Remember: Despite All the Bad News, the Good News Is Advancing!
In his letter to the Colossian Christians, the apostle Paul wrote that “the word of the truth, the gospel” was “in the whole world … bearing fruit and increasing” (1:5-6).
Indeed it was! In total, the New Testament mentions 34 churches that existed throughout the Mediterranean region, the Roman world to which Paul refers. This is remarkable, given the geographic, ethnic, and political challenges faced by the early disciples. Yet God turned the opposition of both the culture and the Roman and Jewish authorities into opportunities for sharing the message that God had become a man, lived the most extraordinary of lives, performed unparalleled miracles, died an atoning death on a cross, and risen from the grave — with the promise to one day return.
The spread of the gospel did not end with the close of the first century. It has gone forward for all 19 centuries since. Christians have made mistakes in the way we have proclaimed the good news about Jesus, certainly. Yet since His ascension into heaven, Christ has been populating His church with people of “every tribe and nation” (Revelation 7:9-17).
No one needs reminding that on every continent and in every region, there are crises of all kinds. One of the chief ones is the persecution of Christians, as FRC has documented extensively. Even with the horror experienced by believers in places like North Korea, Nigeria, and Iran every day, the Lord is continuing to “add to the church daily those who are being saved” (Acts 2:47).
According to Lifeway Research, “With a 1.17% growth rate, almost 2.56 billion people will identify as a Christian by the middle of 2022. By 2050, that number is expected to top 3.33 billion.” Of course, identifying with a denomination or faith tradition is different from experiencing what Jesus called the new birth (John 3). However, there is no question that millions of men, women, and children are coming to saving faith in Christ.
Lifeway goes on to report that by 2050, “most Christians (50.4%) around the world will live in non-majority Christian nations” and that in 2022 alone, roughly 93 million Bibles will be printed in multiple languages. Africa, Asia, and South America are the fields where the gospel is advancing with the greatest power.
But wait — there’s more (good news, that is)! One recent study argues that from 1960 to 2010, more than 10 million Muslims have chosen to follow Christ. Writing in Newsweek, David Garrison, a veteran evangelist in the Muslim world, cites a number of reasons for the dramatic conversions from Islam to Jesus. Among them: “1) increased prayer for Muslims, 2) intentional evangelism directed toward Muslims, and 3) exponential increase in Bible translations in colloquial languages spoken by Muslims.”
Garrison notes that this is happening due to “internet, satellite television, and radio” outreaches, the “global diasporas intertwining Muslim and Christian populations around the world,” and a shift in Muslim perception that Christianity is simply a European religion.
With many others, Garrison also notes what he calls “the matter of dreams.” “Though dreams have fallen into disrepute in the West,” he writes, “they retain their currency in the House of Islam. A common phrase found in many testimonies gathered from West Africa to East Asia began with the words, ‘I had a dream’” about Jesus. As Tom Doyle, president of Uncharted Ministries, has documented in his book “Dreams and Visions: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World?,” the Lord is appearing to Muslims in dreams and visions and performing undeniable miracles.
In China, the growth of Christianity “is quite similar to the Christian growth in the fourth-century Roman Empire,” according to researcher Fenggang Yang. “Amid wars, natural calamities, and social turmoil,” he continues, “the number of Christians has grown in spite of persecution and suppression.” While estimates vary, even the Chinese Communist Party admits there are as many as 40 million Chinese believers, a number many think is significantly low.
And so it goes. Whether in the astonishing fashion of many Muslim conversions or in the quiet of a suburban coffee shop, in a massive evangelistic gathering or in a brutal prison, Christians are making Christ known to those who have never met Him. And the Spirit of God is drawing more and more people into God’s eternal kingdom.
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,” Paul wrote his young disciple Timothy, “for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal.” But then, with a shout of joy, Paul reminds Timothy, “the word of God is not bound!” (II Timothy 2:8-9).
As disciples of the Risen and Returning One, may Christians continue to herald His saving grace with wisdom and boldness, mercy and truth. As Billy Graham used to say, the gospel is “always good news!”
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.