ain't about the (yeah) bl-bling-bl-bling" in the same song, so forgive me if I stick to my Kierkegaard and Hauerwas for profundity.
The last article touched on why is actually is about the money, at least when it comes to missions. The insertion of affluence, economic disparity, and financial expectations into the missionary equation is a dynamic that is difficult at best and destructive at worst. It's one of the reasons why most Global North workers will struggle to be as effective as most Global South workers. But I daresay that this isn't even the greatest challenge to Western missionary effectiveness, nor the greatest apologetic for majority world missions movements.
No, much more power a factor is the cultural and philosophical malaise in which the West finds itself mired, a boggy pit of relativism, moral bankruptcy, hedonism and hopelessness. Much of Christianity in the Global North resembles moralistic therapeutic deism (see here[i] for an illustrated explanation) than a Biblical worldview. Even in the USA, the majority of evangelicals do not believe in absolute truth[ii]. There are libraries worth of books needing to be written to unpack how Western Christianity has been paralyzed by these trends.
The signs of this are all over the West.
Compare the massive cultural disparity between the restive migrants in Europe who committed tahharush, the Arabic 'rape-game' in various cities over the New Year with the hand-wringing ineptitude, minimalizing, and cover-ups committed by the politicians and police. Then contrast that to the wave of executions in Saudi Arabia – many of these executions for actions that would be utterly normal in Western societies.
Western culture has achieved many amazing things in past centuries, but much of what we see today is shallow, cheap, and without any higher purpose or direction. Dick Staub writes, "Today's popular culture generally reveals that humans, despite our magnificent spiritual, intellectual, and imaginative capacities, have chosen to wade in the shallow but spiritually toxic waters of superficiality[i]." Robert Bateman adds, "For the first time in the history of our species the most vital, active years of a person's growing life are dedicated to one major goal - self-indulgence.[ii]"
Now these dynamics are not the only descriptors of modern Western culture, but they are prevalent. And one can imagine what happens when a culture that is defined – to a large degree, at least – by hedonism and dissipation, one without a moral anchor runs up against another culture that is defined by holism, absolutism, and an unerring orientation toward domination. We are seeing this play out in Europe as we speak, as unprecedented numbers of Muslims arrive as students, workers, spouses, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
Integration is a word bandied about by European policymakers. Of course, a lot of Muslims will integrate into host cultures. But a lot won't. Nobody knows yet how which camp will be larger and by how much.
This is, in fact, the great liberal civilizational gamble of the 21st century. Europeans are reproducing at unsustainably low rates, and their liberal economies require growth to survive, not decline. Public health care, education, pensions, and the like need greater and greater input (mostly via taxes) or they collapse under their own weight. So, since Europeans are not making enough new Europeans, it falls to immigrants to make up the different, taking up jobs and paying taxes to prevent civilizational collapse. But all of this depends on the millions upon millions of immigrants buying into this whole system. Integrate into secular, liberal, multi-cultural democracies. Work hard. Pay taxes. Obey the law. Don't abuse the system. Don't kiss the goose that's laying the golden eggs.
It is either going to work and create an even more diverse, more integrated, more multi-cultural continent where everyone contributes together to shape a continued liberal and prosperous future, or it will get dragged down into inexorable civilizational decline, if not meltdown. Some of the more alarmist Europeans claim that this delicate balance and vulnerability is being deliberately exploited by outside forces (particularly Islamists) in order to degrade, and eventually overrun, European civilization.
As an aside, the secularism and atheism that pervades much of Europe has its own fate tied to the same gamble. Atheists have the lowest birth rates of any major faith/worldview. If they are not able to win over converts from religious worldviews – be they European-born Christians or Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian migrants from elsewhere, they are doomed.
The European continent is being caricatured these days as a fault line between secular pluralism and Islam. But where is Biblical Christianity in this mix? Where is our global faith that can see both migrants and indigenes saved, restored, reconciled and thriving as part of a worldwide family? Where is the faith that can believe for both Abu Bakr and Richard Dawkins to find salvation?
Has Christianity gone delinquent and abdicated any say at all in Europe's outcome? Has it thrown its lot in with self-deconstructing, sophisticated, relativistic Europeanism? Or does it square more naturally with the robust aggression and dynamism of migrant cultures? If you wish to hear the Gospel shared with you on the streets of London, Lisbon or Vienna, you are much more likely to get it from a Nigerian, Chinese or Brazilian than from a native. They do not apologise for their faith, they share it! They do not quibble over pluralism, they state that Jesus saves! I've experienced it myself in multiple European cities.
And this is a very roundabout way of explaining just why the Global South Initiative matters. Missionaries from the Global South are not just more "affordable", if such a crass term can be used. They are not just more capable – in general – of enduring hardship. Much more importantly, they are bold! They are confident of the Gospel's absolute truth and its power to transform any life and any situation. They will share directly, passionately, and with faith into places (like Europe) where people and entire societies have lost their bearings and need a strong voice of hope.
Yes, the Great Commission force needs the subtlety of some reflective practitioners who can understand the subtle complexities of host cultures. But in many ways, especially in this time and place, it needs some spiritual bulls in cultural china shops – people who operate with spiritual power and authority and don't mind breaking a few idols in doing so!
The demographics point the way forward. The economics concur. And the combination of cultural confidence and spiritual authority convince me that more than ever we need to be mobilizing and enabling the Global South to lead the worldwide mission movement both for now and for the years ahead.
[i] Dick Staub, The Culturally Savvy Christian. Jossey-Bass, 2008.