Globalization, religion and mission

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. 

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