Monday, April 20, 2009

FOLLOWING JESUS IN THE GLOBALIZED MARKETPLACE

This paper was presented at the Lausanne Theology Working Group in Limuru in February 2007. Subsequently it is published in the Evangelical Review of Theology 31.4 (October 2007), pp. 320-330. Permission has been granted by the author to share it here.

FOLLOWING JESUS IN THE GLOBALIZED MARKETPLACE
Paper Presenter: Chris Wright, the Director of Langham Partnership International


Introduction:

In the original paper and in our discussion, we used the word ‘marketplace’ to refer to the public arena in a very general sense, not confined to strictly ‘market’ realities in an economic sense. We are referring to the world of work and social engagement that all human beings are engaged in. Furthermore, by ‘work’ we are not referring only to paid employment in the formal economy.

We are very aware that the word ‘globalized’ in the title was not adequately addressed, and further work is needed on a theological response to globalization as a phenomenon and as an ideology.


1. Affirmations

1.1. Bringing our faith to work cannot be confined to finding opportunity for evangelism. Christians are “Saints in the marketplace” God cares about the whole of work, for he created it, audits it, governs it, and will ultimately include it with his redemptive accomplishment. There is a misunderstanding that the secular six other days are not what God is interested, whereas they precisely are, and we are commanded to be fruitful and multiply and care for the earth.

1.2. We need a strong doctrine of creation: we are made in the image of God the worker, and work is God’s idea. This means that God can be glorified in human work. In place of a fallacious and damaging dichotomy between so-called spiritual work (e.g., evangelism) and secular work – which usually means the elevation of so-called Christian ministry over so-called spiritual ministry – we affirm a holistic view of work in which the Christian is called upon to engage in the everyday world of work because it is God-ordained and has intrinsic value. We need to overcome the secular-sacred divide.

1.3. We need a strong doctrine of redemption also in relation to the world of work. What is the role of the church in the ‘redemption of work’? The church needs to set an example of being a goodsteward of the resources the church itself has (e.g. buildings). Multi-purpose use, availability to the public as useful space.

1.4. We need to consider the workplace as in need of redemption, like humans? Can we ‘redeem the corporation?’ As with anything human, or involving human beings working together, corporations reflect the ambiguous nature of humans – made in the image of God and yet fallen and flawed. So corporoations do not only embody evil aspects, but embody many good values. We affirm Christian entrepreneurs developing companies that are signposts of the Kingdom in the Christian and creational values they seek to embody and implement.

1.5. We need to take the marketplace seriously in the teaching and preaching ministry of the church: to counter the idea that the only reason Christians enter the marketplace is to evangelize. The church needs to be pastoral and prophetic – i.e. caring for and encouraging Christian in the world of work; and addressing relevant social, economic, political and ethical aspects of the workplace in the name of Christ and the values of the kingdom of God. God is interested in what goes on at “the gate” (the OT equivalent of the marketplace today) and governs all that goes on in the marketplace. Behind the millions of hands and minds that constitute the human marketplace stands the sovereignty of God.

1.6. We recognize that human labour after the fall has become distorted, oppressive and damaging to human dignity. God is deeply concerned for what goes on in the marketplace, particularly as this relates to the dehumanizing and exploitative treatment of people, e.g., migrant work-force. Work can become dehumanizing and degrading. However this undoubted effect of the fall does not invalidate the creational value of work.

1.7. There is a need to critique the idolization of the market and the debilitating effects of global economic system (e.g., the linkage between greed and idolatry in the NT); work is part of creation and gift of God, but also affected by fall, which includes obsession with work and its demonic aspect in workaholism in western societies. We need to reaffirm the purpose of the Sabbath’ and of tithing – as a way of freeing the heart from greed.

1.8. There is a need to ensure that human dignity is maintained in the context of the labor migration. We need to bring a prophetic word against the deleterious effects of labor migration, e.g., social dislocation, marginalization, family fragmentation, dehumanized living conditions, etc.

1.9. We work out our commitment to follow Jesus in a globalized marketplace within the tension of engagement on the one hand and maintaining distinctiveness on the other. This tension is suggested by the NT metaphors of the church as salt and light in society.

1.10. The globalizing of the workforce provides opportunities for the extension of Christian hospitality to the “strangers” amongst us, e.g., migrant workers. and congregation-based ministry to these global workers who have been uprooted from their homeland and families. We need to give voice to the forgotten.


2. Issues to consider

2.1. A theology of economics is needed that goes beyond concerns for spirituality or ethical practices at the workplace. We need further Christian engagement with the academic discipline of economics and to explore how the Christian worldview is worked out within the discipline. Evangelicals have done a lot of work on a biblical understanding of economics, but it needs to be re-visited after the fall of communism.

2.2. Explore possibilities at a practical level on how Christians might engage with the marketplace – as legitimate expressions of mission. Suggestion on three different levels of engagement with economics

Consider the engine that drives the economy, i.e., the way economics is driven by the corporations; Christians might engage at that level and seek to redeem these corporations as engines of economics; micro-enterprise initiatives to help the poor
how Christians might enter the marketplace through small and medium size industries in an effort to structure the economy after kingdom principles, and in so doing create jobs.

2.3. Investigate the historical genesis of the dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, e.g., the rise of “the heresy of full-time Christian ministry.”

2.4. Investigate the principalities and powers as these relate to global capitalism. Christianity has very often, at least in the west, been part of the problem rather than being prophetic, e.g., the failure to confront the oppressive nature of modern business. Corporations can manifest psychopathic behaviour –e.g. towards employees, without conscience. Shareholders have to function as conscience, and shame the board as necessary. There should be a prophetic role for the church in this. Nevertheless, it is recognized that a Christian CEO has to take difficult decisions in fallen world and its pressures.

2.5. Investigate the nature of globalization itself – what it is; how do Christians relate to it; the social ramifications of a globalized economy and a fluid workforce; etc.

2.6. The need to bring the Christian ethical voice in the marketplace, i.e., how do we really practice as Christians in the marketplace? There is a great need for more biblical teaching on how Christians should think about their work, relate a biblical worldview to it, and shape their character as disciples in relation to their work. Christians need to ‘become good’ at the basic level, because good people will do good. Avoid ‘Christian parallel societies’, but infiltrate as good people. Avoid making ‘discipleship’ a special category of something you do in church, but rather a description of how you live your life everywhere. Shaping of Christians in the marketplace – needs more than just going to church and good teaching. Needs many trans-formative elements. So many people are ‘in the game’ all the time – making decisions relentlessly. Is there a space to practise?

2.7. Given the great demands of work in the modern world, how do we bring to bear a theology of Sabbath and rest for people whose lives are consumed by work?

2.8. The infiltration of the values and praxis of a profit-centered market into the life and ministry of the church, i.e., the issue of peddling the Gospel for money by people who present themselves as Christian leaders (“pastors in the marketplace”). We need to avoid the idolatry of the market flooding into our pastoral and missional practice and thinking.

2.9. The extent to which our typical church system is guilty of erecting that dividing wall between the sanctuary and the marketplace, and the need for a total transformation of our understand-ing of the church in the light of God’s call to worldly engagement. What are the implications for the church if one were to adopt a holistic view of life and work in God’s world? We need a theology that values Christians (as well as non-Christians) who are out there at work in the world.

2.10. Church is a community that values every individual. There are no ‘ordinary people’. And we include all who work – at every level , not just corporations – from street sweepers through all occupations.

2.11. How do we talk about the significance of work in the light of many who are unemployed? Question of definition: distinguish between having a job and having work. Many have “work” in the sense of an “informal economy” though they are without a job, i.e., being plugged into the economic system of the work. The fact that so many are unemployed raises the question of justice.

2.14. There is a need to consider the missiological implications and possibilities of the phenomenon of labour migration within the global economic system, e.g., migrant as missionary. But there are many other negative as well as positive aspects to this phenomenon.

2.15. Globalization of a consumeristic mindset through the media and its impact on identity formation, e.g., those from less developed nations being told by the global media what success is, etc.

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