The Theme

Challenges facing our world today

Our world and the many nations and societies that are part of it, face many challenges. Democracies often are fragile or in turmoil and new political structures and cultures must be formed. New geopolitical constellations are developing, raising the question as to whether the chances for a more just, peaceful, and sustainable future of our world are increasing. The financial crisis in the Western world, and ongoing corruption in many countries worldwide, call for a new economic and business morality. Poverty and deprivation are still very much with us, despite the progress that has been made in formulating ‘Sustainable Development Goals’. The depletion of our world’s natural resources is causing massive ecological problems that are often neglected and relegated to an uncertain future. New technologies harbor new possibilities for improving the human condition, but this requires an assessment of their moral and social implications. Communication technology raises questions about its effects on human relations and communities. Civil society organizations, that by definition are neither part of political or economic structures, must redefine their goals and strategies if they are to be a channel for shalom in our world. Religious radicalism and fundamentalism threaten to tar all religions and worldviews, making it difficult for them to be an influential force for the good.

The New Christianity

Rio_de_Janeiro_Helicoptero_47_Feb_2006-2The 20th century has seen a massive shift in global Christianity, from the North to the South. In many countries and regions where Christianity was only a tiny minority, tolerated at best, it has become a sizeable presence. At the same time, many of these countries have embarked on a process of modernization, searching for new political, economic, intellectual and scientific structures and practices, connecting themselves to the global world, while at the same time struggling to keep their identities.

Given their number, it is to be expected that in the last decades thousands of 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation Christians in Southern countries (as of course in Northern countries too) have entered universities, businesses, politics, media, and academics; thousands or even millions will continue to do so over the next couple of decades.

With what central ideals will these ‘new’ Christians-with-public-responsibility enter the public domain? What will be the contribution of global and local Christian communities in the face of these challenges? How may the Christian faith help us to develop shalom-enhancing ideas and practices regarding justice, corruption, human rights, leadership, stewardship, and entrepreneurship?

Will we be content to simply draw from modern secularism or from an unidentifiable mixture of passing faddish insights? Will Christian communities be satisfied with ongoing unjust or unethical patterns in politics, in business, in civil society? How can we develop a ‘Christian mind’ enabling us to be both critical and loyal to our context, our particular societies, businesses, educational practices, caring institutions, family practices, as well as our local natural environments? How may younger and older Christians together prepare for these tasks within their Christian communities, both locally and globally?

‘Be reformed in your thinking…’

Christian communities worldwide have a unique opportunity and responsibility to develop a ‘shalom-enhancing attitude’ among their own and future members, many of whom will be leaders in governments, businesses, civil society initiatives and universities and colleges. The biblical call ‘to be reformed in your thinking’ needs a fresh application in every age and context. A host of earlier thinkers and leaders – from Augustine in early Christianity, to Abraham Kuyper or John Stott in modern times – can be a source of inspiration. They teach us to use two lenses: one directed at contemporary challenges, the other at sources and insights from the broad Christian tradition.

In these efforts, it is crucial for Christians worldwide to be mutually connected, exchanging experiences in order to learn from each other’s practices. If world Christianity is not a ‘learning community’, it may run the risk of repeating the terrible mistakes of European modernization, of ‘indigenous’ cultural patterns, or various types of religious fundamentalism. This global learning community must nurture a new generation of leaders.