The Real "Emerging Church"
Ask a typical North American what they think of when they hear the word revival and most will tell you about sawdust trails, 19th-century camp meetings, Pentecostal crusades in the 1920s, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker or the like. For most of us revivals are an American folk ritual about as relevant to the 21st-century world as an old John Wayne western. People in North America don’t really believe they happen anymore, no matter what they may have heard about the Toronto Blessing or the Brownsville Revival in Florida.
What I am arguing, in Global Awakening: How 20th Century Revivals Triggered a Christian Revolution, is that revivalism is bigger than ever and busy all over the world. I see it as charismatic people movements seeking to change their world through the translation of Christian truth and the transfer of power. These grassroots movements are a combination, therefore, of a spiritual factor (the Spirit of God); a people factor (the transfer of power to the marginalized); a truth factor (the application of the gospel to the pressing questions of a people group and culture); and a justice factor (a mission to change one’s world in response to the gospel). These movements are messy to look at when you run into them in real life, but at their core are these key elements.
Globalization is a buzzword. Everybody uses the term, but not everyone agrees what it means. For many it is an evil force that is destroying local economies and culture as the rich West eats up global resources and monopolizes markets. For others, myself included, globalization is not just a capitalistic steamroller from the West but a two-way global highway with heavy traffic in both lanes. The new studies about African Christianity migrating to the Global North show that globalization is less a conspiracy and more an opportunity for resurgent religion and revived Christianity to meet a desperate need in the spiritual wastelands of the Western world.
The current global awakening needs to shake us from our cultural isolation and obsessions as North American Christians. Much has been written about the emerging church movement in North America. I think there are many positive aspects of this movement. What the current global awakening teaches me, however, is that the real emerging church is a wildly global and culturally pluralistic one which moves us toward the vision of 1 Corinthians 12—a body of Christ with many parts, each recognizing its global interdependence. The message of global revivals is that God is internationalizing His people, and we stand at an Ephesians moment (to use Andrew Walls’ expression) in which the cultural, geographic and political barriers are breaking down in light of the gospel.
The current global revivals are not ends in themselves. Their ultimate significance will be seen in multicultural missional churches that seek to change their world in the power of the Spirit and in partnership with the mission of God.
Mark Shaw ’73, M.Th., Th.D., is director of the World Christianity Program at Africa International University in Nairobi, Kenya. He is the author of books on church history and global Christianity, including, most recently, Global Awakening: How 20th Century Revivals Triggered a Christian Revolution (InterVarsity Press, 2010). Mark and his wife, Lois, reside in Kenya, where they have lived and worked for 25 years.
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