In many ways, Lesslie Newbigin has helped me think through the implications of the gospel in Western culture. He well noted that Christianity in the West has, for the most part, been domesticated into one religion among many – a private religion a person can “use” if it helps him through life. What’s the outcome of this privatized pluralism?
“The result is not, as we once imagined, a secular society. It is a pagan society, and its paganism, having been born out of the rejection of Christianity, is far more resistant to the gospel than the pre-Christian paganism with which cross-cultural missions have been familiar. Here, surely, is the most challenging missionary frontier of our time.”
This is an utterly brilliant statement. The post-Christian paganism of Western culture is harder soil than the pre-Christian paganism in which foreign missionaries ordinarily work. In the United States, for example, Christianity used to dominate the religious landscape but now it does not. Furthermore, in our land of pragmatism, individualism, materialism, and consumerism historic Christianity is being abandoned by many because it is completely opposite of these “isms.” On top of this problem, many churches are catering to the departing masses (in order to keep the pews full) by giving in to many of these “isms,” with the disastrous result that Christianity is being watered down in ways too numerous to mention here. Solid evangelism is almost impossible because most people will not listen if it isn’t entertaining, useful, or if there is no cash value in the message. What is more, there are scores of Americans who have background in these watered down churches, so all they know about Christianity is a far cry from what the Bible actually teaches. We could probably describe this American soil in even severer terms than “burned over.”
I believe solid, historic Christian churches in the U.S. should continue to send out foreign missionaries. At the same time, we should not forget the mission field in our own towns and cities. We don’t have to go overseas to bring the message of Jesus to every tribe, tongue, and nation. The field exists here in North America! Newbigin was right: “Here, surely, is the most challenging missionary frontier of our time.”