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Prophetic Dialogue: Joining in the Dance: Our Diverse World

February 19, 2013
inagrace

Inagrace Dietterich

During 2013, The Center Blog will explore the theological, biblical, and practical implications of joining in the dance of prophetic dialogue which is also the theme of the Center’s Convocation in Chicago, IL on July 25-27, 2013.

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)


To know the people we are and among whom we dwell is essential to the church’s prophetic dialogue with the world. While it may seem to be our logical responsibility, Luke reminds us in Acts 1 that the church’s witness to the ends of the earth is a work of the Spirit, and in Leslie Newbigen’s words, “an overflow of Pentecost.”1


…to the end of the earthThe Book of Acts tells the story of the formation of Christian communities, communities open to and empowered by the Holy Spirit. As a pledge or foretaste of the kingdom, the Spirit brings these communities a real experience of the joy, freedom, and righteousness of life lived in communion with God.  Read More…


GlobalizationMuch as the Roaring Twenties, or the Depression, or the Cold War are used to describe certain periods of time, so the term “globalization” is being used to describe the current political, economic, and cultural atmosphere. The twin forces of the world market and the mass communication media are connecting people around the globe as never before.  Read More…


Localization. While globalization brings new opportunities and wealth for some, the negative aspects of materialism, consumerism, and individualism are experienced by many. The gap between rich and poor is growing in nearly all parts of the world.   Read More…


Multiculturalism. Enormous social and political changes have re-drawn the map of the earth, bringing diverse cultures, lifestyles, and faiths into close proximity with each other. “Multiculturalism—the cultivation of real unity in the context of real diversity—is the watchword of our times.”  Read More…


Catholicity. For the church to have a faithful and credible voice, it must embrace both the global and the local. A renewed concept of “catholicity” holds promise for such a response.  Read More…



Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Why must the church become aware of and embrace the diverse world of which it is apart?
  2. Where do you see increased evidence of globalization in the last 10 years?

More Questions…



…to the end of the earth


spirit_worldThe Book of Acts tells the story of the formation of Christian communities, communities open to and empowered by the Holy Spirit. As a pledge or foretaste of the kingdom, the Spirit brings these communities a real experience of the joy, freedom, and righteousness of life lived in communion with God. In Acts 1 the disciples ask about the kingdom and Jesus responds with the promise of the Spirit. The special character of the gift of the Spirit “is that it carries the promise of something much greater to come and makes us look forward and press forward with eager hope towards that greater reality that lies ahead.”2 This promise, this assurance of much more to come, is what makes the church a witness to the mighty acts of the living God. More than a task, more than a program, witness is a gift dependent upon the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who is the active missionary, who calls, forms, and equips the church to participate in the Spirit’s witness to what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ.

A number of years ago, The Bishops of the Anglican Communion, in the Lambeth Conference, considered what it means to be a faithful people witnessing to God’s kingdom in the midst of a plural world: “How are we to embrace this diverse world of which we are a part? Its challenge demands that we encourage and develop strategies and networks which seek to empower human community, help groups to rediscover their identity and celebrate their diversity. It is important that the Church be seen to welcome a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural setting for its witness to glory in the diversity of God’s creation, rather than a grudging and reluctant tolerance.”3

Being faithful to the call to witness to the end of the earth—to live missionally—the church must pay attention to the world. If Christianity is to engage the hearts and minds of contemporary people, “it must take the context that shapes their lives and in which their communities are rooted much more intentionally and seriously.”4 The church is not to be hidden away in safe isolation, but to be on the front lines where the inbreaking reign of God is creating a new sense of community—a “new creation.” The pluralism and diversity of the world is no longer “out there,” somewhere far away. Embracing the world as God’s good creation means that the church does not simply tolerate its “multi-ethnic, multi-cultural setting,” but embodies and promotes a new humanity in which all people are drawn together by God’s liberating and uniting  love.

This Center Blog will explore the way in which the world has become a homogenous global village while at the same time unleashing new expressions of local particularities. After considering the increasing cultural plurality or multiculturalism of the context, the concept of catholicity will be considered as a faithful and relevant response by the church.


Globalization


globalizationMuch as the Roaring Twenties, or the Depression, or the Cold War are used to describe certain periods of time, so the term “globalization” is being used to describe the current political, economic, and cultural atmosphere. The twin forces of the world market and the mass communication media are connecting people around the globe as never before. Information and money flow more quickly and easily. Goods and services produced in one part of the world are readily available in other parts of the world. As an overarching international system shaping domestic and foreign policy, globalization has ambiguous effects. “[It] can be incredibly empowering and incredibly coercive. It can democratize opportunity and democratize panic. It makes the whales bigger and the minnows stronger. It leaves you behind faster and faster and it catches you up faster and faster. While it is homogenizing cultures, it is also enabling people to share their unique individuality farther and wider.”5

Globalization signifies both extension and compression. “Globalization, as defined here, is the extension of the effects of modernity to the entire world, and the compression of time and space, all occurring at the same time.”6

Extension. As an extension of modernity, globalization is characterized “by the ‘rights revolution’ in law, ‘freedom of choice’ in politics, ‘consumer sovereignty’ in economics,’ ‘question authority’ in attitudes, and ‘expressive individualism’ in ideology.”7 Through international trade and communications technology, uniform systems are formed which operate much the same way from country to country. For example, people in Amsterdam and Chicago use the same word processing programs, and the same chain stores are found in the shopping malls of Adelaide, Australia and Dubuque, Iowa.

Compression. Both the sense of time and the sense of space have been compressed. Events that occur in distant parts of the world are experienced instantaneously as web-based news is brought to their mobile phones.   Relationships world-wide are maintained immediately on Facebook and Twitter. People are moving easily across national borders in search of better lives. Geographical distance is less important than at any time in human history. With speed, progress, and innovation the key values, the significance of the past is lost and the future becomes ever more short-term.


Localization


culturalWhile globalization brings new opportunities and wealth for some, the negative aspects of materialism, consumerism, and individualism are experienced by many. The gap between rich and poor is growing in nearly all parts of the world. The cultural uniformity which globalization promotes also disrupts and threatens the traditions and customs of people within particular societies. “Across the world, human beings are caught between a process of globalization which promises community for ‘all’ but allows no room for the local identity of ‘each,’ and the centrifugal forces of localization that struggle for the identity of ‘each’ at the expense of the community of ‘all.’”8

Localization can be seen in the attempts to retrieve cultural roots or traditions which celebrate cultural difference or uniqueness. The increasing self-awareness of indigenous peoples and other minorities illustrates the importance of local identity and development. Yet the same trend can have powerful negative effects. The demand for ethnic or cultural particularity has led to violent separatist tendencies, conflicts between cultural minorities, and political instability. Many of these conflicts are sustained by religious beliefs and symbols. “Hence we witness a process of increasing politicization of religion or sacralization of politics.”9


Multiculturalism


flags_globeEnormous social and political changes have re-drawn the map of the earth, bringing diverse cultures, lifestyles, and faiths into close proximity with each other. “Multiculturalism—the cultivation of real unity in the context of real diversity—is the watchword of our times.”10 The seeking of real unity and the affirming of real diversity means more than letting each group do its own thing. When different ethnic or religious cultures begin to interact with each other, the self-understanding of all involved is changed. “Cultures are mutually inspired, corrected, challenged, and enriched through creative dialogical relations.”11

Robert Schreiter suggests three stages in the development of a multicultural society: (1) Recognition of diversity: more than a generalization of “otherness,” an informed awareness that gives legitimacy and status to each group. (2) Respect for difference: exploring the nature of the differences and the consequences for living together. (3) Forum of cooperation and communication: a new common space for developing ways to work together, it “aims to create a communicative society rather than another cut-throat marketplace.”12


Catholicity


hands_globeFor the church to have a faithful and credible voice, it must embrace both the global and the local. A renewed concept of “catholicity” holds promise for such a response. Throughout the history of the church, responding to different circumstances, the term has had many meanings. Traditional meanings of catholicity have included extension throughout the world and orthodoxy in expressions of faith. One theologian suggests that in these times catholicity be defined as “wholeness and fullness through exchange and communication.”13 In a world where various modes of sharing information and knowledge so define the landscape, it is important for the church to be much more intentional about the dynamics of intercultural communication.

Offering “a vision of catholicity,” Justo Gonzalez observes that the New Testament includes four different gospels. The fourfold witness is part of the wholeness of the Christian faith—its catholicity. Rather than a uniform universality, catholicity means “according to the whole” which includes a diverse totality. This implies both a closure and an openness. Because of the historical nature of the Christian faith, people are not free to invent doctrines. But the multiplicity of gospels means that their witness can never be contained in a single, fixed expression. The true “catholic” faith is pluralistic. “It is ‘according to the whole,’ not in the sense that it encompasses the whole in a single, systematic, entirely coherent unity, but rather in the sense that it allows for openness, for testimony of plural perspectives and experiences, which is implied in the fourfold canonical witness to the gospel.”14



Questions for Reflection and Discussion


    1. Why must the church become aware of and embrace the diverse world of which it is apart?
    2. Where do you see increased evidence of globalization in the last 10 years?
    3. How does globalization stimulate localization? Where do you see increased evidence of localization?
    4. What could your congregation do to affirm and promote a multicultural society?
    5. How can the theological concept of catholicity enable the church to be a faithful witness in a plural and diverse world?



1 Mission in Christ’s Way: A Gift, A Command, An Assurance, Friendship Press, 1988, p.17

Lesslie Newbigin, Mission in Christ’s Way: A Gift, A Command, An Assurance (Friendship Press, 1987), p.

3 The Anglican Communion, Called to Be a Faithful Church in a Plural World (Morehouse Publishing, 1999), p. 38.

4 Robert J. Schreiter, The New Catholicity: Theology Between the Global and the Local (Orbis Books, 1997), p. 2.

5 Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

6 Schreiter, The New Catholicity, p. 8.

7 James Kurth, “Religion and Globalization,” Templeton Lecture on Religion and World Affairs.

8 The Anglican Communion, Called to Be a Faithful Church in a Plural World, p. 3

9 Ibid., p. 2.

10 Stephen B. Bevans, ”Unity and Diversity: Vision, Fact and Possibility,” in Word Remembered, Word Proclaimed, Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder, eds. (Steyler Verlag, 1997), p. 240.

11 Aram I, “The Incarnation of the Gospel in Cultures: A Missionary Event,” in New Directions in Mission & Evangelization 3: Faith and Culture, James Scherer & Stephen Bevans eds. (Orbis Books, 1999.

12 Schreiter, The New Catholicity, p. 95.

13 Siegfried Wiedenhofer, quoted in Schreiter, The New Catholicity, p. 128.

14 Justo L. Gonzalez, Out of Every Tribe & Nation: Christian Theology at the Ethnic Roundtable (Abingdon Press, 1992), p. 22.


Inagrace Dietterich

Inagrace Dietterich

The Rev. Inagrace Dietterich, Ph.D. is the Director of Theological Research at the Center for Parish Development.

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