Have you seen the George Clooney flick, “Up in the Air”? Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, who flies around the country firing people. He loves his job and is constantly in the air flying from one city to another. He’s also an accumulator of frequent flyer miles and has a goal of achieving the 10 million mile mark. His routine is interrupted by the arrival of Natalie Keener, who thinks the travel is unnecessary and the firings can be done through videoconferencing. She comes into the board room one day and coins the phrase, “Glocal.” Or maybe she didn’t coin the phrase, but someone was on to something. The phrase “think global, act local” urges people to consider the health of the entire planet and to take action in their own communities and cities. Or in the case of “Up in the Air”, the characters utilize technology to be locally present when they physically cannot.
Simply type in the phrase “glocal” or “glocalization” on TedTalks or YouTube, and there are thousands of hits. (My favorite was by Sheikha Al Mayassa: Globalizing the Local, Localizing the Global – https://www.ted.com/talks/sheikha_al_mayassa_globalizing_the_local_localizing_the_global.) Or maybe “glocalization” is a better word. Glocalization is the adaptation of a product or service specifically to each locality or culture in which it is sold. It is similar to internationalization. Glocalization combines the idea of globalization with that of local considerations. Anything global has its locality. On the other hand, local is also global. And, as a traveler extraordinaire, I can testify to this phenomenon. What do I make a beeline for within days upon arrival in a new country? Starbucks. No, not simply because I have a coffee addiction, but because it is a familiar, home-y place in the midst of the unfamiliar. AND I can pick up a new coffee mug with a new city name on it! On the flipside, Starbucks is trying out locally designed franchises in stores, in order to recapture the feel of a local coffee shop, which would otherwise be threatened by the existence of Starbucks in its vicinity.
All this brings me to this week’s book, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History, and Culture in Regional Perspective. The opening chapters are some of the most helpful in the entire book. The early definitions of Mark Noll, one of our previous authors of the semester, are essential, as I continue to equate evangelicalism with many of the same words or stereotypes he mentions – fundamentalism, right-wing, Pentecostalism, etc. (Loc. 164-167) Noll explains the word evangelical became a rough synonym for the word Protestant during the Reformation, but since the eighteenth century, it took this definition: “Protestants who placed a heightened emphasis on experiencing the redeeming work of Christ personally and on spreading the good news of that message, whether to those with only a nominal attachment to Christianity or to those who had never hear the Christian Gospel.” (Loc. 209) Of special note are our dear friend Bebbington’s four key ingredients of evangelicalism: conversion, Biblicism, activism, and cross-centeredness. (Loc. 210)
With the aforementioned paragraphs, however, it will come to no surprise to you that I found Donald M. Lewis’s chapter on “Globalization, Religion, and Evangelicalism” (chapter 3) especially insightful. Reading the chapter, the theme from DisneyWorld, “It’s a Small World” played in my head. He wrote, “The central idea is that the world is becoming more and more a single place, a single ‘village,’ with all the outcomes this (rapid communication) has on human relations and the way we see the world.” (Loc. 906) Indeed, in one day, I can say good night to my friends in Russia in one text message, while reading the news of the impending demonstration and riot in Haiti in my Twitter feed.
His discussion of “glocalization” and the closely associated concept of “globalization from below” showcased Christianity’s adaptability, its cross-cultural power, and ability to influence society at every level, and to do so not by destroying the receptor culture, but building on them and adorning them. (1001) Lewis illustrated this in his story the Karen people of Burma, who value Christianity’s culture preserving ability. Lewis also highlights some of the very things that make evangelicalism difficult to define, such as the lack of a single holy language or precise holy place. This, however, makes evangelicalism highly adaptable, allowing for constant growth and expansion. As a missions specialist, I found this chapter enlightening, as it underscores the need for both urban evangelistic strategies and social activism, in light of the reality of increasingly “global cities.”
The key to globalization and glocalization, especially when dealing with Christianity, the spread of the Gospel and evangelism, is to guard against creating a “one-size-fits-all” or homogenized world. We are all different, but we can all love and worship the same God. And this, my friends, is where my favorite word comes in to play — RELATIONSHIP. Before we move in and try to impose our thoughts and “best practices” onto another, why not take a few moments to listen and learn about who the people are sitting across from you. Context is everything. A McDonald’s Big Mac with extra bacon, no matter how good, will not go over well in India.
Thus, in Deve’s format, a few questions to ponder:
- In our missions efforts, how are we adapting global trends to local interests?
- How do we best guard against imposing our thoughts and
- What am I personally doing to learn about those in which I serve alongside?
- In light of my mission trip tomorrow, how should I have prepared my mission team to enter a new culture and community with an open heart and open mind and open ears?
- How can we go into a new place with an attitude of, “How can I learn?” instead of “What can I tell you or do for you that, in my opinion, can make your life better?”
Lewis, Donald M. and Richard V. Pierard, eds. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History, and Culture in Regional Perspective. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014.