Globalized Christianity and World Christianity: Understanding the Difference

I wonder how many Americans understand the difference between Globalized Christianity and World Christianity?

If my experience with American Christian, American Atheist and American Pagan blogs is anything to go by, I would have to conclude … only a minority. For example, in a recent conversation about Rob Bell, some Emergents said,

“…there are two completely different conversations taking place in Christianity today. One version is concerned with defending the religious assumptions rooted in the all important “either/or” duality that blankets American Christianity. The other conversation has already mourned the death of the previous conversation and has turned to page to a completely different set of questions.”

Only two conversations? One exclusively American and the other emerging out of the old American one? Give me a break! These champions of holism and bigger perspectives all seemed oblivious to how dualistic and colonial these comments actually were.

Not that Pagans or Atheists fair any better. “You mean Christianity is different in different countries? You mean even evangelicalism is different in different countries?” After hours of explaining just that. Slaps head against brick wall. Ah, the privileges of empire.

So, to hopefully enlighten at least some folks in America, here is the difference.

Globalized Christianity is that which you export to everyone else. It’s synonymous with global Americanization and cultural colonization. Think Rick Warren. Think Brian McLaren.

World Christianity is the Jesus movement in all its diversity, where you are just one of many voices, and hopefully amongst the many listeners.

The two mutually interact but they are definitely distinct.

Now here is the red pill. When you confuse Christianity, unqualified, with national conversations, you’re talking Globalized Christianity, not World Christianity. When you identify Christianity, unqualified, with national voices, national conferences, and  national networks, you’re talking Globalized Christianity, not World Christianity. And I don’t care whether you’re Megachurch or Emergent.

Think I am being harsh? Test youself. How many non-American bloggers do you listen to? How many do you link to? Proportionately? If less than thirty percent come from a country other than your own let me suggest you think seriously before considering your conversation as being informed by World Christianity.

Here endeth the rant. For those of you who do get the difference between Globalized Christianity and World Christianity already, you are precious, you are gems.

26 thoughts on “Globalized Christianity and World Christianity: Understanding the Difference

  1. Hey Matt,
    First, I think you’re totally right. There is a seemingly unending amount of “conversations” in Christianity today. Maybe I chose my words poorly and maybe I should have sharpened what I meant a bit more. But I was just sort of, you know, blogging and didn’t pour tons of thought into every word.
    Secondly, the observation I made about the “two conversations” has really nothing to do directly with Rob Bell so I’m not sure why you note that ” in a recent conversation about Rob Bell, some Emergents said……”
    But I think you’re main point here is something I don’t disagree with at all. But I’m glad you got to rant on my behalf. 😉

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  2. It seems to me that although there is a distinction between globalized Christianity and world Christianity, the two overlap. The key is finding out where they overlap, and the ethical + theological implications.

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  3. you hit the nail on the head.
    i’ve been in india for the past six months, observing the culture and the indigenous church (in all its various flavors)
    if you ask most american christians to name an “indian theologian,” i think, if they could think of anyone, they would name Ravi Zacharias. but he isn’t so much an “indian theologian” as a guy who agrees with their conservative christian philosophy and also happens to be indian.
    but the true genius of indian christianity is not that it agrees with the american standard. if it tries to live up to that, it will always be nothing but a pale (and ridiculous) imitation.
    indian christianity is, first of all, not defined by the sorts of questions we ask and the cultural movements happening in the west, and second of all, defined by a completely different set of questions and circumstances. not the least these is the fact that indian christians are in the awkward position of having to be both orthodox, and live in harmony with their neighbors, who are hindus, sikhs, and muslims.
    but of course, as you point out, communicating this reality is extraordinarily difficult. the distinction you make here between “globalized” and “world” christianity is helpful, but still, i think that someone has to experience the difference to understand it.

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  4. I think I’ve got part of the picture of world christianity. here’s something I wrote in the last couple days that talks about it:
    [Start quote] I don’t think we get a comprehensive theology until we see the representative questions asked in a very broad set of cultures. So, the ideal for a big-as-possible theology is to do cultural immersion learning exercises. All kinds of “cultural artifacts” (films, interviews, media, games, etc.) can give us questions to make sure our theology responds to real-world issues.
    I mentioned in a previous [MissionalTribe.org] post on The Divine Dominoes Theory that I used this approach this past week to create a framework on spiritual warfare, organizing the spectrum of theological views and real-world religious views around three global cultures (guilt-based, shame-based, fear-based). This is important as a check against whether our theology is comprehensive enough to answer the real-world issues that people in these different cultures are asking. If not, we’d better rethink our theologies … that is, if we believe God’s Word has the kernel of answer for every human frailty and need.”
    Perhaps we can think of this as sort of a “spiritual MRI” that helps us see the overall shape of a subject – not in flat/two-dimensional terms but in volume/three-dimensional terms. [End quote]
    I remember in the 1980s starting to try to think through world theologies and find examples that would fill in the gaps of American faith and practice. For instance, to get a bigger picture of perseverance, look at those who survived racial persecution under Apartheid or religious persecution under the former Soviet Communist system. Or, my bloat-o-meter goes off when I hear things like, “This is how Christians have always worshipped” when what was talked about was what WESTERN Christendom has long done in the practice of worship – what about the rest of the world?
    I think need to exercise that world Christianity discipline far more to composite something that fills our gaps with “spiritual spackle.” Kinda wonder if American Christian publishers would touch anything like that, though. Thankfully, we have the internet to get a broader perspective…

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  5. Isaiah, some of the contributors to “Globalizing Theology” by Ott, Netland, et al. explore this question.
    See

    I think one of the places to watch is Africa, particularly the Independant African Churches. Globalization is definitely at work, but so is tribalization. I think another thing to watch out for is Latino churches in America, fuelled by migration from down South and Central America. While the white dominated church is listening to postmodern theorists some interesting things are in play that may catch a lot of people by surprise.

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  6. Ravi Zacharias as “indian theologian.” LOL, that’s it exactly. This brings me to another point. We have to start distinguishing between multiracial and multicultural churches. You can have a multiracial church full of people operating out of the same basic cultural assumptions. You can also have a multicultural church that’s racially homogenous. They are not the same.

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  7. Brad, yeah, you get it. When people talk about “the Christian view of sin” and fail to test whether such comments stack up against the perspectives of Christians from guilt-based, shame-based and fear-based cultures, they’re projecting.
    Also, I remember someone commenting the other week that maybe the reason the emerging-missional church is failing to penetrate across cultures is because of our emphasis on voluntary lifestyle down sizing. That’s a preoccupation of the rich, of people burnt out by materialist persuits, not preoccupation of the unvoluntary poor.
    World Christianity would speak back to us and say, that’s not for everyone. World Christianity challenges me to examine third world prosperity theology more humbly.

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  8. “that maybe the reason the emerging-missional church is failing to penetrate across cultures is because of our emphasis on voluntary lifestyle down sizing. ”
    Can you point me to that one? I’m a staunch advocate of some sorts of downsizing, but fail to see what that has to do with much.

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  9. Eric, can’t remember where I came across it but I suspect a new monastic blogger of some description.
    I myself have written on the virtues of trying to live more simply, and I still advocate it. I am just more conscious in retrospect of what that says about my own social location.

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  10. Excellent thoughts here. I totally agree. Matt: I don’t comment here much, but do enjoy your blog.
    Just a suggestion but if you ever have the inclination, how about a blog series introducing different expressions of world christianity, ethiopian orthodox, coptic, chinese house church, african independent etc etc?
    Also, if anyone has any links to bloggers from world christian backgrounds, I would be interested to see them….

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  11. Matt, I’ve got a slight quibble with your terminology, but I agree with your point. A huge problem with the whole emerging conversation is that it is so (often uncritically) hinged on a US-centric debate.
    That said, my question is what do we call South Americans travelling to the Middle East to do work, or Africans planting churches in the UK? Isn’t that something that should also be called globalised christianity?

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  12. Hi Matt! Very interesting post.
    You asked,
    “How many non-American bloggers do you listen to? How many do you link to? Proportionately?”
    Although I think looking at things in terms of geography can mislead us, you do have a point.
    But isn’t the Judeo-Christian concept basically a tunnel vision? Yes, it is truth, but tunnel vision nevertheless… And America does not have a monopoly on narrow views.
    This is a whole new thought I’ve begun to explore in my Christian walk. Our vision tends to get fixated in one direction, and we forget to ask why we’re even looking in the first place.
    Just thinking…

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  13. In one of your comments in this thread, you said: “We have to start distinguishing between multiracial and multicultural churches. You can have a multiracial church full of people operating out of the same basic cultural assumptions. You can also have a multicultural church that’s racially homogenous. They are not the same.”
    I think how we bridge racial differences and cultural distinctives will prove a critical factor in the coming decades as the world is at *everyone’s* doorstep. I see the issue at this point from a monoracial multicultural setting. I live in a place in the U.S. where almost 90% of the population is Caucasian, though that percentage continues to decline. It is not likely to have much of a multiracial congregation. And I wonder if leaders of churches here have much success in integrating a monoracial congregation that is full of differences in core paradigm, cultural/generational backgrounds, learning styles, etc.
    I don’t know about elsewhere in the world, but the evidences I have from most U.S. seminaries and many training programs I’m aware of show them to be very anemic when it comes to teaching church leaders to integrate teams. So how could we expect them to do any better when seeking to lead toward “unity” in a gathering that’s larger than a team?
    We’ve got a long ways to go. I think our paradigm definitions of *unity* and *ecumenism* or *working together* need to be looked at more closely so we can see ways they fit (or don’t) with how an “integrative” church functions, regardless of whether it is monoracial or multiracial.
    Anyway, thanks for raising the point, Matt. Bridging differences is one of the things I’ve been passionate about understanding, and hope it gets more onto the radar of disciples everywhere.

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  14. Carlo, thanks for your suggestion. I may take you up on that. Actually, I may see if I can get an Egyptian coptic orthodox priest to write a word or two himself. The 2IC of Australiasia lives a few doors down from me.

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  15. Fernando, now that’s why I say they mutually interact. I think they’re in the messy space in between. What I want to illustrate though is that the forces of globalisation and trialisation are in tension, and that its best we use two eyes.

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  16. “Isn’t the Judeo-Christian concept basically a tunnel vision?” In what way Linda? I see many traditions associated with the larger Tradition. While I agree there is a certain directionality to the path we’re hardly required to walk in lock step on every issue.
    And what path does not provide some directionality? Even Hinduism, that most syncretistic of paths, has the concepts of dharma and reincarnation at the forundation of most expressions of it.
    There are of course people who promote a narrow concept of Christianity, but, I disagree with them. And there would be a few billion people who, like me, do not take American fundamentalism as the last word on Christian orthodoxy. I could cite the entire Catholic church just for starters. Of course, some of them may be narrow in their own way but my essential point is that once you move beyond the essential Christian story all sorts of divergences in thought and practice emerge.

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  17. Brad, were I live it is both multiracial and multicultural, so challenging twice over. One problem I see here is that many overlook diversity between caucasians in the face of the much more obvious diversity between caucasians and others. I have spoken before on the difference between westernised easterners and easternised westerners. I feel the latter is still unrecognized by many. We strive for integration but likewise, there’s a long way to go.

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  18. This is a very helpful thread – thanks to all who are commenting here.
    Matt, as far as easternized Westerners, I may have mentioned before, but one book I think might be a helpful discipleship tool is *The Way of Jesus* by Jonathan Campbell (published by Jossey-Bass). It seems to me a lot of the spiritual people Jonathan connects with fit that description, and the “apologetic” or “relational style” that helps in connecting is far different from the usual Western philosophical technique.

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  19. Carlos, thanks for the link. I’ll check him out. You know, what surprises me is how hard it is to find Catholic bloggers to connect with. I seem to have more Orthodox mates even though they’re numerically more rare.

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  20. Thanks Brad, I would be interested if you ever blogged a fuller book review on that. Understand that I am a bit wary about purchases given most writers who go any where near New Agish stuff get it wrong. What sort of stuff does he cover?

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  21. Hi Matt. I’ll see what I can pull out from mini-reviews I did before, and notes. I am likely to do a more full review sometime in the future. Where I picked up the whole notion, though, is from reading and offering in-depth editorial comments at two points in Jonathan’s writing process, and then skimming the final version. (I’ve known Jonathan for about a decade now.) So, will be back in touch about that when the time comes.

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  22. Cool. It would be good to see more people connecting with this sort of spirituality. I find most emergent writers are aiming more at post-evangelicals, that westerners with experience with dharmic spiritualities and eastern culture just aren’t on the radar. Or if they are it is at a superficial level. I would like to see more serious treatment.

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  23. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
    Elaina

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