages);
2. Unreached Peoples: Clarifying the Task, (MARC, 312 pages);
3. Peoplesfile Index, (Global Mapping Project, 400 pages, 8-1/2x11);
4. God's New Envoys, (Multnomah Press, 190 pages);
Ed Dayton,founder of MARC, now vice president of World Vision International;
Sam Wilson, for some years director of MARC
Robert Coote, on the staff of the Overseas Ministries Study Center,
David Fraser, a professor at Eastern College;
JohnSiewert and Harley Schreck, who are researchers with World Vision;
Robert Waymire, director of the Global Mapping Project;
Peter Wagner, professor of church growth at the Fuller School of World Mission;
Steve Hawthorne, director of the Joshua Project, now affiliated with Caleb;
Perhaps it will come to some readers as a shock to see such a wide range of opinion÷and for that mild confusion to be so suddenly expressed as we see it in the six different documents listed on the previous page.
2. Harley Schreck and David Barrett labor together in a 39-page initial chapter in the 1987 Unreached Peoples annual, this time attempting specifically to "Clarify the Task." Their struggle is to harmonize the so-called "ethnolinguistic" approach (of Barrett and some others) with an approach formally adopted at a 1982 meeting which takes into account other possible factors (such as religion) when deciding the best avenue of the Gospel. We should not be surprised that these two approaches produce different totals for Unreached Peoples!
3. Alan Starling, editor of the Peoplesfile Index, is a key man within Gospel Recordings, a small group whose founder, Joy Ridderhof, was the one who first persuaded the founder of Wycliffe to expand into Asia. This monumental book indexes over 30,000 names of places, peoples, languages, and dialects, and traces them to specific groups and countries, giving the location of further information on them, as well as a country-by-country summary. Nothing comparable to it!
4. Tetsunao Yamamori's new God's New Envoys bristles with good ideas and starts out soberly assessing the world situation. It may overstress the inaccessibility of peoples÷we'll look into that÷but does show the new approach which most mission boards are now taking more seriously than ever.
5. Jay Gary, writing in World Christian Magazine, manfully tries to pull all of this into a single picture. More than the others, he finds great problems due to key terms like unreached peoples being defined differently by various individuals. He may have been unaware of a major conference in 1982 at which many of the key definitions were settled.
6. Karl Franklin has an excellent point: some entities like languages and peoples must ultimately be defined by those who are on the inside. He clearly is unaware that the 1982 conference actually recognized that fact.
The fact remains, however, that God expects the Great Commission to be completed, somehow affecting all peoples. How? And by when?
Looking More Closely
Measuring the size of the job: One source of possible confusion is the simple fact that Barrett very legitimately seeks to measure to what extent groups have been evangelized, or "exposed" to the gospel (to use Jay Gary's term). Other researchers, especially since 1982, have been thinking more about what Jay Gary calls "response" measurements. The casual observer, however, may confuse Barrett's estimates of to what extent peoples (groups) have been "exposed" with how many peoples (groups) are unreached, where the definition hinges on response. Thus, what is an unreached people is a key question.
Obviously, if you have a different definition you may have a different count. But there is only one formally accepted definition, thanks to the diplomacy of Ed Dayton and the Lausanne Committee, which sponsored a special meeting near the Chicago O'Hare airport in March of 1982 precisely to try to gain agreement on terminology for reaching unreached groups. Those who attended were a widely diverse and representative group ranging from Wycliffe Bible Translators to the Southern Baptist Convention.
To my knowledge, none have signaled dissatisfaction with the resulting definitions, which focused on the presence or the absence of a church, which is basically a matter of "response." I am personally happy with this emphasis because I believe that God intends some response from every group, and thus we can actually best measure the effectiveness of our "exposure" activity by our "response."
These terms were written up by Ed Dayton and appear in the January 1985 issue of the International Journal of Frontier Missions. In the April 1984 issue of this same journal I wrote a lengthy, detailed history of the development in German, British, and American mission circles of the concept of peoples. My paper was originally a presentation at the 1982 Reformed Consultation on Mission (which focused on Unreached Peoples) and then published in Reaching the Unreached, edited by Harvie Conn.
Jay Gary, who is evidently unaware of the 1982 meeting, comments in his article that Sam Wilson and I diverge wildly on the matter of how many people are found within Unreached People groups (50% vs. 10% of the world's population). I just talked to Wilson about Gary's statement, and he said that Jay simply misunderstood their conversation. Actually, Sam and I agree completely, both on the 1982 definition and on the estimate that about 50% of the world's population lives within unreached people groups.
Equally tame is the problem posed by Karl Franklin. Sure, Wycliffe Translators (and if they don't know how, who does?) find it impossible "from the outside" to be completely sure how many different groups can read one printed translation. And all estimates of how many unreached groups there are suffer the same non-finality until we are able to see the Gospel spread within.
But that does not mean Wycliffe should stop trying to estimate the number of languages needing to be taken seriously, and the same goes for the desire to estimate the number of groups we need to take seriously whenever church-planting factors (or audio cassettes) are in the picture. Believe it or not, some of the most remote mountain villages in the Himalyas have video cassette players and are thus open to the presentation of the gospel by one of their own people on video cassette!
It would have been quite reasonable for Franklin's article to have been entitled, "Unicorns, Languages, and Hidden Peoples." Hidden Peoples, Unreached Peoples, Unpenetrated Peoples, Frontier Peoples, now all refer to the same '82 definition. All must ultimately be defined as the faith grows within them, just as in the case of language communities.
In this vein, it has somehow gained credence that if you cannot list all the groups by name, then you should not try to estimate numbers. That's like saying that if you can't give the names for all 50,000,000 believers in China, then you ought not to guess at the number.
Wycliffe, dealing as it does with printed translations, can often reach more than one group with the same text. But Gospel Recordings, which must employ the ear gate (and can thus bypass the literacy problem) will need to make cassettes in a larger number of dialects, due to severe local prejudices about dialects that often exist. Gospel Recordings surveyed the southern Sudan some years ago and arrived at the total of 120 languages to be dealt with. Wycliffe, with equal professional skill, came up with a figure of only 50 translations needed. Obviously neither organization was "wrong." They were counting for different purposes.
Impatience for easy answers clouds many a question. No classification commonly used for human beings produces completely discrete, nonoverlapping categories. For example, some people are half this and half that, ethnically. They might easily be counted twice in a tally of all different ethnic groups. Or, if you classify people by language, you also get overlapping groups, since some people are fluently bilingual, within their own home. In all such cases you must resolve to put people in only one best-choice group, or you will end up with more people than there are in the world when you count up all the constituent groups.
It is this problem of overlap that has allowed some of these authors to despair of the value of counting the number of groups to be reached if overlapping takes place. Thus, some say that if you use ethnic or linguistic or "ethnolinguistic" criteria you can safely count groups and not be counting anyone twice, but that if you use cultural criteria you must not be concerned about how many groups there are since they overlap.
Frankly, for mission purposes you want to try to approach every person on the wave length of ethnicity, language, religion, occupation, or whatever means will most likely succeed. If we assume that in all classifications there is the possibility of overlap if you allow people to be counted in more than one group, then we can conclude that there will be no overlap if we simply agree that undi we know better, each person can be assumed to be in one group only.
The Frontier Peoples Committee of the IFMA is making a survey right now of how many groups have been reached by each of its member agencies in this century prior to 1980 and since 1980. Definite, wonderful progress is being made. As far back as 1976, an EFMA executives meeting tallied almost 6,000 groups in the unreached category which those agencies alone were in touch with or were planning to reach prior to 1990.
To be continued. ...
(Look for Part 2 in the April issue of Mission Frontiers.)