Economic Globalization and Asian Contextual Theology

Article excerpt

THEOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS OF GLOBALIZATION often exhibit a polarization between an optimistic camp that celebrates globalization as an instrument of salvation in the world, and a pessimistic camp that condemns it as a force of destruction. Stephen Webb, (1) professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana, exemplifies the optimistic camp. He addresses both the economic and moral-spiritual dimensions of globalization. The economic dimension, driven by American-based corporations and other political-economic institutions, may contain selfish motivation and false achievements. Nevertheless, he contends, the moral-spiritual dimension, in which the American-based evangelical movement plays a determining role, will keep globalization on the track of God's providence.

The position promoted by Webb may reflect the attitude of many new churches in Asia belonging to the evangelical and charismatic movements, which attract growing numbers of business executives and professionals. Such a position, however, receives little sympathy in the sphere of academic theology in the Global South, and may have only a handful of proponents even in the West. Theologians belonging to the so-called contextual theology movement, which is the dominant theological discourse in the Global South, tend to take the side of the pessimistic camp.

In a volume focusing on globalization, the Journal of Theologies and Cultures in Asia (JTCA) published papers presented in a theological consultation held in Bali in 2002 and organized by the Programme for Theology and Cultures in Asia (PTCA), a forum of the Asian contextual theologians. While many recognized the existence of competing views, every article in the volume highlighted globalization's threats, negative consequences, injustices, or neo-imperialistic nature. For the Asian contextual theologians, globalization endangers not only the economic liberty but also the cultural identity of Asia, because it brings a Western-directed drive toward cultural homogenization. It is therefore an important task of Asian theologians, so it is argued, to construct a theological foundation for resisting globalization. I intend to confirm such an argument, considering the experience of the business community in Indonesia as it relates to the process of the integration of the Indonesian economy into the global market.


Globalization is not a new phenomenon. In fact, early Christian missionary work among Asian peoples shared characteristics with contemporary globalization. If globalization is Western-oriented, so was evangelism. Western missionaries brought Western ideas, arts, education, language, and ways of life, claiming that these were superior to the local, Asian traditions. This has produced Asian churches that, in many ways, are duplicates of Western churches: adherents sing Western hymns, construct church buildings of Western architecture, confess creeds that reflect the experience of Western societies, and even divide themselves according to the division of Western Christianity. The approach of the contemporary American evangelical movement, to which Webb refers, is basically the same as that of the past evangelism, despite its use of new technology and management techniques. (2)

The contextual theology movement, on the contrary, is an attempt at repentance. It proclaims the worthiness of Asian cultures as contexts where the gospel can be properly understood and lived out. It promotes the exploration of Asian cultural and moral resources rather than the continuing use of Western patterns and methods. In other words, contextual theologians attempt to dehomogenize Christianity by criticizing facile claims to universality and showing more appreciation for local cultures. From the perspective of contextual theology, globalization looks more like a setback than progress, a return to the same path of past evangelization. …