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American Protestant Foreign Missions after World War II

Summary and Keywords

After the Second World War, the drama of Protestant missions featured a diversifying cast of characters. Local actors in the Global South, alongside reform-minded missionaries from the North, revised the mission script. At the level of conciliar discourse, this can be seen in perhaps two primary ways: a widened table of leadership and a widening of the Christian mission itself. An increasingly diverse Protestantism shifted the trajectory of missions toward national control and social Christian emphases. Yet, these shifts in method and theology produced strikingly divergent results for mainline Protestantism and Protestant evangelicalism. For the former, the story was largely one of global dissolution, at least institutionally. Organizations such as the World Council of Churches (b. 1948), which represented the soaring hopes of the ecumenical movement, fractured under the pressure of radical student protests, postcolonial resistance, and declining donations from disillusioned churches in the 1960s and 1970s. Seen in a different light, however, mainline Protestant mission was the victim of its own advance, both abroad on so-called mission fields and at home in the United States. In many cases, mission schools directly contributed to the growth of nationalism through their curriculum and educational methods. Backlash against missionary leadership and control often centered around these educational institutions. In the North, while the institutions of mainline Protestant mission have largely declined, their progressive values are widely assumed today within wide swaths of American life in particular—especially within universities, mainstream media, and the Democratic Party.

For Protestant evangelicalism, the mission story is largely one of global diffusion—explosive demographic growth, especially among those practicing Pentecostal forms in the Global South, and a rapid expansion of mission and relief organizations. Within a context of increasing diversity, evangelical mission agencies, rather than sidelining traditional Protestant mission approaches, constructed new forms of evangelical mission and social Christianity. This reshaping of global evangelicalism was the result of a multidirectional conversation often led by Latin Americans. Indeed, an entire generation of theologians, shaped by the global Cold War, rejected the importation of traditional mission methodologies. As Latin Americans shifted to postcolonial social Christianities, they pulled many in global evangelicalism with them. In terms of theological methodology, they synthesized the pursuit of justice with the evangelical offer of personal salvation. While the vast majority of Christians lived in Europe and North America in 1910 (the year of the epochal Edinburgh World Missionary Conference), in 2010 the vast majority of Christians lived in the Global South. Thus, at the level of conciliar discourse, the evangelical table of leadership and theology increasingly reflected its demographic center located within contexts of poverty, injustice, and widespread inequality.

Keywords: Cold War, ecumenical, evangelical, mission, Protestantism, social justice

Global and Local Turn of Protestant Foreign Missions

Prior to the late 19th century, Protestantism largely enjoyed a global consensus regarding the purpose and direction of foreign missions. The purpose of missions was the conversion of individual souls, and the direction of funds and personnel was North to South—or crassly “the West to the rest.” Fissures and fractures emerged between 1835 and 1930, however, increasingly calling into question the framework and practice of missions. This rupture incited soul-searching questions for both evangelical and ecumenical communities: primarily, who is a missionary and what is their mission? If seen through this lens, the story of Protestant missions after the Second World War is largely one of answering this twofold question and the contested space that produced divergent responses.

At the turn of the 20th century, several significant Protestant denominations perceived the simultaneous decline of donations and rise of nationalism in the Global South as a call to reevaluate their strategies on the so-called mission field. Thus, rather than creating the climate, the Second World War would later accelerate trends that were already advancing within global mission establishments—namely, questioning the ethics of evangelism and promoting the priority of humanization (in practice: education, medicine, development projects). In many cases, mission schools directly contributed to the growth of nationalism through their curriculum and educational methods.1 Ironically, much of the local backlash against missions was a direct result of Protestant missions itself. Funding for British missionary societies, perhaps unsurprisingly, also plummeted around the late 1920s.2 Thus, as the United States increasingly dominated the global political stage, the global mission establishment was also increasingly American in character. If the story were one of cultural and political influence in the United States, then the ecumenical movement and mainline Protestantism would take center stage. Our purpose here is narrower and thus increasingly focused on evangelicals—that of the trajectory of Protestant missions.

In 1930, several prominent denominational boards, including many of the largest in the United States (the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Reformed Church in America, United Presbyterians, Methodist Episcopal Church, Congregationalists, Episcopal Church, and Northern Baptists) tapped William Earnest Hocking, then a professor at Harvard University, to head a commission to reevaluate foreign missions. Hocking and his eponymous report, while only one example, was a significant marker of mission trends toward humanization in mainline Protestantism.

Hocking’s subsequent report Re-thinking Missions: A Laymen’s Inquiry After One Hundred Years (1932)—or known simply as the eponymous Hocking Report—concluded with a striking universalist tone: “The relation between religions must take increasingly hereafter the form of a common search for truth.”3 Perhaps the most telling sentence for the future direction of mainline Protestant missions was this: “We believe that the time has come to set the educational and other philanthropic aspects of mission work free from organized responsibility to the work of conscious and direct evangelism. We must . . . be willing to give largely without any preaching, to cooperate whole-heartedly with non-Christian agencies for social improvement.”4 In Hocking’s mind, the social gospel(s), the rise of Darwinism, and theological liberalism (among other “advancements”) had rendered traditional evangelical mission dispensable. Thus, evangelism could—and should—be replaced with humanitarian work—work set free from the hindrance of Christian preaching and its exclusive truth claims.

Hocking’s commission was also one example of accelerating effects of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, which produced denominational splits, and the removal of conservative evangelical leaders from mainline denominations and seminaries.5 Thus, on the other side of the Protestant spectrum, conservative Protestant evangelical leaders increasingly sought to bypass mainline mission boards, especially through the creation of their own mission agencies. During this time, Protestant evangelical faith missions “distanced themselves from their more liberal denominational partners, and tended to hang back from ecumenical involvement and the devolution of authority towards the national churches; they were also comparatively uninvolved in advanced educational work.”6 As a result, many evangelical Protestant mission agencies were somewhat inoculated from growing discontent of a paternalistic status quo. Evangelical national leaders were also significantly less involved in politics on national stages.7 Thus, while mainline Protestantism felt the initial tremors of postcolonial earthquakes, evangelical Protestantism largely felt aftershocks.

In comparison to their mainline counterparts, the full force of developments in the Global South lagged. Nevertheless, many Northern evangelical leaders realized that their movement was not majority Western, affluent, or white after the Lausanne Congress of 1974. In 1974, Time magazine called the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association–funded Lausanne Congress “a formidable forum, possibly the widest-ranging meeting of Christians ever held” with nearly 2,500 Protestant evangelical leaders from over 150 countries and 135 denominations.8 Here, a dramatic scene unfolded that would characterize negotiation and debate in postwar evangelicalism over this twofold question: national control and social Christianity within evangelical mission.

The controversial nature of the social-Christian argument at Lausanne can best be understood at the level of theological discourses in the postwar period. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, evangelical social action was largely justified theologically, either through the removal of “obstacles to the progress of the gospel,” or through the elimination of social sins that contravened divine commands.9 In terms of mission methodology, this fit squarely within a “two-mandate approach,” which predominated in evangelical theological circles prior to the 1970s.10 This method divided Christian mission into a primary, spiritual mandate and a subordinate, social mandate. Progressive evangelicals, led by members of an emerging Latin American evangelical left, sought to synthesize these two “mandates,” giving priority to neither evangelism nor social action. Their justice-inflected evangelical missiology became known as misión integral or an “integral mission”—a phrase coined by Ecuadorian evangelical René Padilla.11 As evangelical Protestants made space at their table of discourse, an emerging generation of younger, increasingly diverse and socially conscious evangelicals widened the character of their mission.

At this point, it is worth noting that these debates were Protestant, in part, because Catholic evangelization by definition included social elements. In American evangelical circles, evangelization is a synonym for evangelism, whereas in Roman Catholic circles it is a synonym for the whole process of mission. The New Evangelization has been one example of this. For example, Pope John Paul II wrote in Redemptoris Missio, “A new evangelization ought to create among the wealthy a realization that the time has arrived for them to become true brothers and sisters of the poor through the conversion of all to an “integral development” open to the Absolute.”12 He also quoted the 1979 the Conference of Latin American Bishops at Puebla, which stated, “The best service we can offer to our brother is evangelization, which helps him to live and act as a son of God, sets him free from injustices and assists his overall development.”13 Though Lausanne was officially entitled the International Congress for World Evangelization, evangelization in this context meant verbal proclamation of the gospel message, rather than a process that included social action.

Global mission and relief organizations and non-denominational parachurch organizations benefitted significantly from Lausanne’s widening discourse. In particular, global mission and relief organizations watched evangelical conciliar discourse with marked anticipation, appropriating the language emanating from global gatherings. They then utilized the language of evangelical social Christianity to garner funds from the evangelical faithful and justify their presence in evangelical churches. Today, the language of integral mission is utilized by over 500 Christian mission and relief organizations—including U.S.-based parachurch organizations Compassion International and World Vision. In 2015, World Vision was the eleventh-largest charity in the United States, with revenue of over 1 billion U.S. dollars that year alone.

This story has manifest implications beyond that of an evangelical conciliar discourse. Indeed, this justification for social Christianity buttressed evangelical conceptions of foreign policy in American politics. This “evangelical internationalism” positioned American evangelicals as a formidable political movement at home, and a global player abroad. Put another way, their political project was increasingly wedded to their world-saving project. In particular, American evangelical leaders who participated in strategic global mission gatherings were deeply affected by the influence of Latin Americans and the widening of evangelical Christian mission.

Mission and Humanization: Postwar Ecumenical and Evangelical Shifts

Global contextual theologies that surfaced in the 1970s were deeply shaped by postwar intellectual trends. In the field of economics, theories of dependency increasingly called into question the role of the United States in creating chronic inequality between the Global North and Global South in particular. In terms of a postcolonial discourse, in the 1960s many intellectual elites began to call for greater attention to the social location of knowledge. In the realm of religion, many called for recognizing the contextuality of all knowledge—that every theology is inescapably shaped by its social location. By implication, there could no longer be “theology” but rather theologies—European theology, North American theology, Latin American theology, African theology, for example. Many theologians from the developing world, equipped with these ideas, aimed at traditionally held assumptions regarding the content and character of Christian mission. Many also rejected imported or prepackaged answers to their local challenges—upending long-held evangelical Protestant traditions.14

Student missions, long the heartbeat of evangelical missions from the days of the YMCA and Student Volunteer Movement, was emblematic of this mission reshaping. In the postwar period, parachurch organizations like InterVarsity Fellowship (IVF) and Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) were engines of global evangelical mission, sending thousands of students across college campuses around the world. CCC was founded in 1951 on the campus the University of California–Los Angeles and by 1968 had expanded into thirty-two countries, becoming one of the largest Christian organizations in the world. In 2011, CCC estimated having over 25,000 staff members in 191 countries—by far the largest Christian student organization in the world.15 Their 2014 annual report included 537.9 million U.S. dollars in United States revenue alone. International revenue was over 150 million U.S. dollars.16

The area of student missions also represented the stark contrast of postwar ecumenical decline and postwar evangelical growth. For example, the rise of the evangelical Inter-Varsity movement and Campus Crusade for Christ can be seen in contrast to the relative decline of the various national Student Christian Movements (SCM) of the World Council of Churches.17 Protestant theologies of liberation flowed through the pipeline of organizations such as the World Council of Churches (WCC, founded in 1948), the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF), and its national Student Christian Movement (SCM) affiliates.18 This was a direct result of the discussion above, as historic denominations, especially those associated with the WCC, increasingly moved away from traditional Protestant mission emphases. The founders of IVF, in particular the early chairman and well-known preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899–1981), viewed the British SCM as incurably liberal and infected by the theology of Karl Barth, in particular. To put it more clearly, the SCM relegated prayer, Bible study, and evangelistic missions to the margins, increasingly centering political action.19 A meeting between IVF and SCM leadership in London in 1950, which SCM leaders hoped would lead to bridging these divides, instead demonstrated the growing and solidifying divide between evangelical and ecumenical camps.20

Channels for radical mission ideas were often carved by missionaries themselves as they moved across national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries. Indeed, the postwar period brought a tide of revolutionary thinking that ebbed and flowed through transnational channels. Latin America, in particular, became a battleground for the soul of Christian mission in the 1960s—fueled by the heat of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and the years following. The American Presbyterian missionary to Colombia and Brazil, Richard Shaull, subsequently a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, for example, was emblematic of the radical shifts in WCC mission thinking. Shaull played a key role in provoking the rise of Protestant liberation theology through these organizations in Latin America.21 In the early 1950s, as Shaull transitioned from ministry in Colombia to Brazil, his thinking also began to shift—a transition signaled in his book Encounter with Revolution (1955).22 He had become convinced that Latin Americans needed to be awoken from their theological slumber to produce their own contextual theologies—and to achieve holistic liberation.

Shaull’s “conversion” to postcolonial theology and the Latin American context had profound implications for the WCC and its subsequent institutional decline, as well as the later contours of liberation theology.23 One commentator concluded, “It is doubtful if any theologian has more consistently and directly contributed to the shaping of the thought of the contemporary Protestant theologies of liberation than Richard Shaull.”24 When the WCC began organizing conferences in the mid-1950s in Latin America, Shaull invited individuals with whom he had worked in the SCM in Latin America, including many in the first generation of Latin American liberation theologians.25

Reflecting this multidirectional influence, the WCC inaugurated a ten-year conference series called “Christian Responsibility Toward Areas of Rapid Social Change” in 1955. Perhaps most importantly, it produced a strategic discussion forum titled “Iglesia y Sociedad en América Latina” (ISAL).26 ISAL was geared toward stimulating conversation of an increasingly radical nature on the growing unrest provoked by socioeconomic stratification in the Latin American context. The SCM groups, under Shaull’s leadership, were “ideological incubators” for the future leaders of ISAL, and a “veritable pipeline” for the dissemination of WCC sociopolitical themes, which included “concepts clearly related to the theologies of liberation.”27 Thus, “by early 1964, ISAL was arguing that social change in Latin America demanded participation in revolution,” and by late the same year, “revolution had become almost a monochord in ISAL publications.”28

The WCC also held a series of crucial global congresses in the 1960s that radically shifted the direction of their mission thinking. While the theme of revolution arose quite prominently at the 1966 WCC conference in Geneva, the wave of radical theology and mission shifts crested in 1968 in Uppsala, Sweden.29 In 1968, the WCC assembly in Uppsala radically redefined the purpose of mission as “humanization” rather than conversion.30 The official report stated, “The most obviously and widely acknowledged feature of the Assembly was its preoccupation—at times, almost, its obsession—with the revolutionary ferment of our time, with questions of social and international responsibility, of war and peace and economic justice, with the pressing, agonizing physical needs of men.”31 The report concluded, “The whole tone and temper of Uppsala made it clear that a new age is upon us. The winds of change have become hurricanes . . . a radical change of direction with consequences which cannot yet be measured.”32 Along with a radical shift in the purpose of mission, the temperature of the room—particularly among minority delegates—was raised by outside events.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was scheduled to give a keynote address to the July 1968 WCC gathering. Instead, King was assassinated in April that year. At the WCC assembly, organizers played a previously recorded address from King, undoubtedly impacting the tone and temper of the gathering.33 Similarly, student protest movements had reached a fever pitch around the world, including the Paris student riots of 1968, the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, Vietnam War protests, events surrounding the Civil Rights Movement in the United States (such as King and Robert Kennedy’s assassination), and widespread British student protests in 1968 and the years following.34 All of this exerted immense pressure on the WCC, and the decisions made at these congresses regarding a changing Christian mission.

Given the language emanating from multidirectional channels, it is less surprising that in 1969 the WCC began to fund political liberation movements through its newly formed Program to Combat Racism. These funds were funneled especially to South Africa and Black Power movements in the United States. This funding shift garnered considerable attention from the U.S. media and confirmed in the minds of many conservative evangelicals that these shifts were the reason behind declining recruitment numbers among mainline Protestant missionaries.35 These wider shifts also rattled foreign missionary structures and ultimately altered the framework of Christian work around the world.36 In sum, “The post-colonial quest to reorganize and restructure missions led to the more fundamental questioning of how mission should be redefined.”37

While these shifts within the WCC have been widely viewed as the result of pressure from Southern Christians upon traditional Western structures, the reality on the ground, however, was the influence of a multidirectional and transnational kind. It was a shared project of especially progressive denominational leaders and Northern missionaries, alongside an emerging generation of theological elites in the Global South. Evangelical Protestants experienced similar pressure, though linguistic and methodological shifts lagged behind their ecumenical counterparts—mostly due to intentional resistance. Beginning in 1966 a series of congresses dramatically accelerated conversation on both sides of the Atlantic regarding national leadership and contextual methods within Protestant evangelical mission.

Social and Local Turn of Global Evangelical Protestant Missions

The Berlin Congress on World Evangelization in 1966 represented perhaps the last strategic gathering where Western leaders determined the direction and details of the evangelical mission map. Planning for the congress began in a New York City taxi, in a conversation between the two most prominent leaders of American evangelicalism—the American Baptist Billy Graham and theologian Carl F. H. Henry.38 As one scholar noted, “While Billy Graham was the front man for the evangelical movement, Henry was the brains behind the operation.”39 The official papers from the Berlin congress echoed the epochal ecumenical missionary conferences in New York in 1900 and Edinburgh in 1910 by saying, “Our goal is nothing short of the evangelization of the human race in this generation.”40

Evangelical leaders at Berlin were also emphatic about the purpose and dimensions of their global, world-saving project: “Evangelism is the proclamation of the Gospel of the crucified and risen Christ.”41 The congress then outlined the “task” of Christian missionaries through four verbs: to proclaim, to invite to discipleship, to baptize, and to teach. Evangelical Anglican statesman John Stott’s plenary address also set out to “re-examine our marching orders.”42 Stott argued, “The commission of the Church . . . is not to reform society, but to preach the Gospel . . . the primary task of the members of Christ’s Church is to be Gospel heralds, not social reformers.”43 Stott then repeated emphatically, “Again, the commission of the Church is not to heal the sick, but to preach the Gospel.”44 Stott’s opinion held considerable weight within global evangelicalism in the postwar period, often viewed on par with “America’s Pastor” Billy Graham.45 Thus, alongside Graham and Henry, the global evangelical establishment spoke clearly on the dimensions and purpose of missions at Berlin 1966. The church’s mission was unambiguous—evangelism was primary, and social reform, at best, was the work of converted individuals in response to this verbal message. At worst, it was a distraction from the primary task of evangelism.46

When Billy Graham began to plan for a follow-up to Berlin 1966, there was little indication that the next congress on evangelization would challenge this widely held assumption of the primacy of evangelism in global evangelical conciliar discourse.47 Across the Atlantic a group of young evangelical Anglicans in Britain were beginning to press for an increased emphasis on the social dimensions of the gospel at the National Evangelical Anglican Congress at Keele in 1967.48 Yet, careful attention to personal letters and archival documents reveals that many Western Protestant evangelical leaders remained surprisingly unaware of, or chose to ignore, trends from the Global South. The raised volume of calls for social Christianity, however, became increasingly difficult overlook—especially for mission leaders in international organizations. Similarly, few could deny the arrival of non-white, non-Western leadership and social Christianity after the First International Congress on World Evangelization (often known as Lausanne 1974), due to the prominence of African, Asian, and Latin American leaders at the congress and on its platform. These leaders brought their experience in contexts of oppression, violence, and sociopolitical unrest into discussions of the contemporary missionary problems of the day. As a result, they increasingly shifted the trajectory of global evangelical Protestant mission discourse.49

Lausanne 1974 and the Contextual Turn of Global Evangelical Mission

In hindsight, the explicit goal and legacy of Lausanne 1974 stand in stark contrast with each other. Billy Graham and Lausanne organizers sought to accelerate the purpose of Berlin 1966, namely the “evangelization of the world in this generation.” Graham also hoped for a strong statement on the “social question” in favor of the primacy of evangelism. Yet, perhaps more than anything, the Lausanne Congress signaled the refusal of non-white and non-Western Christians to accept a Western-planned agenda for the rest of the world, where issues of social justice often remained marginal.50 This gathering also marked the beginning of a multidirectional conversation with a wide variety of interlocutors on the role of missionary leadership and methods.

Lausanne’s most boisterous and controversial voices came from Latin Americans, whose proximity to the United States and fraught history with aggressive Cold War foreign policy positioned them to challenge American influence. In a scathing plenary speech, Ecuadorian evangelical René Padilla, a staff member with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), rejected the synthesis of Christian orthodoxy with political conservatism and the exportation of the “American way of life” to the Global South. Padilla also argued for a wider definition of Christian salvation: “Salvation is wholeness. Salvation is total humanization.”51 For many conservative evangelical leaders—both in the Global North and in the South—this language sounded suspiciously similar to that of mainline Protestant shifts described above. Controversial speeches from Latin Americans thus became the center of theological negotiation at the congress, and largely set the trajectory for debates that carried on throughout the next two decades within global evangelical conciliar discourse.

At Lausanne, progressive Latin American evangelicals led the charge for widening two aspects of evangelicalism: First, they widened its table of leadership by negotiating a place for leaders from traditional “mission fields.” In doing so they called for both their inclusion in strategic conversations and the exclusion of Americans from mission conversations in the Global South. This would take place through emerging think tanks such as the Latin American Theological Fraternity (FTL) and the International Fellowship of Evangelical Mission Theologians (INFEMIT). Second, they widened evangelical mission itself by negotiating space for social Christianity. They argued that the Christian gospel included social dimensions and that a purely spiritual message disfigured the ability of the church to reflect the Kingdom of God.

It was through this widened door that Christian mission and relief organizations would largely justify their presence within evangelical communities. In sum, widening evangelical conciliar discourse on Christian mission resulted in the inclusion of an evangelical brand of social Christianity and the explosion of global evangelical relief organizations. Negotiation from the Global South widened not only evangelical leadership and theology but also the language of their mission. This had clear implications for humanitarian parachurch organizations, who leveraged this widened evangelical discourse on social Christianity to raise funds from the evangelical faithful. As a result, they pitched their organizations as key components of Christian mission, rather than a threat to evangelism. Now, evangelical organizations with an explicitly social mission could be considered family, rather than foe like the Social Gospel of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rather than a decline and fracture, this facilitated a wider expansion on traditional mission fields. Today, the language of integral mission (evangelical social Christianity) is utilized by over 500 Christian mission and relief organizations—including U.S.-based parachurch organizations Compassion International and World Vision. In 2015, World Vision was the eleventh-largest charity in the United States, with revenue of over 1 billion U.S. dollars that year alone.52

The Trajectory of Protestant Foreign Missions

The trajectory of Protestant missions after 1945 tended toward nationalization and social Christianity. Shifts in language and method represented steps upon divergent paths for mainline Protestantism and Protestant evangelicalism. As key thinkers within the World Council of Churches shifted to increasingly radical brands of political theology, their mission, purpose, and consensus fractured alongside it. Many mainline Protestant churches and individual practitioners perceived that the WCC no longer represented their goals and concerns, leading to a decline in donations from member churches and a blurring of the purpose of mission within the churches themselves. As a result, by the 1960s and early 1970s, evangelical Protestant missions “had totally eclipsed” mainline Protestant missions in terms of numbers and vitality.53 This decline in traditional mission should not mask the influence of mainline Protestantism and the ecumenical movement, however. The soaring hopes of the movement, rather than being lost to a so-called religious right, have been largely realized in the broad consensus of progressive America—in universities, media outlets, and especially Democratic Party politics.

For evangelical Protestants, shifts toward social Christianity and national leadership led to an explosion of mission and relief organizations around the world. Today, they are some of the largest NGOS in the world and command billions of dollars—from the evangelical faithful and the U.S. federal government. For evangelical Protestants, the expansion of theological categories to include social Christianity largely coexisted with maintaining their traditional mission of saving souls. This was a direct result of Latin American theologians who rejected both Marxist-inflected theologies of liberation and the conservative approaches of the evangelical mission establishment based primarily in the United States. While the vast majority of Christians lived in Europe and North America in 1910, the year of the epochal Edinburgh World Missionary Conference, in 2010 the vast majority lived in the Global South.54 Thus, at the level of conciliar discourse, the evangelical table of leadership and theology increasingly reflected its demographic center located within contexts of injustice and widespread inequality.

Review of the Literature

An increasingly robust conversation has surrounded the state of world Christianity in the second half of the 20th century. While data appear to signal a significant demographic shift for Christianity, many critical questions of meaning and causation remain central to scholarly conversations. As a basic introduction to Catholic and Protestant mission, Dana Robert’s Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion provides a strong foundation. More technical but no less essential is the work of Andrew Walls and in particular his Missionary Movement in Christian History.55 The language of Christianity “shifting southward” can be traced to Robert’s article by the same name published in 2000.56 Lamin Sanneh’s work provides further understanding of the worldwide spread of Christianity. In particular, his study of translation has shaped much of the conversation on vernacularization and the global transmission of Christianity.57 While prior to the 1990s the vast majority of works on the history of missions focused on male leaders, Dana Robert’s 1997 American Women in Mission was a decisive intervention on gender and missions.58 Most recently, Emily Manktelow has contributed to our understanding of missionary families as a center of historical analysis.59

Robert Wuthnow’s Boundless Faith, along with Mark Noll’s New Shape of World Christianity, cuts against the grain of a “shifting southward” discourse.60 Instead, they argue for the continued power and influence of American Christianity around the world. For Wuthnow, this is tied with globalization, and the idea that the growth of Christianity in the Global South may have more to do with birth rates than any sort of religious vitality or conversion.61 In wider terms, Jehu Hanciles’s Beyond Christendom provides a significant layer to diaspora studies and mission history—especially by linking mission and migration. Hanciles argues that globalization, rather than a unidirectional flow, has created multiple flows of influence that are complicated by South–North movement. The result is a post-Western and post-Christendom model of global Christianities.62 Brian Stanley’s now dated but nevertheless relevant work Bible and the Flag challenged widely held assumptions regarding the supposed marriage of Christian mission and imperialism.63 While much of the material predates the Second World War, its discussion on neocolonialism and theologies of liberation is essential as well. Stanley’s later Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism, and especially its study of evangelical social Christianity within evangelical mission, is a critical contribution to the status of World Christianity today. While this brief discussion does not pretend to be exhaustive, together these works have contributed to a robust conversation on global Christianity. Engaging this literature would place any interested scholar within key conversations on the history of missions in the second half of the 20th century.

Further Reading

Case, Jay Riley. An Unpredictable Gospel: American Evangelicals and World Christianity, 1812–1920. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

    Hanciles, Jehu J. Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration, and the Transformation of the West. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008.Find this resource:

      Robert, Dana Lee. American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

        Stanley, Brian. The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013.Find this resource:

          Tyrrell, Ian. Reforming the World: The Creation of America’s Moral Empire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

            Wuthnow, Robert. Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.Find this resource:


              (1.) Pew Research Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Global Christianity,” December 2011.

              (2.) Pew Research Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Global Christianity,” 135.

              (3.) William Ernest Hocking, Re-thinking Missions: A Laymen’s Inquiry after One Hundred Years (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1931), 35–37; italics added.

              (4.) Hocking, Re-thinking Missions, 65, 70; italics added.

              (5.) See, for example, Bradley J. Longfield, Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists and Moderates (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

              (6.) Stanley, Bible and the Flag, 134.

              (7.) Stanley, Bible and the Flag, 134.

              (8.) Time Staff, “A Challenge from Evangelicals,” Time, August 5, 1974.

              (9.) David Bebbington, “Evangelicals and Reform: An Analysis of Social and Political Action,” Third Way 6 (May, 1983): 10–13; David W. Bebbington, The Nonconformist Conscience: Chapel and Politics, 1870–1914 (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1982), 37–60; and David Bebbington, “The Decline and Resurgence of Evangelical Social Concern 1918–1980” in Evangelical Faith and Public Zeal, ed. J. Wolffe (London: SPCK, 1995), 175–197.

              (10.) David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 403.

              (11.) David C. Kirkpatrick, “C. René Padilla and the Origins of Integral Mission in Post-war Latin America,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 67, no. 1 (January 2016): 351–371.

              (12.) V., 59, 7 December, 1990. For online access, see the Official Website of the Holy See.

              (13.) Documents of the Third General Conference of Latin American Bishops, Puebla (1979), 3760 (1145). Quoted by Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio.

              (14.) See for example Kwame Bediako, Jesus and the Gospel in Africa: History and Experience (New York: Orbis Books, 2004), 115. C. René Padilla, The New Face of Evangelicalism: An International Symposium on the Lausanne Covenant (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1976), 140. Chris Sugden Vinay Samuel, ed., Sharing Jesus in the Two Thirds World: Evangelical Christologies from the Contexts of Poverty, Powerlessness, and Religious Pluralism: The Papers of the First Conference of Evangelical Mission Theologians from the Two Thirds World, Bangkok, Thailand, March 22–25, 1982 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 217.

              (15.) Goodstein, L. “Campus Crusade for Christ Is Renamed,” New York Times (July 20, 2011): A17.

              (16.) Cru International, “Cru 2014 Annual Report.”

              (17.) The SCM and IVF were both national movements within their larger parent organizations WSCF and IFES.

              (18.) The Spanish acronym of WSCF is FUMEC—Federación Universal de Movimientos Estudiantiles Cristianos. The SCM is known as MEC—Movimiento Estudiantil Cristiano. I write about the following developments elsewhere. See David C. Kirkpatrick, A Gospel for the Poor: Social Christianity and the Rise of the Latin American Evangelical Left (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019).

              (19.) See Lehtonen, Story of a Storm: The Ecumenical Student Movement in the Turmoil of Revolution, 1968 to 1973, 122. Robin Boyd, The Witness of the Student Christian Movement: Church Ahead of the Church (London: SPCK, 2007), 112–116.

              (20.) For an SCM perspective on the meeting, see Boyd, The Witness of the Student Christian Movement: Church Ahead of the Church, 84–85. For an IFES perspective on the “death” of the SCM, see Lowman, The Day of His Power: A History of The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, 31–45. For more on the erosion of evangelical consensus in Britain, see Stanley, Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 44–52.

              (21.) Alan P. Neely, “Protestant Antecedents of the Latin American Theology of Liberation” (PhD diss., The American University, 1977), 253. Cited in Christian Smith, The Emergence of Liberation Theology: Radical Religion and Social Movement Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 253. Christian Smith’s work is published from his 1990 Harvard University thesis under the same title. See also Neely, “Liberation Theology in Latin America: Antecedents and Autochthony,” 362.

              (22.) Richard Shaull, Encounter With Revolution (New York: Association Press, 1955).

              (23.) For more on Shaull’s theological contribution within student movements in Latin America, see Angel Daniel Santiago-Vendrell, Contextual Theology and Revolutionary Transformation in Latin America: the Missiology of M. Richard Shaull (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010), 67–76. For more on his theological influence on the WCC and liberation theology, see 74–107.

              (24.) Alan P. Neely, “Protestant Antecedents of the Latin American Theology of Liberation” (PhD diss., The American University, 1977), 253. Cited in Christian Smith, The Emergence of Liberation Theology: Radical Religion and Social Movement Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 253.

              (25.) Julio de Santa Ana was another influential early Protestant liberation theologian from the Methodist tradition. Smith, The Emergence of Liberation Theology, 117.

              (26.) Paul Davies, Faith Seeking Effectiveness: The Missionary Theology of José Míguez Bonino (Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 2006), 18. For more on the SCM, see Robin Boyd, The Witness of the Student Christian Movement: Church Ahead of the Church (London: SPCK, 2007).

              (27.) Neely, “Protestant Antecedents of the Latin American Theology of Liberation,” 155–156; and Smith, The Emergence of Liberation Theology, 254.

              (28.) Smith, The Emergence of Liberation Theology, 116. Neely, “Protestant Antecedents of the Latin American Theology of Liberation,” 189. See also Neely, “Liberation Theology in Latin America: Antecedents and Autochthony,” 363.

              (29.) World Council of Churches, Christians in the Technical and Social Revolutions of Our Time, the Official Report of the World Conference on Church and Society, Geneva, July 12–26, 1966 (Geneva: WCC, 1967).

              (30.) World Council of Churches, The Church for Others, and the Church for the World. For a discussion of the WCC’s document The Church for Others, see Laing, From Crisis to Creation, 208–209. These trends were already taking place in the 1950s, as well. See Yale Divinity School Archives, WSCF papers, SC 46, Box 284, Folder 2693 “Report on Leadership Training Course Cochabamba, Bolivia. Dec. 31, 1955 to Jan. 15, 1956.”

              (31.) Norman Goodall, Uppsala 1968: The Official Report of the Fourth Assembly of the WCC, July 1968, p. xvii.

              (32.) Norman Goodall, Uppsala 1968.

              (33.) See especially Lehtonen, Story of a Storm, 66–67.

              (34.) For more on global student protests, see Lehtonen, Story of a Storm, 43–44. See also E. R. Norman, Christianity and World Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 52. For more on the rise of Third World theologies, and its influence on the missionary movement, see Stanley, Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism, 25.

              (35.) For more, see Stanley, Global Diffusion, 156.

              (36.) David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 382.

              (37.) Mark T. B. Laing, From Crisis to Creation: Lesslie Newbigin and the Reinvention of Christian Mission (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), xiii.

              (38.) See Grant Wacker, America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 199. For Graham’s take, see Billy Graham, Just as I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 567. For the taxi conversation, see Tim Chester, Awakening to a World of Need: Recover of Evangelical Social Concern (Leicester, U.K.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993), 27.

              (39.) Peter Goodwin Heltzel, Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race and American Politics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), xix.

              (40.) Carl F. H. Henry and W. Stanley Mooneyham, eds., One Race, One Gospel, One Task: World Congress on Evangelism Berlin 1966: Official Reference Volumes: Papers and Reports, 2 vols. (Minneapolis, MN: World Wide Publications, 1967), 5. See also Brian Stanley, The World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh 1910 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 18.

              (41.) Henry and Mooneyham, One Race, 5.

              (42.) John Stott, “The Great Commission,” in One Race, One Gospel, One Task: World Congress on Evangelism, Berlin 1966, vol. 1, eds. Carl F. H. Henry and W. Stanley Mooneyham (Minneapolis, MN: World Wide Publications, 1967), 37.

              (43.) Stott, “The Great Commission,” 50.

              (44.) Stott, “The Great Commission,” 51. See Kirkpatrick, A Gospel for the Poor.

              (45.) David Brooks, “Who Is John Stott,” New York Times (November 30, 2004): 23.

              (46.) Kirkpatrick, A Gospel for the Poor.

              (47.) For a thorough account of the planning for Lausanne 1974, see Brian Stanley, The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2013), 151–168.

              (48.) David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Routledge, 1993), 249. See Philip Crowe, ed., Keele ’67: The National Evangelical Anglican Congress Statement (London: Falcon Books, 1967), 16.

              (49.) Kirkpatrick, A Gospel for the Poor.

              (50.) Brian Stanley, “‘Lausanne 1974’: The Challenge from the Majority World to Northern-Hemisphere Evangelicalism,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 64, no. 3 (2013): 534.

              (51.) C. René Padilla, “Evangelism and the World,” in Let the Earth Hear His Voice. International Congress on World Evangelization Lausanne, Switzerland: Official Reference Volume: Papers and Responses, ed. J. D. Douglas (Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1975), 130.

              (52.) Forbes, “The 50 Largest U.S. Charities,” 2015

              (53.) Forbes, “The 50 Largest U.S. Charities,” 2015.

              (54.) Pew Research Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Global Christianity,” December 2011.

              (55.) Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006).

              (56.) Dana L. Robert, “Shifting Southward: Global Christianity Since 1945,” International Bulletin of Mission Research 24, no. 2 (April 1, 2000): 50–58.

              (57.) Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009).

              (58.) Dana L. Robert, American Women in Mission: A Social History of their Thought and Practice (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997).

              (59.) Emily J. Manktelow, Missionary Families: Race, Gender and Generation on the Spiritual Frontier (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2015).

              (60.) Mark A. Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

              (61.) Robert Wuthnow, Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).

              (62.) Jehu J. Hanciles, Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration, and the Transformation of the West (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008).

              (63.) Brian Stanley, The Bible and the Flag: Protestant Missions and British Imperialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Leicester, U.K.: Apollos, 1990).