Building a Biblical Theology of Ethnicity for Global Mission

in Research

What does it mean for the church of Jesus Christ to live and do mission in a multicultural and multiethnic world? As we proceed into the twenty-first century, that is a question which evangelicals must increasingly face. Modern means of communication and the emerging world economy have transformed our world from a set of self-contained tribes and nations into a global city. Our world, our nation, and our communities are rapidly changing around us. Globalization means that immigrants and refugees are bringing their customs and traditions right to our Western doorsteps. More than ever before, the nations are a mosaic of different ethnicities. They are nations within nations.

This is most evident in America. We are now the most ethnically diverse nation in the world with an extraordinary variety of colors, classes, and national origins. The number of immigrants plus their children has risen from 34 million in 1970 to 56 million in 2000, roughly one-fifth of U.S. population. Immigrants are arriving on our shores faster than at any time since 1850 (Jenkins 2002, 25-28). Many of those flooding into our country are Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus.1 A sovereign God has literally brought the mission fields of the world to our urban centers. By 2056 the majority of Americans will be non-European, non-white. Yet the increasing diversity of our society seems threatening to many.2 Similar data could be given for Canada and most of Western Europe.

Two-Thirds World nations are experiencing a similar diversity challenge. Refugees flee to neighboring nations because of civil war, famine and political oppression. Rural tribes relocate to the cities in search of jobs and a better way of life. As people of different ethnic origins, speaking different languages and professing different religions, settle in the same geographic locality and live under the same political sovereignty, the reaction is often xenophobic. Ethnic ―cleansing,‖ tribalism—and even ―retribalization‖—can raise their ugly head. Witness the violence of Bosnia, Liberia, Chechnya and Rwanda. Arthur Schlesinger (1992, 10) has thoughtfully concluded, ―Ethnic and racial conflict, it seems evident, will now replace the conflict of ideologies as the explosive issue of our times.

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