Academic journal article International Review of Mission

From Babel to Pentecost: The Changing Landscape and Its Implications for the Church's Witness: Water of Life

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

From Babel to Pentecost: The Changing Landscape and Its Implications for the Church's Witness: Water of Life

Article excerpt

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I give thanks to God for being with you all in this historic mission event. (1) As my task is to describe the changing landscape, let me share some details about the landscape that shapes my view of the world and of the witness of the church. I'm an Orthodox theologian, still young according to ecumenical organizations' standards, though not a member of Echos Commission, (2) who comes from a very financially troubled country at the moment--Greece--and who has migrated for studies to another country--Ireland --that bears recent memories of a cruel segregation between Catholics and Protestants and where the majority church faces a crisis that influences the smaller churches as well.

Having said that, I must also caution that an attempt to map out the changing global landscape in such limited time is rather ambitious and most likely impossible! If we have learned anything from engagement with contextual theology, it is the realization that no universal norm applies to all contexts; every landscape where God reveals himself, and where the word of God flourishes, is unique and bears its own particularities. Thus, my short intervention will focus only on characteristic elements of the global landscape where Christianity is incarnate, with mention of changes taking place within the churches and impacting on their witness in the world. It is then at your discretion to make connections with your own context: examine what reflects the reality of your church and complete what is missing in the picture.

Since the 1990s much ink has been spilled over the process of globalization and the "compression of time and space reflected in the tremendous intensification of social, political, economic, (and) cultural [and I would add religious] interconnections and interdependences" (3) globally. Greater mobility of ideas and people, due to advanced technology of communication and means of transportation, and also migration (whether voluntary or forced for educational, economic, political, environmental or other reasons) leads to an increasing interaction of different cultures and religions. As the 2009 Belem report of the Continuation Committee on Ecumenism in the 21st century of the WCC notes:

   Mobility and pluralism are factors that did not exist to the same
   extent at the beginning of the ecumenical movement. They now have a
   greater impact on the way personal and institutional identities are
   understood; they affect the individual's sense of community,
   belonging, and loyalty, as well as the churches' relationship to
   the ecumenical movement as a whole. This ambiguous situation should
   not be confused with the richness of God-given diversity. (4)

Thus, the interaction of culture and religion leads to both the promotion of universal ideas and processes (homogenization) but, at the same time, to the development of particularistic expressions such as religious nationalism and fundamentalist reactions (heterogenization). (5)

The most decisive change since the Edinburgh 1910 World Missionary Conference is the shift of Christianity to the global South, as the Atlas of Global Christianity can confirm. (6) In his exploration of Christianity in the South in relation to the religious situation in the North (especially in Europe), Felix Wilfred observes three important movements that characterize the Christianities of the South, namely the liberation movement, the Pentecostal movement and the interreligious movement. (7) For him, the point of convergence for the three is "a shift from the creedal identity of Christianity with its intellectualization, to a greater experiential focus and an urge to transform Christianity into a praxis--a praxis of the Kingdom of God." All three movements are characterized by three key terms: praxis, experience and encounter. (8)

According to the same writer, other characteristics of Southern Christianity are: (1) pluralism and diversity, and the capacity to negotiate borders: between the indigenous and the global, Christian faith and other religious experiences, theory and praxis, intellect and emotion, mind and body, human and nature; (2) vibrancy and an attempt to escape "from meta-narratives . …

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