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

Informed by the Past, Choose a Good Way Forward

Written by: on February 2, 2023

How did humanity get to where it is, and what challenges face the human race going forward? Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs tackles those sizable questions from historical, agricultural, economic, technological, institutional, sociological, and geopolitical perspectives in “The Ages of Globalization.” Sachs puts forward two premises. First, “humanity has always been globalized.”[1] Though the expressions changed considerably over time, humans have traveled and exchanged goods and ideas. Second, humanity needs to work together to solve today’s challenges as they threaten the very existence of all.[2] In the dense book, rich with research, Sachs addresses the premise with historical facts and the second with personal insight. In addition, the book communicates high-level information, including the broad suggestions the author makes about how to proceed in this day in his conclusion.

            After an opening chapter about the parameters of globalization, Sachs walks through seven ages of its expression. To say the book covers a broad span of history would be an understatement. Beginning with the Paleolithic Age, when humanity foraged for food, Sachs journeys all the way to the present Digital Age, and virtual connectivity made instantaneous across the globe. Three critical tenets of Sachs’ argument are mentioned in the book’s subtitle and throughout the chapters. Geography, technology, and institutions interplay throughout time in ways that result in major advancements. Sachs also draws attention to the setback and challenges of history, showing globalization’s positive and negative aspects. I found connections in this book reminiscent of Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic and Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. History reveals a mixed bag of results for humanity, but one that Sachs believes to be more beneficial than detrimental.

            Because my project incorporates a digital component, I was drawn to the chapter on “The Digital Age.” Written on a macro level, Sachs identifies three enormous challenges of the current day. Rising inequalities, environmental degradation, and geopolitical risks all loom large in this age.[3] The history of globalization informs how technological changes alter power dynamics. “Technological advances contain within them the seeds of rising inequality, as new technologies create winners and losers in the marketplace.”[4] That shift can create inequality, and inequality often leads to war. However, this moment in history cannot afford a global war with existing weaponry containing the potential to end human life.

            In his final chapter, Sachs not only relates history to the present but also prescribes general directions to alleviate the challenges of the Digital Age. The author strikes an optimistic tone about the opportunities for future flourishing. Sustainable development entails holistic governance that addresses economic, environmental, and social goals. A social-democratic ethos proves to be the best provider of human flourishing today through a highly participatory approach to politics and economics. Subsidiarity and the public sphere seek to set healthy boundaries between public and private goods.[5] Sachs believes a reformed United Nations can update an institution not current to the reality of the world’s populations or economies. As I read his suggestions for benefit, I was reminded of the quote Sachs included from E.O. Wilson: “We exist with a bizarre combination of ‘Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology.’”[6] What could possibly go wrong in that scenario? As humanity pursues opportunity, it would be wise to take threats seriously.

            I also leaned  into a section labeled “Ethics in Action for a Common Plan.” Sachs co-led a “multifaith effort to find the common basis for global action for sustainable development.”[7] Faith leaders across the spectrum identified three common moral characteristics of global faiths. The Golden Rule or the principle of reciprocity, value for and care toward the poor, and care for the environment exist universally.[8] Those three issues embraced by all can serve as a platform for unified boundaries for cooperative effort. However, Sachs does add a potential danger to the possibility of traction around the three principles, namely, “if politics does not get in the way.”[9]

            I believe those three principles could serve the church well as a focus and direction for cultural engagement. I fear that too many churches seek to win the battles of a culture war that demands a positioning on one of two extremes. I doubt any helpful fruit grows on the extreme branches of today’s debates. What if the manner of engagement with culture offered reciprocity, care for the poor (and others on the margins), and responsible care for the creation? By reciprocity, I mean acts of compassion that meet needs in practical ways. Rather than spending a great amount of time arguing positions on issues, followers of Jesus can demonstrate the value for all by providing dignity through serving. “. . .let your light shine before others, so that may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, ESV) Actions can point to God in ways that “connect the dots” for folks about who God is.

            Rather than leading out with confrontation, the opportunity for the church to engage culture with issues of common concern offers a positive strategy in a time often marked by negativity and vitriol. What if the church led in areas of common concern? What if the church initiated programs that met needs in ways that invited people across the spiritual spectrum to join because the issues mattered to all, regardless of their present faith? I will ask the same question as before but with a positive meaning: What could possibly go wrong in that scenario?

[1] Jeffrey Sachs, The Ages of Globalization: Geography, Technology, and Institutions (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020), 23.

[2] Ibid., 21.

[3] Ibid., 184.

[4] Ibid., 185.

[5] Ibid., 203.

[6] Ibid., 170.

[7] Ibid., 211.

[8] Ibid., 212.

[9] Ibid.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

6 responses to “Informed by the Past, Choose a Good Way Forward”

  1. mm Eric Basye says:

    The church leading in the area of common concern. Love it. Makes me think of Brueggamann and his call to action to seek after the common good. More or less, apply Kingdom ethics to everyday living. Novel idea, right?!

    Roy, I think you are in part on this path to being a model of this kind of Christ-follower and Church. Especially as you pray about this next season. I hope you stay in touch as I want to see how and where the Lord takes you!

  2. mm Andy Hale says:


    What an insightful analysis of the book and its application to your context.

    As you think about the church’s shared concern for cultural engagement, what will it take for it to truly posture itself in this way? Do you believe the predominantly white American church response to a conversation on systemic racism is the writing on the wall that we are not necessarily inclined toward common concern?

    A recent poll found that 84% of Americans under 40 support same-sex marriage, while only 46% of white evangelicals under 40 same-sex support marriage. The trend is only going upward toward the support of same-sex marriage among young churchgoers, and yet the church continues to have a strong stance against it. How do churches navigate this issue with solid cultural engagement?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Andy, you ask big and important questions here. In brief, I will say as a general observation that the church is trying to win a culture war more than it is trying to serve and live out the biblical values in life. In this postmodern world, we are more effective through our actions than we are in our words alone. You reference racism – I think the best way to overcome that is to work toward creating the better future we envision. What if churches of different majority ethnicities worked together on certain projects – had “pulpit swaps” – publically prayed for each other in services? I do believe this is a crossroads for the American church. Which road forward will we choose? I pray it is one of biblically informed action more than harsh words of debate that change nothing for the better.

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Roy: I thought this last chapter was optimistic too. My only criticism with the book is that his solutions in the last chapter were so cliche and cursory that it didn’t seem to provide any depth of analysis. But when you are covering 70,000 years of human history in a thin book like this one, it is hard to dig in deep on any one aspect of the subject. Nice post.

  4. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Roy thank you for you summary.
    In preparation for writing this blog (which I ended up not being able to accomplish lol) I read this summary of the book

    The author was pretty aggressive in his vocalization. If you get a chance to read it I would love to hear your thoughts on how Tim Shenk’s unpacking of Sachs work impacts why Sachs solutions sound shallow.

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Nicole, I actually read that review in my preparation for the post. I believe Shenk has a focused lens for viewing Sachs’ material – “University of the Poor.” I do think capitalism has many flaws, but my very surface-level understanding is that other systems just don’t work for the benefit of humanity. My experiences in former communist/socialist countries saw people living in sqaulor and daily hardship. My theology tells me that a structure like benevolent dictatorship would be the best in theory. (I see the eternal state as that) But in this world, my belief in total depravity leads to be believe a system with checks-and-balances is the best we can do here and now. I hope the church leads the way in supporting, protecting, and providing for those not experiencing the successes of capitalism. Btw, you have seemed stressed lately. I hope things calm down for you soon!

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