by Jim Reapsome
Years ago, the first time I shoved my way through the crowds to Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park, the speakers lived up to my anticipation. Virtually every religious and political dogma was extolled with evangelistic fervor.
Years ago, the first time I shoved my way through the crowds to Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park, the speakers lived up to my anticipation. Virtually every religious and political dogma was extolled with evangelistic fervor. The lone Christian preacher in the crowd competed for an audience along with the rest. Hyde Park was the battleground of ideas. Speaker’s Corner represented the world of missions jammed into an area the size of a baseball diamond. That day the gospel was having a tough time against communists, anarchists, Muslims, and Jews. But that’s the world we engage for Jesus Christ.
As long as this kind of pluralism reigns, missionaries can forge ahead and thrive doing evangelism. There are virtually no limits to what we can do today to win people to Christ.
But what drives us to do this, to knock heads, as it were, in the name of Jesus? What fuels the engines of missionary evangelism? Partly, it’s our love for people. Partly, it’s our love for Jesus and our desire to obey him. We want to get in step with God’s sending program to redeem a people for his name.
But when we dip our toes into the public square with our convictions, we get into scalding water, both in Hyde Park and in sophisticated U.S. suburbs. That’s because we claim to believe the exclusive claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. We proclaim that he is the only way to be saved; we declare that other claims to salvation are false. By drawing that line in the sand, we enrage all of the relativists who bash us over the head in the name of religious pluralism.
Therefore, our primary missionary fuel grows from certain unshakable intellectual convictions. At bottom, our missionary commitment is deeply rational, not emotional—not our feelings and not the pain of others. We are motivated by remarkable intellectual energy, which, like nuclear fusion, explodes in missionary hydrogen bombs of evangelistic and missionary fervor.
But we are in grave danger, because our intellectual fuel rods are precariously close to losing their power to drive us into the next millennium of missionary expansion. Arnell Motz found that 43 percent of the U.S. Bible college students he surveyed think that God will accept people if they are sincere in their faith. (See his report in this issue.)
Biblical authority is under attack all over the place. Earlier this year the Church of England joined other church bodies in rejecting the biblical doctrine of hell because it distorts God’s love. Hell, according to the Anglicans who signed off on this statement, pictures God as “a sadistic monster.” Such ideas are not only intellectually wrong, they are the death of world missions.
We cannot keep world missions alive on the zeal, sacrifice, and devotion of previous generations. When our intellectual underpinning collapses, the whole structure plunges—not in a single cataclysm, but gradually, like the work of termites on the basement beams.
When you find the shavings left behind by termites, you call the exterminator. How can we save our intellectual foundations? We have to unashamedly admit our world missionary enterprise does indeed rest on such foundations that have stood the ravages of the worst of the world’s critics. You would never know this from what often passes as missionary preaching, teaching, and writing. We need make no apologies for insisting powerfully what the Scripture boldly asserts: Absolute truth exists in the person of Jesus Christ.
Our rationale and our driving purpose and passion must be rooted in what God has declared his purpose and passion to be. There is no salvation other than in the name of Jesus. You can’t mix up a bowl of conflicting religious truth claims and somehow bake a cake of truth out of it.
Missionaries and mission agencies must stop selling themselves and their programs like hawkers at the county fair. I keep hearing the sad refrain about how stiff the competition is for workers and dollars. Forget the competition. Don’t push your programs, projects, and people until you have first painstakingly built your intellectual foundations. Aim at people’s brains. Give them some respect and credit for being able to understand what the Bible teaches. Use your best missionary teachers to fill the pulpits, pamphlets, magazines, and videos with a solid intellectual diet. Use people who can take us to Scripture and reinforce our minds with God’s truth.
We don’t have to pander to people who crave a steady diet of success stories as the price for their support. Don’t worry about losing such people. We have a much bigger worry: How to keep this generation and the next from caving in to intellectual absurdities and losing the rationale for world missions.
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