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December 1987


Editorial Comment

World Evangelization by the Year 2000?


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World Evangelization by the Year 2000?

by David J. Hesselgrave, Ph.D

WORLD EVANGELIZATION? By the year 2000? Or even in a generation? These are challenging concepts. They speak of a  gigantic task.

 Christians have heard the challenge to evangelize the world "in this generation" for almost a century. In the next decade we will  worth "by the year 2000." This is as good a time as any to consider what is involved,  like," and whether or not it is realistic to speak in these terms.

For too long too many Christians have focused on "our mission fields," "our missionary friends" and "our missionary projects." Many have lost sight of the "big picture."

Christ not only commanded that we "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28:  must be preached to all the nations (Mk. 13: 10). That was almost 2000 years ago. With more or less dedication, the Church has been involved in that task for all these centuries.

If the Lord tarries, we will soon look at a calendar that reads "A.D. 2000." How far will we have come on our mission to evangelize the world? If we are serious  about our mission in the world, no consideration could be of greater importance to true Christians today.

In This Generation
Of special interest to Free Church people, sandwiched between the centennial of the  centennial of its foreign missions (1987), was the centennial of the challenge to "evangelize  phrase, which became the watch cry of the great Student Volunteer Movement, is generally attributed to Arthur T. Pierson, editor of Missionary Review who was invited by Dwight L. Moody to ML Hermon, Massa students from 87 colleges with the word, "All should go and go to all." However, most recently, Ralph Winter has researched that history and has discovered that the original challenge was to evangelize the world by  it became apparent that the task could not be accomplished by 1900, was the emphasis  a generation.

This history is very important to us because the emphasis is now shifting back from world evangelization "in this genera 2000! Is history simply repeating itself? Has anything changed? Is this challenge  evangelization by the year 2000 a realistic goal?

The Status Today
When we stop to look at the "big perspective of world evangelization, things have changed dramatically in the last 100 years.

First, we now have a much better idea of what an evangelized world would look like.  This may sound rather simple and humdrum. Most Christians probably assume that to  Gospel everywhere to everyone in every way possible. But when one carefully examines  evangelization" and related terms, such as "people groups", "hidden" peoples and "unreached" people, it is clear that the concept is not easily defined.

Out of all of this discussion (Which has included some rather preposterous notions!) somewhat of a consensus is emerging. People are "reached" (or evangelized) when (1) they have had an understandable hearing of the Gospel, and, (2) when they are geographically and culturally evangelizing church. Some experts stress only one aspect while others stress both.  the two ideas represents a "marriage made in heaven" because it is altogether too easy to  that it has been understood. 

Emphasizing establishment of a church assures us that at least some have understood the Gospel and also makes possible continuing evangelization. Of course, we still do   not know what God's definition of "reached" might be, and will not know until after world evangelizations has been accomplished on His terms.

 Second, we have now described the "world" in a way that makes world evangelization more "do-able." No longer do we  billion-plus widely scattered individuals. Rather, we think of the world as composed of "people groups"-- people closely related to each other on the basis of common language and interests. The most widely accepted conclusion is that there are about 17,000 people groups left to be reached. Reaching them is a gigantic task, but manageable.

Never before, including the last decades of the nineteenth century, has there been this kind of understanding and consensus as to what world evangelization entails and how to go about accomplishing it.

Is it Realistic?
Now we come to what my generation called the $64,000 question: Can it be done? let's look at the facts.

First, we have made great progress toward world evangelization during this twentieth  age of the world population that profess faith in Christ is probably decreasing, the percent idly increasing. The editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, David Barett, calculates the percentage of the world that has been evangelized as follows: 

Year  Percentage Evangelized 
1900 51.3%
1970  61.4%
1980 68.4%
1986 72.7%
2000 83.5% (projected)

 Second, churches in the Third World have raised up many missions and missionaries to join us in the task of world evangelization. Overseas Crusades coordinator for emerging 
missions, Larry Pate, estimates that at least
20,000 non-Western missionaries belonging  scores of countries. Furthermore, he estimates that, at the current rate of growth, the  will increase to 100,000 by the year 2000!

Third, Ralph Winter and his associates at the U.S. Center for World Mission report that the majority of the 17,000 unreached people groups have already been targeted for  Gospel penetration.

So back to our questions: Is it realistic to think of accomplishing world evangelization by the year 2000? In one sense, the an ideologies are becoming more challenging than ever before. Opposition from other religions and Satanic forces is mounting.  Missionary giving and involvement would have to increase significantly, and when adjustments for inflation and short-term involvement are taken into account it is evident that this is not happening.

In another sense, yes. World evangelization by the year 2000 is a realistic goal. There is no indication that it will become  easier to evangelize the world in the more distant future. Unlike a century ago, the vision for world evangelization is accompanied  by information as to what it entails and how to go about it.

Actually, if all that God has placed at the disposal of His Church were to be marshaled for the effort,  there seems to be no reason why the whole world could not be evangelized 

Perhaps to a degree that has never before been true in history, the Church possesses the potential to accomplish world evangelization within a very limited period of time. It is realistic to think of world evangelization by the year 2000 if that potential is released in obedience to Christ's command to  disciple the nations!

 Dr. David Hesselgrave, a member of the Evangelical Free Church of America, is Professor of Missions at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois. 

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