Reimagining Missions

Two scholars seek to rescue the Great Commission from narrowly evangelistic readings, but their answers may be dangerously wide
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The dream of fulfilling the Great Commission has been with the church ever since Christ first gave it on a Galilean hillside 2,000 years ago. Statisticians David Barrett and Todd Johnson estimate that 250 world evangelization plans had been proposed by the year 1900, and another 1,150 more were advanced in the 20th century.

After the late John R. Mott's famous challenge, "The evangelization of the world in this generation," went unmet in the 19th and early 20th centuries, missionary interest declined drastically, thanks in part to the spread of theological liberalism and the horrors of the Great War. Missiologists, missionaries, and agency leaders have wondered whether the worldwide evangelical missions community is facing a similar loss of public interest now that the goal of the ad2000 and Beyond Movement—"a church for every people and the gospel for every person by A.D. 2000"—has also failed.

Finding more respected and influential thinkers than James Engel and William Dyrness in the evangelical missionary enterprise would be difficult. So when they say that the missionary movement is badly off track and needs to rethink its core assumptions, the rest of us can't help noticing. Engel is a missions marketing expert, founder of Development Associates International, and creator of the Engel Scale describing the process of evangelism. Dyrness, of Fuller Theological Seminary, has written Learning About Theology from the Third World and other books.

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