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GMI Info
A Global Mapping International Newsletter Fall 1999

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Evangelicals Debate Approaches to the Next Phase of World Mission

Dr. Stan Nussbaum, GMI's Staff Missiologist, was one of 165 evangelical mission thinkers and leaders from 54 countries invited by the Mission Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship to its consultation on the future of mission, held at Foz de Iguassu, Brazil, October 10-16, 1999. In this article, he shares his perspective on a key missiological issue from the consultation which has special relevance for the future of GMI.

Quantity or quality? As we go about world mission, are we looking more for efficiency in getting the maximum quantity of converts or effectiveness in getting the maximum quality of discipleship? The easy answer is that both are important, but what is the correct biblical balance between them?

Recognizing that this issue has huge implications for everything we do in mission, the WEF gathering of evangelical missiologists, practitioners and mobilizers at Foz de Iguassu struggled long and hard with it. The debate sounded like a debate between what I would call the "Gospel Out" view and the "Gospel In" view.

The "Gospel Out" view is the quantity view, criticized in one consultation paper as "managerial missiology." The goal of mission according to this view is to "get the gospel out." We have the gospel, we know what it is, and we need to get it out as quickly and efficiently as possible to everyone who has not heard it. The main strategic challenges are to locate the people who have not heard and mobilize the resources to reach them. These people can be counted, catalogued and mapped-a need which Global Mapping International was created to meet.

This view is associated with the Church Growth Movement and promoted strongly today by groups such as the AD2000 and Beyond Movement and the US Center for World Mission. Without question it has been the dominant missiology in evangelical circles for the past generation and has been greatly used by God for his purpose.

The "Gospel In" view is the quality view. It refers to getting the gospel deeply into people's hearts and lives. Rwanda was cited as an illustration of a "Gospel Out" success story but a "Gospel In" failure. There were huge numbers of converts and thriving churches but many Rwandan "Christians" participated in the inter-tribal butchery. In order to prevent other Rwandas, evangelists must find ways to get the gospel into the deep, behavioral level of the converts, which is much harder than preaching a canned message and counting the converts. It requires better preparation, deeper cultural insight and more sensitivity to social and political matters.

The "Gospel In" view does not yet have a particular torchbearer analogous to McGavran or Winter for the other view but there is a growing chorus of advocates for the quality view, among whom I would include consultation presenters Escobar, Hiebert, Taylor, Wright and Steurnagel.

People who lean toward the "Gospel Out" view are nervous that the other view is too slow, that it cuts the nerve of motivation for mission and that it will make evangelism die the death of a thousand complications. They want at least to "get on with the task" and they speak of "finishing the task." In their eyes the urgent mission task for us today is winning people for Jesus. Discipleship is a secondary task that follows naturally in its own time.

Those who lean toward the "Gospel In" view are bothered that the other view includes "the application of simplistic thinking and methodologies" and "the use of emotive slogans to drive the missions task" (both quotations from a pre-conference announcement by WEF). The "Gospel In" people claim their evangelism is not slow but thorough and biblical.

Of course each side says it is built solidly on Scripture while the other side depends too much on human research. In one case this is research about counting and locating the unreached. In the other it is research about culture and society. In spite of such differences, the debate stayed amicable throughout the consultation, mercifully free of caricatures or personal attacks. It is likely to continue as a key issue for years to come.

What does all this mean for GMI and our friends? We think our readers should understand that as an organization we are intentionally undertaking several projects which increase our emphasis on the quality of mission. For example, the Omega Model of the goal of mission, the African Proverbs Project, the "Listen First, Speak Later" Project and the Applied Research Training Program all fall into this category. While reaffirming our commitment to promote efficient and strategic reaching of the unreached, we also affirm that we need to give more attention to promoting effective discipling than we have in the past. Jesus gave the Great Commission as a carefully balanced statement of quantity and quality. We need to become more biblically balanced as we carry it out.

Note: One week before the Brazil consultation, 450 evangelicals from many countries attended the "First International Consultation on Discipleship" in England, where John Stott and others emphasized what is described above as the "Gospel In" view. See the editorial, "Make Disciples, Not Just Converts," in Christianity Today, October 25, 1999, pp. 28-29.

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