The blocs …

There are numerous ways that we can look at the world and the challenge it presents to the Christian movement.

One of the more common ways to divvy up the pie has been to view the world through ethnic lenses …through the grid of “people groups.” This of course is consistent with the “ta ethne” of Matthew 28 and is an incredibly useful means of evaluating the task remaining to those who name the name of Jesus and take seriously his imperative to disciple the nations.

Another helpful perspective is to look at the world through socio-economic levels. We do this often in InnerCHANGE, CRM’s order among the poor, as we grapple with engaging that portion of a population in any given context which is “poor” and even “desperately poor.” This also is a profoundly biblical means of viewing people since God’s concern for the poor throughout the whole of scripture is a theme that is commonly overlooked and minimized.

And there are other lenses through which we can take a close look at the challenge such as urban vs. rural or developed vs. developing world, etc …

But there is another way that gives us perspective to view the world through what I would call “belief blocs.” When we parse up the global scene in this manner, the whole of humankind can be broken into three major camps:

1.)The Religious Bloc

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The religioius bloc is the largest of the three and it is primarily composed of those adherents to the major non-Christian world religions: Islam, Hinduism, traditional Chinese religions and Buddhism:  Islam with 1.3 billion followers, Hinduism with 870 million;  Chinese relgions with 405 million; and Buddhism with 379 million.  All told, these blocs make up 40-50% of the world’s peoples.

2.)The Secular Bloc
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This is the bloc that is getting increasingly astute attention and analysis in the West as Christianity rapidly continues its disestablishment from western culture and as the cultural phenomena of “Christendom” passes into history. We find the secular bloc primarily in the post-industrial, increasingly post-modern West, although there are also significant pockets of this bloc evident in the booming urban centers of the developing world which are inevitably influenced by the dynamics of globalization.

It would be a mistake to view all secularized peoples through the grid of the postmodern which is actually a subset of the secular. While the shift in the West from modernity to post-modernity is titanic in its nature and implications, there are huge percentages of secular peoples who cannot be lumped together with those whose worldviews are decidedly postmodern. This includes large numbers of nominal Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants who are decidedly secular but have not navigated the jump to post-modernity and may not for several generations.

3.)The Animist Bloc
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A large percentage of the world remains in what anthropologists refer to as animism, that form of belief that melds the natural world into the spiritual and is expressed in a dizzying array of folk religions.

Unfortunately, this is the bloc that has defined missionary efforts in the popular mind throughout the West and has been hard to shake. Jungles, pith helmets, tribal groups, etc., are still the images that have shaped the popular understanding of the missionary task when in fact, the secular and the religious blocs are by far the majority of the world’s peoples.

So what does this mean? A few thoughts and observations:

1. Missionary efforts to advance the Christian movement must be tailored very differently for each of these blocs. Conversely, the training necessary for those who minister within and to these three blocs is quite different. One size does not fit all.

2. The religious bloc has historically presented the most stubborn obstacles to the advance Christianity. Most missiologists agree that the key to future success within these blocs lies in effective contextualization although the ongoing debate about what that means and how far one goes in such a process is robust.

3. While the reality of the postmodern world in the secular bloc is a macro trend, it is mistake to superimpose that phenomenon onto the other two blocs when in fact, most of those in the religious bloc and the animist bloc have never even entered the modern world.

4. People may be in separate belief blocs and yet share many other cultural characteristics. While belief and worldview are seminal components of culture, they are not the only elements.

5. These blocs are not geographically determined. In fact, one can go into any major world-class city and find peoples from all three blocs living side-by-side and sociologically intertwined. While they may be physically near-neighbors, they may have great gulfs separating their belief systems.

6. All three of these blocs should be legitimate foci of missional effort, both from the local church expressions of the Christian movement that may be co-existent and/or near and from the apostolic expressions of the movement which are called of God and designed specifically for the crossing of cultural, socio-economic, and belief system barriers to represent the good news of Jesus.

One Response to “The blocs …”

  1. Steve Hoke Says:

    Sam et al:
    This is a very concise and helpful synthesis of a very critical dimension to our international enterprise. Thanks for taking the time to digest and compile this for us. I will use in Perspectives and elsewhere. Steve Hoke

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