In 1 Timothy 2:2, the Apostle Paul urged Timothy and, by extension, all Christians to pray for our rulers so that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life,” And in 1 Timothy 2:3, Paul connected this prayer and peaceful living to the spread of the gospel, saying that God “desires all people to be saved.”
It doesn’t feel like we live in peaceful times. Just last week in my country, the Department of Justice arrested 500 people for their role in the violent Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol building. The month before that, Israel conducted airstrikes in Palestine, from which rockets were being fired into Israel. And, of course, there are the daily verbal fights on social media, echoed on broadcast media.
Our world doesn’t feel peaceful, but in fact it is. Compared with the early 20th century and, in fact, nearly every century before that, we are living in a period of remarkably little war and death. Especially over the past 75 years, peace has spread over the globe and, with it, the gospel.
This is my fourth post in a series on positive cultural trends. (Here are the first, second and third posts in this series.) My goals are to cheer up my fellow Christians, too many of whom have become overly pessimistic in recent years, and to remind all of us that Jesus the King is still acting within our cultures to bless us and glorify Him.
The chart below, constructed by University of Oxford researcher Max Roser, shows the proportion of the world’s population that died in battles involving at least one government. As you can see, the end of the Cold War brought such deaths to a very low level.
For historical context, Roser has also produced this chart, showing global conflict deaths since 1400. We can see that recent history is one of the most peaceful periods on record.
I’m not saying the mere absence of war is everything Paul meant by peaceful. Lack of crime in our own communities is also a key part of peace, as is the quality of our relationships. But the absence of war is a big part of peace.
And peace opens opportunities for the gospel. The following charts, based on data from the Atlas of Global Christianity, show that the sheer number of foreign Christian missionaries around the world has grown since 1900—the end of the “Great Century of Missions”—by more than 7 times.
The number of people missionaries reach and the number of times they reach them have grown even more. The average number of times an offer to follow Jesus is given, per person in the world, has shot up more than 25 times since 1900.
That work has made real progress. The percentage of world defined as unevangelized has fallen from more than 50% at the beginning of the 20th Century, to less than 30% percent today.
With war down and witnessing up, we all as Christians have many reasons to be thankful and hopeful.