December 27–30, about 3,600 college students met in Louisville, Kentucky, to consider the global glory of Christ, the nature of Christ’s mission to the unreached peoples of the world, and the power of the Christian gospel. For some of us, this was a dream come true.
Here was a conference on missions for students with a resounding focus on
the sovereignty of God’s grace in the salvation of sinners (Acts 13:48),
the wrath of God over all mankind as the greatest threat to the world (John 3:36),
the terrible reality of eternal suffering (Matthew 25:46),
the greatness of God’s mercy in propitiating his own wrath in Christ (Romans 3:25–26),
the necessity of hearing the gospel of Christ in order to be saved (Romans 10:13–17),
the stupendous Reformation truth of justification by faith alone (Romans 4:4–5),
the compassion of missionaries who are called to suffer for the good of all men, especially the eternal good (Galatians 6:10),
the necessity of reaching all the peoples of the earth and the motivating certainty that God has a people in each one (Revelation 5:9; Acts 18:10),
and the summons to joyfully sacrifice anything to reach these nations, because to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).
In other words, this conference — which we called Cross — was the fruit and overflow of an awakening in our day to the glory of God’s sovereign grace.
Call it Reformed theology.
Call it the doctrines of grace.
Call it the new Calvinism.
Call it Big God theology.
Call it a passion for God’s supremacy in all things.
Call it the resurgence of God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated worship.
Call it a vision of a great, holy, just, wise, good, gracious, sovereign God whose throne is established in the heavens and who does whatever he pleases.
Call it what you will.
God is doing this — God is awakening millions of people all over the world, especially young people, to these stunning and glorious realities. This conference was a fruit of this awakening.
Something Much Bigger
It is also part of something much bigger than this theological awakening. For the last forty years, amazing things have been happening in the world to advance the spread of the salvation of Christ among the unreached peoples of the world. For example,
The 1990s saw the most concerted attempt to analyze the need of the world. . . . 1995 saw the beginning of the Joshua Project List (JPL), originally a list of 1,583 of the world’s least reached peoples. While this is expanded to now include all the peoples in the world (16,583), the original list served as a catalyst for the Church to pray for, adopt, and engage with every one of these least reached peoples. It also inspired national-level research in many countries where the 1,583 were found; this missiological and people group research by Majority World Christians has been a major step toward the completion of the Great Commission. (Operation World, 6)
The generation just past was one of the most remarkable in the history of missions. Things thought impossible have become reality. For example,
Patrick Johnstone, when queried in 1979 about the most difficult places for gospel breakthrough, named Mongolia and Albania. Today, there are at least 40,000 Mongolian believers. Albania is open and churches are growing. Who among us, 30 years ago, could have envisioned over 100 million Chinese Christians, massive people movements in Iran, Algeria, and Sudan, breakthroughs in Mozambique, Cambodia, and Nepal, and the beginnings of freedom for hundreds of millions of oppressed in India? Only God! (Operation World, 4)
This recent history is unprecedented not only because of breakthroughs in who has been reached, but also because of who is being sent. Missions is not from the West alone, but from everywhere to everywhere. There has been an explosion of sending countries and sending agencies. Consider these remarkable facts:
“Today, there are over 4,000 known evangelical mission agencies sending out 250,000 missionaries from over 200 countries. This is up from 1,800 known mission agencies and 70,000 missionaries in 1980.” (Global Network of Mission Structures)
“And nearly half of the world's top missionary-sending countries are now located in the global South.”
“Of the ten countries sending the most missionaries in 2010, three were in the global South: Brazil, South Korea, and India.”
“Other notable missionary senders included South Africa, the Philippines, Mexico, China, Colombia, and Nigeria.”
“The United States still tops the chart by far in terms of total missionaries, sending 127,000 in 2010 compared to the 34,000 sent by No. 2-ranked Brazil.”
Looked at another way, not in raw numbers, but missionaries sent per million church members — Palestine comes out on top at 3,401 sent, followed by Ireland, Malta, and Samoa.
“South Korea ranks No. 5 at 1,014 missionaries sent per million church members, a sign of the continued strength of its missions movement compared to the No. 9-ranked United States at 614 missionaries sent.”
“The country that received the most missionaries in 2010? The United States, with 32,400 sent from other nations” (These bullet points are from a helpful article in Christianity Today.)
This is a fraction of the bigger picture that the Cross conference is a part of. We have no illusions of grandeur. God’s world is massive. And God is infinitely more massive in power and wisdom and goodness. He will finish his mission. The peoples of the world will be reached. And he will use people of many different Christian persuasions to do it, not just Calvinists.
Glory Gone Global
God is passionate for his glory among the nations. He raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him over all “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11). In other words, God exalted Jesus for the glory of God. Nothing will stop him from having a people who love to ascribe all glory to him in the great work of salvation.
Some theologies are driven more fully by this vision than others. The Cross Conference is a dream come true because this is the engine that drives everything — the glory of God’s sovereign grace in salvation — accomplished, applied, heralded, globally.