Skip to main content

God’s Internationalists: World Vision and the Age of Evangelical Humanitarianism

David P. King
Published by University of Pennsyvania Press in 2019

Tearfund and the Quest for Faith-Based Development

Dena Freeman
Published by Routledge in 2021

Wrestling with God: Ethical Precarity in Christianity and International Relations

Cecelia Lynch
Published by Cambridge University Press in 2020

In the late 1940s, budding American evangelist Bob Pierce visited Amoy, China, to preach the gospel at a girl’s school run by Dutch Reformed missionary Tena Hoelkeboer. Not knowing much about Chinese culture, Pierce told students to go home and tell their parents that they were going to become Christians. One of them actually did and her father beat her and threw her out. Tired of the prospect of taking in one more orphan, Hoelkeboer asked Pierce what he was going to do about it. He gave her five dollars, all the money he had, and promised to send more when he returned to the U.S. Back home, he shared with his fellow Christians the stories of poverty and suffering he had witnessed in China and asked them the same question he had been confronted with: “What are you going to do about it?” When China closed its doors to Western missionaries, Pierce went to Korea to find the same spiritual and material needs there. In 1950, he started an evangelical missionary service organization which he named World Vision, with a staff of only three. His goal was to raise as much money as he could and put it in the hands of missionaries and pastors who needed help. In its first year, World Vision raised $41,245.52.

This is World Vision’s founding myth recounted by David P. King in his thorough analysis of the evangelical agency, God’s Internationalists. Today, World Vision’s revenue surpasses $2 billion. It operates in about 100 countries with 42,000 staff members. It has become not only the largest Christian humanitarian organization in the world but also one of the largest international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) of any kind. As unsurpassed as World Vision’s current size and influence might be, however, the tale of its improbable rise is not unique. Currently, four of the top ten largest INGOs in the U.S. are evangelical agencies. On the other side of the Atlantic, there is also a growing and significant presence of evangelical humanitarian INGOs, the largest of which is Tearfund. Founded in 1968 with a similar purpose as World Vision, Tearfund has grown to be one of the ten largest relief and development NGOs in the U.K. It employs 400 staffers in the U.K. alone and boasts an annual income of £75 million.

Even as World Vision’s and Tearfund’s stories are fascinating on their own, they represent the larger phenomenon of the growth of global evangelical humanitarianism in the latter half of the 20th century. Hence, they illuminate a significant yet often neglected development within evangelical Christianity, one of the largest and most vibrant religious movements around the world. As the three books under review aptly show, however, the story of evangelical humanitarianism cannot be properly told without considering two other larger contexts: the institutionalization of modern humanitarianism as a distinctive field of ideas, actors, and practices and America’s (or the West’s) engagement with the rest of the world.

Individually and collectively, the three books help us better understand the history, actors, motivations, ideas, and strategies behind evangelical humanitarianism as well as its impact, limitations, and struggles. They persuasively show that even more important than these evangelical organizations’ quantitative growth has been their qualitative transformation, which has been prompted by the former, yet guided by this central question: What does it mean to be an evangelical or Christian humanitarian organization in an ever-changing world? As shown below, that question of religious identity has never been conclusively resolved for World Vision, Tearfund, and many other evangelical humanitarians, so they keep on “wrestling with God” as the title of Cecelia Lynch’s sophisticated treatment of the complex relationship between Christianity and modern international relations suggests. All three books avoid a simple caricature and instead present a sympathetic yet critical portrayal of the rise of evangelical humanitarianism and its consequences.

World Vision

God’s Internationalists offers an authoritative interpretation of World Vision’s transformation since its humble beginning out of the neo-evangelical movement in post–World War II America. The main thesis of the book can be summarized as follows: As World Vision encountered the wider world and brought images and interpretations back to its original Western audiences, it experienced the transformation of its own American, evangelical, and missionary identities. At the same time, it led American Christians to reinterpret their own identities in light of their global encounters—real or imagined. (246; italics added)

So the book is first about the transformation of World Vision itself into a more international, Christian (or ecumenical), and development organization, yet it is also about how the organization in turn transformed the three larger fields in which it has operated: American evangelicalism, the international humanitarian and development enterprise, and U.S. foreign policy. In both regards, King demonstrates that World Vision’s transformational efforts have never been complete, making its identity always in flux and elusive for both outsiders and insiders, just as people had difficulty identifying its founder Bob Pierce in simplistic terms.

Pierce was a man of many contradictions. Growing out of the fundamentalist subculture of the early part of the 20th century, he firmly believed in all of the conservative evangelical precepts, including salvation only through the faith in Jesus Christ, the ultimate authority of the Bible, and the urgent need for world evangelization through gospel proclamation and individual conversion. He despised academic ecumenism and scholarly debates about missiology, but he never questioned that saving souls and caring for the poor and vulnerable were both crucial parts of Christian mission and he was willing to work with non-Christians as well as non-evangelical Christians to accomplish that mission. He was never interested in policing the boundaries of American evangelicalism, which preoccupied so many of his fellow evangelical leaders. Like many of them he was an ardent anticommunist and promoted American exceptionalism, but he was never hesitant to distance himself from U.S. foreign policy when he saw it doing more harm than good to his humanitarian work.

Identifying itself primarily as a missionary organization and working mostly with missionaries and local pastors on the ground, it took over ten years for World Vision to finally register with the U.S. government and receive funding from it. The Vietnam War was a watershed moment for World Vision and many other evangelical humanitarian organizations as they moved in to fill the void left by other secular and religious agencies critical of U.S. policy toward the country. Contrary to what many believed, World Vision did not always follow orders from the U.S. government. For example, it returned to Southeast Asia against the government’s advice in 1978 as Vietnam went to war against Cambodia and China. With hundreds of thousands of refugees stranded throughout the South China Sea and no country willing to help them, World Vision launched “Operation Seasweep” with its own vessel, saving many lives. It eventually pushed the U.S. and other countries to reverse course and provide asylum for the displaced. According to King, this was World Vision’s first success in challenging and changing U.S. foreign policy.

As World Vision expanded its operations around the world, it became more internally diverse. In 1973, under its second president, Stan Mooneyham, it embarked on its official internationalization process, leading to the creation of World Vision International (WVI) in 1978 as a separate body governed by a board representing all of its five support offices, to which the U.S. office handed over control. In 1984, Tom Houston became WVI’s third president and first non-American one. Since then, World Vision has continuously devolved more power to its offices in the non-Western world. Internationalization culminated in the relocation of World Vision International’s headquarters from southern California to a London suburb in 2010.

It is fascinating to see how World Vision’s internationalization has prompted, and has been prompted by, its shift from being an evangelical missionary organization to a Christian development NGO. Internationalization challenged World Vision’s original evangelical identity as both non-American support offices in the Global North and field offices in the Global South sometimes downplayed their evangelical identity to meet the needs of their respective secular and pluralistic contexts. Increased demand for hiring indigenous staff could also lead to more conflict with local Christians who thought World Vision was stealing potential leaders from them.

King offers an interesting case to illustrate the complicated relationship between World Vision’s international and evangelical identities. In 1977, the Roman Catholic Church criticized World Vision’s work in the Philippines for pressuring Catholic believers to attend Protestant services in order to receive aid. Although “World Vision officially forbade proselytism (defined either as using conversion as an inducement or requirement to receive aid or as enticing individuals to convert from one church to another), the indigenous staff people did not always follow or understand organizational policies” (184). After the incident, World Vision began hiring Roman Catholics as local staffers in predominantly Catholic countries, which drew criticisms from its traditional evangelical partners.

Although World Vision does not publicly identity itself as evangelical anymore, its U.S. branch still mostly relies on its evangelical base for support. World Vision U.S. (WVUS) also maintains the policy of hiring only those who profess belief in Christ, which is not the case in countries like Canada, Australia, and many European countries, where doing so constitutes religious discrimination. In 2006, three WVUS employees sued the organization for wrongful dismissal after being fired for doubting Christ’s divinity and the doctrine of the Trinity. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately sided with the organization.

Many existing studies have shown how evangelicals have moved away from their sole focus on evangelism to a more holistic notion of mission, most prominently since the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization, also known as the Lausanne Congress.1

King provides many informative details about the role World Vision played in supporting the gathering and the movement it subsequently spawned, even while being criticized by non-Western evangelicals for representing an evangelism-focused, managerial approach to mission. In fact, as World Vision moved deeper into the field of development, it never entirely left evangelism behind. Its leaders never wavered in their belief that they can hold evangelism and social action together, however hard it might turn out to be in practice. In 1974, World Vision added development to its core objectives. In the late 1970s, it began to articulate its faith-based development approach even as the majority of resources were still being devoted to traditional child-sponsorship. Putting holistic development into practice required organizational restructuring, so by 1979, regional offices were asked to integrate evangelism, childcare, and relief and development in each local program. By 1995, “transformational development” became the new buzzword within evangelical circles and Walking with the Poor2 by Bryant Myers, World Vision’s in-house expert on faith-based development, became a standard textbook in the field.

To what extent has World Vision influenced the broader evangelical community, U.S. foreign policy, and the global humanitarian and development sector? As to the agency’s impact on the first two fields, King’s assessment is largely positive even as he points out certain limitations. He shows that as World Vision became bigger and more experienced, it ventured to educate its evangelical base instead of simply catering to it. During its FAST campaign, the organization’s 25th anniversary project emphasizing the extent and severity of world hunger, it attempted to tell American Christians that charity was not enough and that they needed to stop overconsumption and adopt a simple lifestyle. Likewise, when its field offices in Africa and Asia asked for funding to continue working for people with AIDS, WVUS decided to challenge its evangelical donors, many of whom were uninterested in, if not outright hostile toward, the cause. Eventually many prominent evangelical leaders such as Rick Warren and Bill Hybels came on board and used their influence to persuade their flocks. American evangelicals became strong supporters of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), George W. Bush’s signature program for global AIDS victims. PEPFAR became just one of many foreign policy achievements for evangelical advocates at the turn of the 21st century, which made them known as “America’s new internationalists.”

King argues that World Vision’s story helps us move beyond the “two-party” narrative of twentieth-century American Protestantism as popularized by historian Martin Marty, or the “culture wars” thesis of sociologist James Davison Hunter. There is no doubt that World Vision has constantly sought not to be defined by the conservative-liberal divide. Yet, it is doubtful whether it has succeeded in trans-forming the divide itself by building a new evangelical center. Many believe that the term “evangelical” is now more strongly associated with conservative politics in America than ever. Finally, King only sporadically addresses World Vision’s engagement with the broader humanitarian and development sector although he occasionally discusses other evangelical INGOs such as Samaritan’s Purse, World Relief, and Food for the Hungry. As shown below, Dena Freeman’s Tearfund and the Quest for Faith-Based Development is a nice complement in this regard, since it is more squarely located in the scholarly literature on religion and development.

In the end, King convincingly demonstrates that professionalization does not necessarily lead to secularization, which is echoed by Freeman as well as Lynch. Religious identity is rarely static. “The question then is not whether World Vision as a development organization is Christian, but how it is Christian” (14). King also sees the story of World Vision as one of success. He even calls it “one of the most remarkable Christian institutions of the past century” (246) and remains optimistic about Christian humanitarianism’s future:

Despite ongoing uncertainty on evangelicalism’s future and the complexities of individuals’ and institutions’ religious identities and practices, as more American Christians embrace a global vision, perhaps a new form of practical ecumenism may lead to transcending or transgressing past theological and political boundary markers. And perhaps upstart religious relief agencies and established faith-based nonprofits like World Vision may lead the way. (257)


Freeman’s book on Tearfund more directly addresses the growing literature on faith-based organizations (FBOs) and makes theoretical and practical contributions to the field of religion and development. Still, she shares King’s perspective on the role faith plays in an evangelical organization as it tries to navigate multiple institutional contexts:

This role has not been static: it has evolved as it has been influenced by changes in Christian ideas about evangelism and social change, secular theories of development, and mainstream ideas about the role of religion in society, as well as broader socio-political-economic transformations. (2)

Similar to King’s narrative, Freeman’s is a story of professionalization, internationalization, and the pursuit of deeper integration of evangelism and development with all of its tensions, dilemmas, merits, and shortcomings.

The book divides the entire history of Tearfund into three stages. The first stage is the first 25 years since its founding in 1968 when Tearfund was created as a “new kind of missionary organization” embracing both evangelism and social action in theory but keeping them strictly separate organizationally. The second stage is from 1990 to 2005 when Tearfund became a mainstream development NGO, which provoked intense internal debates between “mainstreamers” and “transformationalists” and between the “globalists” and the “localists.” During the third and current stage, Tearfund has firmly identified itself as an FBO and has tried to institutionalize and promote its faith-based development approach both inside and outside of the organization.

Tearfund was officially established in 1968. Unlike World Vision and its founder who did not care much about internal politics within evangelicalism, Tearfund and its mother organization, Evangelical Alliance, was locked in a debate about whether British evangelicals should stay within existing denominations. John Stott, an early supporter of Tearfund and later its president who would come to champion holistic mission, advocated for staying. The first National Evangelical Anglican Congress in 1967, an attempt by younger evangelicals to reengage the Church of England and British society, set the tone for Tearfund:

Indeed, it is possible to see the birth of Tearfund as a response to the existence of Christian Aid … if the liberal wing of the Church of England had its own relief and development NGO (Christian Aid), then surely the evangelical wing should have its own too (Tearfund)?” (36)

Tearfund originally stood for “The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund.” Just like World Vision, it began by giving out grants to missionaries who were doing relief and development work. Interestingly and unlike World Vision, the organization initially focused strictly on social work to avoid competition with existing missionary societies. It was envisioned as “a new kind of mission agency.”

Freeman offers an interesting anecdote about Tearfund’s early encounter with World Vision. The former’s first two major works were grant making and personnel sending. When it decided to start a child sponsorship program, it found a partner in World Vision Canada, which was sponsoring orphanages in India and Bangladesh. But Tearfund pulled out of the partnership only two years later upon learning that the orphanages were not being run by evangelical Christians. Instead, it decided to work with another evangelical organization, Compassion International, which provided evangelism and Christian education.

In 1979 Tearfund established its own Evangelism and Christian Education department. The goal was to address spiritual and material needs together, but the programs were kept separate in reality, managed by different departments and funded differently. As the agency drew closer to the work of development, many started to question what it meant to do “Christian development” as well as whether and how evangelism and development should be combined. Without fully addressing these questions, the leaders of the organization during the 1990s sought to join the mainstream development and humanitarian sector. This process of professionalization meant major restructuring of its organization, operations, and partnerships, which World Vision had begun a decade earlier. Without entirely letting go of its church and missionary partners on the ground, Tearfund established its own country offices and deployed its own disaster response teams. It taught its local partners professional accounting and assessment skills and made them abide by international codes of conduct and standards of behavior, which were and still are largely based on the Western dichotomy of secular and religious. The leadership also struggled to decentralize, unsure how much room should be given to local partners in developing and implementing their own strategies.

Against this backdrop emerged the efforts of so-called “transformationalists,” mostly female staff members from the non-Western world, to develop Tearfund’s own Christian theology of development. Inspired by theologians from both the Global North and South, including René Padilla, Miroslav Volf, John Stott, Chris Wright, and Tim Chester, transformationalists sought to bridge the old gap between evangelism and social action by placing the local congregation at the center of Tearfund’s development work. Gladys Wathanga, Tearfund’s Desk Officer for East Africa, and her team developed the approach called Church and Community Development (CCM). The idea was first to help local churches envi-sion themselves as agents of change and lead their communities in the process of holistic transformation. Interestingly, Wathanga first picked up the idea for CCM while she was working for her previous employer, World Vision, a detail King does not mention in his book.

A parallel debate ensued as Tearfund began to embrace campaigning and advocacy as its core work. Since evangelicalism had been marked by its individualistic approach to social change, many in the organization were initially resistant to the idea of tackling larger, structural causes of poverty and suffering through political means. They also believed that Tearfund should continue focusing on its work with local community partners to make a difference. Despite these concerns, the organization became one of the most capable evangelical organizations in the area of advocacy by the early 2000s, leading several successful campaigns in various areas. Jubilee 2000, an international effort to cancel debt for African nations, is a prime example.

The third stage in Tearfund’s transformation started around 2005 as its new CEO decided to consolidate its identity as an FBO by institutionalizing CCM in all three of its major areas of work: development, relief, and advocacy. The decision was aided by the growing popularity of religion as an important factor in development within the larger humanitarian sector. It also emboldened the leadership to promote its model to other Christian and secular organizations and donors. This required defining, operationalizing, and measuring the goals and outcomes of its unique mission. In 2014 Tearfund released a tool to measure the effectiveness of its work in promoting human flourishing, the end goal of its work. It consists of nine domains, including social connections, personal relationships, living faith, emotional and mental wellbeing, physical health, stewardship of the environment, material assets and resources, participation and influence, and capabilities.

Tearfund hoped that this more objective and systematic model would help boost the legitimacy of its approach within the secular development sector, yet there were unresolved problems. For example, how do you evaluate a community’s status of living faith? Does it mean more people becoming Christians or maturing in their own religious traditions? CCM also often led to tensions and conflicts between churches or between Christians and non-Christians. This might be seen as a necessary step as the community becomes more Christian, but it could constitute a cause for concern from a secular point of view. Another complaint was that CCM mostly benefited middle-class church members, not the poorest of the poor. In response, Tearfund has been constantly working to revise its CCM methodology so that it can be more inclusive.

In the area of humanitarian relief, Tearfund has been developing a faith-based approach to peacemaking to tackle the root causes of conflict while trying to figure out how to be Christian in a predominantly Muslim context where there is no Christian church to work with. Finally, its advocacy and campaigning work has also been more consciously faith-based as it has tried to build a movement of Christians around the world, as exemplified in the new Jubilee campaign centered on the biblical notion of restorative economy.

Despite all these efforts, Freeman argues that the majority of Tearfund’s work still remains virtually indistinguishable from that of secular, mainstream organizations. Its quest for integral or holistic mission is still unfinished. The interpretive lens Freeman offers to understand Tearfund’s dynamic history is “the cycle of secularization and revitalization,” which she argues has occurred repeatedly among Protestant Christian organizations since the 19th century. As established organizations become secularized as a result of professionalization, “spiritually hot” evangelical organizations pop up to replace them before the cycle repeats itself. What is interesting about Tearfund is that the same dynamic has happened inside the organization. It remains to be seen whether its current struggle for CCM will eventually lose steam and, if so, whether a new revitalization movement will emerge in its place. Regardless, Freeman’s book provides a convincing critique of the existing literature on religious humanitarianism that tends to hold a simplistic and static view of evangelical as well as other FBOs.

The Ethical Precarity of Christian Humanitarianism

Cecelia Lynch’s Wrestling with God is not a study of evangelical humanitarianism per se. Its scope and aim are much broader. It presents an ethical genealogy of Christian engagement with modern international relations, going as far back as the 17th century. The metaphor of “wrestling” was chosen as the central feature of Christian ethics, highlighting the complex and fluid nature of past and current moral struggles within Christianity as it has spread from the West to the rest of the world. A crucial backdrop to this expansion has been the rise of liberal modernity, which many observers view either as symbiotic with Christianity or as completely separate from it. Lynch problematizes the prevailing religious-secular divide in the field and rejects the corollary view that religion and violence always go hand in hand, without denying that Christianity has been complicit in accommodating and promoting many troubling legacies of liberal modernity.

Lynch’s most important contribution is to introduce (or reintroduce) Christians as major ethical agents in global politics. Drawing from sociologist Max Weber, she advances what she calls a “neo-Weberian” approach to Christian ethics in international relations. Its central tenet is that “rather than assuming that religious doctrine is fixed and unchanging … we need to analyze how religious actors interpret rules and guidelines, both in everyday contexts and in situations of violence and crisis” (42). More specifically, Lynch utilizes the concept of popular casuistry to refer to this process of ethical decision making by religious actors:

Groups of religious adherents employ a form of moral reasoning that incorporates and interprets the more formal teachings of religious ethics but is not limited to them, relies on precedent and sacred texts but interprets them to suit given circumstances and “cases,” and, therefore, uses these resources to fill the gaps in guidelines to action that inevitably occur in any concrete situation. (60)

This popular casuistry is no doubt what those evangelical humanitarians featured in King’s and Freeman’s books have engaged in, generating new ideas of Christian mission and changing their organizations’ identities as they sought to navigate ever-shifting realities on the ground. As shown above, there has been no easy answer to any of the difficult problems they have encountered. In Lynch’s view, this must help religious actors grasp the ethical fragility of their knowledge and action, embrace humility, and practice constant reflexivity. She challenges Christians to adopt this attitude of “ethical precarity” because, as she shows throughout her book, they have repeatedly failed in bridging ethical divides between Christians and non-Christian “others” and between violent and non-violent means of promoting peace and justice.

In addition to her case studies on Christian responses to colonialism, war, and economic injustice in the developing world, Lynch addresses the growth of Christian humanitarian in the post-Cold War era. In her analysis, there have been two proselytism problems in contemporary Christian humanitarianism: what she calls “donor proselytism,” which refers to the promotion of neoliberal language and values of development and management, and religious proselytism. Christian humanitarians, including evangelical ones, have been implicated in both, even as many have utilized popular casuistry to challenge or modify them. For example, Lynch shows how World Vision, as a signer of the Code of Conduct for Humanitarian Relief, rejects proselytism yet embraces evangelism or Christian witness as a legitimate way of sharing its faith. She also discusses how the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act, which was supported by many of the same signatories of the code of conduct, can be used to create a more favorable condition for Christian proselytism and conversion in Muslim countries, contradicting the letters and spirit of the code. Although Lynch necessarily paints in broad strokes, often glossing over the dynamic changes within major evangelical organizations King and Freeman so ably demonstrate, neither of them would seriously disagree with her criticism and warning.3

Lynch’s book contributes to the better understanding of evangelical humanitarianism by placing it within the larger history of Christian global engagement. Conquest, war, oppression, and injustice are still prevalent today and the way earlier Christian theologians and practitioners grappled with those problems continues to shape the way contemporary evangelical humanitarians think and talk about them. Although Lynch believes that nobody can ever “get it right,” she challenges Christians never to stop wrestling:

I recognize that what I am advancing represents a demanding ethics, one that requires a constantly reflexive posture, an expansive religiosity and theology, and the willingness to give things up … It requires a constant questioning of comfort zones and the ethical certainties they often represent. Humility and awareness of ethical precarity do not preclude either analysis or action but, instead, require both; they require risk. Such an awareness and expansive orientation can allow moments of ethical creativity and vision, with the potential to challenge and rupture relations of power that produce violence and inequality. (242)

Whither Evangelical Humanitarianism?

Where is evangelical humanitarianism headed? Will evangelical FBOs eventually follow the footsteps of many mainline Christian organizations toward secularization? Will they succumb to the pressures from conservative evangelical forces which seem to be growing in the non-Western world as well? Or will they succeed in creating and sustaining a new evangelical center by institutionalizing and mainstreaming transformational mission? King, Freeman, and Lynch say that religious identity is never static so they would not make a definite prediction. Yet they seem to give slightly different assessments regarding the trajectories of evangelical humanitarianism. As mentioned above, King is clearly the most optimistic about the future of World Vision as well as other evangelical organizations. Freeman is more neutral even as she suggests that evangelical FBOs are not and will not be free from the historical cycle of secularization and revitalization. Lynch is perhaps the most critical since evangelical Christians are not among the theologians and activists she holds up as examples of those who better embodied ethical precarity in their life and work. Still, she would not necessarily give up hope on evangelicals.

While the three books reviewed here tell us so much about the rise of global evangelical humanitarian and its significance, I suggest that there are two further areas of research and practice that should inform both evangelical humanitarians as well as their partners and critics moving forward. First, we need to know whether more integral or holistic programs such as CCM indeed make a difference in the lives of the people they aim to help. King rarely discusses this issue of effectiveness. Freeman does and she is rather skeptical. For example, she talks about how Tearfund’s CCM projects in Kenya were fairly effective in mobilizing churches, but their impact beyond the churches was negligible (118-119). Also, CCM is even hard to implement in the first place where Christians are a small minority. In 2012 Mark Galli, then-senior managing editor of Christianity Today, argued in his article that churches and FBOs are relatively ineffective in tackling poverty on a large scale, so evangelicals should instead focus on evangelism and projects helping individuals like child sponsorship.4 It provoked strong responses from leaders of major evangelical organizations, including World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, and World Relief, yet Galli did not back down.5 More research needs to be done on this.

Second, we need to know more about indigenous humanitarian efforts before and after Western humanitarians arrived. In other words, we need to know how Christians in the Majority World have helped themselves and their neighbors without the help from the West. King and Freeman discuss the role Christian theologians and activists in the Global South have played in internationalizing World Vision and Tearfund and modifying their theologies and strategies. Lynch argues that non-Western theologies and practices might prove to be a better guide for Christian humanitarians as they try to navigate in an increasingly multireligious world. Still, Western evangelicals take a center stage in all three books. There is a small but growing literature on evangelicalism in the Global South, which should help correct this imbalance as the epicenter of evangelical Christianity continues moving to the South. For example, Swartz in his 2020 book Facing West shows that before Bob Pierce began his work in Korea, Korean pastor Han Kyung-Chik had already been working extensively to help the poor and the orphans and it was he who helped Pierce found World Vision, although Han is now mostly remembered in the U.S. as Pierce’s translator.6 Just as evangelical humanitarian organizations have internationalized over the years, the scholarship on evangelical humanitarianism needs to follow suit.

Cite this article
Chan Woong Shin, “How (Not) to Lose Your Soul While Saving the World: World Vision, Tearfund, and the Precarious Rise of Evangelical Humanitarianism”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 51:3 , 365-376


  1. Melani McAlister, The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); David R. Swartz, Facing West: American Evangelicals in an Age of World Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).
  2. Bryant Myers, Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011).
  3. There is no cross-reference between the three books. However, Freeman cites Lynch’s 2016 coauthored article.
  4. Mark Galli, “The Best Way to Fight Poverty—Really,” Christianity Today, February 10, 2012.
  5. Mark Galli, “The Church Is the Solution? Show Me the Stats,” Christianity Today, March 8, 2012.
  6. David R. Swartz, Facing West: American Evangelicals in an Age of World Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).

Chan Woong Shin

Indiana Wesleyan University
Chan Woong Shin is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at Gordon College.