CAPE TOWN: Global Gospel, Global Era
Christian discipleship and mission in the age of Globalization
By Os Guinness and David Wells
October 23, 2010
"Globalization" is a monumental challenge that represents quite simply the most pressing face of "the world" in our time, as well as the greatest opportunity for mission and the greatest challenge for discipleship the church of Jesus Christ has faced since the Apostles in the first century.
Never has the vision of "the whole Gospel for the whole world through the whole church" been closer yet more contested.
The double-edged strength of the church As Christians, and as the church of Jesus Christ, we are called by our Lord to be "in" the world, but "not of" the world.
This tension is crucial to the faithfulness of the church, and to her integrity and effectiveness in the world.
When the church of Christ remains faithful to this calling, she lives in a creative tension that is the prerequisite of her transforming power in culture and history.
For the Christian faith is unashamedly world-affirming, and has a peerless record in contributing to education, to philanthropy, to social reforms, to medicine, to the rise of science, to the emergence of democracy and human rights, as well as to building schools, hospitals, universities, orphanages, and other beneficial institutions.
At the same time, the Christian faith is also world-denying, insisting on the place of prophets as well as priests, on sacrifice as well fulfillment, on the importance of fasts as well as feasts, and on the place for exposing and opposing the world when its attitudes and actions are against the commands of God and the interests of humanity.
Not surprisingly, the church's constant temptation has been to relax this tension from one side or the other, so that the Christians in different ages have sometimes been so much in the world that they are of it, or so much not of the world that they were "no earthly use."
This challenge carries an inescapable implication: Christian faithfulness in any generation requires a clear-eyed understanding of the world of its day.
We meet in Cape Town in October 2010 one hundred years after the great world missionary conference in Edinburgh in June, 1910.
Edinburgh's missionary vision and enterprise has been gloriously vindicated and fulfilled in the emergence of the burgeoning global church over the last hundred years.
It must also be said that the tragic blind spot of the Edinburgh Conference was its lack of self-criticism of its own position in the world, and in particular its failure to recognize its captivity to the powerful delusions of European "Christendom" just before its titanic collapse in the Great World Wars, the repudiation of imperialism, and its own self-induced secularization.
Coming to terms with "globalization" What, then, is "the world" of our day? Beyond any question, the single, strongest expression of the face of the world in our time-;the advanced modern world of the early twenty-first century-;is globalization, the process by which human interconnectedness has expanded to a truly global level.
At the centre of the current wave of globalization are "the triple Sforces" of speed (with the capacity for instant communication), scope (the capacity to communicate to the entire world), and simultaneity (the capacity to communicate to everywhere at the same time).
Together, these forces have shaped our "wired world" and led to an unprecedented triple impact on human living: the acceleration, compression, and intensification of human life on earth in the global world. To call the present levels of globalization "unprecedented" is accurate, but it must be qualified at once. Today's globalization is unique in history so far, but there are many earlier precedents of movement toward globalization, including the missionary expansion of the great world religions, the impact of the advances in transport and the widening networks created by trading, and the expansive effects of military conquest and imperialism. Equally, there are grand advances in earlier times that can claim a similar revolutionary impact on human life, such as the invention of writing, the alphabet and the wheel.
In any age, there are three tasks facing Christians who would wrestle with the world of their day and live faithfully as followers of the Way of Jesus.
The first task is to discern, and so to make an accurate description of the realities of the world in which we find ourselves.
The second task is to assess, and so to evaluate the pros and cons, the benefits and costs, of the world as a whole as well as of individual items and aspects of that world ? all assessed within the framework of the biblical worldview.
The third task is to engage, and so to enter the world as disciples of Jesus called to be salt and light, gratefully using the best of the world as gifts of God and vigilantly avoiding the worst of the world.
Globalization almost always involves two countervailing forces, and not simply one-;if the world is "universalizing" in new ways, it is also "localizing" in new ways (which has helped coin the odd term "glocal," used to describe the impact of the global on the local and the local on the global).
Second, in every new trend there are always both winners and losers-;and Christians who honor their Master must never lose sight of the poor, the oppressed, and those left behind economically, especially those caught by the savage inequities of the globalized world.
Third, there are "multiple modernities," or different ways of being modern-;so that the old adage that "Globalization equals Westernization equals Americanization" is not only wrong but a dangerous conceit. Different cultures, with their own history and their own values, are able to adapt to the modern world in their own way, and may always attempt to say No to what is considered "progress," and not simply Yes.
The Global faith par excellence The crucial and supreme point of the whole discussion is that globalization has a special relevance for Christians because the Christian faith is an essentially global faith.
The Christian faith is the world's first truly global religion.
Christians are the most numerous of religious believers in the world.
The Christian church has been one of the great "carriers" of globalization throughout history, such as in the missionary expansion of the first century church, the Protestant missions in the nineteenth, and the reaching out to the whole world today by the churches from all around the world-;the remarkable enterprise of the Korean churches is a shining example.
Christian NGOs (non-governmental organizations) such as World Vision, Opportunity International, Compassion, Food for the Hungry and the International Justice Mission are often the pioneering carriers of globalization in the world today.
Grand transformations Our core focus at the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town will be on the implications of globalization for discipleship and evangelism.
It is crucial to underscore that globalization is transforming almost every aspect of human life on the planet, and all these transformations have a bearing on discipleship and evangelism in one way or another.
Some of the major transformations that require further exploration can be summarized briefly as follows: Our sense of time, in a world of "fast-life," so that we are the first generation to live at a speed beyond our human comprehension ("business at the speed of light," and so on) Our sense of place, when space is "compressed" and geography "abolished," and we can communicate anywhere in the world instantly, and travel anywhere within 24 hours Our sense of reality, as more and more of life is "mediated," the "virtual" replaces the natural, and face to face relationships give way to virtual interaction Our notion of identity, as the fixed and enduring shifts to "the endlessly protean," and numerous "identity movements" offer collective identities for those suffering from the dislocation of traditional identities Our experience of families, as binding social ties are "melting down," traditional gender roles are challenged and replaced, and the dysfunctional becomes the normal Our experience of community, as the face-to-face shifts to "the virtual and the imagined"O ur experience of work, as globalization makes job security fragile, and "portfolio careers" become the norm The place of religion in modern life, when the traditional religion is "de-monopolized" and "de-territorialized," and religion becomes "religiosity" or a vague "spirituality"The challenge of other religions and especially of "living with our deepest differences" in the emerging "global public square" The place of politics, as the "supra-national" supersedes the national, and nation states are rivaled by many global actors The challenge of working toward "global governance without a world government" The task of leadership in an interconnected age, as leaders now grapple with "the whole world the whole time" The nature of knowledge, as information explodes, "generalism" replaces specialization, and the Internet becomes a "garbage can" as well as a "goldmine" The power of consumerism, and its transformation of human desire, its drive to "commodify" everything, and its grand accumulation of debt and junk The proliferation of ideologies, and especially the new ideologies that are rampantly pro-globalist, such as neo-liberal capitalism, or rampantly anti-globalist, such as "post-colonialism" Modern travel and the vast global tourist industry, which has spawned evils such as "sex tourism," and modern migration and the "manufacture of waste people" such as the millions who have been left homeless, identity-less, jobless, and stateless in refugee camps Our attitudes toward the earth, when degradation exposes its non-renewable fragility Our sense of generations, when fast life encourages "generational conceit" and the myopia that cuts itself off from the wisdom of the elders and the past Our attitude to tradition and change, when novelty and fashion trump wisdom, custom and "the habits of the heart" The dominance of worldwide emotions, such as fear and the shameless pandering to fear-mongering and alarmism The significance and scale of globalized evil, suffering, crime and oppression, and the multiple consequences for justice and compassion ? supremely the global trafficking in sex, human body parts and humans themselves The exponential rise of global side-effects, and therefore of unintended consequences, unknown aftermaths and "black swans" The prospects for the human race, including the degradation of the earth, the potential destruction of the planet and extinction of the human species, and the question of a "post-human future"
Christian discipleship in the global era If globalization has both local and global dimensions, and if its enormous benefits are also trailed by extraordinary shadows, as they are, then it poses for Christian discipleship challenges that are complex.
The Church, if it is true to its calling, will think globally because otherwise it will be more parochial than its non-Christian neighbors and, worse, untrue to its Gospel calling.Global consciousness tends to "relativize"and therefore diminish all absolute truth claims because the awareness of other religions and worldviews erodes the possibility that any one of them could actually be really true.
Capitalism and technology are uniting to produce unparalleled abundance in developed countries and raising questions for Christian faith.
This consequence of globalization is now most obvious in the West but it will become a challenge wherever the world is modernizing.In a world connected electronically and virtually, the trend is to diminish face-to-face human relationships and increase "virtual relationships" and "social networking."
Questions are even being raised as to whether anyone should "go" to church anymore.
The faithfulness of the contrasting stance of being "in" the world, but "not of" the world, is more vital than ever.
Christian mission in the global era The increased opportunities for mission and evangelism in the global era are obvious and huge.
There is greater political liberty, greater social fluidity, greater religious diversity and greater psychological vulnerability than ever before in history.
As a result, human beings in the global era have been described as "conversion prone," and more open than ever to consider new faiths.
We therefore face the prospect of spreading the Gospel in a manner that is "freer, faster, and farther" than ever before in the church's history, a prospect that must be seized with faith and courage.
At the same time, the following nine issues are examples of the sort of challenges we must consider in the global era: The political temptation: At one extreme, more common in the West, the temptation is to see the Christian faith as the best way to defend the status quo and bolster cultures under stress. At the other extreme, more common outside the West, the temptation is to see the Christian faith as a variant of post-colonial criticism, justifying prejudice, channeling outrage, and inciting resentment in the attempt to promote social change.
The lethal effect of secularization: "Man does not live by bread alone," Jesus said, but thanks to the brilliance and power of modern insights and techniques, no generation has come closer to the illusion of being able to do so-;including the ability to grow churches and conduct effective outreach on the strength of human ingenuity alone and without any genuine need for God at all.
The Midas touch of consumerism: In a world in which consumerism is the popular face of the dominant capitalist economy, marketing and "branding" are essential to economic growth, and everything can be bought and sold as a "commodity," the Gospel can easily be distorted when it is presented or perceived as a "product," and the stress on marketing can end up making "the audience" sovereign over the message.
The idol of chronological timeliness: In a world of "fast-life," in which we care less about the past, more about the present that is brought to us via "instant, total information," and most of all about the future, it is fatal to fall for the illusions and idolatry bred by advanced modern time-;such as the seductions of "relevance," the siren call to the ideal of ceaseless "innovation"
The pressure of the "Movement of Movements": The huge majority of the great movements of social reform in history, such as the abolition of slavery, have been inspired by the Christian faith and led by people of faith.
Serving God in our own generation The generation of young people who are now entering adulthood are the "crunch generation," in the sense that many of the global trends of our day are converging to create unprecedented challenges for humanity.
More recent missionary themes such as "The whole church to the whole world," or "Everyone to everyone, and everywhere to everywhere" are not only more in tune with the global era but more faithful to the Great Commission.
That test is still to come.
Equally, we all openly acknowledge and sorrow over the dire weakness and worldliness of much of the church in the West, and its profound need for revival and reformation.
---Os Guinness is an internationally renown speaker on issues of faith and culture. He is a sociologist and author of 25 books on a variety of topics that include "The American Hour", civil society and issues of faith.
---Dr. David Wells is emeritus Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell's main campus in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, and an ordained Congregational minister.
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