In their recent volume 40 Questions About the Great Commission, authors Daniel L. Akin, Benjamin L. Merkle, and George G. Robinson present four contemporary challenges to fulfilling the Great Commission, but also point to signs of progress and encouragement.
There are at least four challenges to fulfilling the Great Commission. First, the rise of “the nones” has increased to 16 percent of the world’s population as of 2015. The “nones” are people who identify themselves as atheists, agnostics, or with no particular religion. This group is significantly growing in the West, and the influence of secularism is a clear reality in our day. To deny secularism’s impact is simply not tenable.
Second, the rapid growth of Islam will be a major challenge to world evangelism. According to Pew Research, Islam is growing at a faster rate than Christianity and should grow by 70 percent between 2015 and 2060. Christianity, in contrast, should increase by 34 percent. In 2015, there were 1.8 billion followers of Islam and 2.3 billion followers of Christianity. At present trends, Islam will grow to 2.9 billion by 2060 and Christianity will reach 3 billion. Islam will surpass Christianity by 2075. Pew demonstrates that Islam’s growth is, in large part, due to Muslims having more children than Christians. Demographics are not on our side when it comes to our challenge from Islam.
Third, Christian missions can be extremely dangerous. The majority of IMB missionaries are serving in security level three areas, countries that are antagonistic to missionaries and the gospel. The IMB [International Mission Board] releases no public information on these missionaries due to security, but news cycles confirm this danger with stories of persecuted house churches in China and Nigeria, the imprisonment of Iranian pastors, and heinous attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt.
Despite these challenges, Christians can have hope of fulfilling the Great Commission. Many people have received the Bible in their own language for the first time, previously unreached people groups have received the gospel, and Christians have a greater ability to reach the nations now than at any time in Christian history. Having this great missions force assumes, of course, that everyone is involved in finishing the task. Perhaps the promise also should be seen as a challenge. Also, the rise of Christianity in the Global South and its participation in the Great Commission are causes for excitement, hope, and rejoicing. In the twentieth century, all of the top five Christian regions and countries were either European or in the West. Today, however, most of world’s Christian population has shifted to Africa, South America, and East Asia. We praise God that many of these countries like Palestine, Brazil, and South Korea are also now some of the top missionary-sending countries.
. . . God has been building his kingdom among the nations. And he has promised that all nations will worship him in his heavenly kingdom. So, while there are challenges facing the church in fulfilling the Great Commission, the church has unprecedented opportunities, and thus should have unparalleled hope as well.
“40 Questions about the Great Commission is an indispensable text for any pastor, professor, or student who cares about the Christian mission. In it, a biblical scholar, missiologist, and seminary professor join forces to answer every question you’ve ever asked—or never asked—about our Lord’s parting commission to his disciples. Substantive, lucid, and compelling.”
— Bruce Ashford, Professor of Theology and Culture, Dean of Faculty, and Provost, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
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