“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” — Matthew 24:14
There are several phrases worth dwelling on in this verse.
First, “gospel of the kingdom” is interesting because believers all too often overlook or misunderstand the biblical meaning of the Kingdom of God, preferring instead to focus on the “gospel of personal salvation.” Both are present in Scripture, but the Kingdom is so much wider in scope than personal salvation that it would be a shame to focus only on the latter while neglecting the former.
The gospel, or good news, of the Kingdom is twofold: (1) God — the creator of the universe — wants to have a relationship with human beings, who are designed with the unique ability to have such a relationship. (2) This relationship with God is the key to undoing the painful and destructive effects of sin on human relationships, social structures, and the physical world.
Indeed, the Kingdom of God can be understood as the extent to which God’s healing redemption has been applied and enacted, in this life and in this world as it is in Heaven. It is the holistic wellbeing and flourishing that people are capable of experiencing partly in this life and wholly in the next.
The crucial difference between the “Kingdom gospel” and the “personal salvation gospel” is in the scope of God’s salvific plan. God doesn’t merely want to whisk away the souls of the elect while allowing the social structures of humanity and the physical world He created to waste away. He wants to redeem all of creation, and He has chosen to delegate faithful humans, feeble though we are, a front-line role in that process. Moreover, giving and serving in that front-line role has the dual benefit of expanding the Kingdom and strengthening the faith of the faithful.
“The end” that will come, far from the doomsday scenario that the phrase connotes in our culture, is a happy end in which all has been redeemed and God reigns over His creation again. (Don’t ask me, though, how exactly that end will come. That’s above my pay grade!)
But notice that one such task to which faithful people are called in the Matthew 24 verse is to preach the gospel of the Kingdom “in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.” Here is where globalization comes in.
Broadly speaking, globalization can be understood as the advancement of international travel, trade, and influence. It is the reason why so many physical goods in the US say “Made In China” on them, as well as why Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is the most popular fast food chain in China. It is the reason why Hollywood movies are enjoyed all over the world, as well as why the Korean pop song “Gangnam Style” became a breakout hit in the US. It is the reason why cultures around the world are interacting with each other and blending ever more into one global community.
All of these tend to go together. Travel, trade, and cultural influence tend to accompany each other. When trade barriers are put up, travel restrictions tend to follow. With diminished travel and trade, respective cultures tend to become isolated from one another as well.
Globalization has been much maligned in the 21st century, including by many well-meaning Christians. But I want to give three reasons why globalization can actually be seen as a blessing for which believers should be grateful.
(1) God desires the wellbeing and flourishing of everyone, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, and so should Christians. Globalization has contributed massively to human enrichment, wellbeing, and flourishing across the planet.
As I wrote recently in a Seeking Alpha article,
…cross-border trade has contributed significantly to the massive enrichment of the world over time, lifting billions of people out of poverty, raising life expectancies, and boosting standards of living. This has been true of both net exporters and net importers.
For net importer nations, cross-border trade lowers merchandise prices, thereby allowing more disposable income to go toward other things. Spending less of one’s income on some items frees up the ability to spend more money on others, which then boosts those other industries, creates new jobs, and results in a virtuous cycle.
For net exporter nations, cross-border trade creates ample opportunities for enriching economic activity and dynamism. To quote none other than Paul Krugman,
The raw fact is that every successful example of economic development this past century—every case of a poor nation that worked its way up to a more or less decent, or at least dramatically better, standard of living—has taken place via globalization; that is, by producing for the world market rather than trying for self-sufficiency. Many of the workers who do that production for the global market are very badly paid by First World standards. But to claim that they have been impoverished by globalization… you have to forget that those workers were even poorer before the new exporting jobs became available and ignore the fact that those who do not have access to global markets are far worse off than those who do not.
This point bears emphasis because Scripture makes clear that, ideally, God desires prosperity for everyone. Not necessarily riches, mind you, but true prosperity — the spiritual, communal, and material abundance that Jesus references in John 10:10. Meaningful and rewarding work are part of this abundant life.
Of course, material abundance and meaningful work lack eternal significance without spiritual abundance. That leads us to the next point.
(2) Globalization facilitates the transmission of cultural and religious ideas across borders, thus removing barriers to the spread of Christianity.
In their insightful book, Great Commission Companies, Steve Rundle and Tom Steffan argue that “globalization is a part of God’s plan to integrate the entire body of Christ into His global plan (mission)” and to bless all nations of the earth.
How so? Rundle and Steffan explain:
When most people talk about globalization, they are referring to the reduction in the political, social, and economic barriers that once kept countries and nationalities largely separate. But there is another barrier falling—a theological one—that is having a profound effect on how the church understands and fulfills its purpose…. The cumulative effect of these crumbling barriers has been a dramatic increase in the exchange of products, services, information and culture, and a corresponding increase in crosscultural human interaction.
This increased exchange of information and culture has produced opportunities for the church to spread its message in previously impossible or improbable ways. It has resulted in increased interactions between Christian travelers and businesspeople and members of other nations and cultures with far less access to the gospel. It has allowed vastly different cultures to understand each other better and thus to enhance the communication of the gospel from one culture to another.
Rundle and Steffan argue that
the life-transforming message of the gospel, once understood within the context of a person’s own culture and language, will resonate with people from any tribe, tongue or nation. Everywhere the gospel has been planted, people take “ownership” of it and (unless discouraged by an overly paternalistic missionary) take it upon themselves to spread that message to others within their group. Yet until they first hear the gospel in a culturally relevant way, they remain unevangelized.
Globalization is a blessing because it has eased the transmission of the gospel from one nation to another, one culture to another, and one language to another.
(3) Globalization grants believers access to countries that would otherwise be closed and inaccessible to the Gospel.
But, of course, what about the nations that are open to trade and certain kinds of travelers but are definitively not open to missionaries? Here, too, globalization is a blessing.
“Never has it been so easy to travel and communicate internationally but so difficult to go as a professional missionary,” write Rundle and Steffan. Think of the many countries across the world that will allow Christians entry for officially business or educational reasons but not for missionary work. You probably know believers who are currently doing missionary work in other countries by using work or school visas. In many countries, believers subtly evangelize by teaching English classes. But, of course, they would never have the opportunity to subtly evangelize if they weren’t able to gain entry to certain countries for the purpose of teaching English!
One might object that two countries could have trade barriers in place while still allowing travel. But that is rarely how cross-border interactions operate. Typically, restrictions in one area result in restrictions in others in a self-reinforcing cycle. What often happens is that one country’s decision to erect barriers results in similar barriers erected by the opposing country. Look at US relations with Cuba, Iran, or (recently) China to see how this spiral can happen.
Of course, small steps toward restricting cross-border trade or travel can be made without inhibiting the transmission of the gospel. One example is the recently proposed tariff increase on Canadian lumber. But the point is that the economic and cultural isolation that tends to be promoted by barriers is a hindrance to the spread of the gospel, while the removal of those barriers is a boon to it.
Believers would do well to bring a distinctly Christian perspective to the debate between economic nationalism and globalization. First and foremost, we are not Americans or Canadians or any other nationality but rather citizens of God’s Kingdom. All of our earthly politics ought to serve the goals and priorities of the Kingdom, not the other way around.