Yes, Global Church is REALLY global, not just western, white, Euro-American. The places where you can find a lot of Christians in the second decennium of the third millennium, are - for example - in Kenya, Uganda, China, Brazil and many other countries of what we call ‘the majority world’. And they are glocal: global and local. Want to learn something about this very intriguing new phenomenon? Read GLOBAL CHURCH: Reshaping our Conversations, Renewing our Mission, Revitalizing our Churches, by Graham Hill [Downers Grove (Ill) (IVP Academic), 2015]
This book offers an ecclesiology (a theology of the Church, but also a phenomenology) from a perspective that most of us in the Western world are unfamiliar with: a view from the majority world. Hill has ‘outlined some culturally formed approaches […] focused on Africa, Asia, indigenous cultures and First Nations. As Christians, we must examine how our culture has shaped our [discipleship] [or churches generally], and vice versa’ (410) - and it is only after such examination, Hill argues, that we are able to gain a balanced view of the Church.
This book takes its readers into a journey of open-mindedness; indeed it could not work otherwise. The author is offering a critique on western theologies as also to those theologies that belong to other cultures, without scrutinizing, but providing a taste of the breadth and creativity connected with them (245). For example in speaking about the relationship between atonement and health (144), and the connection between Spirit and liberation in South Africa (136ff), and eco-feminism (165), he is not taking a black-white stance, but helps his readers to evaluate how they might develop growing perspectives.
Before reading this book one might easily think of a few topics that come to mind when we put on a different set of glasses, and start to think of the church globally, instead of just how we know it in our own area. Let’s mention a few things. The culture of hospitality as recognized by anyone who has visited African or Middle-East countries, the emphasis of liberation theology as developed in South-America around the 1960’s (a theology of the God who chooses the side of the poor), and charismatic accents coming out in various ways in the majority World, giving room for the Spirit to reveal Himself in signs and miracles - Graham is not hesitant to deal with these, and he speaks out freely.
But a lot more is being brought to the table. Caring for creation (ch 7), living ethically (ch 8), and in that chapter e.g. community based ethics (188), ubuntu (211), political ethics (191),
hiv/aids (199), and the most interesting concept of place making (summarized 228ff) - one would like to continue quoting topics and contents.
The Spirit and the Word
Am I right in supposing that issues and topics are not the main issue or the most important topic? Paragraphs and chapters that speak about the core of Christian belief are carrying the weight of the argument in this book. After (146) having spoken of the sovereignity of the Spirit over the global church’s past, present and future, Hill suggests ten things we can learn from how Majority World Christians embrace the Spirit. And in closing, he offers an overview of features of renewalist worship (152ff), and asks his readers to what extent they are developing worship in similar directions; it is an astonishing wealth of possibilities.
The place of faith in the Word of God is very essential to the author, in that it should be indigenous (237), very close to where a community lives and grows and believes. Hill sees a trend of declining passion for Scripture (292), but instead of proposing more academic education in order to bring improvement, he strongly suggest an indigenous manner of having fellowship in the Word (237). Each local community should excercise the making of its own decisions; studying and reading of Scripture ought to be the habit of ordinary local believers (270, 272, 282).
Nearly as an aside, but very important, Hill concurs with NT Wright’s ‘critical realism’ (294): the things revealed are ‘real’, but the way in which we approach them can only be through ‘a spiraling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known’. Hill proposes to practice a new type of lectio divina (which he describes eloquently) as a dance (438, in which the participants are face-to-face sharing one another and in constant move, as they are learning what God is saying through the Bible.
Reading this book, it’s impossible to keep down your enthusiasm - at least I have to admit that I soon quit trying. No critical remarks, then? Yes, to be sure, and exactly on the point where I ‘d felt the most optimistic hope before I started reading. Graham Hill’s earlier book, Salt, Light and a City (2012, Eugene OR) was subtitled ‘Introducing Missional Ecclesiology’, and in that book he summarizes the views of 12 theologians from the Euro-American landscape from four traditions: Roman Catholic (Ratzinger, Rahner, Küng), Eastern Orthodox (Hopko, Guroian, Zizioulas), Protestant (Russell, Moltmann, Webster), and Free Church (Yoder, Harvey, Volf). My own expectation was that Hill would now globally broaden his perspective into (for example) 24 paradigms, and I’d love to see how different models would look like. What he choose, however, was taking up the same three metaphors: salt (Reshaping Our Conversations: Ch2), light (Renewing Our Mission: Ch3-9), city (Revitalizing Our Churches: Ch10-16) - and work these into a variety of points on which we should be working. Which means that his new book is not a deeper dogmatic model (or a variety of models) for ecclesiology, but rather a todo-list for road construction. This may not necessarily be more satisfactory for the theological mind, but it is most certainly what we need while we are building churches.
Sowing and harvesting
At the end of Ch10, which is about ‘indigenizing faith’, Hill uses a quote from Sri Lankan preacher and evangelist Daniel Thambyarah Niles, which also serves as a motto of the whole book and might well summarize the gist of what, in Hills view, we need to do as we get a glimpse of the global church (272f):
‘The gospel is like a seed and you have to sow it. When you sow the seed of the gospel in Palestine, a plant that can be called Palestinian Christianity grows. When you sow it in Rome, a plant of Roman Christianity grows. You sow the gospel in Great Britain and you get British Christianity. The seed of the gospel is later brought to America and a plant grows of American Christianity. Now when missionaries came to our lands they brought not only the seed of the gospel, but their own plant of Christianity, flowerpot included! So, what we have to do is to break the flowerpot, take out the seed of the gospel, sow it in our own cultural soil, and let our own version of Christianity grow.’