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Publications: Turning the World Upside Down

an exposition of the first half of the book of Acts

In 1990 there were about 5.1 billion people in the world of whom about 1.7 billion would call themselves Christians. Of course, not all who profess Christianity actually practise it. It is difficult to determine what proportion of that 1.7 billion we should regard as truly spiritually alive. But the best estimates available suggest a figure of something like 0.5 billion might be reasonable. That is 500 million committed Christians in a world of over 5,000 million people.

From one point of view that is quite an encouraging statistic. It means, for instance, that there are five times as many committed Christians in the world today as constituted the entire population of the world in the day of St Paul. It means there is one committed Christian for every nine uncommitted or unconverted people, as compared with one for every 200 as there was at the end of the first century AD. In fact the ratio of Christian to non-Christian has been steadily improving for the last 200 years.

There is another less optimistic side to the story, however. Of the 4.6 billion in this world who are not committed Christians, over a quarter (1.3 billion) are still ‘unreached’. By that I do not mean that they would not call themselves Christian. I mean that they have no meaningful opportunity to discover what a Christian is, because there are no churches in the orbit of their social existence that might tell them about Jesus Christ. Many of the 1.3 billion ‘unreached; lie behind high walls of cultural prejudice, or even ideological antagonism to Christianity. They include 650 completely unreached people-groups and eighty mega-cities, some of them with populations larger than London. And many of these people live in one of the countries which have closed their borders to conventional missionary activity. The line then, between 3.8 billion in the world who are within the range of the local evangelism of Christian churches, and the 1.3 billion who lie beyond that range, represent the boundary of Christian influence.

Jesus predicted that his disciples would penetrate the world with the gospel in ever-increasing circles of testimony. First in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth.(Acts 1:7-8) Those circles are still expanding today, 2000 years later. The line between ‘reached’ and ‘unreached’ marks the edge of that expanding wave front. There is no way the 1.3 billion ‘unreached’ can be incorporated into the ‘reached’ peoples of the world, except as the result of continuing missionary endeavour. They represent the church’s unfinished evangelistic task.

From Chapter 9 of Turning the World Upside Down an exposition of the first half of the book of Acts

Turning the World Upside Down by Roy Clements (copyright 1992/1998)
Published by Inter-Varsity Press (UK) ISBN 0-85110-897-0

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