Globalization and the Christian Mission

It is estimated that the United States is the most racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse country on earth. In fact, some sociologists are now indicating that America may soon be a majority-minority nation, a condition that is already a reality in some states. This means the world is coming to us. And this reality provides a massive and unprecedented gospel opportunity. If our churches are truly going to represent the kingdom and be gospel churches, then our churches are going to start to look more and more like our nation’s changing demographic map.

 

We may be seeing the birth of a new missiological movement. This new era in Christian missions will build upon the accomplishments of the last two hundred years, but it must also be adapted to our world context.

The most important dimension of any vision for world missions is a passion to glorify God. The Bible declares that God is glorifying Himself in the salvation of sinners all over the world, and that He desires to be worshiped among all the peoples of the earth. Therefore, we have the glad opportunity to glorify God by declaring the gospel to all the peoples of the earth.

Christianity is a global faith, and our world is increasingly a global community. Throughout most of history, however, humanity primarily lived in cultural and social isolation. Even within the “melting pot” of America, ethnic and language groups tended to inhabit their own unique neighborhoods and spheres.

The Western encounter with non-Western cultures did not happen in any wide-scale manner until the nineteenth century, the great century of empire and expansion. Whereas explorers and intrepid sailors had brought back tales of “the Other,” it took the age of empire to bring a wide experience of a global reality to the Western consciousness. Major Asian cultures, most especially Japan and China, were openly resistant to engagement with other cultures.

World War I was a cultural turning point. After the war, the twentieth century emerged as the great century of globalization. The war mobilized millions of American men who would enter fighting units together, introducing Americans of Irish, Italian, and German backgrounds to Americans of other ethnicities (and even languages). World War I also allowed millions of Americans to travel across an ocean and directly encounter other societies for the first time.

The greatest forces of globalization were actually economic and technological. Advanced communication and transportation allowed the bridging of cultures, and by the end of the twentieth century, globalization meant that a child in the United States could be in real-time, instant communication with a child behind the Great Wall of China. This type of technology and ability to communicate around the globe was unfathomable just a century ago.

Indeed, the image of two people communicating in real time on opposite parts of the globe is nothing less than a symbol of the phenomenon of globalization. Globalization means that we now understand ourselves as living in an economy and in a community that is irreversibly connected globally. We are able to get on an airplane in virtually any American city and be at any spot on the globe within twenty-four hours. Globalization means that headlines from around the world can arrive as quickly as headlines from across the street. There is a growing awareness of the fact that we are now part of a global civilization that includes, and seems to reach, virtually every inhabitant of the planet.

Additionally, along with globalization has come the rapid growth of cities and the rise of urbanization. In the year 1800, only 3 percent of people lived in cities. By 1900, the fraction of city-dwellers increased to 10 percent. Between 1900 and 2007, though, it increased to 50 percent. By 2050, it is estimated that 75–80 percent of all human beings will live in cities. Cities are where the people are and where they will be in the future.

One of the first things you realize about a city is that it is where you meet people who are not like you. Megacities also create tensions born of the various dynamics at play within them: global vs. local, community vs. isolation, diversity vs. homogeneity, cosmopolitan vs. tribal, and rich vs. poor. Consider also the economic tensions at play in some of these megacities: 1.6 billion human beings right now live in shantytowns or slums. As the economy of the countryside collapses around them, people rush to these urban slums. It is hard to imagine how any human can solve these economic issues of distribution, but it’s into all these issues that Christians must go because that’s where the people are.

It is estimated that the United States is the most racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse country on earth. In fact, some sociologists are now indicating that America may soon be a majority-minority nation, a condition that is already a reality in some states. This means the world is coming to us. And this reality provides a massive and unprecedented gospel opportunity. If our churches are truly going to represent the kingdom and be gospel churches, then our churches are going to start to look more and more like our nation’s changing demographic map.

Christians should understand that globalization—care and concern for the global community—has been central to the biblical vision for God’s people from the very beginning. The mandate given to human beings by our Creator in Genesis 1:28 is a mandate to multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Even more urgently, the Great Commission tells us that we are to go into all the world and make disciples (Matt 28:18–20). Thus, in both the Old Testament and the New, God commissioned His people to have a global perspective long before technology and communications made globalization a matter of secular awareness.

The church, when it is faithful, always thinks in global terms. The world now thinks of globalization as a great economic, technological, and political fact. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ understands global mission as a command and as a mandate from the Lord. While the world may debate globalization in terms of its economic and sociological effects, the church must see globalization as an unprecedented opportunity. Globalization may be a surprise to sociologists, politicians, and businessmen, but it comes as great promise to followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. The current generation of Christians has unprecedented opportunities to proclaim the name of Jesus in all of the world and to see people of all tribes, tongues, and nations bow the knee to the King.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., a Ligonier teaching fellow, and host of the daily podcast The Briefing. He is author of several books, including We Cannot Be Silent.  This article is used with permission.

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