The Meeting of the Waters
7 Global Currents That Will Propel the Future Church
David C Cook 2010, 232 pp. ISBN 978-1-4347-6484-3
Fritz Kling is a foundation executive who has spent the past decade traveling through villages and cities across the world interviewing grassroots workers and high-level leaders. The title metaphor comes from the heart of the Amazon where two large rivers flow together side by side before mingling to become the Amazon. He identifies seven big trends impacting today's global church. Fritz tells fascinating stories from his travels that illustrate the themes of mercy, mutuality, migration, monoculture, machines, mediation, and memory.
Fritz looks through the eyes of two generations of mission workers labeled Mission Marm and Apple Guy. He has two concerns. Will Apple Guy bring enough depth and commitment to assignments in very difficult cross-cultural assignments? And will global church leaders incorporate his concerns for justice, relief, poverty, conservation, and mercy? [And just whom does Fritz mean when he speaks of global church leaders? Dlm]
The past era was strong in the Bible, missions and service, emphasizing personal piety. The future church will need to find its voice in broad issues like poverty, human rights, ecology, justice, conflict, equality, reconciliation, and global events. (24) We must bundle the past passion for evangelizing with many other approaches to societal change.
1. The 7 Global Currents
An East African pastor complained that his congregation preferred the Sunday morning TV preaching of T. D. Jakes over his own. It's not enough for this pastor to study the Bible and emerge with a word for his flock. The global media seamlessly infiltrates his Kenyan culture. Globalization is affecting everyone, even in the most remote venues.
The 7 currents will help people reconcile their faith with their world and will help the church, in its mission to represent Jesus Christ to the world, to understand what people are like and how they are changing
2. Mercy - The Gospel as Yoke
"Now…the opportunities for relief assistance are greater than ever, as natural and man-made crises are creating unprecedented misery and loss on the global stage--and as technology allows people at a distance to learn about the crises and travel swiftly to help." (41) "…a new generation of students and young adults…view service to others as a defining expression of their faith." (41) "Younger Christians are often ambivalent about the institutional church, but completely committed to Mercy." (42) "What is new…is the universal emphasis on Mercy by an entire generation…." (44)
This generation is also attracted to initiatives that are new and small. Social entrepreneurship is the mantra.
The Mercy Generation has an "evangelism too" approach. They "serve Jesus by doing justice and helping the poor … and proclaiming the gospel too. They serve others not just to convert them, but because they themselves have been converted." (46)
They see beyond false distinctions. "If you don't care anything about the spiritual health of the people you are helping, then that is not truly, deeply loving them. But if you are attending to their spiritual needs without attending to the man beaten along the side of the road, that's not love either." (46)
The Mercy Generation is not a linear generation. It is comfortable with ambiguity and contradiction. Their perspectives are likely to be unpredictable and invigorating. Many are quite grounded and radically devoted in their faith.
"However, the Mercy Generation does not view the gospel's good news as just a tool for evangelizing non-Christians; neither a carrot nor a stick, the gospel is their yoke to a world of needy people loved by God." (49) They hold strong Christian viewpoints on more issues than their parents, like the environment, fair trade, sustainability, community, and global justice. (50)
The Mercy Generation is not just Christians but young people around the world.
3. Mutuality - Upside-Down Maps
"With our brothers and sisters from developing nations, their outward appearances of poverty and subservience can hide deep reserves of spiritual, intellectual, and cultural wealth. Viewing people without money or power as equals is not only the right choice--it is becoming the only choice." (65) The relationships between foreign workers and indigenous followers are changing. Indigenous Christians are confidently taking charge.
"Mutuality may be the single most important Current for understanding how to support, work with, and pray for Christian movements around the world." (66) However, those with money and power are often blind to the resources of others.
"Believers from poorer nations understand humility before God and dependency on God in a deeper way than I could, largely because they have lived in countries where physical deprivation and humiliating dependency are commonplace." (66)
An African says power is an enemy of Mutuality. "Like Jesus, we need to open ourselves to people without education, wealth, or contacts, and we must not seek power in order to ensure that ministry is done on our terms. Mutuality requires concessions and intentionality on the parts of all players…." (72)
"If you really want to understand the future of Christianity, go and see what is happening in Asia, Africa, Latin America…. God very often is working most powerfully far from the center." (73)
"Mutuality calls for recognizing the giftedness of others, deferring to them when appropriate, and providing leadership if helpful." (73)
"The mission field today has become entirely multidirectional." (78)
4. Migration - A Taste of Heaven
Refugees and immigrants from the global south are bringing fresh fervor and devoutness, as well as opportunities for ministry, to Western countries. (89)
Information arbitrage is looking at the world from many perspectives. Nick in Ireland said that every aspect of his ministry is influenced by Migration. Ministry is all about migration. It is the key issue of our day. (91) We must learn the cultural assumptions and expectations people bring with them, then use those as bridges to establish rapport. Immigrants are often open to church and faith. The church too often reacts to change rather than anticipates it. We need entrepreneurial, opportunistic outreach.
Migration is occurring everywhere on the globe. Urbanization is one of its most profound expressions. "A hopeful, redemptive, and faithful view of cities sees vibrant places of opportunity, diversity, innovation, and new expressions of Christianity." (99) "World-class cities are the new unreached people groups." (100) "The old distinction between home missions and foreign missions is made completely obsolete by today's global cities." (102)
5. Monoculture - Everywhere and Nowhere
"A global Monoculture is emerging as multinational corporations create common world tastes around logos, products, advertising slogans, stars, songs, brand names, jingles, and trademarks." (108) Advertising campaigns tap into existing consumerism and stimulate more of it.
Monoculture is highly flexible and adaptable and is shaped by media, marketing, military, business, professors, religious groups, gossip columnists, revolutionaries, and terrorists. It is still in its early stages.
A country's culture gets stretched and it may react, but it can't go back to its previous state. Marketing is accused of cultural strip-mining. "Traditional, rich, native culture [is] being replaced with a Monoculture of individualism, materialism, and immediacy." (112)
Christians are to be in the world but not of it. The challenge is to relate to people in their environments.
Monoculture has a strong American flavor but "it is fundamentally a cultural fusion with tastes of Europe, Australia, Latin America, Asia, and more." (113)
The English language is one of the most dominant characteristics of Monoculture and provides multiple opportunities for the church. "The global church today must be both a prophetic protester and an opportunistic creator. Presenting a distinctive and winsome witness amid Monoculture is terribly hard today…." (118)
"Those who are doing a brilliant job at world 'evangelization' are the marketers of McWorld." (120) American MTV had a major influence in creating a borderless global youth culture hard-wired into American pop-consumer culture. "Young generations are losing their identity. Television, markets, sexuality, and 'New Age' religions are making it really difficult to figure out truth." (123)
6. Machines - Both Jekyll and Hyde
"Disaster relief in the future will be more sustainable, rapid, efficient, accountable, and humane, all because of the tide of the fifth Global Current--Machines." (131) The biggest developments are in the field of early warning. Groups are also doing scenario planning. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology can place data in its geographic context with geographic coordinates. Relief practices are much more advanced.
Data collection can be done by cell phone for tracking deposits in micro-finance, assessing the success of water and sanitation intervention, tracking diseases and epidemics, etc. Research in the evangelization task has been transformed by the collecting and organizing massive amounts of data.
There is also risk. With the internet and computer memory, what is written is conserved; conversations are no longer temporary. Terrorists can manipulate captives, families, and mission agencies by sending messages in real time. People can be tracked by the locator signals from their cell phones. Laptops may be lost or stolen - with all their information. Smartphones are rich sources of information.
7. Mediation - Civility in an Extreme World
"Increasingly, in all areas of society around the world, differences between groups are emphasized, suspicions and indignities are exaggerated, extreme actions are rewarded, and moderation far too often is disdained." The global church must step into mediation.
Mediation is needed in many areas: political, philosophical, social, ethnic, international, mission, class, economic, and religious.
"Practicing reconciliation with people of different religions, ethnicities, customs, or beliefs is a practice every follower of Christ can pursue, and not just 'professionals'…. In the face of global pluralism, the church must proclaim Jesus Christ with theological integrity, critical contextualization, and above all, with an open and transparent spirit." (164)
"One of the problems in modern life…is that the people who are good at being civil often lack strong convictions and people who have strong convictions often lack civility." (164, quoting Martin Marty) "We need to find a way of combining a civil outlook with a 'passionate intensity' about our convictions. The real challenge is to come up with a convicted civility." (164, quoting Richard Mouw) "Followers of Christ must step into the void between factions--sometimes as prophets, expecting condemnation, but more often as peacemakers, encouragers, and friends." (165)
8 Memory - The Lingering Past
Many countries are plagued by their back stories, the relevant historical events that often hold powerful sway in the current state of affairs (such as in Uganda, for example). Most Americans generally hold a short-term orientation. When it's over, it's over. But when others say, "That's history," they may be pulling their swords. Today is often a servant to yesterday.
"Postcolonialsm is the world's most common form of Memory." (177) The ingrained cultural norms, including servility, complacency, distrust, resentment, and dependency, persist. Some countries suffer from murderous tyrant-leaders and adults recall childhoods filled with fear, suspicion, and loss. Memory may have both positive and negative effects. It lingers, and it must eventually be faced.
One result of dependency and passivity is that people have been taught to take and not to earn or give. In some countries missionaries never emphasized financial stewardship because they assumed the people would always be poor. They assumed the people would always follow and never lead, so they didn't inculcate a heart for missions.
Even though Memory may have contributed to low aspirations and low confidence, in today's globalized world, people may still have high expectations with dreams of Western-style wealth. A generation of youth are disillusioned and resentful.
Often, what we see it not what we get because of what lurks below the surface. Distrust and skepticism run deep.
Conclusion - A Changing of the Guard
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