Friday, July 16, 1993
I am upset again by some recent highly-visible statements to the effect that Christianity is losing ground in the face of the global population explosion. (Is this what I am always talking about? Am I always speaking out against "mission pessimism"? Maybe so. Why not?)
In this issue a whole section is being reprinted that sums up many of the key issues in missions right now. That is our "White-Paper Centerfold" which is pages 27-30.
However, since our cover story highlights the marvelous new edition of Patrick Johnstone's Operation World, (does it present an overall global decline?) it may be sensible to take a new 2,000-year look at things. You can see the detailed table on page 6.
OK, How Do You React?
Are you upset if I tell you that an otherwise trustworthy book by an outstanding mission leader says,
"We simply can't reach the remaining Unreached Peoples using only the missionary approaches of the past."
Or, how's this:
"Our best evangelization efforts to date are not capable of reversing the apparent inevitability that the non-Christian population will grow, and grow, and grow."
Worse still, the latest MARC Handbook, on page nine, has a full page devoted to a tragically erroneous impression: The page heading says "NOT KEEPING UP," and then it goes on to give estimates that actually prove, if anything, the opposite, concluding with the question, "What (new) mission strategies would help us get ahead of the population curve?" --the implication being that we are lagging behind the curve.
Well, how do you react?
Let's Get It Straight!
For over 25 years I have been teaching the history of the growth of Christianity. That story is very simply one of expansion. Incredible, constant expansion. We Christians started out as a tiny movment. Today one out of three people in the world is called a Christian. Obviously--between then and now--the proportion of Christians in the world has been increasing!
Really? Yes. Christians went from one in a thousand, to one in a hundred, to one in three! That's expansion, not "failure to keep up."
It's like rabbits and cattle in Australia. In the early years it did not seem like the rabbits could possibly catch up. The annual increase in rabbits was small. But rabbits were "expanding at a higher rate" even though they may have seemed to be "falling behind" in sheer additions every year until they overtook the cattle.
What is a Christian?
Here is a caution: lets' not to be too concerned about the global percentage of "Christians in general." Frankly, piling up "nominal Christians" is not terribly important compared to counting on the number of Bible-believing, or Bible-studying, or serious Christians, whatever you want to call them. And that is what is done on page 6. That group starts out at about one quarter of one percent in AD100, and by the middle of 1992 was virtually 10%.
This 10% is a more important number than the fact that "Christians in general" are now over 30% of the world's population. Come on! If you count such nominal Christians you might as well include Muslims, because a large percentage of today's Christians know no more about the Bible or the Lord than do millions of Muslims.
However, let's remember that as evangelicals we normally take seriously only those who are seriously Christian, those we say are truly "born again," and so that is what we are doing in our calculations here.
Calling All Engineers!
As a former engineer, I have been keeping in touch with the latest estimates, and specifically with the world's most specialized Christian statistician, David Barrett (also a former engineer). We have shared estimates about Christianity at every point in history, relying on as many other sources as possible.
I am therefore often amazed at off-hand statements that are often made, apparently conjured up from a durable perspective of pessimism. In America we seem always eager to shock ourselves. Good. But let's get the figures straight. Page 6 is one more attempt.
How many Peoples?
Last time we tackled the recurrent question about the "how many people groups are yet to be reached."
The Adopt A People Clearinghouse now has a valuable book out with about 5,500 peoples listed. The introduction to the book talks about "Clusters of People Groups" and gives an example of how one name listed could contain 200 unreached people groups.
I have found a better way to get at this whole question. When Joshua crossed the Jericho it was
ONE people--"The Children of Israel," or it was
TWELVE peoples--the various "tribes" of Israel (goyim in Hebrew), or it was
SIXTY peoples--kindreds, (mishpahah in Hebrew).
Now if you knew the name for all of these, and listed them all in one single list, or if you list just the larger "clusters" you get very different total numbers. The AAPC book of 5,000+ peoples is admittedly a mixture, to be straighted out as soon as possible. But it may end up a list of 11,000, which is our best estimate.
This marvelous book at a mass-distribution price, is available for a few more days, after which time it will cost more to get it to you (double shipping) and a lot of other overhead you can avoid if you take a good look at p. 12 right now!