We may be seeing the birth of a new missiological movement. This new era in Christian missions will build upon the accomplishments of the last two hundred years, but it must also be adapted to our world context.
The most important dimension of any vision for world missions is a passion to glorify God. The Bible declares that God is glorifying Himself in the salvation of sinners all over the world, and that He desires to be worshiped among all the peoples of the earth. Therefore, we have the glad opportunity to glorify God by declaring the gospel to all the peoples of the earth.
Christianity is a global faith, and our world is increasingly a global community. Throughout most of history, however, humanity primarily lived in cultural and social isolation. Even within the “melting pot” of America, ethnic and language groups tended to inhabit their own unique neighborhoods and spheres.
The Western encounter with non-Western cultures did not happen in any wide-scale manner until the nineteenth century, the great century of empire and expansion. Whereas explorers and intrepid sailors had brought back tales of “the Other,” it took the age of empire to bring a wide experience of a global reality to the Western consciousness. Major Asian cultures, most especially Japan and China, were openly resistant to engagement with other cultures.
World War I was a cultural turning point. After the war, the twentieth century emerged as the great century of globalization. The war mobilized millions of American men who would enter fighting units together, introducing Americans of Irish, Italian, and German backgrounds to Americans of other ethnicities (and even languages). World War I also allowed millions of Americans to travel across an ocean and directly encounter other societies for the first time.
The greatest forces of globalization were actually economic and technological. Advanced communication and transportation allowed the bridging of cultures, and by the end of the twentieth century, globalization meant that a child in the United States could be in real-time, instant communication with a child behind the Great Wall of China. This type of technology and ability to communicate around the globe was unfathomable just a century ago.
Indeed, the image of two people communicating in real time on opposite parts of the globe is nothing less than a symbol of the phenomenon of globalization. Globalization means that we now understand ourselves as living in an economy and in a community that is irreversibly connected globally. We are able to get on an airplane in virtually any American city and be at any spot on the globe within twenty-four hours. Globalization means that headlines from around the world can arrive as quickly as headlines from across the street. There is a growing awareness of the fact that we are now part of a global civilization that includes, and seems to reach, virtually every inhabitant of the planet.