Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage the New Flat Earth

by Bob Roberts Jr.

Building on Thomas Friedman’s “flat earth” summary of globalization, Roberts’ intent is to cast a vision—presumably for leaders in North American churches.

Zondervan Publishing Company, 5300 Patterson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49530, 2007, 208 pages, $18.99

—Reviewed by Paul Borthwick, senior consultant, Development Associates International, Lexington, Massachusetts, and part-time professor of missions, Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts.

Every pastor wants his or her church to have a transformational impact. Pastors with a global vision, like megachurch pastor Bob Roberts, Jr., want that impact to be both local and global—thus the title, Glocalization. Building on Thomas Friedman’s “flat earth” summary of globalization, Roberts’ intent is to cast a vision—presumably for leaders in North American churches—on ways to “involve everyone” (p. 21), “mobilize the person in the pew” (p. 77) and “get the people sitting in our pews to use their vocations in a natural way to connect locally and internationally”(p. 86).

The book is divided into three parts, addressing the questions “Why be involved?”, “How can the local church get involved?” and “What are the undergirding values of the involved church?” Roberts quotes widely from writers as diverse as Thomas Friedman, Fareed Zakaria, Bono, Mahatma Gandhi, Paul Gupta, Josef Tson and Jim Wallis. He threads his vision of “glocalization” together with what some might interpret as an overly positive view of globalization, making few mentions of the wider systemic evils often associated with multinational companies, Western military dominance or radical non-Western reactions to globalization.

Nevertheless, Roberts offers a refreshing presentation of evangelism as part of the holistic transformation of society, a renewed call to the urban areas and a respectful engagement of those holding to other religious worldviews. Indeed, he spends an entire chapter on the personal relationship between Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones and Mahatma Gandhi. Some of his themes need more development in order to help local church leaders understand what “global engagement” (p. 68) entails for the church of two hundred people or how church planters understand a statement like “When Jesus is the focus, churches will result” (p. 79).

Roberts steps outside of the spirit of Western triumphalism sometimes evident in the American megachurch when he challenges the Church in North America to “see and submit to what God is doing and be a servant to the East instead of a leader” (p. 120). He cites a list of the characteristics of “glocal leaders” that will challenge any leadership team (p. 164-174). He spends an entire chapter on reliance on the Holy Spirit, and his most challenging chapter focuses on the necessity of martyrdom! “When the church glocalizes, some of us will die,” he writes (p. 175). His frequent references to involvement in Afghanistan, Central Asia and East Asia indicate that martyrdom is not some romantic ideal for him.

Glocalization does invite some significant questions. Roberts has scarcely a reference to the churches of Europe, Africa and Latin America—either as challenges or as transformational forces. Mission organization executives will wonder why Roberts maintains total silence about traditional mission agencies. Mission historians will wonder if he believes that, with the exception of E. Stanley Jones and Mother Theresa perhaps, the past 250 years of mission’s history has anything to teach us about God’s mission in this globalized world. Advocates of “creative access” will find themselves defensive at his implication that anything less than “banging on the front door” (p. 105) verges on lying, sneaking around and being dishonest (p. 106).

These answers may appear in another book, or perhaps they are questions a visionary pastor like Bob Roberts, Jr. simply does not care to address. What he is contemplating is this—a local church, mobilizing everyone to use their skills, networks and abilities to transform the world for Christ, locally and globally.

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Copyright © 2008 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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