Christian Missions: The Challenge of the Twenty-First Century -- By: James D. Chancellor

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 003:1 (Spring 1999)
Article: Christian Missions: The Challenge of the Twenty-First Century
Author: James D. Chancellor

Christian Missions:
The Challenge of the Twenty-First Century

James D. Chancellor

James D. Chancellor is the W. O. Carver Associate Professor of Christian Missions and World Religions at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has published a number of articles, including frequent entries in The Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions (Baker, forthcoming). Chancellor is currently at work on Life in the Family: An Oral History of the Children of God, to be published by Syracuse University Press. This article was first presented as a faculty address at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.


A little over ninety years ago a significant new journal was established in the United States entitled The Christian Century. Western Protestant Christianity had just emerged from the heady days of the nineteenth century, when almost anything seemed possible and the very best seemed probable. This new journal was inaugurated with the explicit conviction that the twentieth century would be “The Christian Century,” and that by the year 2000 the entire world would be completely Christianized. This extraordinarily optimistic view was widely held in the United States and the Christian West. Such optimism was perhaps informed by a broader Western cultural ego, prior to the Titanic and the Great War. As we now near the end of this “Christian Century,” it would appear the Church in the West, though confident in the power of the gospel, is far more realistic about the prospect of worldwide conversion.

The challenges facing the Church in the West in carrying the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world appear much different, and in many ways more daunting, at the close of twentieth century. Before we address some of those particular challenges, we must first affirm that, though we may be considerably more realistic in our assessment of the task, the mission enterprise of the Church is as healthy today as it ever was.

The Changing Landscape of the Church

To be sure, the worldwide Christian community is in the midst of radical reorientation and realignment, and will change even more in the near future. The Church in Europe, the geographic and cultural heartland of Protestant Christianity, is dying and in many places virtually dead. In city after city, across the Continent and in the British Isles, great church edifices have become little more than museums. On the western frontier of the Euro-American Christian landscape, all is not well, but not nearly as dark as some suppose. In the nineteenth century, the center point of Protestant Evangelical Christianity clearly shifted across the Atlantic. In general, Canadians and Americans continue to carry the missionary burden well; o...

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