Current Theological Issues in World Missions -- By: Greg Peters

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 135:538 (Apr 1978)
Article: Current Theological Issues in World Missions
Author: Greg Peters


Current Theological Issues in World Missions

George W. Peters

[George W. Peters, Professor Emeritus of World Missions, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

Theology may be missions’ greatest ally and supporter. Or theology may become missions’ most deadly enemy and the cancer of world missions. This article presents some present-day theological issues which are impinging on world missions and are a serious threat to world evangelization.

The Theology of Universalism

Universalism is the teaching that all men will be saved and that the restitution of all things is assured. In this sense it proclaims God as the absolute Victor of all He created.

Universalism has asserted itself throughout the history of Christianity. It found its classic exponent in Origen of Alexandria. Today, however, it has become an almost universally accepted premise. It is a philosophical premise underlying most of modern theology. It draws support from at least four sources.

Theistic Naturalism

While not denying the existence of God, theistic naturalism sees the total universe, including man, as evolving according to intrinsic natural laws. Religion is seen as a part of the social evolution of man. While religions, according to theistic naturalism, may differ in manifestations and degrees of development, they sprang from an original source within man and are all alike in kind and quality.

Speaking about syncretism Oepke writes: “Real syncretism is always based on the presupposition that all positive religions are only reflections of a universal original religion (Urreligion) and show

therefore only gradual differences.”1 The philosophies of naturalism and evolution have become quite dominant in all spheres of life and knowledge. Therefore, many scholars believe that all historic religions had a common origin and began with crude ideas and forms and only gradually branched off and formed their own independent and unique existences.

This is the position made popular by W. E. Hoching of Harvard and Arnold Toynbee of England. The latter sets it forth most fully in An Historians Approach to Religion2 and makes it popular in Christianity Among the Religions of the World.3 Most university textbooks on comparative religions and the history of religions are written from this premise.

According to this theory, conversion from one religion to another is meaningless if not ridiculous or even harmful. All re...

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