Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

The Insular Gospel Ghetto

  • Dr. James Emery White President, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
  • 2007 21 May
The Insular Gospel Ghetto

According to the International Programs Center, U.S. Bureau of the Census, as of today, May 15, 2007, the total population of the world is 6,595,336,785.

Over two billion of them are Christians.

That’s one out of every three persons on the planet.

But according to the latest research from Todd M. Johnson, Research Fellow and Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, most non-Christians have never met one.

In a forthcoming article co-authored with Charles L. Tieszen, to be published in the October 2007 edition of Evangelical Missions Quarterly, the authors have discovered that the vast majority of the world’s non-Christians have relatively little contact with Christians.  In fact, over 86 percent of all Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims do not even know a Christian.  Globally, over 80 percent of all non-Christians do not personally know a Christian.

Read that again, slowly:  Over 80 percent of all non-Christians do not personally know a Christian.

This exposes the heart of our cultural crisis.  We have confused the command to not be of the world with not being in it.  Western Christians in particular are isolated from the very people we say we long to reach.  We have retreated into a subculture of our own making.  We listen to our Christian radio and watch our Christian TV; we visit our Christian bookstores and buy our Christian CD’s; we listen to our Christian radio and attend our Christian aerobics classes.  We populate churches that cater exclusively to the already convinced so that we can be “fed” and “ministered to.” 

As a result, we live in a gospel ghetto.  We have become insular in not only our thinking, but our very lives.  There is even a less-than-subtle hostility toward those who are not Christians among many who claim the Great Commission as their marching orders. 

This was not the model of Jesus.

He went into the world; He spent time with those who were far apart from God.  He reached out relationally, built friendships, went into their homes, attended their parties, broke bread at their tables.

He was called a friend of sinners.

And the world needs more friends just like Him.

But as a first-century apologist once wrote, “…how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust?  And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted?  And how can they hear if nobody tells them?  And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it?  That’s why Scripture exclaims, ‘A sight to take your breath away!  Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God!’  But not everybody is ready for this, ready to see and hear and act.  Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another: ‘Does anyone care, God?  Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?’”

Apparently not too many of us.  And as a result, neither is anyone else.

James Emery White (Ph.D.) is president and professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Prior to becoming president of Gordon-Conwell, Dr. White was the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. James Emery White is the author of over a dozen books, including such Gold Medallion nominees as Serious Times and A Search for the Spiritual, Christianity Today book-of-the-year award winner Embracing the Mysterious God, as well as The Prayer God Longs For and Rethinking the Church

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