This is the first in a series on Why Intercultural Studies.
In 1965 an epic 3 hour and 45 minute movie was released staring Max von Sydow in the main role of Jesus of Nazareth. The Greatest Story Ever Told is a classic cinematic retelling of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It was nominated for 5 Oscars but didn’t win any. Almost ten years prior to that, in 1956, Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner faced off as Moses and Ramses in the now classic, The Ten Commandments. Equally lengthy, it was nominated for 7 Oscars and won 4, including Best Picture. The Ten Commandments is still shown every year at Easter. My children are, of course, more familiar with the modern animated version, The Prince of Egypt. Many in my generation are also less familiar with The Greatest Story Ever Told and more so with Mel Gibson’s, The Passion of the Christ, which introduced us visually to the bloody reality of crucifixion and the incredible love of our Lord for a fallen and rebellious world.
These stories are largely familiar to us in the United States; they are part of our culture, part of our art forms and entertainment. Here in the U.S. we enjoy Christian coffee shops, book stores, businesses, and even large corporations like Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby. You simply cannot study American history without encountering Christianity and the search for religious freedom. Our founding documents contain principles rooted in a biblical worldview. While the latest Barna reports indicate some frightening statistics for Christianity in America other statistics demonstrate that the message is still going forth: 73% of Americans still identify as Christian, 55% of Americans are reported as attending church, and 75% of Americans report that they pray to God (https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016/). While there are certainly theological discrepancies, and the state of our culture begs the question of how many Americans really live according to biblical worldview, it can be clearly said that we in the West have heard the greatest story ever told and many of us have believed it. Please understand there is always room for improvement; Bible based churches must be planted, disciples must be made, and the gospel must continue to go forth in the West. However, I wish to paint a contrasting picture.
The World Population Clock (http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/) reports the world population as almost 7.5 billion people, and global population is increasing exponentially. The Joshua Project (https://joshuaproject.net/people_groups/statistics) reports that there are 3 billion unreached (defined as less 2% of people are Christians) people in the world, 40% of the world’s population. Only three short years ago, that number was 2.5 billion. The short conclusion is simple—world evangelization is simply not keeping up with world population growth. To be fair, many of these people live in places that are closed off to Western missionaries, or are at least hard to get to. However, even more statistics show a different reason why they have yet to hear the greatest story ever told.
According to the Center for Global Study of Christianity at Gordon Conwell, of 400,000 cross-cultural missionaries a mere 3.3% of them go to the unreached. Of 5.5 million full-time Christian workers in the world, only 0.37% of them work among the unreached. The ratio of those working with unreached people groups to the total population of unreached people is 1 worker for 216,300 people. Contrast that with the 78,000 Evangelical Christians for every 1 unreached people group.
These statistics quickly show us that, for 3 billion people, the message of the gospel is not the greatest story ever told—it is the greatest story NEVER told.
According to the Traveling Team, (http://www.thetravelingteam.org/stats/) “The Church has roughly 3000 times the financial resources and 9000 times the manpower to finish the Great Commission.” The Church has every resource it needs to mobilize itself to ensure that those 3 billion people do not go another day without hearing the hope for eternal life, the only gospel, the only news, the only story that will save them from an eternity of separation from God and torment. Yet, until recently, Americans spent more money on Halloween costumes for their pets than on reaching the lost.
Why Intercultural Studies? Why Missions? Because if we can read these things and not be moved to action then we are left with only two conclusions; either we are filled with hate for these people or we are not really followers of Christ ourselves. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:16-18
“”And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – Luke 10:2