MissionShift – Part 3

This is my last installment of my review of the book MissionShift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium.   The third “main essay” was written by the late Ralph Winter.   Winter made two important distinctions of Evangelicals:

First-Inheritance Evangelicalism (FIE)

The FIE was concerned with both eternal status and earthly development of society.  The FIE sprung out of the Evangelical Awakening of England, that lead to the American “Great Awakening” and “Second Great Awakening.”  This period was roughly from 1700-1875.

Second-Inheritance Evangelicalism (SIE)

The SIE focused on the eternal status of the individual, with a reduced emphasis on social development of culture.  This period of focus on individual conversions was ushered in by evangelist like D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday and others from roughly 1875 to last years of the 20th century.  Ralph Winter predicts that in the 21st Century, Evangelicals will re-discover their roots in First-Inheritance Evangelicalism, with a great emphasis of both conversion and social development.  I agree with Winters.

In my extended family, conversation about church life is a common theme.   For years, my seventy-two year old uncle has been saying, “The church is no longer relevant because it doesn’t operate institutions like hospitals, cemeteries, schools and social agencies.”  This statement is coming from a man who remembers the 1950’s well, when the United States was still enjoying the residuals of the FIE era..   Though I only can observe the legacies of the FIE social involvement, I can agree that the US church has largely abandoned a focus for societal change.

Here are some common attitudes that most likely sprung from SIE:

–  “this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through (p. 167)”

–   “some glad morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away.”

–  “each one, reach one”

Themes such as these reinforce the attitude that world is “bad”, so we shouldn’t waste our time on societal change.  Instead, SIE is only about personal conversions with little regard for social change.

It appears that in this essay Winter reacted to the diminished results to expectations of the A.D. 2000 campaign.   His reaction that is revealed in this essay proposes a more holistic approach to missions.   However, this reaction is just a microcosm of the church-wide reaction to the ambition of 20th century missions.  In the 1990’s I was part of the Assemblies of God, which has an aggressive set of goals called “The Decade of Harvest.”   Though the motives and goals of this initiative were pure, the results did not meet the expectations.

There is no doubt good came from initiatives like A.D. 2000 and The Decade of Harvest, as the lofty goals motivated more activity.  Still, with no urgency of a countdown to a new millennium, there is emerging a more thoughtful and strategic approach to missions.   There’s less panic, and more long-term strategy.  Winter’s essay is a good example of how thought is evolving and changing with time.

Scott Moreau’s response is a bit of a reality check.  He takes the argument out of the realm of theory, and points out that the individuals that I pastor and lead typically can’t grasp wide-scale reform that Winter proposes, but responds better to small-scale changes (p. 196-197).  I also think Moreau’s brief acknowledgement of nuclear disarmament is an overlooked future issues that could fall under the category of missions (p. 199).  In the 21st century, the church will have to respond to the nuclear age.

Christopher Little also gives a sober reminder when he wrote, “the belief that the eradication of disease through the scientific method will lead to wide-spread conversions to Christ amounts to a denial of history – it hasn’t happened in the past, so one wonders why it would happen today (p. 214).”  This was an important quote for me to read so I wouldn’t get caught up in youthful idealism, but I still would like to see  my generation engage in disease eradication and other felt needs of humanity.

One aspect of Winter’s essay that did bother me a bit was his strong emphasis on education as the dividing line for Christians.  I don’t think it’s that simple, and many people in my congregation would find that evaluation offensive.  Mike Barnett spoke against this theory when he wrote, “Such a simple characterization of the two branches of Evangelicals is over a period of decades is unproven at best and misleading at worst . . . Were we truly held culturally captive by a few secular, elite, highly educated, liberal activist for the past 130 years (p. 224)?”   While Barnett’s comments are an important counter-response, I still think Winter’s division contains validity.

David Hasselgrave’s “second thoughts” essay uses Paul in his reaction was as a great framework to challenge Winter’s conclusions.   Yet, I think Hasselgrave overlooked an important point about Paul.   Paul is a 1st Century model of a First-Inheritance Evangelical (FIE) that Winter espouses.   Paul was well educated, and his prestigious Roman citizenship gave him access to influential leaders, such as King Agrippa.    Paul is actually an example of a FIE Christian, not proof that the FIE model is flawed.

I want to be part of a church that rediscovers our First-Inheritance Evangelicalism.

Should we personally witness?  YES!

Should our theology and morals remain conservative?  YES!

Should we engage our culture in social change?  YES!

It’s not an either / or – it’s both!  Let’s invite individuals to Christ, and engage in social change.   It’s time to shift!

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