Urban Legends & the Great Commission Print
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 30 March 2008 13:40
There's a lot of wild weaving together of unverified statistics from a very specific situation with the Catholic world's discovery of Fr. Zacharias and the result is a major urban legend in the making.

The urban legend going round: That 6 million Muslims become Christians every year and that the hard-hitting TV broadcasts of Fr. Zacharias, a maverick Coptic priest, is responsible for large portions of those conversions.

I'm sorry, folks, but this is a scenario without any basis in fact.

First of all - the 6 million figure. Came from a interview on Al Jazeera by a Muslim cleric who asserted that there were 6 million conversions from Islam to Christianity in Africa every year.

There has never been any indication where this suspiciously round number came from - no studies, nothing. Just an assertion by one man a couple years ago on an Arabic language broadcast that is now being bandied about all over the world as though we knew it were true. And the idea that this was true of Africa alone has been conveniently dropped so now it is assumed to be a global figure.

The only people doing careful research in this area in the world are evangelicals and none of the major researchers have ever said anything of the kind. They note very carefully that there are really significant breakthroughs in large parts of the world - but they are inevitably the result of years or decades of sustained effort. For instance, a growth of 17,000 over a period of 15 years where no native Christians have ever existed before - that sort of thing.

No one is talking about 6 million new Muslim background Christians every year - and believe me, if growth at that level was taking place, evangelical researchers would be talking about it in detail - where, what people groups, and why!

What has happened - over the period of a century - is the Christianization of Africa. But most of the conversion to Christianity in Africa has been by members of African traditional religions - not by Muslims who live mostly in the north.

Here are some solid figures from the World Christian Database:

1900: 8.7 million Christians in Africa or 8 % of the total population

2000: 360 million Christians in Africa or 45% of the total population

2025 estimate: 600 million Christians in Africa or 47% of the total population

By 2025, Africa will be on the verge of becoming a majority Christian continent. There will be more Christians in Africa than in Europe and two and a half times more Christians in Africa than in North America. Only Latin American Christianity will be slightly larger.

Even if 6 million Muslims in the world did become Christian this year, it would only represent 4/10ths of 1 % of a total Muslim population of 1,412,000,000.

Oh, and the story circulating that the world wide Islamic population just passed the number of Catholics? Talk about old news! That happened back in the mid 90's without any Catholic comment that I could see. Some evangelical researchers noticed. I knew. But now what those interested in missions have known for years has been discovered suddenly by the media and turned into new news.

Just like Fr. Zacharias has suddenly been "discovered". Fr. Zacharias has also been around a long time. They were talking about him when I was an undergrad - although he was still in Egypt, I believe.

Here's a little data about Fr. Zacharias from an obvious supporter:

Father Boutros is an Egyptian Coptic priest who has peacefully inspired about 500 Egyptian Muslims to convert to Christianity, something considered a crime punishable by death in the Muslim world. For carrying out those conversions, he was imprisoned twice while he was living in Egypt in the early 1980’s and is now living in exile outside of the country.

Note: 500. Not 6 million.

Helping 500 Egyptian Muslims become Christian is a staggering thing. But apparently not nearly staggering enough to satisfy our newly awakened appetite for Muslim conversions.

To attribute, in the complete absence of any data, large portions of this new spiritual awakening in the Muslim world to one man's efforts is simply absurd. One man single-handedly turning the direction of a global-circling community of 1.4 billion people who speak hundreds of different languages through his in-your-face, detailed Arabic language critiques of specific Quranic passages that are available only to those who have access to certain TV broadcasts? Have we lost all sense of how small the target audience for that sort of programming is? This is an apologist's fantasy.

Not to mention that the majority of Muslims in the world don't speak Arabic.

The change we are seeing is the fruit of millions of Christians praying for (see my piece on the Praying Through the Window campaigns of the 90's There is also a related initiative: 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim world has been held every year during Ramadan for years) and tens of thousands of mission-minded Christians working all over the Muslim world for the past 40 years.

It is these evangelizers - almost all of whom are lay - living in Muslim communities, loving their neighbors, teaching school, healing the sick, founding and running businesses, planting thousands of evangelizing small Christian communities in hundreds of different language groups and situations, writing books, making radio broadcasts, building relationships, trust, and credibility with Muslims they actually know personally - who have been used by God to turn the tide. Fr. Zacahrias is one rather loud horn in a vast symphony orchestra - and he isn't even first chair.

Remember that study that Dudley Woodbury did about why Muslims become Christian? Of the 5 primary reasons that 750 MBBs gave - the central theme was love. God's love reflected consistently in the lives of Christians they knew. Being exposed to the love of Christ through the gospels.

Not media, Not TV. Not apologetics. Love. From tens of thousands of expat missionaries and hundreds of thousands of national Christians who are "Great commission" Christians.

Because one of the really significant changes over the past century is the number of Christians who David Barrett calls "Great Commission Christians" - Christians for whom the proclamation of Christ is central to the practice of their faith.

In 1900, only about 14% of Christians in the world could be called "Great Commission" Christians. Today, 31% of Christians on the planet are. 690 mllion according to 2008 Status of Global Mission.

The fact that the percentage of the Christians population who grasp that the primary mission of the church is to proclaim Christ has more than doubled in the 20th century had made all the difference.

690 million Christians committed to loving the world to Christ. Of which Fr. Zacharias is one.

How about you?