Lately I've been thinking about how Christian world missions needs to experience its own conversion, if this world is to survive the Global Problematique we read about every day, including corruption, overpopulation, arms races, consumerism and terrorism. Here are my thoughts, written to a colleague who asked how to reframe the "Unfinished Task" of world missions.
1. The unfinished task should be seen as the unbegun relationship, as western Christianity has been embedded in dominant cultures of the West, and reluctant to enter into deep dialogue with other cultures.
2. "Completing World Evangelization" through "managerial missiology" is untenable in a generation or in three at present deployment ratios to complete the unfinished task. Barrett/Johnson projections show this clearly for 2025, 2050 and 2100. All artificial ways to mobilize the church have failed miserably.
3. This points to the need for reevangelization of the West, in terms of its stance on justice and sustainability. We will see a transformational missiology emerge long before the "unfinished task" is measured as complete.
4. If this were to happen, this means Christianity, in Hockings terms, would reject "imperialism" or "synthesis" in favor of "the way of reconception." This would be a return to the original wisdom of Jesus, made known in the gospel of the kingdom.
5. Evangelization in Jesus' generation was a call to trust his third way of navigating past the crisis of Roman imperialism and Jewish nationalism, through New Covenant faith. This became self-evident by A.D. 70 at the taking away of the Old Covenant.
6. We do not face a covenantal change today, but do live between two ages, a modern age and molecular age. Our call during this interregnum should no less global, cosmic and historic. We should call the West to a Great Work, to rebalance our societies, in view of our "overshoot and collapse" tendencies with energy, ecology and economics.
7. This is the Great Transition, that must have leadership from the West in order for our world to survive. As Leslie Newbigin said, we must be the change that we call for in society.
8. We must repent of one-sided missions, where we target others, but not ourselves. Bosch showed that missions was transformational. It lifts both the evangelized and the evangelizer, and involves transforming the West.
9. The entire frame of mission is shifting postmodern, holistic, and mutual, not modern, unilateral and hegemonic. We must understand what deep dialogue means in terms of seeing civilizational transformation, both in the Atlantic, Indic and Pacific civilizational families.
10. If we rise to the challenge to rein in the "war on terrorism," diffuse Israeli colonization, diffuse Islamic terrorism and find alternative energies and live within the Kyoto accords, we might be in a position to further actualize the gospel, to see it internalized in society, such that the entire world enters a Third Exodus come the 22nd century. This could take us beyond church, synagogue, and mosque walls, into a world where humans, culture and understanding, rather than just money, media and military shape our world. This would be a post-Constantinian, post-Christendom world, not post-Christian world.
11. Otherwise, God help us, for history shows the Lord on high does not act to save us from our worst selves.
12. The past and present have been colonized by vested powers. We must not kid ourselves that these are just spiritual powers. These are the embodied powers of multinationals, consumerism, and unbounded growth. Like in the Matrix, only the future remains free, perhaps, if we act now. We can release generations to come into a century of Jubilee. But it will take sacrifice and service. We need to become servant leaders of the stature of Daniel, Esther and Isaiah, who can rise above our generations and learn how to lead from the future, not just the past.
13. Protestant World Missions practitioners are fifty years behind awakening to this Great Work, and will likely have little leverage in leading our world to safety, contrary to the Wisdom of Jesus. This is a sober fact that evangelism has become reductionist, and merely focused on the after-life, not this life, contrary to what Jesus did for his generation. We must listen to the late missiologist David Bosch and learn how to transform mission.
14. We must work to win both the soul and the mind, as Richard Hughes says. It will do no good to win the world, and lose the life of the mind. It will take a new renaissance culture to integrate intellectual life and religious life around missional concerns. We must not continue to divide the world of thought and the world of action.
15. If you have ever thought, "This could never happen," you will likely eat your words, as this nation, this world is headed for turbulence until it stops mortgaging its future and begins living within its limits. This 100-year transition could come by voluntarily choice or by crisis. But global equilibrium will come as Limits to Growth studies continue to show in their forecasts.
15. Our history is not our destiny. We must recreate missions for the 21st century and cease trying to repeat the past. The great commission and the great commandment must find their place in this higher order call to the Great Work. All of creation waits for your decision.
From 1980-1986, Jay Gary served as the lead developer of the Perspectives Study Program, a popular adult course on Christian world missions. Today he teaches strategic foresight and future studies at the graduate level with Regent University and conducts the "Future-Proof Your Ministry" workshop online.