As I shift back and forth between the two contexts of Australia and Tanzania, I see two overarching and related issues in play. One is to do with the nature of ‘world mission’ and cross-cultural ministry, the other is to do with the church’s situation in Australian society.
In standard treatments of mission, world Christianity makes an appearance but hasn’t really made a mark.
Meanwhile, both church and society are becoming more globalized, and seemingly more fragmented than ever. To respond, the church needs to model the good life in its pluralistic neighbourhoods — but in order to do so, it must begin to rebuild itself in plural terms.
In this weekly series of posts, I’ll be using a book that draws these threads together: From Times Square to Timbuktu: the Post-Christian West meets the Non-Western Church, by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (Eerdmans, 2013).
In recent years there has been a great deal of talk about the rise of world Christianity, but this is one of the first books to delve into its significance. What do we do with the knowledge that Christianity is a truly global movement? How should this new situation change the way we see ourselves and others? How do we need to adapt our understanding of mission?
Andrew Walls explains,
In our day the Christian faith is (not for the first time but for the first time in many centuries) truly ecumenical; that is, it reflects the whole inhabited world in its cultural and linguistic diversity. [This book] demonstrates that the crucial issues for contemporary Christians arise directly from this fact; and that, for Western Christians in particular, they involve renewal of vision and shifting of focus, a conversion of habits of mind and association.
Early on in the book, the following passage gives a feel for where we’re going. Here’s what Granberg-Michaelson has to say about world Christianity:
This shift is not simply about geography, with new maps revealing the changing global presence of the Christian community. It’s also a shift in the culture and mind-set shaping the expressions of Christian faith — changes far more difficult to map, but in the end, more decisive. … The world today is witnessing a post-Western awakening of Christianity. The majority of Christians today are… fashioning expressions of faith that can appropriately be called ‘post-Western’. So in many ways, we are witnessing the pilgrimage of Christianity as it moves out of the dominance of modern Western culture and beyond the framework of the modern Enlightenment. (206)
Artwork: ‘Entry into Jerusalem’ by He Qi, 2006
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.