Globalization, religion and mission
We are living in an extraordinary time. This is the time when a lot of things are becoming possible, when all predictions are failing, when we have great freedom and great responsibility, when we understand our differences and interdependence in a deeper way, when our unity is complicated and more critical than ever before, when our mission seems to be impossible and when the world needs us more than ever.
We call this world “global,” but what does it mean? What are the implications for the church and for its mission? History keeps surprising us and keeps questioning all certainties and patterns.
It seemed like the whole world was moving down a general trajectory of development — from traditional values to rational choice values, from religious staples to market logic. However, it turned out that globalism had not reduced the role of religion, but on the contrary, the latter was able to ride the new waves of globalization and even to extend its influence.
Let us remind ourselves that it has been this way before. Christianity has given some powerful impulses to globalization, i.e., the spread of universal religion over the first few centuries and global missions over the last few centuries. We can also think of the so-called Axial Age when world religions laid the foundation of global unity in terms of spiritual matters.
Religion continues to be an important yet not an unchanging factor in globalization processes. Religion is involved in the formation of the new world, and it is also being changed in the process. There are some ambiguities and contradictions.
Therefore, as noted by analysts of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSCC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, we need to harmonize philosophical and missiological theories with demographic data. And the analysis of the latter, in turn, leaves room for two polarized versions — total decline of religion in the secular culture and growing expansion of Christianity (Johnson, 2006).
But what if we try to reconcile these polarities in a wider frame of the coming Kingdom? The spread of Christianity is possible even in the context of a crisis of traditional forms of religion. Moreover, the glory of Christ and the Gospel of the Kingdom is not constrained by the crisis in Christianity. Sometimes the gospel prevails because of Christianity, and sometimes in spite of it. One way or another it prevails, always and everywhere.
Philip Jenkins, a scholar in historical studies of religion, draws one of the most amazing pictures of global Christianity. Where our conventional perspective sees decline, he sees developments in new ways and forms. “Around the globe Christianity is growing and mutating in ways that observers in the West tend not to see. If we look beyond the liberal West, we see that another Christian revolution … is already in progress” (Jenkins, 2002). The thing is that the countries of the Global South (formerly called “the third world”) are moving back to the future — to neo-orthodoxy and the literal reading of the New Testament in light of current local and global challenges. The church of the Global South (Asia, Africa and Latin America) finds itself not in the postmodern context, but rather inside the supratextual reality in the spirit of the book of Acts. If the Liberal North continues its Reformation, then the Global South offers Counter Reformation. It is the latter project that defines the Christian majority. And this very project can be a real alternative to another global factor — Islam.
How returning to tradition and orthodoxy will fit together with global values of rights and liberties, how tolerance will get along with dogmatism of faith, how new exclusivism will be combined with already formed diversity, how the majority and the minority will build relationships with each other, how religion will affect public and personal morals — these are the questions, according to Jenkins, that make up the core of a new Reformation. The background of these questions appears to be apocalyptical: “the competing ideologies are explicitly religious, promising their followers a literal rather than merely a metaphorical kingdom of God on earth… with a strongly apocalyptic mindset, in which the triumph of righteousness is associated with the vision of a world devastated by fire and plague” (Jenkins, 2002).
So, the picture of religion on the global scale looks rather complicated; we can see here several possible scenarios. Religion in the global world is flourishing in the South — in its conservative version, and is dying in the North — in its intellectual, respectable and liberal version. The former is fighting for its life at all cost, even at the cost of the world’s destruction “by fire and plague”, and therefore it is more competitive. In his fundamental work The Next Christendom, Jenkins draws special attention to the ways how the mission of the Global South impacts the North and the world as a whole as well as to the synthetic nature of “Southern Christianity”. While Christianity is shifting to the South engaging in interaction with dominating local cultures, it undergoes significant changes. How will this synthesis look like? “At least for the foreseeable future, members of a southern-dominated church are likely to be among the poorer people on the planet, in marked contrast
to the older western-dominated world” (Jenkins, 6-7). How will this change a collective image of the global church? What are the implications of the fact that aspects of belief that are crucial to Western civilization are being preserved mostly outside the “West”? (Jenkins, 6-7).
“Southern Christianity” becomes a true revelation not only for the secularized West and the global world, but also for “Northern Christianity”. “Some western Christians have expected that the religion of their Third World brethren would be fervently liberal, activist, and even revolutionary”, but for the “Southern Christians” revolution-Reformation is connected not with the individualistic and liberal themes, but with collective and holistic salvation; “While many espoused political liberation, they made it inseparable from deliverance from supernatural evil” (Jenkins, 8).
The post-Soviet territory remains a special place in the global processes. The familiar Three-World model has split into the North (“the First”) and the South (“the Third World”), losing sight of the “Second World” identity. Many post-Soviet countries which are grouped around Russia refuse to accept a new global map and to perceive the collapse of the USSR as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe”. One way or another, with the collapse of the USSR globalization process has reached a new level. As a sociologist of religion Victor Yelenskyj pointed out, “The fall of the Iron Curtain and the entry of the post-communist countries into the global capitalist system has become a remarkable milestone in this process. Globalization plays an exclusive role in the fall of the communist regimes”. (Еленский, 77) They are interrelated — globalization has brought down “the Iron Curtain” and has gained a new momentum.
All of a sudden post-Soviet Christians changed from being observers of “the Iron Curtain” to participants of turbulent events. Yesterday’s “evil empire” has opened up as “a mission field”, as well as a tremendous and high-potential market.
Both the Second and the Third worlds got engaged in global processes finding themselves as part of a larger whole.
Historian Mark Noll suggests in this regard to understand globalization as an objective process, which not only speeds up and facilitates the movement of resources, goods, money and services, but also adopts a new extremely large scale: “Even as globalization can lead to strengthened tribal identities and traditions, it almost always also draws people away from local traditions toward international practices” (Noll, 31).
But this rapprochement of the former three worlds (the capitalist family, the socialist bloc and the developing countries), of the West and the South, the North and the South, not only creates something in common, but also provokes an identity clash. Not only have the markets and the political systems moved closer, but the religions have touched as well. Not only similar, but also foreign, potentially conflicting cultures have been brought together. This proximity, erasing the safe distance becomes a source of fear as well as hope. For Christians this presents not only mission opportunities among other cultures and religions, but also threats of a reciprocal effect and even the loss of the missionary zeal.
Missiologists remind us that fascination with “dialogue” has led many Protestants to abandon the traditional understanding of human nature as sinful and “lost”, and then to abandon global mission. In this regard, dialogue must be considered only as a “specific missionary act” and evaluated for its “effectiveness” (Bellofatto, 2010).
The global world has experienced not only the rise of multiculturalism; it has also experienced its crisis. In fact, inclusivism turned out to be a pious wish, which has never been realized. According to evangelical missiologists, a new paradigm of relationships with “others” will certainly be exclusivist (Bellofatto, 2010), where no one is expected to deny their convictions, and yet everyone is expected to learn how to express their differences respectfully.
This raises the key question: are Christians able to believe in the possibility of globalization compatible with their belief and mission, and imagine according to their faith, that this possibility can be realized?
This power of vision is no-less-valuable than all theories; in fact theories often have restricted and suppressed it. Versions of globalization compatible with Christian faith and mission often have been excluded and suppressed not only by opponents, but also by the most ardent supporters of Christianity. Here we should also consider the opponents of westernization, colonization and imperialism (besides the internal, Christian critique of Jenkins and Noll, we should also pay attention to the works of Edward Said and Ewa Thompson); we can’t ignore their contribution to redefining globalization (including globalization in terms of mission). Said has convincingly demonstrated, adducing historical materials, that European attitude towards the East is being formed by a certain discourse of “orientalism”, “by which European culture was able to manage — and even produce — the Orient politically , sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively”. This discourse purposely replaces reality, dominates and distorts it, therefore “the Orient was not (and is not) a free subject of thought or action” (Said, 10). This discourse is far from being “objective”, it is not unbiased, not pure, and not indifferent; on the contrary, it is prejudiced, moreover it is oppressive. Following Foucault, Said defends his notion of very close ties between this discourse and power, and furthermore, universality of power (also in religion, culture and missions), “ideas, cultures, and histories cannot seriously be understood or studied without their force, or more precisely their configurations of power, also being studied… The relationship between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination” (Said 13). Literary scholar Ewa Thompson comes to the same conclusion as she studies implicit forms of imperialism in Russian literature. These scholars of post-colonial perspective for a global world pose two serious questions for Christians about force and vision. Are missiologists able to offer such a vision of globalization, where their belief would be spread without force? Are theologians able to envision globalization in light of the Kingdom, liberating people from the power of foreign to Christianity discourses, oppression and injustice? In order to answer these questions Christians need to remember not only about their exclusiveness, but also about their universality; not only about the mission of their own churches, but also about the overall Missio Dei; not only about their own church, but also about the Kingdom of God.
Mission in the context of globalization. Globalization in light of the Kingdom
We see ourselves as part of a global world more and more. It’s not only because of the free movement of people and goods. It’s not only because the global problems of ecology, terrorism, disease and hunger hold us hostage, putting us all in the same boat on the stormy sea of instability. It’s not only because the Internet lures us in and binds us together in one global network.
But most of all, it is because we as Christians see ourselves as part of the great world created by God in unity and diversity, the world that is being sustained by His grace, being redeemed by His mercy and love, being transformed into the Kingdom.
For Christians, a global world doesn’t imply benefits or threats, but rather it is the only right framework in which we are to live and think. As we read the Bible, we see how God consistently prepares people to understand the global, even universal scope of His mission. He wants us to start with our own city (Ur of the Chaldees), then find ourselves as part of a special nation, and eventually — as part of the Kingdom that has room for everyone.
Justification of mission in the era of globalization inevitably implies justification of globalization. In fact, we should not only take advantage of the opportunities offered by globalization, but also understand it as something greater than the external context. In globalization we can recognize the natural and irresistible desire for unity. Obviously, in this movement towards unity we can observe not only Christian motivation, but also the motivation of the Antichrist. But isn’t it worth fighting to make the former come to the forefront or at least to make it visible to the world?
Isn’t it true that movement towards the Kingdom is a Christian version of globalization? Shouldn’t we set it against the world order of the Antichrist? Shouldn’t we defend our version of globalization from the anti-globalist movements, which tear history and geography apart dividing them into rival regions, cultures and religions?
We can and should offer not just Christian justification of globalization, but rather a Christian version of globalization, which we could justify and defend from the Antichrist’s globalist and anti-globalist schemes.
You can recognize the handwriting of the Antichrist in the intentional mixing of politics and religion, when a power is seeking to become not only global, but also sacred. The goal of such globalism is a holy global empire.
The Christian interest to global processes, on the contrary, is focused on the interaction between the spiritual and the socio-cultural. This approach is fundamentally anti-imperial because it confesses that only the King of Kings is able to unite all the nations and tribes.
The Antichrist’s Empire must be founded on oppression moreover on sacred coercion. The Kingdom of God excludes coercion as a principle. The Antichrist offers “peace and security”, bread and circuses, stability at the price of freedom. The kingdom of God is being revealed to those who have kept their freedom and fidelity, even at the price of their own lives.
Global world order erases diversity in order to replace a name with a number, in order to make everyone speak in the single Babylonian language again.
In a prophetic vision of the Kingdom of God we see “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9). They cannot be counted or controlled; they freely praise God and rejoice at the arrival of His reign. What they see in front of them is the Lamb, not the dragon; they are not afraid, they are chanting.
In the Apocalypse we see how all the globalist schemes are being crushed and transformed. No matter what people do, no matter how they picture world development — all of it ultimately will usher in the triumph of God’s Kingdom.
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15).
How do we picture this Kingdom, how is it displayed in the events and processes of globalization? What can and should we do for the Kingdom in the era of globalization, how can we direct and correct globalization processes towards the Kingdom?
Global world structures and global communities of the Kingdom
“We don’t trust the USA, we don’t trust the EU, we don’t trust the UN. None has come to help us.”
Message from besieged Aleppo.
Continued globalization not only creates new global structures, but it also tests their durability. Today, we see the world order that was built after World War Two breaking down. Its global institutions are turning out to be powerless in protecting the borders of sovereign countries, democracy and international rights. No one is able to stop the war in Ukraine, let alone in Syria.
This opens opportunities for creating both new regional or national projects and more aggressive-‘effective’ global systems. Nations and countries are ready to accept the authority, which promises “peace and safety”.
In the context of growing chaos and demand for a “world government” Christians must use their global network of communities and missions in order to proclaim and reveal the triumph of God’s Kingdom.
Certainly, it is not about the triumphalist understanding of the Kingdom, which claims to be successful in the affairs of this world by appropriating politics, business and culture. Rather, we should talk about an alternative order, which is displayed by weak and vulnerable positions — compassion, solidarity, mutual support, defending unprofitable truths, caring for those whom the progress doesn’t favor.
If we look closely at Christianity in connection to globalization, we will see that it already has something that other institutions can only aspire to create or obtain. It is a truly special Kingdom, which extends beyond the borders of geography and history, politics and culture. It is an independent future-oriented reality, detached from intrusive connections and extended beyond history. Throughout history however, world structures and Church structures tried to take advantage of each other’s opportunities. On occasion they would stick together becoming almost indistinguishable, but most of the time these alliances or “symphonies” were temporary. In the context of a real global crisis of world structures, the church can see its special calling clearer, the calling to be a part of another order, the Kingdom reality.
In fact, the church underestimates its potential; it is seeking favor with the state and other world structures instead of relying on and developing its own resources. In its confessional diversity and the whole range of its external ministries, the church represents not only the first global network of people and communities in history, but also the most progressive form of global unity.
In the global development of church communities and missionary work we must see not only success of the Kingdom as one of the global institutions, but something much bigger — an emerging, manifested and maturing reality of the Kingdom. That is why globalization in the world brings the church back to the Kingdom and reminds it about its universal, ecumenical and inclusive nature.
The global church and missionary movements are not only signs, but also sprouts of the future, living communities of the coming Kingdom. World missions have reminded the Church about its global nature and set it free from the corrupting regional and state connections. If the Church will be able to accept and comprehend its global nature, it could become a model and a beginning for redefining other global structures. We can and should think about something bigger than success of Christianity in the world. We can and we should perceive Christianity and the World in light of something bigger — in light of the Kingdom. And then the following questions will not seem so audacious. What if global missions extended beyond the framework of Christianity and represented progressive forms of political, cultural and economic impact? What if our realization of our mission as not ours (but as Missio Dei) enabled our interaction to be non-coercive, creative, mutually beneficial and mutually developing? What if precisely in the area of mission we are to overcome for the first time infamous Eurocentrism and Americentrism, and overcome it with a generally positive outcome, not with fierce criticism and destruction?
We should not perceive the crisis of global structures as a sign that the end is near. We should perceive it as a sign of a beginning for the church and for the Kingdom. A lot of things can start with us. A lot of things can change after we are gone.
Globalization of the world and globalization of mission
Global missions have played their unique role in the formation of our world. However, globalizations also have played a role in the transformation of mission.
Mission has helped the world to become global. But how does it change mission itself? Mission brought it closer to the standards of Christendom, but now this goal seems to be utopian. What should missions do in the context of post-Christendom? Globalization changes not only the world as an object of mission, but also missions as a means of changing this world. Globalization of the world globalizes mission and enables a reciprocal effect.
Globalization of mission requires a comprehensive scope — overarching Christian unity, partnership, and geographical range. Globalization of mission is not only a form of witness to the world, but also a practice of Christian collaboration. Has Christianity managed in its mission practice to create a model of a worthy international partnership between the rich and the poor, advanced and underdeveloped? The driving forces towards that are demographic changes, the new structure of global Christianity and interdependence of the regions.
Globalization of Christianity is a result of globalization of mission. Precisely the missionary efforts and not natural historical processes have brought Christianity to the countries far away from the Mediterranean and have made it a global phenomenon. Most profound changes continue to occur in Latin America and Africa. “Most African countries embraced Christianity, especially Protestantism, initially because of missionary efforts… Global Christianity is already a majority-South tradition and will be, within a short time, an African-majority tradition” (Johnson, 2016). Nonetheless, “Protestantism of all kinds continues to grow around the world, taking it far from its Western cultural origins” (Johnson, 2016).
In light of these global processes it was not easy to decide where to celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation — in Germany or in the USA, Nigeria, and Brazil, which are the top most protestant countries.
Globalization of mission means not only breaking new ground, new mission fields, but also recultivation of the “old world”, “new evangelization” of Europe and other traditionally Christian regions. Moreover, globalization of mission has more than just geographical implications. Reflecting a demand for a holistic approach, globalization of mission attempts to be exhaustive in covering all spheres of life — cultural, socio-economic and socio-political.
Globalization not only crosses geographical and religious borders, but erases the borders between the geographical and the religious (as well as the ethnic, cultural, political…).
Therefore, globalization of mission grows into something bigger than evangelism in its strict literal and religious sense. The global world doesn’t need new missionaries sent from afar, but rather insiders, local agents of influence.
Globalization of mission not only facilitates interpenetration of cultures and religions, not only access of missionaries to any place on the globe. Globalization of mission makes the things that it facilitates meaningless. Western missiologists openly admit that a lot of excessive work is being done, “… with 1.27 trillion hours of evangelism produced by Christians in 2006, there is enough evangelism for every person to hear a one hour presentation of the gospel every other day, all year long”. While so little is done what really matters: “In light of this reality, there are still unique roles for Northern Christians in the future of global Christianity”, in particular by “engaging culture on a missiological, philosophical, theological, and ecclesiastical level; radical contextualization beyond Christianity; reaching postmodern youth” (Johnson, 2006). In the latter case, it is crucial to forge global synergies among the young people, because it is the “global youth” who are interested in global topics: “learning to operate in the context of global Christianity, partnering with young Christians with post-colonial perspectives, celebrating the world’s cultures, an openness to dialogue with and learning from other cultures and religions, a desire for community, a comfort with uncertainty and doubt, and a strong faith without the need to have all the answers” (Johnson, 2006).
Such global (globalized) mission is a scattered mission, a mission of networks and communities, horizontal connections and hidden influence. This kind of mission sees itself from within situations and spheres, leavening them, taking them in. Thus, in post-Soviet countries, the movement “Mission in Profession” is rapidly gaining ground; it brings together Christians who are engaged in professional occupations, but view their professional vocations as part of mission. Basically, this is one of the forms of insider movement, as well as a form of globalization of mission. Christians from different countries engaged in a common professional sphere understand each other better than the citizens of the same country, who are separated from each other by professional barriers and socio-cultural status. Moreover, inhabitants of mega-cities are closer to each other than to inhabitants of their own provinces. Students are closer to students. As well as Christians are closer to Christians. These are new forms of global communities. The question remains under discussion, whether or not everything could be incorporated in this global connection, global context. Conservative missiologists are careful here; they are ready to agree with the approach “mission in business”, but not with “mission in culture”. They believe that the field of commerce remains an open opportunity for Christians, who use is as a platform for witnessing in countries with limited access (Pratt, 241). But in general the approach of insider movement goes beyond the threshold of permissible adaptation. There are some critical observations that were made not in its favor: culture is not neutral; although the Bible was written in the context of religious pluralism, but it is certainly opposed to it; we can’t use words and practices selectively; everything has spiritual undertones hostile to Christianity (Pratt, 240).
It is surprising how this prudence and suspicion reconcile with the recognition that old approaches have been exhausted and that in the future missionaries will need to seek new creative approaches to global evangelization (Pratt, 243).
On the other hand, the documents of Lausanne Movement convince us of indispensability of the global-holistic approach to missions: “Worse we may encourage syncretism among the new believers. A new believer is taught well about church and Christianity, but very little about how faith is to be lived out in the world. Every aspect of globalization offers an opportunity for Christians to share and demonstrate the Gospel. There are non-Western businessmen who are starting factories as an intentional and effective means of doing missions. There are artists and educators who do not see themselves as missionaries, but rather as Christians who are living out their faith and influencing the thinking of their discipline and thus a society. Globalization is affecting all aspects of societies today. Missions in this reality must seek to intentionally model the Gospel in all areas, not just the religious. The idea of the Gospel going from everywhere to everywhere should not be just a geographical issue, but one that involves all aspects of culture and society, that is a holistic gospel for a holistic mission” (Globalization and the Gospel, 2004).
Globalization of the world and globalization of Christianity
Postmodernism and globalism change familiar images of the world beyond recognition. They evoke a response by Christianity, which not only refuses to adapt to fit the new picture of the world, but also argues with them. Obviously, when the theologians of the Lausanne movement talk about Christianity and globalization, they offer a different scenario than ideologists of liberal or aggressive globalization. Although John Stott in his time (1974) could allow idealism, proposing a rather enthusiastic vision to the Lausanne congress: “Whole Gospel, Whole Church, Whole World”, Christopher Wright in our time sees globalization with all its controversies. Nevertheless, he repeats the same slogan, affirming this optimistic Christian vision of globalization: “The whole Church means all believers. The whole world means every man and woman. The whole gospel means all the blessings of the gospel. That is surely better than some missionaries taking some blessings of the gospel to some people in some parts of the world” (Wright, 2009).
The whole world, even if it doesn’t create opportunities, for sure it challenges the wholeness of the church and the wholeness of the gospel that it proclaims. The contemporary world paradoxically forces contemporary Christianity to return to its original models. In other words, in order to be contemporary, it needs to return to its origins and its universal calling. Postmodernists have been discussing this ancient ability of Christianity to reconcile particularities and to form universal picture of the world. Alain Badiou, in particular, writes about Paul as “an apostle of universalism” (Badiou, 1997). And theologian Carl Rasche in his book GloboChrist pictures a new-old image of Christianity in the postmodern (pomo) and global (globo) world (Rascke, 2008).
Rascke reminds us about a well-known fact, that Christianity became that power, which transformed the Roman World and extended its history. Christianity today works in a similar way. Although we need to take into account that “this change is due not so much to the abiding influence of the West as to the mysterious power of Christ — what we really mean by GloboChrist — that has been subtly shaping and directing human history…” (Raschke, 18).
Just recently we could naively assume that the changes mentioned above are happening in the sophisticated and lofty cultural dimension and they are being implemented smoothly and peacefully. We could expect that postmodern discussions about diversity would stay within the walls of offices. However, the reality is far from it. Differences and changes are painful and conflicting. For conventional Christianity the time of peace and ambiguous discussions is over for good. “The issue is not whether one should go to church anymore, or whether church is “relevant”; it is about whether one can go to church without being imprisoned, beaten, or tortured” (Raschke, 24).
He points out, “The genuine question is how the globalized Christianity will contend with the new globalized Islam, which is a product of the same historical forces”, because both of these religions are “driven by a universalistic faith that commences with the story of Abraham but diverges in its meaning and import” (Raschke, 21).
This leads to a rather unexpected conclusion that Christians should “take their faith as seriously as jihadists do, becoming the “church militant” in the original sense of the phrase, without the military, and in a postmodern way” (Raschke, 22). Obviously, it implies that Christianity must defend itself without violence. It also means that when faced with danger, Christians must leave their comfort zone behind and get mobilized for action. For such a time civil obligations become obligatory military service. How can Christianity defend itself and the world from religious coercion? How can it fight without aggression and violence? Raschke is talking about “radical relationality”; but how does it manifest itself? Is it in the patience of the martyrs, in the witness of the saints, in humility and hope of the persecuted minority, in compassion and solidarity? Would it be enough for triumph? Or does triumph lie herein?
When Wright talks about the wholeness of the Christian gospel, proclaimed by the whole church to the whole world, he emphasizes the unattractive “realities of sin and evil”, which are usually avoided, but “we must evangelistically proclaim the glories of God’s redemptive achievement in the death and resurrection of Jesus” from within this reality, because “There would be no gospel without the cross” (Wright, 2009).
The whole gospel, the whole church, the whole world encompass the dimensions of evil, sin, the cross, suffering, injustice and violence. Highlighting these realities helps to correct the triumphant vision of the church and its mission in the world.
Globalization of Christianity and its history
Christianity has become global, and it requires a new perspective on its history; it requires the broadest framework possible that would fit the histories of different regions, traditions, churches and missions. They must fit in in such a way that they would be seen as part of a bigger picture, to bring them closer and reconcile them with each other. However, their identity, their value and their role for each other and for the whole must be noticed and emphasized as well.
Such a broad and fundamental rethinking of historical and geographical global connections requires a close collaboration of missiologists and historians of Christian mission. Or even more — it requires a researcher with both historical and missiological competencies, missiological (re)focusing in the reconstruction of the church history and the world history. This rare but highly desirable combination is clearly present in the works of Mark Noll and Walter Savatsky. The former raises the general issue of a new history of Christianity in light of globalization, while the latter specifies and unpacks this topic with regard to the history of the “first”, “second” and “third” worlds and to a possible convergence between them. Mark Noll makes a special emphasis on the global role of the American Protestantism in relation to the “third world”. Walter Savatsky’s interest is focused on the “second world”, which has remained a “white spot” on the map of global Christianity. Both of them start with the abandonment of the triumphalist westernized view of history and offer their corrections by making an introduction to history not only global in its scope, but also as inclusive as possible in its content, polyphonic in its tone and even in its representation.
Here we find not as much revisionism, as addition to and expansion of the earlier versions of history. As Noll assures us, “Older histories of Christianity remain irreplaceable. The problem is not that earlier historical accounts are necessarily erroneous or misleading. It is rather that they presume a core Christian narrative dominated by events, personalities, organizations, money and cultural expectations in Europe and North America — and then surrounded by a fringe of miscellaneous missionary phenomena scattered throughout the rest of the globe” (Noll, 9).
We are talking not only about the history, but also about our story, in particular about our place and role in this story. “But the scale and pace of recent development means that more than just history needs to be reoriented; the awareness of where North American and European believers now fit within that history requires reassessment as well” (Noll, 23).
Today we clearly see a shift in the balance of the missionary activity. Such terms as “sending country” and “receiving country” cannot be used anymore. We cannot talk about missions as we did before, “The best from the West to the rest”. The resources are spread unevenly, and it makes all regions interdependent, without a single center. “This picture suggests that some goods may continue to flow predominantly from the West to the rest of the world — perhaps, for at least the foreseeable future, money, formal education or expertise in managing the opportunities and crisis of globalization. But it also suggests that other goods should be expected to flow in the other direction — perhaps lessons on experiencing Christ’s peace when there is no money, instruction on how at the same time to love and confront members of other faiths, reminders of how the living exist in close proximity to the dead, or practical examples in overcoming historical antagonisms through the direct power of the Holy Spirit” (Noll, 198). Ultimately, “to participate in the universal body of Christ in ways that reflect the deepest realities of that body, it will be necessary to discard two false notions — both Western paternal benevolence in which the instinct is to think that unless Americans do it, it will not get done, and also Western hegemonic imperialism whereby all the evils of the world are laid at the feet of American-dominated multinationals or mission agencies” (Noll 198).
Mark Noll starts with a general description of the structural changes in the world and in world Christianity, and concludes with recommendations on how to bring Christian self-recognition and the recognition of its mission in line with ongoing changes. After all, he calls us to humbly feel part of the whole, and to make meaningful partnership for the sake of global Christianity and its global influence.
Walter Savatsky adds to this realistic and pragmatic understanding of the global interconnection a deeper dimension in terms of content. Obviously, in the context of a global vision of history, Christianity from different regions and traditions can serve each other and serve the world together more effectively. But common sense, pragmatism and effectiveness are not the end of the matter. We must think and teach globally, believe globally. Savatsky refers to the practice of Ecumenical Councils; their decisions were recognized precisely because they represented all the regions of the church, took into account all the changes in their contexts and political situations (Savatsky, 39). Divisions and conflicts throughout Christian history have caused communality to be lost, which in turn has caused a deformation of doctrines, church practices and mission. The world has already become global, but the church — not yet. It was active mission that gave a new opportunity for global interaction within the divided church. Savatsky stresses that “the modern ecumenical movement would be unthinkable without the transformative power of the modern missionary movement” (Savatsky, 40). He justly refers to a following misalignment of the global missionary plans and practical ecumenism. One way or another, today it is becoming undeniable that “global history” has to be “ecumenical history” (Savatsky, 41).
This means that we need to discover, take into account, recognize, and embrace different church traditions and missionary approaches. Therefore, in the context of global history Savatsky calls us to see the whole multitude of the new global Christian histories. He is particularly pained by lack of knowledge, the glaring gap in the histories of the “second world”: “Astonishing in the new histories is the superficial treatment of the eastern half of Europe and of European and Asiatic Russia” (Savatsky, 45).
When Western Christians discovered this part of the world they had very little interest in its heritage; rather, it appeared as a barren uncultivated mission field. “Throughout the mission flurry, little attention was paid to the local believers — the Gulag survivors, the ones who had learned to adapt to Soviet culture and who now found ways to adapt to new contexts and to new poverty” (Savatsky, 47). Even if these histories were interesting, western missiologists regretted that they didn’t know who had kept them and who could share them.
“To whom will the many millions of martyrs speak?” rhetorically asks Savatsky and leaves us with this question.
Global history teaches us not only about partnership with other regions and traditions, but also about respectful, grateful and humble acceptance of the other in his otherness. Without ecumenical foundation, global history is merely impossible.
Globalization of Christianity and globalization of Protestantism
The 500th anniversary of the Reformation prompts us to think not only about the content of the 500-year history of Protestantism, but also about its future. The impulse that comes from the year 1517 seems to be exhausted. Therefore, the question arises of a new Reformation, which would give a fresh impulse for the renewal of Christianity in all its confessional traditions, and first of all, for Protestantism, because it declares the principle Ecclesia semper reformanda est.
It seems to me, the future of Protestantism lies in the ecumenical perspective — through overcoming confessionalism, abandonment of anti-Catholic identity, and consistent transformation of the Protestant Reformation into a Reformation of Christianity as a whole. That is, reconciliation, communication and joint worship of formerly divided confessions have in themselves a reforming effect.
But the perspective of post-Confessionalism is understandable and more or less acceptable only in those regions, where Christianity is considered historically rich and sufficiently mature. The Christianity of the global South would like the Reformation to continue in the spirit of free unity, rich orthodoxy, self-critical rationality, and trust in uncertainty (Todd Johnson makes a good connection between such postmodern concepts and new approaches to mission) (Johnson, 2006, 25).
These approaches could be common for different confessions of the global North, but they are unlikely to be comprehensible for the Christians of the global South.
Here, Philip Jenkins’ approach remains valid; he invites us to shift the attention from the centers and processes of the old world to the new emerging pockets of global Christianity (Jenkins, 2011). He points out that there is a huge cultural gap between the North and the South, which reminds us about “the times of Luther”, when Europe had been divided between Protestantism with its preaching, songs and Bible reason, and Catholicism with its statues, rituals and processions.
Jenkins sees a direct analogy between the “times of Luther” and today. Although a real technological revolution is happening in the North, a traditional book reading culture is being maintained in other regions. The northern communities are developing decentralized and privatized forms of faith, while the southern ones support the old values of community and traditional authority.
While the North continues to drift to liberalism, the South doesn’t want to know anything but conservatism and fundamentalism.
What is happening in the South is not a new Reformation, it is a new Counter Reformation. According to Jenkins, we will become witnesses not of a new Wittenberg, but rather of a new Council of Trent, which will confirm and try to perpetuate the “old church ideology”.
Thus, a new Reformation (by its nature — a revolution, by its content — a counterreformation) is already taking place in the South, which is exactly where the majority of Christians are living and will live. It is their voices that will define the picture of global Christianity.
Although I agree with Jenkins that the global South will precisely become most active in the socio-demographical aspect, yet I prefer a global-ecumenical perspective.
With all this excitement about the South, we should not ignore the North with its rich spiritual heritage and scientific-technological resources. Global Christianity is not only the Christianity of the global South; rather it is the Christianity of global interaction between the North and the South, the West and the East.
It has been fourteen years since Jenkins’ fundamental work The Next Christendom. The coming of Global Christianity was published (Jenkins, 2002). Now we see many things in a different way — the spread of technology in the south does not concede to the north, all around the world people are reading their Bible from the screens of their smartphones and tablets; there are zones of influence of the North, islands of global culture in the furthest corners of the South; technology, the culture of mega-cities and new lifestyles attract the young generation of all the regions equally; while the general population (not in the South only, but also in the North) find attractive fundamentalist slogans, the middle class prefers liberalism. Jenkins speaks a lot about how the South is different and how it changes the North. The bishops in the South view the North as their mission territory. They take up the responsibility for the restoration of Christian truths. But there is also a reciprocal benefit — the North generously serves the South by providing its human and financial resources, let along missiology and theology. Certainly, someone might question, whether theology of the seminaries and universities in the North can be useful in the context of the South. But it must be acknowledged that this theology recognizes its limitations and tries to take them into account, that it has been global for a long time in its content and perspective, i.e. theology of global Christianity.
The South will not take the place of the North. It would be wrong to replace Christendom of the North with New Christendom of the South, just as it was wrong to replace Christendom of the Middle Ages with all the subsequent ones.
A new Reformation must embrace Post-Christendom as a natural and inevitable context; interaction between the North and the South must be perceived just as natural.
We — Christians from different traditions — cannot and should not dominate one another and the world. Globalization gives us another chance for collaboration in the spirit of unity, which can bring about a renewal of the whole church with its diverse history and geography. As the Cape Town Commitment states (2010), “We rejoice in the growth and strength of emerging mission movements in the majority world and the ending of the old pattern of ‘from the West to the Rest’. But we do not accept the idea that the baton of mission responsibility has passed from one part of the world Church to another. There is no sense in rejecting the past triumphalism of the West, only to relocate the same ungodly spirit in Asia, Africa, or Latin America… Let us instead work for true mutuality of North and South, East and West, for interdependence in giving and receiving, for the respect and dignity that characterizes genuine friends and true partners in mission” (The Cape Town Commitment, 2010, 67-68).
Globalism and nationalism. “Kingdom first”.
Globalization calls into question national identities. Nations have something to worry about — their unique traditions, languages, boarders are being erased and confused.
However, the same happens to empires. Therefore in a situation when there is uncertainty regarding the borders, everyone — the empires and the nations — have a chance to redefine themselves.
While a number of evangelical leaders in Ukraine have just started talking about “nationalization of the church”, which implies awareness of its national identity and giving it a specific national image, at the same time new neo-imperial ideas of the “Russian world” are being actively cultivated in Russia (based on the Soviet concept of “three brother nations”), where there is no place for anything national or local (it is no coincidence that they used to sing, “My address is not a house and not a street, my address is the Soviet Union”, and it is no coincidence that many evangelical believers, including those who have immigrated to the West, with nostalgia wear t-shirts that say “Born in the USSR”).
In this regard, sociologists of religion note that “Globalization does not mean the end of nations and nationalism, but it does mean the end of associating them with the sovereign territory of a nation state” (Еленський, 77).
New imaginary communities tightly connected with religion will form as a result of this deterritorialization. Moreover, local and transnational identities will be more important that national identities (most research agree on this).
If it is so, then globalization destroys not so much the differences as those tower walls, behind which they could hide in their false self-sufficiency. In the era of globalization it is not possible anymore to live parallel lives to each other, without communicating or running into each other.
The problem is that the borders were not only hiding, but also protecting the smaller and weaker, which find themselves at a disadvantage in a setting of open competition with the bigger and more aggressive ones.
It is no coincidence that the strong criticize nationalism. Globalism is beneficial to the strong. Even if the strong confess nationalism, it looks great and glorious, too great for criticism from the outside. And nationalism of the weak is a convenient target. Ewa Thompson expresses it very well when she shows the clash between an aggressive nationalism (“of a great empire”) and a defensive nationalism (“of the national minorities”).
We are called to have such a vision of globalism, where the strong will not destroy the weak, where power will not play a decisive role, where there is a special place for everyone. And here Christian theology could make some adjustments.
An American reformed theologian Peter Leithart offers an interesting approach to the dichotomy of nationalism vs. globalism. He has said explicitly that “Christians must refuse the choice… Against globalism and nationalism, the Christian slogan must always be: Kingdom first” (Leithart, 2016).
Why so? Because Christianity rejects nationalism and globalism in its pure form, but it represents a unique mix: on the one hand, “We are members of a real global community, which is not a Davos elite or a subversive Anonymous… Our deepest brotherhood isn’t with other citizens of our nation but with those who are united with us by the Spirit in the Son. Baptismal water is thicker than blood; the Word unites us more basically than commitment to any Constitution, no matter how wise its political institutions. We cannot be nationalists.” On the other hand, “The church is a body with many members, each individual member contributing in a unique way to the edification of the whole… We cannot be globalists” (Leithart, 2016).
The sense of a global network lies at the foundation of understanding the church as a transnational community, but it is being expressed in the diversity of national experience. Leithart aptly reminds us that at Pentecost the apostles didn’t speak Esperanto, but they spoke in the languages of the neighboring nations.
So, globalism is a more fundamental principle; it makes ties and cohesion between all national, local and transnational identities possible. Vision of the Kingdom allows us to adjust our understanding of globalism as unity in diversity. Many sound theoretics urge us to do the same. As insists Jonathan Heidt, a professor of moral psychology (respectable journals include him in the elite list of “top global thinkers”), “The great question for Western nations after 2016 may be this: How do we reap the gains of global cooperation in trade, culture, education, human rights, and environmental protection while respecting—rather than diluting or crushing—the world’s many local, national, and other “parochial” identities, each with its own traditions and moral order? In what kind of world can globalists and nationalists live together in peace?” (Haidt, 2016).
I hope our theologians and missiologists will have something to add in this regard; otherwise the agenda will be shaped by aggressive and fierce anti-globalists, and it will have no room for the Kingdom and its subjects.
Global Christianity and “new fascism”
Growth of right-wing tendencies and unbelievable demand for populism paint more than a worrying picture for the future. In our fear of socialism, and then of liberalism we overlooked how a new idol took their place, an idol that feeds on the popular “obsession” of the nation, on the smell of fear, hatred towards all strangers and the masses’ desire to become “great again”.
Politics today claim to be messiahs. Therefore the question of our choice or our lifestyle in society is not merely a political matter anymore. When we analyze the situation in Russia during Putin’s years in power, in Great Britain at the time of Brexit, in the US during Trump’s presidency, in Europe during the right revanchism, Joshua Searle warns us about “false messiahs”. Instead of putting their trust in God and looking into the future with hope, many people put their trust in false messiahs and give in to their sinful instincts of fear and self-centeredness. But it is against this dark backdrop that new Christianity emerges as a movement opposing dehumanizing tendencies of the modern society and seeking the restoration of global Christian community of solidarity (Searle, 2016). When we look at the reaction of officials and of the Church establishment, we realize that this is not a lone voice, as it at first seemed. On the contrary, theologians are almost unanimous in this concern.
When Christopher Wright addressed the evangelical community on the eve of the Third Lausanne Congress, he pointed out that the new idols of our time are “the idols of patriotism and hedonism, that are happily thriving on the worship of those who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ”, and drew special attention on the church, that has been called to serve the whole world in unity, with the whole fullness of the gospel (Whole Gospel, Whole Church, Whole World): “Apart from addressing the appalling scale of death and destruction that these idols produce, do we not have a responsibility also to challenge and expose their falsehood and to ask what gospel reality is implied by Jesus when he said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’?” (Wright, 2009).
Today, representatives of the “global evangelical community” call for “biblical faithfulness amid the new fascism” (A Call For Biblical Faithfulness Amid the New Fascism, 2017). This call has been signed by 28 leaders of various churches and ministries, representing churches of both the global North and the global South.
They call our attention to the spread of “A new form of dangerous political leadership”, backed by the ideology of “new fascism”, a mix of fundamentalism, militancy, nationalism and racism, directed against the “other”. In this context Christians must display “radical biblical faithfulness… and to renew its commitment to live out the peace, justice, and hope of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ” (A Call For Biblical Faithfulness Amid the New Fascism, 2017). The document stressed that it was published on the occasion of Donald Trump’s inauguration, because the events in the USA make a global impact, stirring similar tendencies all around the world. In this regard, a special concern is expressed that evangelical Christians in Great Britain and the USA, in Columbia and the Philippines, also contribute to the spread of new fascism. Christians have been called to account for the election in the USA “we grieve the part that evangelicals played in electing a person whose character, values, and actions are antithetical to the Gospel. Furthermore, we find it inadmissible that some high profile evangelical leaders have hailed the President-elect as a Christian and a prophet. It does not surprise us that many people, especially from the younger generation, are abandoning the evangelical world altogether” (A Call For Biblical Faithfulness Amid the New Fascism, 2017).
Besides decrying American Christians, the authors of the call encourage the reader to pray for the USA and its leaders, not only for the sake of the welfare of the country, but also for the sake of the whole world. This definitely contrasts Trump’s slogan “Make America great again!” The document ends with a call for merciful and just treatment of migrants, refugees, travelers, racial and religious minorities; a call to reject any form of exploitation of women; a call to care for God’s creation; a call for peace-building all around the world; a call for courageous and self-sacrificing service to the poor, marginalized, and other vulnerable groups.
If “new fascism” seeks to subordinate globalization to the interests of “the golden billion”, then the role of the global Christian community is just the opposite — to seek unity and solidarity.
Globalization and migration
One of the most visible and controversial manifestations of globalization are migration flows. People are moving for all kinds of reasons, but the waves of migration rise only for one reason — danger. People want to live in safety and stability. Therefore those who have it, seek to secure and protect their situation. Those who don’t have it, try to gain it, if not in their own country, then in a foreign, more prosperous one.
Everyone in one world wants to live in safety, but finds themselves in danger; sometimes borders open up for refugees and displaced persons, but at the same time they are not protected enough against migrations, wars and epidemics, drug trade and terrorism.
It has been often forgotten that in mega-cities besides cosmopolitans there are also a lot of people from the heartland. They don’t want to integrate at all because they treasure their little world. They don’t go anywhere and don’t want to see any outsiders around. These people are behind the phenomenon “…exit”, and they vote for the ultra-right, they demand border closures, they nationalize Christ and Christianity. There is a continuing dispute within Christianity itself, between globalists and patriots, cosmopolitans and nationalist.
Migration crisis in Europe and the new anti-immigration course of the USA are only indications of a deep-seated crisis of values of the old Christian world, which has faced the first serious consequences of globalization.
Haidt makes a fair point, “Those who truly want to understand what is happening should carefully consider the complex interplay of globalization, immigration, and changing values” (Haidt, 2016).
Obviously, not many people share the confidence of Angela Merkel that “we will manage”, and that “We don’t have too much Islam, we have too little Christianity.”
The demographic situation is really alarming. Immigration of a large community from a foreign religion dilutes the religious identity of the receiving country.
For the individualistic western world, closed and consolidated Muslim communities create a dangerous imbalance. Although they appeal to universal rights, they create their own parallel reality, which is at conflict with Christian tradition. Missiologists take note of an alarming tendency — other religions isolate themselves from Christianity. Percentage of Christians in the countries that are considered Christian is declining from 95% in 1900 to 52% by 2016. One could expect that a considerable number of non-Christians would be found in the zone of personal contact with Christians. But it is not so. Even within one country or a city, adherents of different religions can be isolated from each other geographically, ethnically, socially and economically. At least 86% of Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims have had no personal contact with Christians (only 14% of non-Christians have met Christians personally). As a result, although Christianity is growing (up to 3,3 billion by 2050), the number of unreached people is also growing (up to 2,6 billion) (Johnson, 2015).
In other words, immigrants avoid contact with local Christians, they don’t try to adapt in regard to culture, moreover they create their own alternative reality. For those Christians-optimists, who looked at immigration as an opportunity for active mission among other religions this trend seems discouraging. We should not forget that in the same way Christians see their Muslim-aliens as a mission field, Muslims are also actively expanding their territory. What the former refer to as mission, the latter are inclined to refer to as taking over or conquest.
That is why in response to the question “how to balance reasonable concerns about the integrity of one’s own community with the obligation to welcome strangers, particularly strangers in dire need” people most often say that it is critical to reject the multiculturalist approach to immigration and adopt a new model — assimilation. (Haidt, 2016).
An assimilation model, in its turn, can be based on Christian values. There is not just something in common, there is something reconciling, healing, and transforming. We believe that people can adapt to any context because we believe that there is something universal about man, and it is something deeper than just physical or intellectual; it is God’s image in man.
As it was reiterated by Russel Moor, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention of the USA, “We may not all agree on the way to fix the immigration system, but we will all agree on the dignity and humanity of immigrants themselves» (Moore, 2017). Defending such Christian universalism, Moor reminds us that “White Christians, after all, are not part of the majority culture and never have been, unless they define their primary culture as that of the United States of America… instead, my first identity is part of the global Body of Christ”, that “ the driving force of Christian orthodoxy and spiritual energy today is not white”, that “we must remind ourselves that we are not inquisitors but missionaries”, and that the right, who vote against migration risk their Christianity” (Moore, 2017).
It is obvious that migrants bring with them parts of what they are fleeing from — they bring chaos, danger, traumatic experiences, spite. They respond to our interest in others. But these others may be different, among other things, they can be aggressive, and most often aggressive ones are the first ones to respond to openness — they come and take everything they can.
But aren’t we all immigrants? As the Lausanne Movement theologians say, people are always “on the move”, and even the church finds itself in the midst of these changes, within the global migration patterns, like in the ocean: “we inhabit different geographic locations in the sea, yet an accurate description of our local context is no longer fixed. We are not anchored to our context, which is in constant flux around us” (Globalization and Gospel, 2004).
Globalization and power: the time of “weak” Christianity
Globalization is connected to reallocation and mutation of power, appearance of its new forms and orders. It might seem that “deterritorialization” is liberating. We are not being defined by “here” or “there”, we live on the move, slipping away from registration and ties, chains and fences, bans and taxes.
However, every new “liberation” is in fact a new enslavement. Freeing us from geography, globalization fortifies new dependencies. Power becomes almost invisible, ubiquitous all-pervasive.
And as such it represents an even bigger challenge for Christian perspective about the Kingdom of God and the reign of Christ.
It seems like the power of the global world imitates the universal and gentle power of the gospel, claiming to take the place of the gospel, presenting itself as a new “gospel”.
Sometimes new global powers act with more initiative and creativity than the church, which treasures its status as the most conservative and authoritative institution, with defined boundaries and secure walls.
It is no coincidence that the missiologists of Lausanne Movement address the issue of globalization of power to the church, “If contemporary globalization both intensifies and transforms power, what does the gospel message mean for the church’s use of, and confrontation with, power?” (Globalization and the Gospel, 2004).
Obviously, the church must renounce its own power and any other type of power for the sake of submission to Christ’s power. This is a positive secularization, which has never been realized in history. Luther gave up. Power has been reformed faster than the church. And therefore it incorporated the church into its new order of things and used it to its advantage.
In this sense globalization, postsecularism and postmodernism are giving the church a new chance. The old order of things is breaking down; the new one is still being set up. The church is free from its old commitments, it can find its own identity, its dependence on Christ and independence from the world; it can affirm the power of Christ as the only one.
What does it mean? It means that we cannot take our authority for granted. It means that we cannot use violence and rhetorical coercion. It means that we don’t expect gifts from the government or applause from society.
The church loses everything that has remained from it former power, in order to return under the power of its only Master. The church is supposed to become weak and vulnerable.
From now on it must plead and urge, exhort and prove — i.e. serve, and no more. The church must sanctify, and be salt and yeast. It must glorify the Kings and proclaim the Kingdom. This is the power of the blessed — the poor, the meek and the persecuted.
If we look closely at history, we will see that Christianity was the most successful when it was weak, without strong support from the government in terms of authority and power. Lev Gumilyov describes a miracle of the Nestorian mission among nomadic communities, “It is known that the Russian Orthodox missionary activity in Siberia, despite the powerful support of the government, had extremely little success. Therefore the results achieved by the Nestorians, who acted at their own peril, are particularly striking. Apparently, they have overcome the biggest difficulty of communicating with people who speak a different language, i.e. they have found words in the language of the locals, which adequately conveyed the meaning of complex Christian concepts. In doing so, they have become close to the herdsmen of South Siberia, as their own among them, and their teaching was absorbed organically, without using force, which the Nestorian missionaries simply did not have”. (Гумилев, 114-115).
So, according to Gumilyov, the secret of the Nestorian mission can be explained by three features: their willingness to serve without borders, to express universal truths in the languages of local cultures, to manage without relying on the administrative and enforcement power structures. Because they were scattered, it made them widespread.
Because they were weak and persecuted, it forced them to rely only on the power of their words and the truth of their belief.
These lessons of the past are more than relevant today, when Christianity is losing its credibility because of its closeness to the powerful of the world. When power and coercion compromise the church, its mission is hindered. In contrast, the impact of the weak, who have faith and are faithful is surprising.
Globalization breaks the old and vicious relationship between the state and the state churches, just like Reformation once broke the relationship between the empire and the imperial church. It does not liberate, but it creates a momentum when liberation becomes possible, or at least a thought about liberation. In this crucial moment Christianity can become a part of the new world order, but also preserve its identity, by estranging itself from power and refusing to use coercion.
Christian leadership for global mission
Missiologists are increasingly looking at how the structure of international missions and its leadership has changed within the past hundred years of globalization. Consequently, globalization requires new approaches to leadership, which would reflect both general trends and local cultural traditions. “Missionaries are going everywhere and are serving everywhere… Church leaders must learn to cooperate with people who have radically different assumptions about leadership. From a human perspective, the hope for the worldwide church depends on effective multicultural leadership” (Plueddemann, 11).
And if we consider that more and more missionaries are serving under local leaders, then we can’t disagree with the thesis offered by a missionary-missiologist James Plueddemann: “Crosscultural leadership development may be the most important task in missions” (Plueddemann, 20). The professor points out not only the opportunities, but also the risks of leadership in the context of global cultural interaction: “I’ve heard youth pastors tell their mission team, “Just be yourself, and everyone will love you”. This is a formula for crosscultural disaster” (Plueddemann, 21).
Perspective on leadership differs depending on cultural assumptions, and most often mutual expectations don’t match. Therefore declarations about respect to national leaders as equal partners make little difference. It has been correctly observed, “The idea of ‘equal partners’ is foreign for most of the world. Partnership in much of the world assumes a junior and senior member” (Plueddemann, 26).
Here we should take into consideration not only correct and noble principles, but also the cultural matrix, where these principles are being interpreted and distorted. Here we will have to challenge cultural assumptions, inherited thinking patterns and behaviors, familiar hierarchy of cultures and social groups.
The analytics of the Lausanne movement noted that one of these stereotypes had shattered right before our eyes, “For decades after the Edinburgh 1910 conference, a dualistic mission worldview perpetuated the Western church self-identifying as the sending church and the non-Western church self-identifying as the receiving church. All this has changed. Mission is no longer a ‘one-way street’ from the West to the rest of the world… By 2050, most of the population will be living in non-Western countries, with only 12.6% of the world’s population in the West. …in the 1970s, non-Western missionaries totalled less than 1,000. Today, missionaries from non-Western countries outnumber missionaries from Western countries” (Ho, 2016).
How does this demography influence the relationships between the leaders of different regions and cultures? Globalization dismisses the division between the first and third worlds, donors and receivers. In this increasingly complicated world every missionary must become a global leader, who is able to overcome divisions, connect, react in creative ways, contribute to both sides of the borders, serve without borders; maintain creative tension between centralization and decentralization, standardization and selectiveness.
Everything here must be based on mutuality. “Global leaders” should be sensitive to the characteristics of local cultures, grounded and growing deeper. Local leaders should rise above their context, develop global competencies, and see themselves and their traditions on the scale of universal Christian community and intercultural collaboration.
Preparation of the Kingdom
So, what is globalization in light of the Kingdom? It is globalization without a triumph; it is a time of solidarity and mutual support, global love, and caritative networks, not a time for utopias and projects. It is globalization of love, a chance to serve those who are far away and near. It is globalization of the church, a call to see oneself as a part of the whole. It is globalization of partnerships, joint efforts, and preparation for eternal life together, which all Christians are longing for.
In her book about “the next worship” a pastor and liturgist Sandra Maria Van Opstal talks about three stages of relationships: hospitality, solidarity and mutuality. “First we say, “We welcome you.” Then, “We stand with you.” In mutuality we say, “We need you.” (Van Opstal, 71). This is growing dependence on each other, a school of life together in God. The author offers her vision of globalization as a conversation around the table, where there is room for everyone, and where everyone is serving one another.
Current experience of disconnection and striving for communication, growing estrangement and a desperate search for commonalities are the key theological questions for comprehending globalization.
One of the answers to the challenges and opportunities of globalization has become a project of “intercultural theology”, which “expresses a desire for theology to engage the whole of what is now a global Christian community… and to facilitate dialogue among the different contextual theologies”, as well as a need to be in conversation with people of other faith traditions or no religious faith at all. Some theologians call this project “an act of theological repentance in the North” and see that “intercultural theology is a mode of missiology especially well suited to destabilize vested theological positions on mission, especially when these appear to be triumphal” (Skreslet, 67). What is offered here is a new perspective on dialogue, where demand of equity gives way to generosity and benevolence, “A genuine dialogue of equals, after all, demands that one set aside any presumption of hermeneutical privilege, in exchange for the prospect of mutual understanding” (Skreslet, 68).
The same principles can serve as road signs for our vision of the future of globalization and the coming of the Kingdom. A sanctified imagination plays a special role here, which is able to envision the world in a different way with new paths for its development. А philosopher James Smith argues that we will not only need new missiology, but also “an alternative anthropology, that emphasizes the primacy of love and the priority of the imagination in shaping our identity and governing our orientation to the world” and besides that, a new understanding of education as “the formation (‘aiming”) of our love and desire, and that such formation happens through embodied, communal rituals we might call “liturgies” — including a range of “secular” liturgies”, and finally, “Christian education needs to be resituated within the ecclesial practices of Christian worship and liturgical formation’ (Smith, 7). All this is defined by the internal unity of the Trinity and our liturgical immersion into the mysteries of the Divine life, which sanctifies our perception of the world and gives rise to practical action “toward the Kingdom” (Smith, 186).
As Christians we should have no doubt that the history of the global world moves precisely “toward the Kingdom”, theologians and missiologists should be looking in the same direction, this is the only perspective that encourages and inspires.
Globalization is developing toward the Kingdom, preparing us for it, renewing the church and transforming mission. This is the final, but the most challenging level, which requires an open mind, faith and responsibility. It is the most challenging level, but it is also the most amazing. The Kingdom of God is emerging at the edge of the history abyss and is becoming visible “in our midst”. What awaits us is not the end of the world, but the beginning of the Kingdom; to be witnesses and participants of this transition is a special honor and trust.
Without walls. New vision for mission in the global world
As globalization progresses, the vision for the church can be expressed by two words: “without walls”. Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, that “the word of God is not bound!" (2 Tim. 2:9), therefore He has become “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22). Neither prison chains nor cultural differences, neither geographic distances nor political borders could stop his mission, more precisely, his participation in God’s mission.
Developing this idea of comprehensive ministry without bounds or walls, Mission Eurasia, which I have the honor to represent, in 2004 initiated the School Without Walls movement. This name was given to a series of training seminars, designed to motivate and train young leaders for ministry on the other side of the church walls, in the thick of social life and its problems. This approach evoked particular interest among the countries and regions where religious freedom and missionary activities are restricted by the government or societies that are hostile to Christianity.
Ten years later, a new impulse emerged out of this ministry — Mission In Profession. This time insiders were trained not for closed regions, but for professional communities, which are just as closed to explicit religious preaching.
The leader of this initiative, Denis Gorenkov, insists that “The wealth of the church <…> is found, first of all, in communities of believers, existing outside the church walls” (Гореньков, 70-71). In his opinion, “Communities of Christians-professionals is a dynamic power of the church without boundaries, the church without walls. These are communities of people, who can support each other and reveal Christ in the environment, which is rarely viewed as a sphere of Christ’s presence and His Lordship” (Гореньков, 72).
These examples of mission “without walls”, without borders prove that modern-day Christians can see globalization, which upsets familiar order and complicates old maps, not only as a daunting challenge, but also as an incredible opportunity for creative anticipation of the Kingdom of God in serving global communities.
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