When, in 1906, Ernst Troeltsch wrote about the place of missions in the changed and changing world of his day, he came to the conclusion that “sympathy and salvation” should no longer be motivations for Christian missions. This, he concluded, was a natural outcome of his denial of the absoluteness of Christianity in the orthodox sense of the word. Still, he did not suggest that missions be abandoned. A moral and religious conviction, he said, must always seek to make propaganda for itself; furthermore, missions are necessary for Christianity’s own development. It was evident even then that Troeltsch’s motion created a crisis in the Church’s mission consciousness, a crisis in the relationship between its confession of Christ and its calling to proclaim the one Name in all the world. For the motivation for missions never was a pharisaical superiority of morals, but a motivation that arose from the power of the kingdom of God and the conviction that Christ was the way and the truth and the life. Where this conviction was watered down, it was inevitable that the flame of missionary zeal would also die.

Today, more than fifty years after Troeltsch troubled the missionary conscience of the Church, the world is undergoing far more radical changes than those in his day. It is natural that we should be hearing questions about the Church’s strenuous efforts to plant the banner of the Cross in all the world. But the question is now not so much about the motivations of missions as it is about the possibility of missions. World religions are experiencing a revival of self-consciousness and are becoming less and less hospitable to Christian missions. Shall the doors remain open to us? We read in the ...

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