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Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church? is a book written by missions specialist, Paul Borthwick.  In it, Borthwick sets out to answer the question of how Western believers can best continue in global mission.

The book starts off with a current appraisal of the world and the state of missions, both from the West and from the Majority World, or what many call the Global South.  The author candidly lets the reader know that in the book he raises as many questions as he answers.

He does, however, resist the notion that God is done with the West and that we should just stop participating in global mission and rather just send our resources to “support the nationals.”

The point of the book is that there is a role for North Americans to play?  What is that role?  Well, the author concludes, “It depends.”

Paul Borthwick

However, he clearly states:

“The Biblical mandate, combined with the stewardship of the amazing human and material resources of North America, compel us to find our fit.”

He goes on to say,

“We need to remember that the biblical mandates for global involvement stand today for all Christians everywhere.”

Here are a couple of highlights I picked up from the book…

“Our Christian family (globally) is nonwhite, non-Western and non wealthy.”

This is obvious to anyone who is following global Christianity and its movement from the West to the Global South, but I believe it needs to be stated explicitly and repeatedly.  This reality should affect our own theology in the West and inform our own choices as we live out the Gospel in and from America.

He quotes Philip Jenkins, author of The Next Christendom, who says that if you want to imagine typical Christian in the world think of a poor woman in a slum in Sao Paulo, Brazil or a poor woman in a village in Nigeria.  He reminds us that the U.S. and Canada represent only 5-6% of the world’s population.

Borthwick also points out two notable developments from the last 100 years.  Quoting Mark Knoll of Notre Dame:

“In the last one hundred years, the course of evangelical Christianity has been accelerated and complicated by two notable developments: first, the rise of Pentecostal or Charismatic expressions of the faith and, second, the rise of the indigenous Christian churches…that are essentially independent.”

I loved this quote:

“My advice: if you want to be a cessationist, don’t travel!  The Church in the Majority World did not get the memo.”

Borthwick also goes after our tendencies to move quickly from project to project with little concern for the long term issues.  He wonders if we might have a case of global ADD.  He asks an important question that we should all seriously consider, especially we Gen Xers and Millennials.

“How will our distraction affect our outreach to Muslims, Hindus, and others (Buddhists), who might require years of relationship and service before they consider Jesus?”

So where do we as North Americans fit in?  More than a neat and tidy answer, he gives us a set of values that we should carry as we go.

These values include…

  • Relationship Building
  • Humble Attitudes
  • A Learning Spirit
  • Acute Listening

rather than

  • Presumption
  • Insensitivity
  • Ethnocentrism
  • Triumphalism

(Good words to look up if you are not familiar with their definitions)

Borthwick’s ultimate hope is that workers from the West can contribute to a new era of mission with a spirit of mutuality, reciprocity, and humility rather than one of paternalism or creating dependency.  With decades of cross cultural experience behind him and a track record of mobilizing new workers, I couldn’t think of a much better person to challenge the world of North American missions.

A Favorite Part

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the book was found in the Appendix where Bob Blincoe of Frontiers writes two mock letters to himself as fictional representations of real encounters to illustrate the challenges of partnership between North Americans and Majority World Christians.

Through these letters he clearly illustrates the tension we face as North Americans in balancing partnership with local leadership and pioneering ministries to unreached ethnic groups.  This is where I focus and it is where I am most intrigued in the conversation.

Maybe within this subject there is material for a whole new book.

Until then, I commend to you Paul Borthwick’s “Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church?”

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