Mission as the Dialogue of Theology and Globalization

The relevance of such a theoretical discussion of globalization to theology is that there are new, and increasing, challenges to the accepted place of the existing churches and faith communities within society and to existing cultures, social traditions, and values. Theology's task is to discern what the implications of these changes are for the identity of the Gospel wherever these challenges arise, and what it means to be the church.

Pentecostalism makes an interesting case-study. The response of pentecostal-ism to the changes brought about by the experience of globalization in East Asia and Latin America illustrates how much it has been forced into a re-examination of its beliefs by the economic and social changes occurring in these continents. Much pentecostalism has emerged from contexts of economic poverty and social marginalization

The pentecostal churches' experience of the Gospel in the midst of economic poverty is a key gift to the global church. It has empowered individuals and families who address their economic poverty through the transformation of their personal and family life. It needs to develop a spirituality that is capable of equipping people to address larger cultural and socio-political issues. (Samuel 1999)

There are signs that this is beginning to happen. Ronald Bueno (1999) says that the shifting landscape of persons which he studies as an anthropologist and as a pentecostalist is made up of "immigrants, refugees, exiles, guest-workers and other moving groups and persons." He suggests that the experience of unequal power shapes pentecostalism deeply. Pentecostalism illustrates one Christian response to the challenge posed by globalization to existing societies and their values.

Others are very critical of the silence of pentecostalism in East Asia in the face of huge economic problems. The explosive growth of pentecostalist churches has been achieved at the expense of tackling social and economic oppression. Yet even here there are now programs for drug addicts and alienated urban youth in pentecostalist Korean and Philippine churches (Jungja Ma 1999). Whichever view is correct, it is evident that mission and ecclesial identity are deeply affected by the rapidity of social and cultural change.

One of the critical issues is the ecclesial identity of mission-oriented churches, whether pentecostalist or not. The new ecclesiology of the poor in Latin America "reflects the culture, daily life and deep-seated longing for justice" (Cadorette 2000). Cadorette argues that justice is not a vision which the institutional church has often pursued. He claims that the institutional nature of Roman Catholicism is in sharp contrast to the nature of popular Christianity in Latin America. There is above all the issue of leadership and authority. The community, not the clergy, is the primary bearer of mission. The old distinction between the teaching and the learning church will take a long time to be expunged, but nevertheless the clergy are only one part of the life of the community. What is needed is a theology of the laity, who are active in the local community (Bosch 1996).

The previous paragraphs have described the engagement of pentecostalism with mission. Another response to globalization has been the commitment of the churches in the affluent West to reform the international economy. To this response I now turn.

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