Of the changes that in our decade mark the world into which God sends his eternal Gospel, three appear particularly vital to me.
First, the most important development is that all nations and continents really are growing together into one world, what Marshall McLuhan has called the “global village.” This is the product of technological, economic, political, and ideological factors. The fast communication offered by jet planes and by television and the delicate economic and ideological interrelation among all continents have developed a global consciousness. This growing together has nourished two emphases: emancipation and reintegration.
a. On the one hand, the ideals of enlightenment, freedom, equality, and brotherhood have made our generation very sensitive to all attempts to control and exploit other people. Afro-Asian nationalism has swept away Western colonialism. Through the world wars and the Viet Nam war, Western prestige has suffered heavy blows. In some countries there is an unconcealed hatred against America, which also switches over to anti-Christian feelings. Afro-Asian nationalism also expresses itself in the resurgence of ancient non-Christian religions or their transformation into syncretistic new religions with strong ideological undercurrents.
Within Christianity this nationalistic reaction is shown in the younger churches’ quest for autonomy and self-realization. Often this makes the situation of Western missionaries delicate.
b. On the other hand, former independence more and more gives way to interdependence or even huge mergers into centralized systems. More and more tasks are tackled in world-wide dimensions and structures. This also applies to churches and missions, many of which not only have been joined to ecumenical bodies but also transfer more and more brain power to these organizations in order to receive central direction.
A second major development in our time is that a new dimension has reached our consciousness: the futurological. People have become tremendously alive to the great possibilities that the future holds. The old dreams about a paradise on earth seem to be achievable by our technological means. But equally obvious is the opposite possibility: that this very technology, might spoil our earth and hasten the end of mankind.
This ambiguous vision has inspired scientists, politicians, philosophers, and theologians to present comprehensive, future-oriented schemes. They propose how mankind through united efforts and a common vision will be able to cope with these enormous tasks and avert the menace of a collective, self-destruction.
Sometimes these proposals constitute new ideologically motivated claims of ruling the world. But sometimes leading men earnestly press for dialogue and cooperation. They hope to find a world formula acceptable to all that will open up the way to a new humanity, united in justice, peace, and constant development toward greater happiness. These contacts are based upon mutual respect for one another’s ways of thinking. Usually this also leads to the demand to refrain from attempting to convert others to one’s own views. The new ideal is dialogue and mutual spiritual participation. This view evidences itself in the formation of new worldwide inter-faith organizations like the Conference of Religion for Peace, which now has a bureau at the United Nations headquarters.
A third important development in our world is man-oriented tendency. Man’s welfare, liberation, dignity, and rights are the central concerns. There is a strong trend of emancipation in this: all laws and social conventions that seem to limit equality and self-realization by means of an external norm and alien will are swept away. Two worldwide waves, the anti-authoritarian and the sexualist ones, must be seen against this background.
Even the great religions, including Christianity, more and more present themselves as basically concerned with pleading the case of man. They promise him liberation and true identity. This new interest in man also serves as the motive for an integration of all religions and even ideologies.
If we try to interpret this anthropocentric trend biblically, we reach a dialectical answer that leaves us rather uneasy. We may rejoice over man’s growing sensibility toward the needs of his underprivileged fellow man, especially if this involves readiness to repent and to sacrifice. Many churches and missions do, indeed, witness a growing readiness especially within the young generation to work to foster development, communication, and liberation.
But on the other hand this humanitarian motivation often emerges in connection with a strange shutting out of the religious awareness, i.e., respect and love for God. It is true that we witness a strong resurgence of religiosity, a new interest in mysticism and rituals. (This could be added to my list here as a fourth feature of our time.) But this religiosity does not really break the spell of man’s self-centeredness; rather, it promises him a deeper self-realization. Zen meditation and group dynamic experiences are the two typical forms of expressions, but even some aspects of the so-called charismatic renewal could be mentioned in this connection. In all these cases man misses his transcendental counterpart. Therefore he misses his protecting limitations and his true destination. And so he becomes subject to his untamed instincts, desires, and fears. Humanity without divinity turns into bestiality.
There is also an eschatological notion of a final emergence of an uncontrolled human self-centeredness that loses its God-given norms. It finally aims at dethroning God and enthroning as deified world ruler that person whom St. Paul calls the lawless one (2 Thess. 2:8). This must be connected with Christ’s description of the last time, which will be marked by the great apostasy: “And because lawlessness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12).
But now it is most essential to note that Jesus, just after he has said this, goes on to refer to the task of world mission, which must and which will progress until his coming again: “And this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14).
As long as we are not forcibly prevented, our mission has to proceed until the last human being still unreached by the good news will have the chance to meet his true Lord and Saviour.
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