The New Context Of World Mission


 The New Context of World Mission, by Bryant Myers provides a brief overview of the context for missions.  The book is divided into four basic sections starting with the historical context of mission, then describing the state of the world, the Church in the world and finally presenting challenges to Christian mission.  The work is rather short, 60 pages, and is mainly a factual presentation following each of the four main headings.  What reflection is provided is done so within the two pages of conclusions following the section on challenges to Christian mission.


In describing the historical context of mission, Myers paraphrases a six phase outline of Christian mission from Bosch’s Transforming Mission.  Myers presents these as the apocalyptic, Greek, Christendom, reformation, modern, and emerging eras.  The current is the emerging mission paradigm, which is characterized by the goal to “call people to faith who then work for social and spiritual transformation.”  (pg 9)  Myers also describes an inter-related history between Islam and Christianity.  In summary Myers believes that both religions follow an opposing cyclical growth-decline path.  In other words, historically when Islam is rising, Christianity is falling.  When Christianity is on the rise, Islam is on the decline.  According to the graphic presented by Myers, Islam is to reach its current peak around the year 2000, at which time Christianity and Islam will reach an inflection point and reverse their growth trends.  That is to say that, according to Myers’ model, Islam should begin to decline, and Christianity begins to expand, around the year 2000.  This appears not only as an overly simplified interpretation of history, but also of humankind and religion.


In describing the state of the world, Myers predicts that there will be 1.2 billion Muslims by 2000.  This is apparently supposed to correspond with the graphic presented in the previous section, indicating the maximization of Islam around this time frame.  In the section on the state of the world, Myers beings to discuss the poverty present within the world, however without any great missiological purpose.  On page 17, Myers presents an interesting scatter chart with axis relating to the level of need for the Gospel, and level of poverty.  The need for the gospel is calculated based on the number of non-practicing Christians plus the adherents of other faiths.  One might argue that such a calculation in determining the “need” of the Gospel demonstrates something other than the “holistic” Gospel Myers otherwise advocates for.  If the Gospel is indeed holistic, should the “need for the Gospel” not also be calculated in a holistic manner?


In describing the Church in the world, Myers spends a great deal of attention describing the geographical shift of the Church, as well as the economic makeup of the Church.  Myers states that “two of every five professing Christians live in poor countries.”  (36)  While this is an interesting figure, one is still left to wonder the actual social conditions of these Christians.  It would be quite possible that the Christians living in these poor countries are the upper class citizens of the country.  Experience tells the reader otherwise, however this statistic could be presented much more convincing manner.  As in the previous section, Myers spends valuable space in this short work to discuss poverty, yet in the previous and in this section the need for the Gospel is given no correlation to poverty, but only to the raw number of Christians present in each of these countries.  In a broad overview of global Christianity, Myers describes North and South American are evangelized, they are considered “those who call themselves Christians” while most all of Asia and Africa are listed as those “needing Christian mission.”  One might interpret this as a return to the Catholic Church’s decree in the 1500s that Latin America has been fully evangelized.  According to this model, the missionary would go from the areas “who call themselves Christians” to those who “need” Christian mission.  This may expand the Christian missionary force to include two continents, but is far from a model of missionaries to and from all seven continents.  This model also dangerously assumes that the Americas and Europe are evangelized and no longer in need of a missionary influence.  This is starkly different from Samuel Escobar’s description of a missionary force needed to re-evangelize the West.


In the brief conclusions presented, Myers presents a missiology more holistic than that presented in the previous sections of the book.  He states that, “our broken world needs and deserves the whole Gospel from whole people.”  (54)  He also crystallizes his disagreement with the number of missionaries serving in the Americas and writes that, “the way we are allocating our resources for mission continues to be a scandal.  The problem is distribution.’  (56)


In general, Myers does not present any clear missiological beliefs, but is focused on presenting facts which describe the context of world mission today.  Christian mission is heavily presented with a goal of overcoming the growth and numbers of Islam.  Poverty is accounted for however, as earlier stated, does not appear to reflect any need for the Gospel within a particular culture.  In other words, Christian mission must deal with poverty, but not minister to it or witness against it.  Myers makes little mention of injustice in the world.   Myers does make one mention of street children, however his statistics are incorrect.  In general the Myers presentation of the context of mission is heavly indebted to the “window” mentality and is focused on particular geographical areas (the “10-40” window) where the Christian population is the lowest.  Outside of this particular area any need for the Gospel is presented as a “people group” which is a subset of any area that has not been reached by the Gospel.


Myers is very focused on the Americas (and possibly Europe) as the sending countries, the source of missionaries, and a scarce resource to be carefully distributed where most needed.  This need is defined not by any social measures, but purely by the number of worshiping Christians.  Those countries with the fewest active Christians most need the Gospel.  One challenge to this view would be the country of Rwanda, which endured a massive genocide in spite of nearly 90% of the population being active Christians.  Certainly one could argue that this is a country still in need of a Gospel witness.  The book encourages what one might consider an egoistic assumption that the North American and European missionary force must “complete” their work of evangelizing the world.  What is lacking is any discussion of how those countries Myers labels as “Christian” that are not sending missionaries can become an active participant in global missions.  A holistic mission will indeed provide the whole Gospel, from the whole people (of all continents) and will provide a continual holistic and prophetic message to the whole world.  Any missiology that assumes a need for mission has, or ever will cease, makes a dangerous assumption that God’s kingdom is already and assumes that the not yet only exists in other geographical boundaries.  God’s kingdom is already and not yet in all geographical areas of the world, which is why missionaries will continue to “proclaim the kingdom of God and teach about Jesus” (Acts 1:28) in all corners of the globe through missionaries from all nations and cultures.