Monday, February 21, 2011

270/24 and Other Numbers in 2011

Each year, the International Bulletin of Missionary Research releases an update on the status of global Christianity. They've just released the 2011 Status of Global Mission report, which has some really interesting findings. It's a valuable report because it compares "Christianity’s circumstances to those of other faiths, and assaying how Christianity’s various expressions are faring when measured against the recent (and not-so-recent) past." And as one blogger put it, "The report is unfailingly interesting, sometimes jarring, and occasionally provocative." Here's what they found (which is a summary of George Weigel's article at First Things):

  • The Status of Global Mission report researched the frequency of Christian martyrdom. The SGM defined martyrdom as “believers in Christ who have lost their lives, prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility.” SGM estimated that on average there are 270 new Christian martyrs every 24 hours over the past decade, such that “the number of martyrs [in the period 2000-2010] was approximately 1 million.”
  • By mid 2011 there will be 2,306,609,000 people who see themselves alinged with Christianity in some description. These 2.3 billion Christians can be divided into six “ecclesiastical megablocks”: 1,160,880,000 Catholics; 426,450,000 Protestants; 271,316,000 Orthodox; 87,520,000 Anglicans; 378,281,000 “Independents” (i.e., those separated from or unaffiliated with historic denominational Christianity); and 35,539,000 “marginal Christians” (i.e., those professing off-brand Trinitarian theology, dubious Christology, or a supplementary written revelation beyond the Bible).
  • As of mid-2011, there will be an average of 80,000 new Christians per day (of whom 31,000 will be Catholics) and 79,000 new Muslims per day, but 300 fewer atheists every 24 hours.
  • Africa has been the most stunning area of Christian growth over the past century. There were 8.7 million African Christians in 1900 (primarily in Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa); there are 475 million African Christians today and their numbers are projected to reach 670 million by 2025.
  • There were 1,600 Christian denominations in 1900; there were 18,800 in 1970; and there are 42,000 today.
  • $545 billion is given to Christian causes annually, which comes out to $1.5 billion per day.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lessons from Lesslie Newbigin

"If one looks at the world scene from a missionary point of view, surely the most striking fact is that, while in great areas of Asia and Africa the Church is growing, often growing rapidly, in the lands which were once called Christendom it is in decline.Surely there can be no more crucial question for the world mission of the Church… Can there be an effective missionary encounter with this culture – this so powerful, persuasive, and confident culture which (at least until very recently) simply regarded itself as “the coming world civilization” (Newbigin, 1985).
If you're interested in things like:
  • evangelical epistemological humility (similar to Mike and Steve)
  • the gospel not as timeless metaphysical truths but as story
  • the gospel as history
  • the expansive impact of the gospel
  • the necessary role of the church in mission
Then you should read Krish Kandiah's homage to legendary missiologist Lesslie Newbigin. It's quite an exciting read, which you'll find here.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Saying No To The HUP

No, it's not a new disease or government initiative known only by abbreviation. The Homogenous Unit Principle - or the HUP amongst it's hipster friends - is the missiological idea that "people like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers" (McGavran and Wagner 1970). And to a certain extent, it works. So as you look around the contemporary church scene, you'll find a church for almost every social and cultural group in Australia. Armed with pragmatic, 'missional' ecclesiology, churches have been started that minister to artisans, entertainers, etc. "Homogenous churches are those in which all the members are from a similar social, ethnic or cultural background. People prefer to associate with people like themselves – ‘I like people like me’. And so we should create homogenous churches to be effective in reaching people" (Tim Chester).

The only problem with the HUP is that's questionable just how biblical actually is. According to Tim Chester:
"The main criticism of the homogenous unit principle is that it denies the reconciling nature of the gospel and the church. It weakens the demands of Christian discipleship and it leaves the church vulnerable to partiality in ethnic or social conflict. It has been said that ‘the homogenous unit principles is fine in practice, but not in theory’!"
A central picture in New Testament of the church is of Jews and Gentiles with one voice glorifying the the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 15). In Christ two peoples become one; Christian Jews and Gentiles become one new people of God, part of the one body of Christ. So then "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (cf. Galatians 3.28-29). Or again in 1 Corinthians "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12.13). And according to Ephesians 3, it is the unity of the church "across barriers that have hitherto divided humankind is the sure sign to the powers that their time is up, that they are not masters of the world and that Jesus is" (NT Wright). The very fact that "Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free" (Colossians 3.11) can praise God together in and of itself declares that Jesus Christ is Lord.

So this year, at Sydney Uni in the eu postgrads & staff faculty, we've said no to the HUP. Campus life is already segmented enough as it: between arts and science, staff and students, academics and support staff. According to Alasdair MacIntyre this results in:
“the graduates of the best research universities tend to become narrowly focused professionals, immensely and even obsessively hard working, disturbingly competitive and intent on success as it is measured within their own specialized professional sphere, often genuinely excellent at what they do; who read little worthwhile that is not relevant to their work..." (MacIntyre 1999).
Instead of organizing our groups by schools and faculties, this year our small groups, prayer groups and reading groups will be organised by broad geographical terms, i.e. Darlington, Fisher, Manning, etc. So in 2011 we're making the English and Physics postgrads sit down and read the Bible - together. We are convinced that they have great things to offer each other, and by talking to each other they'll become more rounded academics. But more importantly, we are convicted that the gospel tears down whatever barriers people place between themselves. We are convicted that what defines as people isn't our academic disciplines (and the expectations these entail) but our identity in Christ. And we are far more united than the academy would have us believe.

We don't do this to ignore the different academic disciplines. The Physics postgrads will still need to support and talk to each other as the live out the Christian life in their school. We're not intending to force people to blandly assimilate. Rather, as we acknowledge the wealth of diversity across eu postgrads and staff, we realise that their is more that unites us than divides us. "...[F]or the same Lords is Lord of all" (Romans 10.12).