Globalization became a hot topic in the 1980s. It still is. If you search for "globalization" on the Internet, search engines like Google will give you tens of millions of web pages to read.
Conversations about globalization bring to mind beverages, clothing, and electronics brands sold worldwide as well as identical restaurants popping up around the globe. Some have used "mcdonaldization" as a synonym for globalization. Of course, such images barely scratch the surface of the topic of globalization.
The Lausanne Committee Occasional Paper #30 tries to capture the size and complexity of globalization by describing it as the result of "a constant, but uneven, flow of ideas, goods, images, people and diseases across national borders."
Actually, the phenomenon is a lot older than the word "globalization." Indeed, this intersecting, clashing and merging of people and their cultures can be seen in the Bible as early as the book of Genesis.
Globalization is both good and bad for world evangelism, and, to be honest, the Church itself has been a globalizing force. Christianity was born in a specific cultural context: First Century middle-eastern Judaism. However, in obedience to Christ's Great Commission, it has now put down roots all over the world. Almost everywhere it has gone, Christianity has both sparked change and fostered connectedness. As a result, we can now be open to being both enriched by and chastised by interactions with other believers from many different cultures.
Some things about globalization actually facilitate world evangelism. For instance, because of easy mobility, millions of believers have crossed international borders on short-term mission trips. On the other hand, today's missionary teams are often multi-national. Thus, missionaries have to think cross-culturally just by living and ministering with missionaries from other nations.
At times, globalization gives rise to seemingly contradictory trends. For example, globalization leads some people to see religion in private and individualistic terms. For others, globalization has caused them to slide toward secularism or, at the very least, to embrace shallow forms of spirituality. Then, tragically, the flow of religions across cultural boundaries has too often fostered aggressive intolerance.
In a world being shaped by globalization, missions leaders recognize that proper contextualization of the Gospel is paramount. In today's globalized world, situations like yawning gap between rich and poor, the mass migration of people (forced as well as voluntary), human trafficking, and debilitating addictions cry out for God's people to get involved. These and other results of globalization can make people fearful. They fear being stripped of familiar things and values. They fear being torn from their heritage and thus losing their identity. They fear being marginalized in their own homeland.
As cultures rush along the globalization path, we must help believers avoid the extremes of xenophobic isolationism on the one hand and naive cultural syncretism on the other. The Church can be a lighthouse guiding people toward the fulfillment of God's design. Believers can be a healing force for societies in pain. They can give voice to the oppressed and marginalized.
May we be wise and discerning as we deal with the things globalization throws at us.
-- Howard Culbertson,
This mini-essay on a key issue in world missions outreach is one of 12 articles in the "Mission briefing" series published in Engage magazine.
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