Saturday, February 21, 2004

I've been reading A New Map of the World by Ian Linden (DLT, 2003). It's a book about globalisation and its effects. As well as an approach to political ethics that avoids the simplistic approach of 'the Bible/Church says, therefore ...', he has a number of important things to say about networks. "Today the network society links up concentrated nodes of technology, financial management, high skills and education, expertise in information processing, wealth, power and privilege. People and places have become differentiated into 'high value, low value and no value', with the differences reflected in everything from property prices, investment and income to health, schooling and life expectancy. For every Silicon Valley, City of London and Ile de France, there are feeder foothills, and a hinterland of isolated, disconnected and productively barren land. The network society co-exists with the threatening black holes of marginality" (pp. 88-89).

One significant effect of this should be to call into question some of the easy approaches to the 'network culture' that has become all too pervasive in some recent missiological writing. In particular, I am thinking of Pete Ward's Liquid Church. Ward takes his notion of 'liquid modernity' from the sociologist Zygmund Bauman, but ignores the whole ethical force of Bauman's criticism of that culture. Where Bauman sees a culture which damages the vulnerable and forcefully builds up barriers between those with wealth and power and those without, Ward sees a new way of being Church.

At stake here is an understanding of transformation and conversion. For Linden and Bauman, there is a real sense in which the world needs to be converted; changed in favour of the poor and the weak. For Ward I can see little other than an acceptance of the state of the world, and a moulding (conversion?) of the church to fit. Mission must, inevitably, engage with culture. The early church did not like Roman pagan culture, but nevertheless had no choice but to work within it for its transformation. The present-day church shouldn't like network culture and the global inequalities that support it. We need strategies for mission that enable us to work in this culture, but which also work for its transformation. I'm not convinced that Ward's work is aware enough of its own place in the culture in which it seeks to work. Transformation seems an unlikely result.

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