Unreached people groups
Posted by Iwan Russell Jones on 23 October 2010, 11:45
FRIDAY 22 OCTOBER – It wasn’t a good day for me in the main hall. In the plenary session following the Bible Study, Paul Eshleman, Vice President of Campus Crusade, spoke on ‘Discerning the will of Christ for 21st century world evangelization’. He began by suggesting that ‘we could see the fulfilment of the Great Commission [of Christ to make disciples of all nations] in our lifetime.’
What he meant by this is that soon, every people group in the world may well have been reached with the gospel and will have believers in their midst. This, for him, constitutes the completion of the church’s work. So he posed to us what he believes to be the decisive question: ‘Where is the church not? and what are we going to do about it?’
In the full expectation that we would all sign up to make one last big evangelistic effort, he gave us each a booklet containing what he claimed was the finest research into the ‘unreached people groups’. It listed 632 peoples from around the world who have no Christian church in their midst.
But it soon became apparent, even from the responses on my table alone, that the research wasn’t quite as advertised. Two people found major mistakes in the ‘facts’ presented about such groups in Asian countries. Then I looked up the listings for the UK and discovered that it was credited with five such groups, among them ‘Russian’, ‘Ukrainian’ and Romany. I’m sure that this will come as something of a surprise to the Orthodox, Catholic and Traveller Churches that serve them. If this is the best research on ‘Unreached People Groups’, I’d hate to see the worst.
The whole approach strikes me as deeply questionable. It’s based on an eschatology which suggests that once the gospel has reached these remaining peoples in some form or another, God’s hand will be forced and Christ will return. Making that final push is a way of short-circuiting history.
But who are the unreached peoples of the earth? Can we safely say that the inhabitants of Paris or London, or New York or Cardiff have been ‘reached’? Does the mere fact that they have the Bible in their language, and churches and Christian workers in their midst, mean that they’ve ever had a meaningful encounter with the good news of Jesus Christ? I don’t think so.