Globalization is a hot topic. It is also a topic that is defies easy definition, much like the term “evangelical,” because globalization may be viewed from a number of perspectives (economic, cultural, political). Further, globalization carries a great deal of historical baggage, being associated with colonialism and imperialism. The authors of Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective take on the daunting task of dealing not only with the allusive topic of evangelicalism, but evangelicalism in light of the equally allusive topic of globalization. The question that is most prevalent in this study is whether evangelical’s “globalization” can be seen as positive in light of the often negative effects of globalization in modern history?
Two important points are considered in answering this question. The first is the negative presuppositions concerning globalization. As mentioned, globalization often brings to mind the colonialism of the past five centuries. Clearly, “globalization is a cultural and economic phenomenon that is historically rooted in the expansion of European nations,”[i] which is seen by “many theorist….as closely linked to the rise of modern capitalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”[ii] Globalization then brings to mind greedy capitalist, inhuman exploitation, and the destruction of indigenous cultures. Sadly, as Europeans developed colonies around the globe for wealth and resources, the missionaries traveling in their wake, were naturally associated with these colonizing forces, and often turned a blind eye to the inhumanity and the cultural and economic subjection of so many people. Even today Christian missions and colonialism are seen as one and the same. For this very reason, the thought of future involvement of Christians in globalization means the continuation of colonialism by another name.
But, is the global spread of Christianity today the same as colonialism of the past? Here, the authors suggest their second point for consideration: That evangelical global involvement today is vastly different from colonialism of the past and from our modern concepts of globalization today. As these authors suggest, “evangelicalism offers a counternarrative to the homogenizing effects of globalization.”[iii]
First, the spread of Christianity today is not centered on economic or capitalistic foundations. The spread of Christianity is primarily among the poor parts of the world from the non-Western parts of the world. The spread of evangelicalism is coming not from Western, industrial, or capitalist countries. The ability of non-Western Christians to spread evangelicalism is a result of the Christian faith being “embraced by many of the world’s poor and adapted to their settings and needs, as the growing edge of Christianity has been among poor, nonwhite urban dwellers attracted to Pentecostal and charismatic versions of evangelicalism.”[iv] This has come about from a “‘globalization from below,’ as it has not depended primarily on Western missionaries nor has it benefited from close association with the West’s economic advances.”[v] This process is connecting the vast majority of the globe, the people who are poor and nonwhite, who are sharing with each other a hope and salvation not based on power or economic exploitation, but as fellow travelers. This is not a globalization centered force or power as in the past, rather it is an organic globalization that is growing mightily below the radar of the powerful.
Second, it comes in a form (which is actually very traditional) that allows for indigenous cultures to continue to live, thrive, and spread. At the heart of historical evangelical missions is the often forgotten “emphasis upon the indigenous principle: the idea that the churches founded by the mission should be ‘self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating.’”[vi] In this emphasis, the missionaries (though not always perfectly) were able to develop indigenous churches that would create local churches and leaders according to their own cultures. Evangelicalism “is a global religious movement that has managed time and again to adapt to local situations and develop independent, indigenous leadership. It has created a form of popular Christianity that is culturally diverse and centered on an infinite number of localities (in sociological language, it is ‘culturally diverse and polycentrtic’).”[vii] Today, these indigenous churches around the globe, freed from their Western restraints, are thriving and are now sending missionaries. “The strongly indigenous flavor of evangelicalism has been a great secret of its strength: however, this is often unacknowledged by contemporary scholarship, which often portrays evangelical growth outside the West as the product of ‘globalization.”[viii]
Finally, and most positively, evangelicalism’s global spread, based on the majority world’s perspective and concerns, growing in thousands of indigenous forms throughout the world, has potential to challenge and upset the economic and cultural globalization mindset and practices of the powerful, rich, and formally sending nations. If we can see the spread of Christianity in the Global South as a new way of globalization, as a counternarrative to modern globalization, then we can hope that this Christianity will not make the mistakes of Western evangelical expansion of the past, but will be for the poor and exploited, the downtrodden and hungry, that will ultimately influence the nations that have been the cause of so pain and suffering through economic and cultural exploitation. Here, we might find a globalization that brings hope and healing, justice and security, rather than suffering and pain.
[i] Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2014, Location 926.
[ii] Ibid., 937.
[iii] Ibid., 1150.
[iv] Ibid., 1112.
[v] Ibid., 1111.
[vi] Ibid., 1776.
[vii] Ibid., 1115.
[viii] Ibid., 1204.