Excerpt from “Globalization: A Theological Overview”, Paper at CMS Consultation, UBS, January 2014
Theologically, we can recognize at least four distinctions in God’s ordering of the history of humanity: the original ordering, the divisive ordering, the in-gathering ordering, and the final ordering.
1. The Original Ordering. In the original ordering, humanity is one. Nationalities didn’t exist because plurality of language and culture was unknown. This original ordering began to break down after sin when man first understood the sense of shame and guilt as the man and the woman hid behind trees to hide their nakedness. Later, jealousy, murder, and lustful imagination employed the original ordering to infect the entire humanity to the extent that God desired to wipe off the entire human race. A global flood became the only resolution.
2. The Divisive Ordering. After the Flood, humanity was given a divisive ordering. ‘Confusion’ was the word used to describe this division because humanity was ordered in such a way that each nationality wasn’t able to so much understand another. Division should have prevented any religious epidemic to be globalized irresistibly. The divisive factor was language and the barrier helped develop cultural variety. On Mars Hill, Paul understood this divisive ordering to have a singular purpose: that mankind would seek God and haply find Him (Acts 17:27). Perhaps, this divisive ordering gave birth to plurality of religions – and, it started with language. Paul’s interpretation also seems to indicate the short-term purpose of this division. It was to be till the Age of the Spirit of Grace, during which God commands all people everywhere to repent. Of course, the nations would continue to exist, but the reason for the division would not.
3. The In-gathering Ordering. Following the 6th and 5th centuries, empires such as the Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-persian, Greek, and Roman tried to bring a great mass of humanity under their fold. The need for interflow of economic resources invited many various ways in which humans attempted some sort of globalization. The 6th and 5th century also mark the beginnings of the dispersion of the Jews and the anticipation of their future ingathering. Meanwhile, the dispersion helped early Christian mission as the synagogues usually became platforms of evangelism – though not always. While the anticipation for the future ingathering of the physical Israel caught hope, God did make a central move to gather in His spiritual Israel. The New Testament declares Christ as the Mediator – the one in whom all walls of division between God and man, and man and man, are broken. Man is no longer an enemy of God and the Jew has no advantage over the non-Jew. This was announced on the Day of Pentecost through the outpouring of the Spirit with the manifestation of tongues (understandable to everyone trans-linguistically). The Body of Christ was not based on a political covenant like Israel was based upon; the new covenant transcended all linguistic and cultural barriers. Interestingly, Paul describes praying in tongues as praying with the Spirit (non-understandable to anyone except God). The Great Commission calls forth the church to preach the Gospel to all nations and make disciples of them because the new covenant was no longer the property of a particular race or nation. The New Testament was written in Greek because God was not just the God of the Hebrews. The Gospel had to get global because God was global and His new covenant was global. The church at Jerusalem was not divided into a Greek Church and a Hebrew Church, despite their disagreements. The in-gathering ordering is captured in this statement of Jesus: ‘And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.’ (John 10:16 NKJ) Spiritually, this comes to be through the Holy Spirit; consequently, all bias, division, and hierarchization among believers is carnal (1Corinthians 3:1-4). It is not from the Spirit.
4. The Final Ordering will happen at the end of times when all things, in heaven and on earth, will be gathered together in Jesus Christ (Eph.1:10). Then, one will say that the Kingdom of Heaven had fully come.
Sadly, the Christian church has been too expert about division-making. The denominational divisions apart, there are divisions also based on race, language, culture, caste, region, and civilization within the global church (West vs. East). The internal fragmentation makes the external responsibility a difficult mission to accomplish. While networking is a worthy concept, it might still preserve connotations of fragmentation. Gospelization will be hampered by the failure of the church to a true letting out of the Gospel. The internal principle is above the utilitarian method.
One wonders if the people-group and the Bible-into-every-language approaches have missed the significance of globalization. This neither speaks against the people-group approach nor against Bible translation. However, it is possible to miss the goal by focusing on the method. One must not lose sight of the other factors that render a method meaningful. People group approaches are good where group solidarity has also some ideological or religious threadline exclusive to the group alone. However, in the present situation, that is not always the case. Media and academic globalization have pulled down many semantic lines between groups today, especially among the new generation. Globalization compels intensive transformation of cultures by breaking down the barriers and allowing a free interflow of ideas and concepts. The very of idea of ‘context’, thus, becomes dynamic in the context of globalization.
This demands contextualization to check against extremities. For instance, to say that one must don the saffron robe in order to be meaningful in India is to disregard the non-Hindu groups. The saffron robe might perhaps appeal to a Hindu but certainly not to a non-Hindu. However, one can ask oneself if a Hindu evangelist wearing a robe, a cassock, and a cross would have any appeal for a Christian. Inclusivism is not unbiblical because God has been speaking to people everywhere in history; however, how far one can go or ought to go must be contextually determined – and the present context is more of globalization. Anachronous and incongruous contextualization may only produce cultural confusions and shocks.
But, what about saying that such contextualization is a form of the Gospel being glocalized? That needs to be delicately observed; yet there still remains the problem of an impression of some imported stuff being given a local flavor, only if it works – yet, the theologian is obliged to provide reasons why such import is necessary in the first place. Globalization just for the sake of globalization is idolatrous; similarly, rejection of globalization just for the sake of localization is equally idolatrous. But, where a theological basis can be provided, imports, exports, and adaptations can be enriching.