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“Glocalization: The New Context of the Missio Dei” (Editorial Preface to the Issue)

Author: Greg McKinzie
Published: August 2011

MD 2.2

Article Type: Text Article

A very simple truth generated the initiative to put together an issue entitled “Mission in the Global Village”: the world has changed. That bears some expansion, not least because the world is always changing. In fact, epochal change is, if not frequent, then at least typical of the global human culturescape. Yet, even if it it necessary to guard against overexhuberance, there is no doubt that humanity is in the midst of one such momentous shift. A transformation with the global scope of the one taking place in the early twenty-first century matters for many reasons, the most important of which is that the context of God’s mission is essentially different.

How, then, has the world changed? What is so radically different that we must speak in terms of a new global context? As one naturally expects, a change of such magnitude requires a good deal more than a few paragraphs to explain. But it is fair enough to say that the world has shrunk. The vision in Donella Meadows’s 1992 “State of the Village Report” was, at that time, just about to become a reality in a new way.1 Meadows’s comparative tool, imagined for the purpose of communicating statistical information, was powerful to begin with, because she tapped into a reality that always existed: we were always a de facto world community. What was happening already when her idea began its viral email circulation around the turn of the century, however, was something qualitatively different. It is what Thomas Friedman famously labeled “Globalization 3.0”:

Globalization 3.0 is shrinking the world from a size small to a size tiny and flattening the playing field at the same time. And while the dynamic force in Globalization 1.0 was countries globalizing and the dynamic force in Globalization 2.0 was companies globalizing, the dynamic force in Globalization 3.0—the force that gives it its unique character—is the newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally.2

While Friedman wrote from a primarily economic standpoint, and not without considerable controversy,3 many of his observations have proven very insightful for conversations about globalization more generally. This basic account of individual—or perhaps we should say personal—impact on the global scene may be the most important aspect of his narrative. This is the sense in which the world has shrunk, and from a missional standpoint, we must emphasize that the fundamental dynamic of such personal connectedness is relational.

Moreover, Friedman seems right to prognosticate that “this new era of globalization will prove to be such a difference of degree that it will be seen, in time, as a difference in kind.”4 The casual observer may not see much to justify the claim that things have changed so drastically, particularly when one considers the assertion that the Internet is the fundamental propeller of this new world order. Yes, many people are connected to the Web: What is the big deal? Nevertheless, the role that social media played in the Arab Spring earlier this year made more obvious the kind of impact that transcultural, personal connectedness via the Internet is having on globalization—in this instance, the globalization of democracy.

This, of course, raises the fraught questions of what one means by globalization, how it is now so different and, subsequently, what the global change might mean missiologically. Globalization has often referred to economic systems in particular, and, although this is too narrow to account for all relevant dynamics, it is undeniable that free-market capitalism has been the driving force for the establishment of the new global connectedness that makes other dynamics possible. A second typical characterization of globalization is in terms of culture, including ideology (e.g., secular democracy), language (e.g., English as lingua franca), and material culture (e.g., Coca-Cola). As the parenthetical examples suggest, aspects of wealthy, powerful countries such as the US are typically what become globalized. In combination with the fact that one of the precursors to current postmodern globalization was colonialism (Friedman’s 1.0), it is no surprise that so many find all globalization to be thinly veiled imperialism—cultural and economic imperialism rather than literal colonization, but power plays for domination nonetheless.

Yet, even at its most oppressive, globalization has never been unidirectional. Rather, it has always been about intercultural encounter and exchange. Those points of contact have often been overshadowed by ungodly power dynamics, to be sure, but what has been subsequently globalized—everything from food to philosophy—was often a matter of deliberate appropriation rather than involuntary subjugation. That is, we must not, in our critique of these power dynamics, deny the agency of the less powerful party or the impact of its own contribution to the global mélange simply because it was not the more powerful.

The problem, however, is not that there is some cosmic scorecard of whose stuff got globalized the most. Nor is the problem that cross-cultural encounters happen in the first place, as though the ideal were that all cultures would become insular and stop evolving. Both of these ideas caricature the cultural relativism that is battling for a place in the global discourse. No, the problem is not that globalization is an affront to the supposed equal “value” of all cultures; not that one culture is just-as-good-as or fine-without another culture’s globalized impact. The problem is sin. The problem is that, given the power dynamics often at work, cross-cultural encounters are marred by selfishness, greed, violence, pride, hatred, and injustice. There are indeed losers in these encounters. They do not lose because their culture does not shine as brightly on the global stage. They lose because they are oppressed, marginalized, and impoverished by the winners.

Returning to postmodern globalization in particular, the question is to what extent it produces the same results, because the real issue for missions is how to be light and leaven amidst the global reality in which we must necessarily participate. There is no doubt that, just as economic disparity is growing in the US, it is growing throughout the world in step with the spread of the free market. The fundamental error of Friedman’s construal is the expectation that the continued spread of individual empowerment to compete in the market will inevitably overcome and correct the present inequities.5 It appears that there is no invisible hand of the global market. The gap between the rich and the poor is only increasing. Insofar, then, as Globalization 3.0 is to be equated with the spread of the free market, it does indeed carry within it the legacy of disempowerment and injustice.

At the same time, the special nature of postmodern globalization is not actually capitalistic (that characteristic belonged to the previous era of globalization driven by big business). As mentioned above, capitalism funded the creation of the infrastructure necessary for the World Wide Web and all that it makes possible. In fact, the Internet has a variety of American cultural bedfellows. The personal computer itself is an American cultural product. As an advanced technology, it is particularly Western. Its basic function is an innately democratizing one. But “globo-electro-Westernization,” as Carl Raschke has called it,6 is radically unprecedented essentially by virtue of the connectedness it facilitates, not the ideologies that have gone into hyperdrive because of it.

While I make no claim that the technology is neutral, the church needs to come to terms with the fact that the world has changed because of it. Missiology has long recognized the necessity of addressing context both critically and pragmatically. The global village is our new context, for good or ill—and probably for both. As David Bosch put it in 1992, surveying the complexities of mission in global perspective just before the advent of globo-electro-Westernization, “crisis is not . . . the end of opportunity but in reality only its beginning, the point where danger and opportunity meet, where the future is in the balance and where events can go either way.”7 Much will depend on what the church makes of the new global context.

What, then, is really the nature of the new context, beyond being technologically determined? Or, in what sense is it a global village? Indeed, given the technological aspect as well as the global trend of urbanization, might it not be more accurate to speak of a global city? Some social theorists have in fact opted to think in terms of the “cosmopolis.” The city, though, does not account for the relational dynamic of postmodern globalization; it is still too big, too impersonal a metaphor. Rather, the world has become a single community, a cosmocōmē—a global village.

What this means for Christian mission is that all of the issues of globalization have become personal for Christians right where they are. The cross-cultural and the global are no longer the sole province of the “missionary.” The Christian must read the parable of the good Samaritan with a new vision: To whom will you be a neighbor in the global village? The Internet has empowered anyone with access to have a personal, global impact. This is what some have labeled “glocal” (global-local), and it is the unique inner dynamic of postmodern globalization. It is the difference in kind.

Glocalization is not separate from globalization. Globalization always involved the impact of the local on the global. To reiterate, it was always about cultural exchange—local cultural exchange. Bob Roberts Jr. describes it this way:

War is one of the oldest expressions of glocal, though it has been more from the vantage point of domination than merging. It starts locally in one part of the world and takes its intentions to another part. The local and the global merge—glocal. It’s everywhere and in every form. Pharaoh, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and others connected the world, but it was through global domination and the imposition of the victor’s customs and culture upon the victims. . . .

However, there is something substantially different about modern glocalization. Glocal connects everyone, but unlike war, it doesn’t do away with anyone’s culture and customs. It can actually strengthen them and facilitate transformation. The whole basis of connection is not domination, but information and connectedness that allow for the integration of anyone, anywhere, anytime.8

The difference that merits the new terminology is that every locale is potentially connected to every other locale without a military, political, industrial, or otherwise institutional intermediary. Glocalization is about personal connectedness between individuals and communities across the globe, not as conquerors and subjects or winners and losers but merely as global neighbors. Thus, the concern is ever more about how we will live together in a diverse global community.

Diversity is also reasserting itself more strongly through glocalization because of this mutual connectedness. In a sense, the Internet itself is the ultimate manifestation of the tendency to appropriate, adapt, and indigenize globalized phenomena. Thus, the Internet (and related digital media) is now the conduit for every other connected culture to globalize just as much as Western ones. Perhaps it is a Western cultural phenomenon that becomes globalized, but it gets filtered and reified as a new thing by other cultural neighbors with just as much agency in the global village:

This inculturating potential cautions us against homogeneity because hearers interpret with the lenses of their indigenous worldviews. Such a perspective privileges indigenous agency: the initiative and creative responses by local actors. Third-world contexts are not a tabula rasa on which foreign culture—extra space bearers—wrote their scripts. Hidden scripts abound at the level of infrapolitics.9

What is actually happening in postmodern globalization is globo-electro-localization. Rather than suffering homogenization, everyone is showing up at the village council with an equal opportunity to make their distinctive voices heard.

Unfortunately, the diversity of these voices may be intractably conflictual, or at least mutually exclusive. This is as it should be until repentance and humility permeate the discourse, because many of the voices belong to those who are on the losing end of globalization’s imperialistic legacy, and they represent the many more who cannot even dream of access to the “flat-world platform.” Beyond the humiliation and resentment engendered by these power dynamics, which many like Friedman presume to be the fuel for movements such as Islamic fundamentalism (which is making good use of glocalization), there are deeper conflicts.

Raschke, in his redux of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis, identifies Friedman’s optimism about the flat world as the “new secularist mythology.”10 The problem, he asserts, is that:

Contrary to the famous argument of Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington—right after the Soviet Union unraveled, he predicted a “clash of civilizations” where the legacies of the West and the Middle East would find themselves on an unstoppable collision course—the conflict is turning out to be one between those who assert the antireligious values of modernism and the Enlightenment on one hand and those who find ways of repackaging old religious symbols for contemporary political purposes on the other. The genuine clash of civilizations is “between the religious and the non-religious,” not between the different religious cultures.11

There is a deep cultural divide that is not just about non-Western victims of conscienceless capitalism expressing their angst. It is about an underlying difference of worldview that causes mutual connectedness to fall short of mutual understanding. To be more precise, whereas Raschke names them “antireligious values of modernism,” sociologists such as José Casanova nuance the issue by identifying multiple modernities and multiple secularisms.12 There are different configurations of modernism and secularism, and the two are quite separable. Thus, while Islamic fundamentalists are capable of adopting the “modernist” infrastructure of the flat world for their purposes, the secularist mythology—its Utopian nonreligious end—has nothing to do with it.

As members of the global village filter globalization through their worldviews, the infrastructure that makes the discourse possible remains in place, but the ideological baggage that accompanied it does not fully come through. Therefore, it is unlikely that the point of contention—secularism; even a new “compassionate flatism”13—will turn out to be the solution. Those who come to the village council meeting expecting everyone to leave their religion at the door for the sake of a relativistic, dispassionate pluralism and middle-class aspirations14 will be in the small minority.

But Raschke also asserts a second recapitulation of Huntington: “The clash of civilizations is beginning to look like a war of eschatologies.”15 In this he refers to the resurgence of religion globally, which is concomitant with the decline of secularism. Authors such as Philip Jenkins have thoroughly documented the simultaneous rise of Christianity and Islam in the “global South,” the former “third world” that was on the receiving end of imperialist globalization.16 The seemingly inexorable global prominence of these two religious blocks provides the context for Raschke’s thesis. It is the convergence of these eschatological visions with the globo-electro-local platform that constitutes the major challenge for the global village:

The globopomo [global-postmodern] resurgence of religion has set us on an inescapable collision of eschatologies. . . . This collision ultimately arises out of the profound presence of nonnegotiable differences at the soteriological core of each faith. From a theological standpoint, eschatology is not simply the ultimate disclosure of the truth of God. It is also the supernova-like revelation of difference in the sense of a grand separation of the truth from the lie. . . .

A liberal Christian, or even post-Christian, global civil society that allows a loose and mutually respectful—if not tolerant—recital of differences is looming as increasingly less possible in our globopomo environment.17

The question remains, therefore, as to what role the Western church will play. By some accounts, it is so bound up with secularism that it has little to do with either an alternative voice in the discourse or the burgeoning Southern church. It is undoubtedly in decline, even in “religious” America.18 Yet, there are also significant reformist stirrings within Western Christianity, not to mention actual subaltern movements. Although it remains to be seen just what will come of these, and they are admittedly difficult to track, sweeping trend studies such as Jenkins’s tend to overlook even the possibility of resurgence within or out of Western Christianity (even as they are willing to speculate rather freely on, e.g., the Chinese underground church). It must be noted, however, that missiology in Western Christianity has long wrestled with the issues on the table, and the tendency among “missional” groups to take mission seriously as a paradigm for being the church is an extremely positive sign.

From within the global village, then, old issues have taken on new dimensions. Paternalism and dependency are perennial concerns for missionaries. In light of globo-electro-localization, they have a different complexion. What is beyond post-colonial missions? In the shadow of the rising South, they suddenly seem multidirectional. Who is dependent upon whom? Who will be? As connectedness increases, cross-cultural intelligence and insights into the nature of worldview will be indispensable for overcoming the ethnocentrism that problematizes the discourse. Muslim-Christian dialogue has assumed center stage along with the disparity of wealth between the West and the rest. Jesus’ enacted kingdom eschatology must frame the global church’s approach to both, especially among secularized Western churches. New opportunities abound for personal, global impact: from cross-cultural encounters with immigrant neighbors to Internet-empowered service to global neighbors. The Western church is renegotiating its identity, and the majority world church is becoming the predominant agent of mission. Through it all, God is at work, for the mission is his. Will we proceed with faith and courage to face the challenges before us? The future is in the balance, and it can go either way.

This Issue

Pepperdine University Associate Professor of Religion Dyron Daughrity opens the issue with a survey of major trends in the global church. Reality on a global scale is difficult to describe and often quite eye-opening for those of us to tend to think more locally. Christianity, explains Daughrity, is “a universal, transcultural, multi-lingual religion that spans the entire breadth of the world’s surface.” The article looks to Christianity’s future, considering key issues such as the strength of the church in the global South and the place of secularization in the global mix.

Two essays on the Book of James by leading New Testament scholar Scot McKnight fill out the Missional Theology section. Originally presented at the Rochester College conference Streaming: Biblical Conversations for the Missional Frontier, these two papers do not have to do with mission in the global village per se. Then again, the missional frontier is precisely what is at issue in the global village. If McKnight’s lectures cause readers to reflect critically on the interpretive traditions of the flagging Western church and the missional implications of reading James afresh, then we remain on track.

The first two articles in the Missional Praxis section bring to the fore critical issues. Robert Reese, Associate Professor of Cross-Cultural Ministry at Mid-Atlantic Christian University, expertly discusses the problem of dependency in a post-colonial, globalized setting. The legacy of colonialism still plagues the potentially fruitful “new era of cooperation between churches around the world,” he explains. The issue of dependency will not simply go away with the advent of globo-electro-localization. Senders and missionaries alike will do well to consider carefully Reese’s treatment of dependency. Similarly, Jim Harries of the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission proposes an intriguing thesis about the specific dynamics of east African interactions with Western donors. Harries looks at cultural-linguistic aspects of “talking for money” related to magic in African contexts, suggesting that Westerners often unintentionally reinforce harmful worldview assumptions within already problematic patron-client arrangements.

Robert Fife’s article began as a masters thesis and, with the help of Missio Dei’s own Danny Reese, condensed into the present contribution. Fife narrates the story of a Brazilian church that became a missional force. The article is representative of one of the most important trends in the global village as the Southern church takes on the mantle of responsibility. In addition to being a moving tale, the article bears numerous practical insights.

The last Praxis article is a simple beginner’s guide for US Christians interested in initiating cross-cultural ministry among their Latino neighbors. Jim Holway, Field Coordinator for Latin American Mission Project in Miami, offers straightforward, practical advice. Those who take the first steps in relationship and service that he recommends will find themselves engaged in another important facet of mission in the global village: ministry among immigrant populations.

In the Reflections section, Dan Bouchelle challenges readers from Churches of Christ to catch up with God’s work in the challenging new global context. Marisol Rosas writes personally about her multicultural missional experiences, which are perhaps as representative of mission in the global village as anything else in the issue. Three more Streaming presentations follow: John Barton reviews the dialogue on Muslim-Christian relations revolving around Miraslov Volf’s book Allah: A Christian Response, undoubtedly a central issue in the global village. Josh Graves considers James narratively and David Fleer contributes an artistically formatted sermon on James 1:22-27. Finally, Mark Parker shares his thoughts on the recently published web document “The Missional Manifesto.”

1 See Carolyn Jones, “History of the Idea,” Who We Are, 100 People: A World Portrait, Marshall McLuhan had already described the world as a global village in the 1960s in virtually prophetic terms as he explored the effect of media technology. The world, though, was not ready to see itself in those terms at that early stage.

2 Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, further updated and expanded Kindle edition (New York: Picador, 2007), locs. 244-248.

3 See, for example, the article published in the previous issue of this journal: Steve Greek, “The World Is Flat? Not Yet!” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 2, no. 1 (February 2011): 80-85,

4 Friedman, loc. 977.

5 Friedman styles himself a “technological determinist,” not a “historical determinist” (locs. 9749-9758). That is to say, he admits that there are many contingencies that may prevent the realization of his flat world, namely, disease, disempowement and poverty, anger and frustration, and pollution. Yet, he does not object to the accusation that he is saying, “After [the flattening], everyone will get richer and smarter and it will all be fine” (loc. 9746). He nuances his argument, but in the end it is that if everyone were healthy, empowered to compete, calm, and environmentally conscious, then it would actually all be “fine.” In other words, globalization is the cure, not the cause.

6 Carl Raschke, GloboChrist: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn, The Church and Postmodern Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), loc. 305.

7 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, American Society of Missiology Series 16 (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1992), 3.

8 Bob Roberts Jr., Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage a Flat World, Kindle ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), locs. 231-237.

9 Obgu U. Kalu, “Globalization and Mission in the Twenty-first Century,” in Mission After Christendom: Emergent Themes in Contemporary Mission, ed. Ogbu U. Kalu, Peter Vethanayagamony, and Edmund Kee-Fook Chia (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), locs. 966-968.

10 Raschke, loc. 255.

11 Ibid.

12 José Casanova, “Rethinking Secularization: A Global Comparative Perpsective,” The Hedgehog Review (Spring and Summer 2006): 7-22.

13 Friedman, loc. 6975.

14 Ibid., loc. 9780 ff.

15 Raschke, loc. 1590.

16 Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, rev. and expanded ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

17 Raschke, locs. 1647-1652.

18 Barna Group, “Barna Examines Trends in 14 Religious Factors over 20 Years (1991 to 2011),” State of the Church Series, Faith/Spirituality, July 26, 2011,

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