Book Review: Joerg Riger’s “Globalization and Theology”

17 Feb

Rieger, Joerg. Globalization and Theology. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010.

ISBN: 978-1-4276-0065-1

Rieger maintains that historically, two forms of globalization tend to occur: first, those consisting of “hard” power, and second those that are characterized by “soft” forms of power. Globalizing empires, established by hard power, include such historical examples as: The Roman Empire, the Spanish conquest of the New World, and more recently the Nazi expansion into Europe.

Typically driven from the top down, these empires are characterized by the following traits: they tend to concentrate power into the hands of a few; they seek to bring all aspects of life under their control; and finally, they offer no true alternatives but their own worldview or version of reality. Historically, “hard power” empires such as these have been established by military expansion into new territories.

Soft power, on the other hand, while still potentially driven from the top down, can utilize education or economic means for its establishment as opposed to military expansion. Although gentler than hard power empires, soft power is rooted in the notion of “cultural supremacy” of one culture over another. Examples might include “the West as being superior to the East,” or of developed nations as being better (and clearly more advanced) than third-world countries.

In both cases of hard and soft power, Rieger argues, globalization and theology are organically intertwined. In both globalizing forms, Christianity has oftentimes served as an instrument of the establishment by legitimating both its own position and that of the state. In the case of “hard power” empires, Christianity has cooperated with the state and has thus enhanced its own position and authority. In “soft power” empires, such as the spread of Western economic forces toward the East, at times Christian mission has taken advantage of this move also.

Despite this reality, at the same time, other forms of Christianity have offered a true globalizing alternative to top-down forms of power. These sorts of grass-roots, “bottom-up” alternatives are characteristic of the Jesus movement. In contrast to versions of Christianity essentially “in bed” with either hard or soft power empires, these forms tend to counteract and resist globalization from above. Providing a truly alternate vision of power, this notion of Christianity will perennially clash with forms of church and mission that are increasingly becoming part of whichever “establishment” is currently in positions of power.

Missional theology today therefore faces a difficult choice: on the one hand, either to continue doing business with the default top-down modes of globalization; or on the other hand, to pursue a different dynamic rooted in a “bottom-up” movement, which is modelled upon the example of the life and ministry of Christ. Rieger notes in conclusion that since they are organically linked, and feed into each other, both the kind of theology—and the type of globalization utilized—must ultimately correspond with the reality of the divine model.

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