Sabbatical Scribbles from Cambridge

For 2,000 years the church has encountered change. The ‘constant’ challenge of the church is to faithfully proclaim the unchanging gospel to a changing world. Sometimes we fail: In the latter quarter of the nineteenth century, liberal churches modified the gospel to make it more relevant to the culture. Ironically, liberal churches became irrelevant. The twentieth-century saw a backlash against liberalism in the form of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists demanded a return to the fundamentals of the gospel. But along with their steadfast commitment the gospel message, those within the movement fostered an aversion to culture and a relentless resistance to change of almost any kind. Consequently, the Fundamentalists were (unwittingly) preaching a fossilized faith, and at the same time developing an unfortunate reputation that had nothing to do with gospel proclamation. Isolation from the mainstream of church life and society made fundamentalist churches irrelevant too. (Christian Smith offers compelling research on these points in his book American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving.)

One of the things I appreciate about my fundamentalist upbringing is that my roots are deep. There are some things that I will never change. But to the chagrin of my fundamentalist friends, I have left the reservation. In so doing I discovered an old church with a rich and varied history and a very big world. My passion as a pastor, particularly as a senior pastor who has the responsibility to lead, is to help our church remain true to the faith that has been handed down to us while faithfully proclaiming that faith in a world that is changing. That means asserting the truth according to BIBLICAL convictions, which are timelessly relevant, and not Fundamentalist ones.

So let me share a few interesting facts and figures to get you thinking about what our world looks like right now (I’ll keep it short): 

  • In the year of our Lord 1900, more than three-fourths of the world’s Christians lived in the West (North America and Europe).  Today, more than two-thirds of the world’s Christians are in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  These changes have been documented most clearly in Philip Jenkin's award-winning book The Next Christendom:  The Coming of Global Christianity.  
  • Since the 1960s, fully accredited Bible colleges and seminaries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have been bursting at the seams.  These learning centers are training a “new kind of missionary,” who is sent out from non-Western points of origin to places Western missionaries have never been.  (And they are proving more effective than their Western counterparts.)
  • In 1900 most of the world’s population was concentrated in rural areas.  There were just 5 megacities with more than 1 million inhabitants.  Today more than half of the world’s population lives in cities.  There are now more than 500 megacities in the world with 120,000 unbelievers arriving daily! 


Questions I'm reflecting on: 


  • Who is best positioned culturally and geographically to reach the non-Western world?  (This isn’t really hard to figure out.)
  • How can we in the West help in this work and/or what kind of partnership ventures can we form to make this happen?  (What if our next missionary was sent out from an African church to work in a Muslim culture?)
  • What are we doing about megacities?  Should our next Western church plant be in partnership with a church-planting organization focused on reaching people in New York, Toronto, or London?  (Rather than say, a rural village in Kenya where there has been a strong gospel presence for decades.)

Just a few of the many things I’m thinking about.  The world is changing.  The mission remains the same.  To win as many as possible for the glory of God and to teach them to do everything Christ taught us to do.