Thirty years ago Kenneth Scott Latourette completed his seven-volume magnum opus, “A History of the Expansion of Christianity.” His concluding chapter was a summing up of all he had written about the spread of the Christian faith during the previous two thousand years. His comments help us to see the future from the perspective of the greatest historian of missions.

In Christianity was a vigour which impelled some of its choicest and most understanding exponents to go forth as missionaries and proclaim their faith by word and deed.… The overwhelming majority of missionaries were from the minority who had committed themselves fully to Christ.

Christianity did not always expand. It failed to take advantage of what appeared to be some of its greatest opportunities. It was clear that the nature of the faith did not ensure the persistence of Christianity among peoples who had once known it. It seemed also borne out by experience that open persecution was seldom if ever solely accountable for the elimination of the faith. Nor were the attacks of a scepticism which appealed to reason much if any more successful. The most dangerous foes were more subtle—the social or political prestige of a rival religion, slow attrition by weaning away the rising generations, a secularism which held that the most desirable goods of life were not those most esteemed by Christianity but were to be obtained in other ways than through that faith, and movements of population which took millions from environments in which the outward observances of the Church were a normal part of the social conventions.

In the past hundred and fifty years Christianity has had its greatest geographic extension and its widest influence upon mankind. Throughout its history ...

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