Globalization became a hot topic in the 1980s. It still is. If you search for “globalization” on the Internet, Google will give you 42 million web pages to read.
Conversations about globalization bring to mind beverage, clothing and electronics brands sold worldwide, as well as identical restaurants popping up around the globe. Of course, such images barely scratch the surface of the topic of globalization.
The Lausanne Committee Occasional Paper #30 tries to sum up 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 happens 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 brought change and connectedness. As a result, we can now be open to being both enriched by and chastised by interactions with other believers from many, 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.
Globalization fosters 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 a 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. Many of the negative aspects of globalization can make people fearful. They fear being stripped of familiar things and values. They fear that their heritage will be torn from them, thus losing their identity. They fear being marginalized in their own homeland.
As cultures rush along the path of globalization, 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 mixture of things globalization throws at us.