“When I wrote the book, Next Christendom, I received all sorts of good reviews, but the best review was in Washington, D.C. from a wealthy Episcopal lady. She said, ‘I’ve read your book. It’s absolutely wonderful, but you’ve told us about this new kind of Christianity exploding around the world, all these hundreds of millions of new Christians, they’re so passionate. They’re so devoted. It’s like the New Testament. Tell me, Professor Jenkins, as Americans, as Christians what can we do to stop this?’
The reason I thought that was such a great review was because she got the point, which was we do live in these times of very dramatic change. “
Last week, while I was in Phoenix, Arizona teaching a session for the Perspectives Course, there was another Episcopalian, a woman on the Vestry of her comfortable parish. We were in the session, The Remaining Task, where we assess where the Church is today in the world–in light of the Biblical call to go to the ends of the earth, and in light of the history of missions over the last two thousand years–and then assess what needs to be done to bring the Gospel to all nations yet unreached. We were in just the first fifteen minutes of the session and this woman began to ask questions, probing questions: “You mean that with all these people who still have no Church and no Gospel, we are still spending more than 90% on ourselves? Is that true of our parish? (Yes.) Why? Oh, we need to do something about this!” I did not get to say that part of our problem is that the policy of the The Episcopal Church is to send missionaries only to those people and places that already have a Bishop.
Dr. Paul Pierson in his History of Missions courses at Fuller Seminary used to hammer home the point that throughout the course of the last 2000 years, the greatest reform of and explosive growth of the Church has been from the edges of the Church, rather than from the centers of power and perceived influence. Dr. Jenkins continues to demonstrate the validity of that key observation. We Anglicans have on the one hand been a settled Church, and often, an established Church. Yet, the Anglican Communion today is growing at the edge: the edge is where the Gospel is having a dramatic impact on cultures and societies. People are being healed and communities are being transformed: hope replacing fatalism, vision supplanting despair, growth pushing back defeat.
As an Episcopalian, I can choose to be swallowed up by the inertia that stays stuck, or I can engage the work of God on the edges of our Communion and at ends of the earth. I can try to recover and preserve the old days, or I can look for and rejoice in what God is doing today. The flowering trees in my yard are manifesting the new growth of spring–but I would be a fool to nip the buds to prevent the flowers from bursting forth in their beauty simply because they are different than stems and the leaves! Dr. Jenkins challenges us to see the flowers for what they are–the next stage in God’s plans to show his love for all the world, by which love he sent his only Son to be our Savior and Lord.
H/T Cal Fox