CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria came out with a book in 2008 entitled The Post-American World. I just ordered it, believing that he may have something to contribute to our understanding of Christian mission in our world today.
“This is not a book about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else.” So begins Fareed Zakaria’s important new work on the era we are now entering. Following on the success of his best-selling The Future of Freedom, Zakaria describes with equal prescience a world in which the United States will no longer dominate the global economy, orchestrate geopolitics, or overwhelm cultures. He sees the “rise of the rest”—the growth of countries like China, India, Brazil, Russia, and many others—as the great story of our time, and one that will reshape the world. The tallest buildings, biggest dams, largest-selling movies, and most advanced cell phones are all being built outside the United States. This economic growth is producing political confidence, national pride, and potentially international problems. How should the United States understand and thrive in this rapidly changing international climate? What does it mean to live in a truly global era? Zakaria answers these questions with his customary lucidity, insight, and imagination.
“… a world in which the United States will no longer dominate the global economy, orchestrate geopolitics, or overwhelm cultures.” Hmm. Sounds like part of the argument for cross-cultural ministry partnerships in the global church. A parallel statement relative to Christian world missions is that … we live in a world in which the Western church will no longer dominate the world Christian movement, be the primary leader of international mission consultations, or overwhelm cultures.
Because of the growth of the world Christian movement, the center of gravity of Christianity has shifted from the west to the “global south”—also referred to as the “majority world.” One of the leading authorities on the history of the church and the world Christian movement is Scottish missiologist Andrew Walls. In 2000, Walls wrote:
The twentieth century has been the most remarkable of all the Christian centuries since the first. Within this century, the composition of the Christian church, ethnically and culturally, has changed out of recognition. On the one hand, there has been a great retreat from Christianity. That retreat has been centered in the west, and especially in western Europe, where active Christian profession has dramatically receded. At the same time, there has been a massive accession to Christian faith. One has to go back many centuries for any parallel to the number of new Christians and new Christian communities. This accession has taken place outside the west, in southern continents, including many areas where, before the present century, Christians were few in number.
At the beginning of this century, some 83% of those who professed the Christian faith lived in Europe and North America. Now, some 60% (probably) live in Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the Pacific Islands, and that proportion is rising every year. The center of gravity of the Christian church has moved sharply southwards. The representative Christianity of the twenty-first century seems set to be that of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific region. These areas look destined to be the launch pad for the mission of the church in the twenty-first century.
The implications for global Christian mission could not be more profound. Many mission leaders and mission organizations in the West have recognized the need to shift our approach to world evangelization from leadership to partnership.
Could it be that a “post-American world” is one in which the visible unity in the global church will be demonstrated by millions of examples of healthy cross-cultural partnership? We believe that many within the church are watching—along with many who are outside of the church—to see how well the exceedingly diverse communities of the global church can effectively work together.
Could it be that in the 21st century, God’s people will work in a cooperative rather than antagonistic way— so Christ’s hope and vision of unity from John 17:21 can be more fully realized? Could it be that “a post-American world” will help create an environment for the global church so that this hope will become a reality?