“When Woodrow Wilson proposed his Fourteen Points in 1918, he could not have known the impact
that the main ideas of peace, democracy and free markets would have on the world.
Although these ideas are offered in a secular context,
they are the best-known mediums for which the gospel can be heard today.”
ichael Mandelbaum, director of the School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University, wrote a thought-provoking book in 2002 called, The Ideas that Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the Twenty-first Century. His underlying assessment of these ideas upholds these concepts as the tools for which the world has been, and will continue to be dominantly shaped by. Although these ideas are offered in a secular context, they do offer Christians an interesting perspective in mediums for fulfilling the Great Commission, which has incredible implications for how Christians understand their calling to ministry and missions in the world today.
When Woodrow Wilson proposed his Fourteen Points in 1918, he could not have known that the main ideas of Peace, Democracy and Free markets would become known as the Wilsonian Triad; nor could have known the impact it would have on the world. Wilson is by no means the author or creator of these ideas. This is not to say that they were not already taking root throughout various parts of the world, but his influence in proclaiming these concepts, whether he intended it to be or not, has allowed the Gospel to be brought to more nations and unreached people groups than ever before in human existence.
Democracy, a word that many believe unrightfully possesses as much reverence as the Bible itself, is not the end-all fulfillment of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19, but it has certainly made enormous headway. Democracy has grown at such an exponential rate, in fact, that it truly transforms today’s landscape in a manner that would not be recognizable in 1900. As Larry Diamond reported in an article published in the Hoover Institution:
"As Freedom House notes in its latest annual survey of freedom in the world, there was not a single country in 1900 that would qualify by today’s standards as a democracy. By 1950, only 22 of the 80 sovereign political systems in the world (28 percent) were democratic. When the third wave of global democratization began in 1974, there were 39 democracies, but the percentage of democracies in the world was about the same (27 percent). Yet by January 2000, Freedom House counted 120 democracies, the highest number and the greatest percentage (63) in the history of the world."
The direct correlation that exists between freedom and democracy is observed in a corresponding increase in freedom throughout the world as democracy spreads. If we only look at full and flawed democracies, (a flawed democracy is one step down from a full democracy on the democratic index) the number is 78; still a stark contrast to the first half of the last century. Today the number of free countries is 87 and growing. The growth of democracy has given a voice to a host of minorities of race, gender, and religion. Democracy in the United States, for example, has been a beacon to many throughout the world, shedding a light of hope for other nations in pursuit of it. Finding hope in democracy is not for what Christians ultimately aim. There is, however, an interesting connection between the work of missionaries and the resulting freedoms and democracy that follow them. Not only did missionaries plant these concepts in other countries (whether intentionally or not), but these very ideas became the catalyst for more missionaries to come in greater numbers generations later.
Before William Carey left on a life-changing journey to India, there occurred a fascinating dialogue that is referred to often in the missions world. Following a call from the Lord to serve, Carey was criticized harshly when he rightfully upheld the seriousness one must take with the Great Commission. The man who scolded him said, “Young man. Sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your help or mine.” Carey’s response was most powerfully spoken in his actions as he chose to go despite the criticism he received. The results from his decision to go are historical. The accomplishments that resulted from his work changed the very course of India itself. Despite the fact that there is still much improvement to be made in India, today it is the world’s largest democracy.
The impact of William Carey holds very important characteristics in ministry that complement the work of Mandelbaum’s analysis of ideas. The results that transpire when the gospel is coupled with Mandelbaum’s ideas are profound, simple, and broad. God’s mechanisms of spreading the gospel are both voluntary and involuntary. That is, Jesus will make use of everything for the expansion of His Kingdom for His glory and by His will. It is by The Ideas that Conquered the World that the gospel is being proclaimed at the greatest rate in human history. Peace, democracy and free markets are the greatest mediums for the gospel to flow.
The recent research published by Dr. Robert Woodberry has shed incredible light on the correlation between missionaries and the multiple impacts their work has had on the communities to which they have traveled. Increased literacy rates, freedoms in multiple forms, the elevation of human dignity, and democracy were planted by Christian missionaries seeking to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to these unreached places. The outcome of their work has produced the fruit of millions of Christians. Democracy has acted as a wide-open gateway for 2nd generation missionaries and ministries to continue in greater degree. The freedom to move from nation to nation has sped the rate of reaching the unreached to a new high. This is evidenced and seen by the founder of YWAM, Lorren Cunningham, who has boldly and excitedly proclaimed about the possibility of fulfilling the Great Commission in this lifetime. This could not have been entirely possible without the foundations of democracy in place for which to preach and spread the Good News so quickly. The Ideas that Conquered the World only flourished after Jesus conquered the hearts of the people ministered to by missionaries.
Free markets, the second tenet of the Wilsonian Triad, have been the largest supportive base to both democracy and ministry everywhere. Free markets have acted as an important vessel in responding to Christ teachings. Take China as a recent example of free markets at work. In the last 25 years, China has reduced its poverty from around 65% in 1981 to 4% in 2007. This rate continues to reduce the number of people that were previously impoverished as they climb to higher economic success. Literally millions of people have been elevated out of a condition of poverty because of the principles of free markets. Make no mistake, China is not considered free in other respects (such as freedom of press and freedom of religion) nor is it even a democracy, but the outcome is potentially optimistic considering the rate of which the Gospel is moving though the underground churches in China. The underground church is boldly making more moves to expand as the church run by the state is beyond capacity, providing services to more people in one day than all of Europe.
Free markets have allowed for the number one bestseller of all time, the Bible, to be printed time and time again. It has also been translated in 2,018 different languages; a number that no other book in human history has come close to challenging. Free markets have also allowed for the creation of wealth, which, although many will argue against the corresponding increase in inequality, proponents will argue that the created wealth has funded thousands of ministries whose focus is on the Great Commission. And even though inequality is greater in nations possessing immense wealth, it is better to be impoverished within these borders than it is in developing nations. Free markets have put forth opportunities that, without this medium, would never have existed. These opportunities include the creation of other varieties of printed Christian magazines and books, as well as the circulation of these items overseas. Furthermore, free markets cohesively tie into democracy to allow freedom of press. This has paved the path for many instances in which the voice of freedom can triumphantly proclaim the voice of truth, that Jesus Christ is risen, and there is a hope for which we were all created.
Creation of wealth and prosperity are not required to preach the Gospel, but it does facilitate its movement, and more importantly, more efficiently at that. Quantifying a formula to fulfill the Great Commission could be potentially problematic; but there is at least one basic condition that must be met in order to finish the task set before all Christians. In order to fulfill Christ’s mandate of going to all nations, ministry must operate at a speed faster than the birth rate of that given nation. This is simple to understand: a growing task can never be completed (mathematically speaking) unless the Gospel spreads quicker than the remaining number to hear it. So what is the best way to reach optimal efficiency? The answer is simple: make more “goers”. The trend of America being the single biggest sender of foreign missions is a reality for specific reasons that are evident in other big missionary sending countries. In 2006, the number of missionaries exported by South Korea was second only to the United States. In 2012, Brazil became the number two country to the United States, taking on this role of expanding its base of outgoing missionaries. The important thing to understand is that South Korea, Brazil and the United States are capable to preach the Gospel at these levels only because they possess a common set of features: democracy and free markets. The more countries that adopt these unique characteristics of free markets and democracy, the more countries there will be adding to this list of rapid missionary exporters. The looming challenge of the Great Commission will not seem so impossible or nearly so daunting.
Now, if we look at the opposite end of the spectrum, we can observe an interesting correlation between those nations that have not yet gained free markets or democracy, seen visibly in the geographic position of the infamous 20/40 window. The strongest connotation Christians attach to hearing this term is one of the unreached. It is the most un-free, non-democratic area of the world with only minimal participation in free markets (varying from country to country). Christians and a host of other religious and ethnic minorities are still persecuted within this area. Interestingly, democracy, an antonym to the Middle East (which is only about 2% free) is only prevalent in one nation that is the 154th smallest country in the world, and possesses only a small fraction of total land in the entire Middle East. Israel, strongly disliked by the non-democratic nations surrounding it, stands as one of the greatest examples for which democracy, free markets, and the pursuit of peace can stand. When it comes to the 20/40 window, geography is the correlation to the lack of freedom, while the systems that are not open to democracy or free markets are the causation.
Israel’s adoption of democracy and its participation in free markets have allowed them to do in 64 years what the rest of Middle East has not done in thousands. Additionally, this incredibly small country has been able to be instrumental to the relative Middle East stability by its strength and continuous military victories over much larger nations. Israel has become a platform and foothold for missionaries to begin their movement into the Middle East. The close proximity it has intertwined with the Palestinian people has allowed for ministry to Muslims, a ministry that is that is placed heavily on the hearts of many Christians.
Taking the view point that free markets, democracy and peace are mediums for the movement of the gospel, it does not take too much work to understand that peace, a pursued and most elusive idea in the world, is best achieved through the previous two mediums. Nations that are democracies do not fight each other (by large they do not, but a few exceptions of this exist). This is consistent with the Democratic Peace Theory, but it also goes farther than this in the aspect of free markets. Thomas Friedman’sGolden Arches Theory, similar and complementary to that of the Democratic Peace Theory, supports the trends of globalism and free markets. On a large scale, nations that accept, adopt, and implement the tools of free markets do not fight with one another. The Golden Arches Theory uses the specific example that no nation that has a McDonald’s has fought against another nation possessing this fast food restaurant (there are a few small-scale examples where this does not apply exactly, but Friedman’s argument is still valid when examining the broad implications that it has). Like French economist Frédéric Bastiat said in favor of free markets, “When goods cannot cross borders, armies will.”
Adoption of democracy and free markets more often than not result in peace. For Christians, it is not only peace for which we aim, but the fulfillment of the gospel. Do not mistake this as a statement advocating for bringing the gospel to others by force; the pursuit of peace is always needed. Jesus told us in Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called the Sons of God”. But until Jesus Christ comes as the final peace maker, this fallen world will live in war and rumors of war created by a fallen human nature. Pursue peace, but be willing to use opportunities that come as a result of tragedy to minister to those who have not heard the name of Jesus Christ.
The Iraq War is a recent memory that still conjures up varying emotions and connotations based on one’s involvement or understanding of it. It has been criticized for what has resulted as the harsh treatment of Christians on the scale of genocide. Nonetheless, even with this tragedy, God has brought refugees that have fled to the U.S. to know Him. This trend of involuntary movement of the Gospel should come as no surprise when we consider history as our guide for its movement. In the period from 800-1200 A.D., Vikings dominated the lands they traveled to. They would burn and sack villages time and time again. Although the Christian monks did not willingly reach out to the Vikings to minister to them, they were nonetheless able to win the Vikings over to Christ after they were captured by these seafaring warriors. The work of God using the involuntary mechanism of evangelism (opposite of William Carey’s example of the voluntary mechanism of evangelism) was manifested in this period as Ralph D. Winter notes in The Kingdom Strikes Back:
"[O]nce more, the phenomenal power of Christianity manifested itself: the conquerors became conquered by the faith of their captives. Usually it was the monks who were sold as slaves, or Christian girls forced to be the Viking’s wives and mistresses, who eventually won the savages of the north. In God’s providence he worked redemption in the midst of the harrowing tragedy of this new invasion of barbarian violence and evil that fell upon God’s beloved people."
The spread of the Gospel by the means of peace has occurred strongly when followed by a great loss, war, or circumstances in which people observed the horrors of war. This trend through history alternates from peace, and then to war again and is seen following the Revolutionary War, WWI, and WWII. Furthermore, it is central to the curriculum of Perspectives, one of the forefront preparation classes for missionaries to go overseas. In the pursuit of peace, there is sometimes war and conflict. Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, can use both circumstance and situation for His Glory and for His Kingdom expansion. Voluntarily or involuntarily He uses these, but we cause ourselves less pain in voluntary service for Christ’s Kingdom building and expansion.
The gospel of Jesus Christ flows through situation despite humankind’s attempt to thwart it. The Ideas that Conquered the World are merely tools apart of the voluntary mechanism and response to the Great Commission. It uses the institutions of humankind to flow from one location to another. Peace, democracy, and free markets are the best-known mediums for which the gospel can be heard today, efficiently and effectively responding to our mandate to “Go.” Without automatically praising or shunning these three mediums as humankind’s constructs for them to pursue their self-interest, Christians can benefit greatly to know by which ideas of the gospel have spread the best and the most and have gone the farthest to complete the task set before us all.
“God’s work, done in God’s ways, will never lack God’s supplies.” - Hudson Taylor
Josh is a graduate of Wheaton College with a B.A. in international relations and a current student at Covenant Theological Seminary. He loves to read, endeavor to write, and strive to glorify God in all aspects of his life. He has written for American Thinker, RedState, Semper Reformanda Journal, and Ecclesiam, and he hopes to be able to finish a writing project on the canon of Scripture. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshHoller.