The 20th century has been termed, “The Violent Century,” by some historians, referring to the two great world wars, the holocaust, abortion, Soviet and Chinese communism killing millions of their own people, famines, the AIDS epidemic, etc., all happening on a global scale. Despite all of these obstacles, the Kingdom of God has grown and multiplied.
During the same period, the greatest number of conversions to the Christian faith occurred. Remarkably, this exponential growth has occurred at an even higher rate than the staggering world population explosion. With a tremendous increase in world population has come an even greater increase in the total number of Christians. This great number of conversions has occurred despite great violence and persecutions against the Church.
According to the U.S. Center for World Mission, Christian evangelism in the last 100 years has reached a growth curve which is now increasing exponentially. Comparing the percentage of Christians in the total world population, the following statistics have been noted.
- In the year 100 (70 years after Jesus Christ’s ministry began), there was a total of one believer for every 360 nonbelievers on the planet Earth (or .27% of the world’s population).
- In the year 1000, the ratio became 1 in 220 (or .45% of the population).
- In 1900, the ratio became 1 in 27 (or 3.7%).
- In 1980, the ratio became 1 in 11 (or 9.1%).
- In 1990, the ratio was 1 in 7 (or 14.3%).
- At the time of the publishing of this book, the ratio is 1 in 5 (or 20.8%).
The U.S. Center for World Mission defines a Christian as a person who has had a born-again experience, attends a church service at least twice a week, and prays at least once a month for world evangelization.
In viewing these ratios on the graph above, one can see a rapid increase of Christians toward the year 2020. This dramatic increase shows the impact that the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s, the First and Second Great Awakenings of the following centuries, and the Holiness and Pentecostal Revivals at the turn of the 20th century have had on world evangelization.
While many people might think the United States has the largest population of committed Christians, a study by the Pew Research Institute that found that the world’s most committed Christians live in Africa and Latin America.
By 2060 six of the countries with the top ten largest Christian populations will be in Africa, up from three in 2015, according to a Pew Research Center report in 2019. The projections are in line with the gradual shift that has increasingly seen Christian populations on the rise in the Third World. The size of the Christian population in Nigeria alone – already the largest on the continent – is projected to double by 2060. In addition, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya are projected to join the list of countries with the top ten largest Christian populations, replacing Russia, Germany and China.
In 1976, the U.S. Center for World Mission numbered at least 24,000 distinct ethnic groups that can be viewed in biblical terms as the ethne, “the nations,” or “people groups,” that must be reached with the gospel in order to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). Of these 24,000 people groups, there were 10,000 that had an indigenous witness in the form of churches made up of people from their own culture. This left 14,000 people groups which still must be reached with the Gospel in order for the Great Commission to be fulfilled.
By the year 2001, this number of unreached groups had dropped to 10,000. According to the U.S. Center for World Mission, an “unreached people group” is defined as one having less than two percent of its population as evangelical Christian. By way of disclaimer, various missions organizations number the people groups differently using varied criteria. However, using any criteria we can see a remarkable exponential increase.
With this phenomenal growth, it is possible that these remaining unreached people groups could be reached within 21st century. But we should remember the words of Jesus Christ, which have been borne out in the experience of the last century.
“And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).
Is the world getting better or worse?
Have these gains resulted in the world becoming a better place? While people might differ in their definition of “better,” there are some real, measurable indicators of material and physical prosperity. Although material wealth is not an indicator of God’s blessing, the Bible teaches that the person who obeys the Law of God will have a longer life and material prosperity.
However, here is the irony. Evangelical Christians have become generally more pessimistic in the last 100 years. There used to be more postmillennialists who thought the world was becoming a better place due to the great missionary thrust of churches in the 1800s. Ironically, now that Christianity is the largest religion in the world, most evangelicals are premillennialists who think the world is predestined to get worse and worse until the end.
Below are some statistics for you to consider from the book by Greg Easterbrook called, The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Note that the book is taking a purely secular perspective on how the world is getting “better.” Nevertheless, the following statistics show that disease, war and poverty are being vanquished by the progress of the Gospel.
Here are 63 indicators that the world is getting better not worse.
- In 1890, less than 1 percent of American households earned the equivalent of $75,000 in today’s dollars; now nearly a quarter of households are at that favored point.
- The typical person now commands twice the real buying power of his father or mother in the year 1960.
- Cars, furniture, clothing, and other common goods have shown a steady, ongoing decline in the number of work-hours required for the typical American to purchase them.
- Today a third of America’s families own three cars or more.
- Today the typical American place home has 5.3 rooms for its average of 2.6 people. This means that a longstanding metric of comfortable living, “a room of one’s own,” has been gone one better; on average, Americans of today have two rooms of their own.
- The average child or teenager has his or her own bedroom–surely the first time in history this has been achieved for an entire large society.
- In the 2000 Census, the fraction of American dwellings without indoor plumbing dropped below 1 percent for the first time in history.
- The typical new home now built in the United States is 2,349 square feet, including three bedrooms and two and a half bath compared to 1,100 square feet in 1950.
- Ninety-five percent of American homes are now centrally heated, versus about 15 percent in our grandparents’ generation; 78 percent have air conditioning, versus essentially zero then.
- Almost 70 percent of Americans own their own home, versus less than 20 percent a century ago, when most Americans were tenants.
- Four-fifths of American adults are now high school graduates, compared to one-third in 1947.
- One-quarter of Americans hold college degrees, compared to about six percent in 1947; today Americans average 15.2 years of education.
- Two-thirds of high school graduates go on to at least some college, while fewer than 10 percent drop out of high school.
- The United States is on the short path to becoming the first society in history with more adults who are college graduates than are not.
- 84 percent of Americans have medical insurance and most of those who don’t have it receive medical attention in an emergency room situation. Medical insurance was practically non-existent after World War I, and only the elite wealthy were protected against ruinous medical expenses.
- Americans collectively take twenty-five million overseas vacations per year.
- Americans took 612 million airline trips in 2002. Approximately 200 million Americans, 70 percent of the nation, are members of the “jet set.” Just 105 years ago airplanes did not exist.
- The typical American eats four restaurant meals per week and spend 49 percent of their food dollars in restaurants compared to just 25 percent in 1955.
- 58 percent of American men work in white-collar occupations which require no physical toil, along with 52 percent of women. This means there are now more white-collar Americans than blue-collar.
- In 1850, the typical American man’s workweek was sixty-six hours; in 1900, fifty-three hours; today it is forty-two hours.
- A century ago, 90 percent of women spent at least four hours per day doing primary housework: cooking, cleaning; But only 14 percent in the year 2000 spent four or more hours per day at this task.
- Compared to 1880, the typical adult male has forty more hours per week available for relaxation; the typical American woman now has about thirty more relaxation hours per week.
- You can spend your leisure time watching movies that cost $100 million to make for $8 at the cinema, for $15 on your DVD player or computer, or for free on one of your four televisions.
- In the mid 1800’s, the typical person spent 50 percent of his or her waking hours engaged in some form of imposed labor (ie, working). Today it is a little under 20 percent of a person’s lifetime.
- During the 1990s, homicides fell by 75 percent in San Diego, 70 percent I New York City, by big margins in Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, and other cities.
- Domestic violence against women fell 21 percent in the 1990s. Robbery and burglary declined; car theft declined. Rape declined by 40 percent. Gun violence declined.
- By 2001, the figures for the Forty-first Precinct in the Bronx had fallen to 12 homicides from 130 homicides per year in the 70s, to 225 burglaries from 6,433, and to 239 robberies from 2,632–in total, roughly a 95 percent decline.
- Twenty-five years ago, only one-third of America’s lakes and rivers were safe for fishing and swimming; today two-thirds are (Leading Index of Environmental Indicators, EPA).
- Since 1970 smog has declined by a third, even as the number of cars has nearly doubled; acid rain has declined by 67 percent, even though the United States now burns twice as much coal; even airborne lead, a poison, is down 97 percent.
- During the 1980s, Los Angeles averaged about 150 ozone “health advisory” days per year, and about fifty “stage one” ozone alerts. By 2000, the number of advisory days had fallen to about twenty per year, and in 2003, Los Angeles has had no stage-one ozone alert for four years running (www.aqmd.gov).
- Toxic emissions by industry declined 51 percent from 1988 to 2002.
- Total American water consumption has declined nine percent in the past fifteen years, even as the population has expanded in the arid Southwest.
- The wooded acreage of the United States has been expanding for more than a decade.
- Deer populations have expanded, and once-periled species such as the bald eagle, gray whale, brown pelican, and peregrine falcon have recovered in numbers and been “delisted” from emergency protection.
- Prices of most primary commodities, especially metals, coals, and ores, have been falling for two decades.
- Credible estimates put the world’s proven reserve of petroleum at about one trillion barrels, a forty-year supply at current rates, while an additional trillion barrels will become recoverable with improved technology, such as drilling in the deep ocean.
- At the beginning of the twentieth century, the average American life expectancy was forty-one years, but by the twenty-first century it had risen to seventy-seven years.
- The average life expectancy for the entire world is sixty-six years.
- Heart disease and stroke have been declining for decades. By the year 2000, U.S. incidence of heart disease death was 60 percent lower, adjusted for population increase, than in 1950; incidence of stroke deaths fell 70 percent in the same period.
- Most cancers, including breast cancer are in retreat for the first time since increasing average age made cancer a general concern. Most studies by the National Cancer Institute show cancer mortality declining at about 1 percent per year since 1993, again despite overall aging (Annual report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer).
- Infant mortality has declined 45 percent since 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and is now down to 0.7 percent of live births, the lowest figure ever for the United States.
- The rate of suicide in the U.S. rate has fallen 18 percent since 1950.
- Most forms of accidental deaths are in long-term decline, as are workplace fatalities. Deaths by fire, especially, have declined, down by 50 percent.
- Traffic deaths have been hitting new lows on an almost annual basis. For example, 42,850 Americans died in automobile crashes in 2002 versus 52,627 in 1970, though the population rose and auto miles traveled increased about 75 percent through that period.
- Use of most illegal drugs has been declining for two decades. Alcohol consumption per capita has been declining for a generation, including among the young. Cigarette use continues to decline. Today just 10 percent of Americans tenth-graders smoke, believed to be the lowest number for this age group since packaged cigarettes became common in the 1920s (America’s Children: Indicators of Well-Being 2002).
- The divorce rate, which had been climbing seemingly inexorably since the 1950s, flattened out in the 1990s and at present is in shallow decline. It is no longer true that, when you attend a wedding, there is a fifty-fifty chance you are watching people swear vows that will not last.
- The rate of children born out of marriage, climbing seemingly inexorably since the 1950s, like the divorce rate flattened in 1990s and at present is in shallow decline.
- During the 1990s, the segment of children who lived with both parents rose from 51 percent to 56 percent.
- Teen pregnancy and births to teens fell, by 22 percent and by 15 percent, respectively, during the 1990s.
- Most public-school test scores are either slightly up (math proficiency) or flat (reading proficiency) (Thomas Loveless of the Brooking Institution).
- Since the beginning of the twentieth century, overall IQ scores have risen about 20 percent.
- Women and minority-group members continue to assume roles once restricted to white males.
- The gap between women’s and men’s wages has been shrinking for a generation, and today is the smallest ever. In 1982, women as a group earned 62.5 percent as much as men, and by 2002 that share had risen to 77.5 percent.
- Through the last generation, the portion of African-Americans living in middle-class circumstances has more than doubled. By the end of the twentieth century, black poverty had dropped to the lowest rate ever recorded. (2002 study National Urban League)
- The percentage of U.S. children living in poverty declined from a peak of 22 percent in 1993, just before reforms were enacted, to 16 percent, the lowest figure of a generation.
- In the United States there continue to be jobs, including plenty of desirable jobs, and an almost unlimited supply of goods and services at reasonable prices.
- Food, housing, clothing, and other essentials cost less in real-dollar terms than a generation ago, despite being higher in quality, while prices of some categories of consumer goods, notably electronics, fall steadily.
- The Cold War never became a hot war, and ended with democracy routing tyranny. Nuclear-bomb factories in the United States and the former Soviet Union once turned out doomsday weapons in hideous numbers; today they run in reverse, disassembling warheads in the largest and most important arms-reduction in history. In 2002, the U.S. and the Russian Federation agreed to reduce the number of strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 2,200 per nation. Once accomplished, 90 percent of the Armageddon arsenal will be gone.
- Twenty-five years ago, only about a third of the globe’s nations held true free elections; today, two-thirds do.
- That democratic governments now outnumber autocratic governments two to one is a situation unprecedented in world history.
- The number of armed conflicts in the world has declined. There were twenty-eight declared wars and forty-five armed conflicts globally in 2002, for example, versus forty-eight declared wars and sixty-five armed conflicts in 1993.
- In 2000, four times as many people globally died in traffic accidents than in any form of combat–1.3 million traffic deaths versus 300,000 deaths from war. That car crashes currently pose a greater threat to the citizens of the earth than combat is surely progress in the right direction (World Health Organization 2000).
- Annual global military spending peaked in the year 1985, at $1.3 trillion, and has been declining since, to $840 billion in 2002 (World Military Spending, 2003).
Hermeneutics not Zeitgeist!
If you haven’t been steeped in the dispensationalist paradigm and don’t think that the Left Behind Series is an accurate picture of what the Bible teaches about the end times, you may be scratching your head at this point and wondering.
If Postmillennialism has such an illustrious history, then how did dispensationalist premillennialism become so popular?
Some point to the split in the evangelical Church in the late 1800s as giving the impetus for the mass defection from the Puritan Hope. As liberals began to put more and more emphasis on the “social Gospel” – the care of the poor, the sick and righting social evils – they paid less and less attention to the fulcrum of social reform, the Gospel of salvation. Therefore, in a knee-jerk reaction, many well-meaning conservatives who continued to teach the Gospel of salvation and the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, slowly began to grow suspicious of any Christian movement that would champion social concerns – especially those that did it at the expense of the spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God.
Thus an entire generation of Christians threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Then just a few decades later, they viewed the horrible atrocities committed in the two world wars and under the brutal dictatorships of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and other atheistic communist regimes.
Pretty soon, Zeitgeist (or the “spirit of the age”) began to define theology. Rather than let the Word of Truth itself guide its worldview, the Church began to let the pessimistic worldview of the daily news move its agenda toward cultural retreatism. The great irony here is that in focusing on the bad, much of the evangelical Church has ignored the great victories that have occurred under our very noses.
For the first time in history, the Church has had the opportunity to literally preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Yet at the same time, many disbelieve what has been the amazing result. Why should it be that there are more Christians in the world than ever before in history – and in fact a larger percentage of the world population is truly converted – and yet many expect things to grow worse and worse even as this success continues to grow? As Revival historian Iain Murray put it:
Why should it not be that in this era when the population of the world has reached its height, that God will show on a yet greater scale that truth is more powerful than error, grace is more powerful than sin, and that those given to Christ are indeed “as the sand which is upon the sea-shore” (Iain H. Murray, The Puritan Hope).