A 1980 survey of U.S. evangelicals indicated that winning the world for Christ was a high priority for only about 50 percent. Even more discouraging, the same survey showed that almost 100 percent of the people had only a negligible sense of personal, meaningful involvement in the process of World Missions. Subsequent surveys on many U.S. campuses showed that even among the student Christian community no more than 15 percent felt they could have any kind of a personal impact upon the world for Christ's cause (statistics from Bryant1).
This lack of conviction about our personal role in the process of missions
shows up in three primary areas.
So we have this peculiar anomaly that 50 percent (or 20 million?) North American evangelicals consider World Missions to be very high on their agenda, but at the same time have no sense of personal involvement in it at all. That situation must change. Here too our maps must be redrawn. Every Christian is intended to-and can have-an involvement in the process of World Missions.
Consider the reluctant prophet Jonah. In the other prophets God speaks to His people. But in Jonah God speaks to the prophet and we eavesdrop. Almost every child knows the story of how Jonah was sent to preach to the Ninevites, how he ran away in the opposite direction, was thrown overboard and swallowed by a big fish which later spit him out.
What we may not know is the reason behind Jonah's disobedience. We naturally assume he was afraid to go to Nineveh; maybe there were dangers at the hands of these people. But a closer look shows that throughout, Jonah seemed only too willing to die. When the storm threatened to engulf the ship, he said, in effect, "Throw me overboard and everything will be all right." Towards the end of the book, when he got upset with God for having saved the Ninevites, he said (twice), "I'm ready to die." So obviously Jonah wasn't particularly interested in hanging on to life. So what was the real reason for his lack of involvement in the great commission to Nineveh?
In chapter 4 verse 2 we read:
He prayed to the Lord, Oh Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home. That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
Amazingly, Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh because he didn't want them to repent and share the blessings he had experienced by virtue of his relationship with God. Spiritual self-centeredness was Jonah's fundamental reason for non-involvement.
We see this in his prayer from the inside of the big fish (2:8, 9):
Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.
Here was a man only too ready to thank God for the tremendous salvation that was his; so much so, he was going to fulfill his vows and make his thank offerings. He even parrots from memory correct theology when it comes to missions. He notes that the nations only cling to worthless idols and resist the grace of God. But when the fish spit him out, he didn't go to tell them. God had to command him once again to go!
It's as if God was really saying, "Look Jonah! I'm not at all impressed by your expressions of gratitude for all the blessings I have given you, if you're not also willing to be involved in the process of sharing the blessings with those who don't have any."
Add to his spiritual self-centredness, his physical self-centredness:
Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade, and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a vine made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort and Jonah was very happy about the vine (Jonah 4:1).
Whenever God did something to make him physically more comfortable, he was happy. But then the east wind began to blow. The vine shrivelled up and the sun grew hot. Then Jonah lamented, "I'm ready to die." He was actually saying, "Look, I'll thank you so long as I have the blessings. But if my discomfort level has to go up in order to do your work, I'd rather die."
Spiritual and physical self-centredness were Jonah's primary reasons for not being involved. If we're honest, we have to admit that many of us are like Jonah. We're only too ready to thank God for all of His blessings-for home, house, family, church, etc. But if the wind ever starts blowing and the vine dries up, if we cannot sit in the shade any more and the discomfort level keeps increasing (particularly when we get involved in the task of World Missions), then we too, like Jonah, say: "Leave me alone, please. If I can't have my comforts I'd rather die. I don't want to go through the discomfort of fulfilling my part in World Missions."
How did we become like that? Gordon Aeschliman, in his book, The Hidden Half2 gives a penetrating analysis of why we get "Jonahitis." He talks about the movie, "The Big Chill," a 10-year reunion of U.S. student radicals of the 1960's. Blended into the mainstream of North American society, they had adopted all the things they had shouted against on the campuses. They were businessmen, lawyers, professionals busily climbing the social ladder. In the movie, these people were asked: "What happened to your great visions for changing the world?" They didn't know. But Aeschliman gives an interesting answer by examining the process of development of the average North American young person, in and after college. He describes it in three stages. Up to the age of 17 we go through the phase of dependence, when we are totally dependent on our parents. They give us food, pay all the bills, and even make most of the major decisions for our life.
Then around 17 or 18, we move to the independent stage. In college, we're confronted with new ideas and philosophies from our professors, dorm mates, etc., faster than we can handle them. In this stage old world views are challenged and dropped and new world views, often contrary to those we've been brought up with, are absorbed. This is often a time of high idealism and, in some cases, even anger at parents, at church, at country. Or else, it's a time of tremendous excitement and high energy. It's also a time when it's easy to be committed to one's ideals because of the support of other equally radical people in little groups on campuses (whether Marxist or Christian). Also, one is living on practically nothing. Students don't own much at that time. So it's easy to be committed to radical ideas.
The movement from independence to inter-dependence, comes around the age of 25. We begin to realize we cannot really make it alone; we need others and they need us. We get a job and find ourselves committed to being in a certain place 40-odd hours a week to get paid. We buy a car and are committed to monthly payments. We get married and all of a sudden, our dreams, visions and inclinations are now inseparably tied up with the dreams, visions and inclinations of someone else. If children come along, that bond is emphasized even more. Our idealism gets a big slap in the face from something called realism. Aeschliman says we are about to enter Big Chill Country.
When researching material for this book, I talked with a young couple who, up to this stage in their lives, had basically thought globally about their life goals. They had shown a remarkable ability to hang loose, to move whenever God said to move, to live a hand-to-mouth existence, and in some rough places. But once they had finished their education one of them said, "We've settled down now and there's a steady income coming in. In a few years we can own the house that we're renting. All of a sudden we're facing new temptations we've never faced before. It's going to take a lot harder work to be able to continue to live out our Global Vision." They had never read Aeschliman' s book but were a perfect illustration of the process he outlined. They were heading into Big Chill Country.
What happens there? Our idealistic goals, according to Aeschliman, collide head on with the goals of our culture. Often this pressure comes from our own families. The whole plausibility structure has changed. On campus, it was much easier to be radical, to drop everything else and run off to save the world and become a missionary. But now you're surrounded by people who don't think like that.
We have three options once we hit Big Chill Country. We can be like Jonah and run away. Such people can't quite get rid of all their idealism and convictions, but they also don't want to go through the hard and painful work of learning to live it out. And so, like Jonah, they run away and "die"; they basically opt out. Very few actually choose this option. Most choose the second option: they drop the vision altogether and adopt what David Bryant, in his book, In the Gap, calls "pea-sized Christianity.3"
He describes it in seven ways: It's convert Christianity, whose only purpose is to escape the flames of hell and get to heaven when you die. For some it is character Christianity. All they're interested in is cleaning up their spiritual act and focusing on Bible study, prayer and personal holiness. But for perhaps the bulk of the people, it's consumption Christianity. What's in it for me? Will it fix my marriage? Will it help solve my problems with anger? Will it help me get better grades in school? Will it help me land a good job?
Then there's cloister Christianity. I'm glad I'm a Christian because now I've got all kinds of good friends with whom I can get together and have nice warm, fuzzy times. There's also career Christianity, which emphasizes the Protestant ethic, hard work, honesty, and success in your job. Church Christianity is to show up in church twice a week, maybe at prayer meeting, do your stint on the boards, if you're elected, and that's it.
Finally, there's culture Christianity-white, Anglo-Saxon, North American, with its civil religion, republican and conservative politics, apple pie and ice cream. Such people believe that their culture is not only the best in the world, it's also uniquely Christian. This is what the sociologists call ethnocentrism.
Another way to look at Bryant's thesis is what I call "concentric-circle Christianity." Many Christians envision their lives in five circles. The innermost circle contains me and my nuclear family; the next circle my extended family and friends; the next one my church; the next my nation; the outermost circle, the world. Pea-sized Christianity is totally concerned with the first and second circles; as soon as we start moving outward there's a dramatic drop in the amount of time, money and thought invested.
It's pea-sized Christianity that results in such statements as, "I'm leaving this church because people aren't friendly. Or because such-and-such form of worship is not being considered." But never, in the 25 years I've been a Christian, have I ever heard anyone want to leave a church because it doesn't take World Missions seriously. And yet this ought to be one of the primary criterion by which we evaluate whether a community of God's people is on track or not.
You might say, "But the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself." That's true. But can we love God in any real sense of the word and be unconcerned about His eternal, unchanging purposes for the nations? Can we love God and ignore the bulk of the people who are both lost and poor? We can't.
It's not that these seven elements of pea-sized Christianity are unimportant; every one of them is legitimate. But they do not have an over-arching, integrating purpose that answers the "why" for each of these.
This leads us to the third option we face in Big Chill Country: we can get committed to the hard work of integrating our vision. Take the idealism and goals of your years of independence, put them in the crucible of the early years of your interdependence phase, strengthen your vision, sharpen it and then commit yourselves to living it out in the face of Big Chill Country pressures. To do this requires a lot more than idealism and "rah, rah, Christianity." It calls for a solid biblical foundation that will provide that overarching integration theme for our "seven c's." We must become gripped by the truths that God has a purpose for the nations of the world and that the bulk of the nations are lost and poor. We also need a solid biblical basis for the inescapability of our personal involvement in the process.
To begin with, we must realize, as Bryant points out-that Christian conversion has three parts to it. First, we are called from the world to Christ. Every Christian has finished that part; but many stop there. Second, is conversion from self to church. Here we realize we weren't saved to be lone rangers but to be integrated into the Body of Christ with a mutual commitment to love and serve one another.
But there is a third crucial stage-from the church back to the world-to bring people into the church from the world. Bryant rightly suggests that a popular Christian spiritual law needs to be changed to read "God loves the nations and has a wonderful plan for the nations; He also loves you and me enough to help us be involved in the process.4
To look at it another way, in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. Christian conversion is essentially a decision to become a disciple of Jesus. Now, "disciple" is an eastern word, not a western one. In the east, a disciple followed his guru or master everywhere. He spent time with him, walked with him, ate with him, talked with him, watched him and did what he saw his guru do. In the New Testament, whenever Jesus called people to be disciples he didn't say, "accept me into your heart as saviour" or "receive me as saviour." He usually used two words-"follow me."
What does it mean to follow Jesus? The Bible clearly portrays that Jesus' primary function, both when he was in the world and now, is to stand between lost men and God. He is the one mediator between God and man, the one great intercessor. In other words, He's standing in the gap-the theological gap, the cultural gap, the geographical gap, the resources gap and the poverty gap. If we are going to follow him, it means we have to go into the gap. I believe this is what Jesus meant in the Great Commission, when He said, "lo, I am with you always." Most of us think it means-"you go and I'll go behind you." I think what Jesus is saying is "you go into the gap and you'll find I'm there."
This has a disturbing implication. If you're not willing to stand in the gap, in some sense Jesus isn't with you, no matter how many promises you claim from the Scriptures that "God is with you always." We're not talking about salvation here, of course; we don't get saved by standing in the gap; we are saved by trusting in Christ's death on our behalf and acknowledging we are sinners. But, in a very real sense, if we do not follow Christ into the gap, we are not going to experience fully the presence of Christ in our life. Perhaps this is why so many are dissatisfied with our Christianity-it's pea-size and not integrated by a Global Vision at all.
But there are many positive effects we can expect in our lives if we move away from pea-size Christianity and are willing to do the hard work of integrating it with Global Vision.
My wife and her sister sing a song I love very much, "Let Me See This World, Dear Lord, The Way You See It." Towards the end of that song, the words are, "Let me rise high above my petty problems, weep for men hell-bound eternally; for if once I could see the world the way you see it I know I would serve you more faithfully." If we move away from pea-size Christianity, then we'll begin to rise above some of our petty problems.
The following are abbreviated versions of real-life illustrations Bryant shares in his book to illustrate the above principle.5
Peter, a businessman, liked to pad his expense claim at work to make a little bit of money on the side. He had all kinds of ways of rationalizing it. One day he happened to get involved in a missions study group in his church. They were investigating a project in Mexico for helping poor people from the rural areas resettle in Mexico and get better accommodation. Peter decided to get involved; he started giving some of his money to this project. The more he learned about the project, the more money he wanted to invest in it. As a result, he stopped padding his business account. Such practices somehow didn't seem consistent with his new way of giving God had built into his heart. And nobody had to preach at him.
A young couple, Paul and Sally, loved each other very much. But because of this, their relationship excluded everyone else. Friday night dates became a problem because all they did was drive around in Paul's car wondering what to do. Inevitably, physical attraction started overwhelming everything else. They were ashamed and felt a sense of emptiness, but didn't know what to do. One day Paul befriended a young Korean named Kim. As he talked to him, he realized that Kim and thousands of Koreans and Asians like him were without Jesus Christ. So Paul and Sally began to spend some time Friday evening praying for Kim and other Koreans. Then they started studying about Korea. This led to asking Kim to come along with them on their dates, and sharing their faith with Kim. The physical problem just disappeared.
Move from courtship to marriage. Alan was having arguments and squabbles with his wife. As a result, their relationship with other people began to suffer. He didn't know what to do. One day his pastor, unaware of the problem, asked Alan whether he would start writing once a week to a missionary from their church who was going through a difficult time in his ministry to a hill tribe in Taiwan. Alan agreed. The more he persevered in this, the more he realized there was no way he was going to encourage the missionary if he didn't settle the issue of bitterness toward his wife and forgive her. The greater the extent of his involvement in the gap, the more ridiculous some of his arguments seemed to become at home. Christ's global call was too important to waste on trivialities.
Christian couples who struggle with hierarchy and headship, submission and mutuality in marriage, will have a lot of those problems solved if they focus on Global Vision. When both husband and wife are committed to making an impact in the gap, they become so busy submitting to something much bigger than themselves that the problems of submitting to one another tend to disappear, or, at least, be minimized. Now, I'm no not saying that a quick-fix solution to every deep emotional problem is simply to move away from pea-sized Christianity. But unless you make that your final goal, you may not be delivered from your problems!
Bible study and prayer also benefit from integration under a global cause. Instead of being the spiritual equivalent of valium so we can go to sleep at night and feel good for a little while, we study the Scriptures to have Global Vision sharpened; to have faith stirred up within our hearts that God can accomplish Global Vision through us. Finally we study the Scriptures so they can fuel meaningful intercessory prayer for the nations of the world (see Chapter 7).
When I was a teenager in India, one summer some people called the Moral Rearmament Group came into the city of New Delhi. They were an international, inter-denominational group whose goal was to call leaders and citizens to a moral lifestyle. They worked among civil servants and college students. I had been a Christian for a year and during the summer holidays many of us from Youth For Christ decided to go over to their meeting. It was at 6 o'clock in the morning and the meeting began with a pep talk and a rousing theme song which went something like this-"Between the way folks live and the way they talk there's a gap that's wide and tall; but all those other gaps will fill up very fast if they fill up this biggest gap of all"-namely the gap between the way people talk and the way they live.
Why is there such a gap? It's the gap of unbelief-because what we walk is what we really believe, regardless of what we say we believe. The theological, cultural, poverty, and the resources gaps will start closing only if we begin to close this gap of unbelief. It means we have to go beyond the 50 percent who say Global Missions is very important. You and I personally are intended to have-and can have-an ongoing involvement in the process. Young people coming up through the ranks must believe they are heading for Big Chill Country and make up their minds now to resist it. Adults firmly entrenched in Big Chill Country have to make up their minds to back-track and commit themselves to integrate their pea-sized Christianity.
Later chapters will present practical suggestions for integration. But for them to be useful, we must first make the commitment to begin to close the gap of unbelief and integrate our lives. Bryant gives us one form such a commitment could take:
My whole relationship with Christ will be unified around his global cause. Among every people group where there is no vital, evangelizing Christian community there should be one, there must be one, and God-willing, there shall be one. I want to help make this happen. I want to get involved in the cause where I'm needed most to close the gap at some point so that precious lives can be won to Christ and be brought home to the Father so that God's kingdom can break through.6
Without such a commitment, the practical information in the remaining chapters will mean little and almost certainly never be internalized.
1. David Bryant, In the Gap (California: Regal Books, 1979).
2. Sam Wilson and Gordon Aeschliman, The Hidden Half (California: MARC, World Vision, International, n.d), p. 89ff
3. David Bryant, In the Gap (California: Regal Books, 1979), pp. 47, 48.
4. Ibid, p. 47.
5. Ibid, pp. 82,83.
6. Ibid, p. 203.