Thursday, May 03, 2007

It's Helpful to Understand our Place in the World

A few years ago, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association held one of its super-big missions conferences in Europe. Normally, these big missions events were populated primarily with Western luminaries possessing high profiles and the stature to back it up. But this particular time, BGEA did something different. They decided to invite global leaders who proportionately represented the global church. A fairly prominent American presbyterian I know was one of the people invited, and what he saw at this conference hit him like a ton of bricks. When everyone was assembled, the speaker encouraged everyone in the auditorium to get up and look around at each other, because 'this is the global Body of Christ today'. When my presbyterian friend joined everyone in gazing around the auditorium, he discovered that he and those similar to him were a very small minority.

Many white American Christians don't realize just how small their numbers are when compared to the makeup of the global church. What this conference demonstrated is that the global Body of Christ is mostly non-Caucasian, poor, and increasingly charismatic. The explosive growth of the Christian church worldwide is mostly unknown in the pews here. Whereas in America, we have arguably too many preachers and teachers and not enough converts, the problem in the global south and China is exactly the opposite - nowhere near enough preachers and teachers to keep up with all the conversions. One might say (and it has indeed been said more than once in the last few years) that in many ways, the future of the Christian church is not in the West. As increasing numbers of Africans and Asians view America as a missions field and coming here with the express purpose of evangelizing us, the global shift in power becomes more real at street level. I would be shocked if this century passes without having an African as the Roman Catholic pope, and when this happens, the shift that many of us have seen for some time will become obvious to everyone else too.

The presbyterian and Reformed community has much to be proud of here. The incredible phenomenon of the Korean presbyterian movement is one of the great success stories of all time. In far east Asia, the Koreans have been by far the most receptive to the gospel and comprise a very bright light in a region that for whatever reason has been acutely resistant to the gospel until very recently. It is the Koreans who come to America to pursue divinity studies who comprise most of the evangelical voice at liberal seminaries. They are the missionaries, and we are the mission field. Similarly, the increasing prevalence of African Anglicans providing refuge for evangelicals in America is a movement that is gaining strength and would have been unheard of just 20 years ago. What's more, much of the bishopric leadership in African Anglicanism today is Reformed in much of its theology. At RTS-Orlando, presbyterians comprised the majority of the student body, but Anglicans were not too far behind, including many African Anglicans who came to America to study.

But with all that said, the Reformed community still has work to do. Coming to grips with our place in the global church can help us realize how quickly we can become irrelevant if we do not aggressively partner with and be players in the global church. Reformed people need a strong evangelical theology of poverty in order to effectively understand and partner with the global church's most vital growth centers. Reformed people must be willing to charitably engage the global charismatic movement in dialogue, because that's where the global church is headed in many ways. Reformed folks of recent times have not been particularly strong on either front, and we continue this trend to our peril. I'm not talking about giving up our theology for the sake of relevance, or 'going liberal'. Instead, I'm talking about a willingness to thoughtfully and charitably dialogue with our global brothers and sisters (who are often more evangelical than we are) as equal partners whom we must learn from if we desire to be more faithful to Christ. Such humility will carry us a very long way.


J. Matthew Cleary said...


"Many white American Christians don't realize just how small their numbers are when compared to the makeup of the global church."

And I can be counted amongst them. I had not heard about the Korean movement that you've mentioned here.

"The presbyterian and Reformed community has much to be proud of here. The incredible phenomenon of the Korean presbyterian movement is one of the great success stories of all time."

I'll have to remember to refer to this the next time I run across someone who says that Calvinists are anti-evangelistic!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. I look forward to reading more of your posts on C.I.C.
Welcome to the blog!

Anonymous said...


This was a good article, but I have some reservations.

How do you tell the true Christians from the false ones?

The label of "Christian" is tossed around from Catholic's to Cults.

Just because someone says their Christian doesn't mean that they are.

Are these so called Christians of the world all gathered together for ecumenical reasons regardless of theology?

Don't get me wrong, I agree with the premise of this post, but I have talked with and heard of stories from missionaries that a lot of people over seas being converted to Christianity are being converted to Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah wittiness and other cults, but are still being called Christians.

I'm just concerned and we here in the states are not being told what kind of Christians these converts are, unless the converts are the results of the missionaries that are sent out by true bible believing churches.

Take care

ybiC troy