This summer I will be leading a mission trip to East Asia. This team will consist of about 50 persons, mostly adults, but some children and teens will join their parents.
We just purchased our airplane tickets for the trip today. Since there is a direct flight from DFW, our team will board a plane on one side of the world and step off of it sixteen hours later…on the opposite side of the globe. This was unthinkable a century ago. In the 1800’s missionaries said goodbye to friends and families, packed their belongings in a casket, and embarked on a journey to Asia that took several months. For many, the only time that they returned home was when their body was in that casket.
This will be one of the largest international teams that I will have led. And, as you can guess, the number of resources (time, training, and money) that will be put into this trip will be significant. It is inevitable that someone whom I will talk with (or someone who is reading this blog) will ask the question “Isn’t this a waste of money? There are so many people here in the United States who need Jesus.”
I reflected on these things as I read Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History, and Culture in Regional Perspective. This rich work, edited by Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, is a collection of essays by Christian scholars that chronicle the history of evangelicals, highlighting the spread of evangelicalism around the world.
The book begins by helping the reader understand exactly what “evangelicalism” is. According to the book, evangelicals:
“…affirm that ultimate meaning is found in the person of Jesus Christ.” (18)
place a very high importance on the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments (18)
“…think of themselves as joined with other believers through history back to the time of Christ.” (18-19).
“…practice water baptism…and celebrate the Lord’s Supper.” (19)
focus on the “…’good news’ of salvation brought to sinners through Jesus Christ.” (19)
believe in “…the need to witness the good news of Jesus, to ‘go into all the world.’”
This was a helpful, positive explanation of the term. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation today about what an “evangelical” is. For example, most Southern Baptist Church leaders probably think that they have little in common with Presbyterians. Yet, last week a Presbyterian minister came to our church to train our very first team of “Alpha” leaders. During that training, this man passionately shared his testimony about how Jesus saved him via the Alpha Course as a college student. He teared up when telling our group about someone in his Alpha group who recently came to Christ. We ended by raising our hands toward the community and praying for the lost. This man was clearly an “evangelical” brother whom I connected with. Yet, our history denominational separation might have kept us from working together. If it weren’t for Alpha, we would have never met.
As I read the book, I was thrilled at its emphasis on what God was doing on every continent. Separate chapters were written to highlight evangelicalism in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Oceana, Europe, and North America. I loved hearing about how some of the early twentieth century revivals had spread to Africa. As someone who lives in a city that is becoming a majority Latino community, it was inspiring to read that evangelical Christianity was spreading rapidly across Central and South America.
Of course, the area of the world that I most enjoyed reading about is Asia. I have read many books about the church in Asia and have made many trips to several Asian countries. To be honest, the last three books that I have read for the Portland Seminary Doctor of Ministry in Leadership and Global Perspectives program have all focused exclusively on the West. They left me thinking “but I know that there is an exciting history of the church outside of Europe and America.” For example, there is a Christian denomination in India who traces their linage back to the Apostle Thomas.
The history of Christianity in Asia is by no means a trouble-free one. For example, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in China, the Taiping rebellion and the Boxer Rebellion (both connected to the spread of Christianity) resulted in the death of millions of Chinese (as well as the martyrdom of many missionary families). The “three self-movement,” as outlined on page 43, began as an evangelical church planting strategy. It has now been shaped by the Chinese Communist Party into a method to subjugate the church to the government’s will.
The way that evangelicals value the whole life of the person is highlighted in the section on Asia which discusses evangelical missionaries’ legacy of opposition to widow burning, child marriage, foot binding, and the denial of education to girls. In modern times, evangelicals are taking a stand against human trafficking, forced abortions, religious persecution, organ harvesting of prisoners, and child labor in Asia.
In the end, Global Evangelicalism shines a much-needed spotlight on the God who wants to have a personal relationship with both the Wall Street banker and the Zulu child. This book gives us a glimpse of a “church” that is without borders. A growing family made up of people from Latino, Asian, European, Middle Eastern, Polynesian, Native American, and African heritage.
Donald Lewis and Richard Pierard, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History & Culture in Regional Perspective, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 257.