In This Generation
Looking to the Past to Reach the Present
Colorado Springs: Dawson Media, 2010, 336 pp.
Todd Ahrend is the founder and international director of The Traveling Team, a ministry that mobilizes college students for international missions. Todd has exposure in more than sixty countries and has lived in the Middle East. This book seeks to understand how to mobilize Christian students to be World Christians. Todd studies the leaders, the theology, the methods, and the issues of the Student Volunteer Movement of a hundred years ago. He draws wisdom from the past and considers the challenges of mobilizing young people in North America today. The book features a great deal of study and many excellent quotes.
Section 1. The Movers
1. The Story
“Most mission momentum has always come from students.” (20) Over the course of its existence, the Student Volunteer Movement yielded approximately 20,000 missionaries plus 80,000 who stayed behind and supported those who went. (22) The S.V.M. produced more than 70% of the missionaries from North America in its first 30 years. (23)
2. John R. Mott
“Those who make history are those who submit to the One who orchestrates it.” (26, quoting John R. Mott)
4. Luther Wishard
“I have long been guided by a principle which has served me at some important crises of my life, namely, never to move forward until the door in front of me is open and the door behind me is closed.” (46, quoting Luther Wishard)
5. A. T. Pierson
“Every saved soul is called to be a herald and a witness; and we are to aim at nothing less than this: to make every nation, and every creature in every nation, acquainted with God. This is the first and ever-present duty of the Church….” (54, quoting A. T. Pierson)
Section 2 Theology
“We live in a completely different world where the nations are at our door. The result is that many Christians struggle to understand what their own personal beliefs mean in the context of these world religions. … It is easy to say someone is lost without Christ if they are on the other side of the ocean, but what if they are on the other side of the lawn?” (64, 65) “Today there are over 30 million immigrants making up 11 percent of the total population of the U.S.” “This migration of peoples has played an incredible role in Christian students’ understanding of salvation as they now rub shoulders daily with people of other faiths.” (67)
“Another factor that has influenced our view of salvation is our desire to be politically correct. More and more commonly in the United States, you are viewed as backward, ignorant, extremely arrogant, and shallow if you hold that Christ is the only way.” (68)
“A third influence is that in today’s pop culture it is becoming in-vogue to be humanitarian. …what used to be seen as distinctively Christian, is today done by those with no Christian motive or understanding at all. Interestingly, the secular world has shown more compassion than the Western Church in some ways.” (68)
Christians must choose among three paradigms. Pluralism says the major religions are all legitimate responses to that which is ultimately real. The story of the blind men and the elephant illustrates this perspective. We are all after the same thing; we just describe it differently. Nearly 2/3 of evangelicals now support the idea of multiple paths to salvation! (74) Inclusivism claims that the death of Christ is necessary for salvation, but “it is unnecessary for an individual to know personally about Christ or His cross in order to benefit from the saving grace that He offers.” If a person is true to their own faith it is counted as faithfulness to Christ. Exclusivism says that explicit faith in Jesus Christ is absolutely necessary for salvation and a person cannot be saved without an act of repentance. (See, for example, John 3:36, 2 Cor 5:18-19, Mark 16:15-16) According to this view (the author’s view), “Those who do not have access to the message are without Christ and therefore without hope both in this life and in the next.” (77)
“In pluralism, God is nebulous as He is swallowed up by human experience as the overarching standard of truth.” “Scripture is clear that response is required of the hearer. The world believe is used over sixty-five times in the gospel of John alone.’ (79)
“The inevitable pitfall that many Christians will succumb to (given that the majority of Christians are buying into pluralism and inclusivism) is that of inactivity when it comes to missions. Some are becoming hostile to the idea of missions. In light of today’s world, it is not enough to be exclusivists; we need to be engaged exclusivists.” (80)
“There are three ways that today’s Christian student must embrace an engaged exclusivist lifestyle: to be informed, be conversant, and to be evangelistic.” (80)
Students today are devaluing and losing touch with the local church in favor of campus ministries. “History shows us that when the local church is doing its job there is an incredible increase in parachurch growth.” (88) Parachurch groups are more homogenous and action-oriented and need outside funding. They lack the capacity for church discipline and instruction. We need better balance.
A Barna survey suggested that 33% of self-defined Christians agreed that the Bible, Qur’an, and Book of Mormon teach the same truths. The current concept of ‘truth’ is eroding students’ ability to think systematically or logically. (97) “The growing perspective is that absolute truth is simply nonexistent.” (101) “Truth…is viewed as subjective and one is free to tap into emotions and intuition to find it. …a plurality of truths can exist alongside each other.” (102-02) “Today on the college campus, propositional truth has taken a back seat to personal truth.” (102) “The result is that today spirituality is more of a consumer product instead of a collection of consistent, reliable statements of fact.” From this perspective truth is irrelevant to religious concerns. “This leads to a problem. Millions of Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims oppose this overly user-friendly definition of truth in light of their commitment to a set of propositions. My Muslim friend would be highly offended if I told him that he and the Buddhist are both correct. They both adhere to their system because, in it, they believe the truth is found. The answer to conflicting truth claims is not to rebuff the idea of absolutes, but to instead find out what those absolutes are. Thus it is imperative to understand that the foundation of Christianity is its claim to truth.” (103-104)
“Christianity contends that revelational truth is intelligible, expressible in valid propositions, and universally communicable. Christianity does not profess to communicate a meaning that is significant only within a particular community or culture. It expects men of all cultures and nations to comprehend its claims about God and insists that men everywhere ought to acknowledge and appropriate them.” (quoting Carl F. H. Henry) “Truth is not only absolute; it is knowable, comprehensive, and found in Scripture.” (107)
Section 3. Methods
“Every major decision you make will be faulty until you see the whole world as God sees it.” (172, quoting Ralph Winter)
“The most enduring method that mobilizers of all generations can avail themselves to is prayer. It is the only tactic with a pure, proven track record of success. If our aim is to raise up more missionaries for the fields of the world, then prayer is indeed our God-ordained course of action….” (176) “The S.V.M. challenged students, ‘How many laborers have you and I thrust out by our prayers?” (177)
“Prayer and missions are as inseparable as faith and works; in fact prayer and missions are faith and works. Jesus Christ, by precept, by command, and by example, has shown with great clearness and force that he recognizes the greatest need of the enterprise of worldwide evangelization to be prayer. Before ‘give’ and before ‘go’ comes ‘pray.’ This is the divine order. Anything that reverses or alters it inevitably leads to loss or disaster.” (179-80, quoting John R. Mott)
17. Short-Term Trips
It took William Carey five months to sail to India. A six-week mission trip would have put William Carey about 400 yards off shore. A short-term mission trip was simply not possible a century ago.
“This is a generation of risk takers. If we can attach some purpose and meaning to those risks—it’s almost irresistible.” (188)
“One of the greatest contributors to the life change that occurs through short-term trips takes place in intentional debriefing. In order to fully capitalize on this we need to proactively prepare short-termers to live more effectively back home.” “In order for follow-up to be effective, participants must be confronted with the question, ‘How will this short-term mission trip alter my long-term vision for my life?’” (192)
Section 4. Issues Then and Now
Ahrend identifies eight obstacles:
19. I Have No Call
“Missions, in this large sense is the response of Christian obedience to the explicit command of the risen Lord, ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’ That order has never been countermanded; it determines forever the nature and the measure of the obligation of the Church. We have no right to hesitate in obeying it. True obedience will not go picking and choosing its way among the commandments of the Lord.” (214, quoting the Report of the Toronto Convention 1902)
21. The Needs at Home
“Napoleon once said, ‘It is a maxim in the military art that the army which remains in its entrenchment is beaten.’ The non-missionary Church sins against its own best interest and is inviting defeat. A stay-at-home Christianity is not real Christianity at all.” (239, quoting J. Ross Stevenson from The Report of the Toronto Convention 1902)
“Here’s how it works: Close-up needs such as those in our family or home church, press in so demandingly that immediate needs begin molding life-shaping priorities. Certainly, the immediate needs are real and working to meet them is entirely legitimate. But too often, the close-up hurts and needs eclipse even greater ones an ocean away.” (244, quoting Steve Hawthorne)
“…the person who doesn’t believe in taking the message of Jesus Christ to the nations, in the end, does not believe in Jesus Christ. ‘No interest in missions means no interest for that particular thing for which Jesus was content to be born and to live and to die.’” (248, quoting an address from the Student Volunteer Movement Convention, 1898)
“Mott believed the role of a pastor should include building a world vision into the life of every member.” (251)
“Students need to hear that if they love God, it is imperative that they embrace His love for the lost of the world. Not that they feel a love for them, but that they love the God who loves them.” (253)
24. Support Raising
“Raising support is not un-biblical as much as it is un-American. We are a very self-sufficient society, so some inherent fears are attached to the process.” (270)
25. Destiny of the Lost
“What students believe about the afterlife is an incredible motivator (or de-0motivator) behind how they live their life.” (275) “Scripture is far from silent regarding the destiny of man and eternal punishment. All men are declared sinners, children of wrath, and held under condemnation (Romans 3:23, 5:12; Ephesians 2:3). This means there are two destinies for mankind, one of everlasting joy in the presence of God and one of everlasting torment apart from God (Matthew 25:41, Luke 15:10, Revelation 22:3-5).” (276)
Section 5. Moving Forward
26. Connecting the Past to the Present
Many methods of mobilization are similar to the past with the exception of the internet and mission trips. Issues, however, are different. Obstacles include huge student debt, resistance to support raising, doubts about the destiny of the lost, doubts about whether Christ is the only way, and doubts about truth. We are technologically much more connected and we have many more options for service. Motivation has moved from duty to delight, focusing more on God receiving the worship he deserves than the fear of Hell.
27. Seven Common Principles
1. Prayer should be specific in order to be most effective.
2. Keep the Bible as the primary means of recruitment. (“From Genesis to Revelation the question is not where can we find missions, but where is it not?” “His desire to use people to reach the world is unquestionable.” (294)
3. Excuses should be logically and Biblically disarmed. “An excuse represents a stopping point in the student’s Christian life…. One must deal with the underlying issue of Lordship….” (297)
4. Diversify your methods in order to reach the widest possible audience.
5. Be equipped to follow up your efforts with resources. Mobilization must take place in the context of relationship.
6. Mobilizers must give a long-term challenge. This is noticeably missing today. Frequently the main challenge is to skip a meal and remember the hungry when students are asking ‘What can I give my life for?’ (304) Cast vision for students!
7. Encourage all Christians to have a role in mobilization. “A mobilizer is a normal, everyday Christian who walks with God, yet has a global perspective and stays on the home front to rouse others to action.” (307) The mobilize is a key player in raising up laborers.
28. The Goal and Getting There
“What do we want to mobilize this generation to do? We are mobilizing individuals to fulfill their role in the world evangelization, …a lifestyle of being engaged with God and engaging the nations.” (312-13) “The World Christian goal embraces a lifetime commitment to God’s purpose.” (314)
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