FROM MY BOOKSHELF: Economic Dangers and Dirty Hands

By LeRoy Lawson

David M. Smick, The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy (New York: Portfolio/Penguin Group, 2008).

Timing is everything, says the old saw, and David Smick has proof of it. Urged on by his prescient agent, Smick had his book on the stands by September 2008, just in time to explain the impending financial disaster to noneconomists like me.

His ruling metaphor is simplicity itself: Thomas Friedman (The World Is Flat) may think the globalized economy has flattened the world (and it has), but we forget at our own peril that it is also curved. In a curved world, you can’t see over the horizon. Economists can posit and pontificate and predict all they want—but we are in trouble if we entrust our future to their hands. “From the perspective of the financial markets, the world is not flat.” The prophets really can’t see over the bend.

So the financial world is not secure. “It is a house of cards that could come tumbling down for any number of reasons,” Smick writes in the Prologue—then devotes the rest of the book to analyzing that cheerless observation, taking the reader in turn to the arcane world of Wall Street and China and Japan and London and hedge funds and central banks—and around the curve to today’s chaos.

He criticizes globalization but is afraid of abandoning it, since it has brought us in the last quarter-century “the most successful period of mass poverty reduction in the history of mankind.” What he fears most is regulation that will stifle entrepreneurial capitalism. Globalization, he believes, “has been a highly impressive wealth-creating machine.”

If you didn’t believe before reading Smick, you will after reading him, that “liquidity, when all is said and done, is not much more than confidence.” At the heart of the collapse has been a worrisome withholding of trust—and a realizing that “the global economy is becoming increasingly beyond the positive control of governments.” (So what’s the new president to do?)

In truth, international financial markets have always been uncertain; what has increased the uncertainty lately has been the multiplying of unknowables and uncontrollables. But while we have much to be leery of in these uncertainties, we have more to fear from the politicians and bureaucrats who believe that they can tinker our way into stability.

I can’t do justice to Smick’s well-researched-and-reasoned treatment. I can simply recommend The World Is Curved for people who, like so many of us, have watched helplessly as our savings and investments have disappeared over the horizon.

Bob Roberts Jr., Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage a Flat World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).

What does all this mean for the worldwide Christian enterprise? Bob Roberts Jr., in his Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage a Flat World, also borrows from Friedman, not to explain the economy or point out its curves, but to call for a new mission strategy for a flat world. His proposal is captured in his title: Put them together—global and local—and you have glocal.

“I used to understand the church primarily as a gathered community; I now see it as the scattered or sent community. This goes against everything we know of church in the West. But the formula is simple: Inject the DNA of what it means to be transformed in Christ, connect the body of Christ to the domain of society, infect the whole of society for Christ.”

That means Christians, wherever we are, “must live the gospel beyond religious events and religious programming. Until we get the gospel deep within a society and that society understands issues of justice, mercy, and compassion, there will be no transformation. Pastoral effectiveness will be judged by the question, ‘How many laypeople am I mobilizing?’”

The newly mobilized Christians can then be dispatched to do both charity and development, for both are needed. “Charity should only do in a crisis what development does not have enough time to do. A tsunami, a hurricane, an earthquake, a famine—all these emergencies require charity.” Development, though, is for the long haul, requiring greater commitment and dogged patience in order to lift people back on their feet to stay.

A glocalized church will discover that there really are no “closed countries,” even though we like to think there are. Roberts insists countries may be closed to our methods, but not to our expressed love. “Any follower of Jesus can go to any place in the world and help people.”

Several chapter titles present his case: “Follow Jesus on CNN,” “Bang on the Front Door First,” “Decrease the West So the East Can Increase,” “Create Culture instead of Fighting It,” and “Serve Not to Convert but Because You Have Been Converted.”

Doug Priest and Nicole Cesare, eds., Get Your Hands Dirty: Mission in Action (Knoxville: Mission Services, 2008).

Doug Priest and Nicole Cesare put their convenient anthology together for the 2008 National Missionary Convention. Priest, the convention’s president, announced his theme of “Get Your Hands Dirty” shortly after his appointment. I wondered then what kind of reception it would have. It doesn’t strike one as, well, elegantly phrased. It certainly doesn’t resonate with lofty theological overtones. It doesn’t even challenge the convention-goer to heroic acts of sacrifice, which you expect at such a gathering.

Instead, in this book, you’ll read reasoned essays promoting hands-on ministry. You will also be inspired by testimonies from ordinary Christians who, by getting their hands dirty, are finding open doors of opportunity everywhere: Australians living in the slums of Bangkok, recent university graduates establishing campus ministries in cities around the globe, an African doctor creating CHE (community health evangelism) centers among the poorest of the poor, American businesspersons using their skills to create jobs and opportunities in Asia.

As Smick so cogently argues, the world’s economic climate will continue to be tempestuous and unpredictable. Roberts rightly believes that in spite of the uncertainties there is much that an awakened, caring, intelligent, strategic church can do to assuage suffering and deliver hope, even in the world’s most volatile trouble spots. Priest and Cesare then deliver the charge to ordinary persons like you and me.

I know most of their contributors. They deserve a hearing. They have not been afraid to get their hands dirty.

LeRoy Lawson, international consultant with Christian Missionary Fellowship International, is a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor and a member of Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee. His column appears at least monthly.

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