Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Better Globalization

Written by: on April 8, 2015

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.

About the Author

John Woodward

Associate Director of For God's Children International. Member of George Fox Evangelical Seminary's LGP4.

6 responses to “A Better Globalization”

  1. Deve Persad says:

    John, I appreciate your writing so much. As I read this post I thought of the book of Acts and how the Gospel made it’s way into various areas, regions and countries – it wasn’t through projects or evangelistic efforts rather it was through travellers, making their way in the regular course of their lives. Which is where my mind went when I read your words: “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.”
    Globalization is affording evangelical witness new opportunities because of the many different entry points we organically have to learn from and engage in different cultures.

  2. John,

    Thanks for your insightful post. As you probably know, I am not a fan of colonial missions.

    I have mixed feelings about new, modern missionary endeavors, though I agree with you that they are better than what they used to be. But is the present global outreach truly indigenous, or does the West still leave its fingerprints on missions in many ways? This is a question that really concerns me. I get squeamish when I walk into a church in some foreign land that still feels Western, even when I am far from the West. Music styles are becoming globalized, for example, and I am not sure just what to think about that. Also, often, I think bad models of leadership are passed along that probably should not be reproduced anywhere. I don’t mean to sound negative, but I find myself skeptical of many evangelical endeavors.

    My prayer is that good things might come of the work done by the faithful in spite of my own doubts that positive things are happening.

    • John Woodward says:

      Bill, I am with you on Western global mission efforts in the past. I got to experience this a couple weeks ago on the Res. Attended a Mennonite service. Howard Whiteface, Pastor, with suit and tie, played an electric guitar and use two mice for his congregation of 5. Arrrrrgggghhh! I pathetic. And it was hopeless. Here is a church that has given up hope of reaching their own culture (and they wonder why??). Here, there is nothing of the Lakota Culture that has enculturated the Gospel! So, I get your frustration! That is where I like what I am seeing around the globe, where non-Western and non-White and non-Capitalistic parts of the world are sending out others to evangelize…they aren’t coming in the garb of victors or powers, but as humble people who have found Jesus (not a better economic or political agenda). It seems a way forward, and it is so important, because I believe we God is a God of mission to a hopeless world. I am always looking at how to bring Jesus to people where they are at that doesn’t destroy their culture. We will have to talk more of this on our travels. Just left South Dakota…another great trip.

    • John Woodward says:

      Deve, you are so encouraging. Your kind words about my post always helps me to keep plowing forward (yes, just one more year and we will have made it!!). And I AMEN your comments, especially the importance of just reaching people in the course of their lives. Maybe it is our “projects” and “grand plans” that bring with them the seeds of oppression and subjection (especially culturally and socially) that has made missions to unattractive in the past. If it is about sharing Jesus, maybe our evangelism would be more humble and personal, and less programmed and domineering. Thanks again Deve!

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Thank you John for highlighting so well the qualities of modern global Evangelicalism versus that of the past. I like where you wrote, “Here, we might find a globalization that brings hope and healing, justice and security, rather than suffering and pain.” Indeed, what we see today is actually very exciting. Evangelical growth outside of the West! Who would have thought that a few hundred years ago? As Mitch reminded us in his post, there is so much we can learn from non-Western Evangelical Christians. I just hope that we can be inspired by the faith of others outside of our ‘worlds’, and so encouraged to truly live a life of faith as God desires.

    • John Woodward says:

      Amen, Liz! That is my hope! It is pretty amazing that it has taken us a couple hundred years to become humble enough to finally listen to our non-Western brethren and learn a better way to share the Good News! I am encouraged!

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