Where the Stranger Is Not Strange: Our Universal Need(s)

In this issue we discuss a compelling and urgent topic: Glocalized Evangelism. “Glocal” is a new term combining global and local. Simply put, it communicates that the nations and cities of the world are increasingly inhabited by peoples from many cultures, ethnicities, and races. I embrace and love this dimension of early twenty-first century life. Over thirty-three percent of the one million people in my own county in suburban Chicago have immigrated here in the last generation or two. We anticipate that by 2020 fifty percent of our local residents will be part of this global diaspora or “glocalization.”

This presents a unique evangelism opportunity and challenge. The differences between ethnicities and cultures are many. At times, we may wonder whether the gospel presented by someone of one ethnic group can be relevant to someone of another. This is especially true when the two cultures are quite disparate.

However, scripture gives us hope and assurance: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon him” (Romans 10:12). The sociologist Roland Robertson, who coined the term “glocalization” (see Tuvya Zaretsky’s article), supports this notion by defining glocalization as “the simultaneous co-presence of both universalizing and particular tendencies.”

The same Lord is Lord of all, and the same Lord is creator of all. Since God created all peoples in his image, we may assume that at some level of culture there is unity between all peoples. There are universal similarities in culture. However, at the level of language, customs, ritual, dress, food, art, etc., there is vast particularity (to use Robertson’s language). At the core, though, at the level of what many missiologists call “human culture,” we are more alike than different.

These universal aspects are for me in both needs and longings. I call this area “heart apologetics.” Billy Graham, Luis Palau, and other evangelists teach us that everywhere in the world they meet people with similar needs and heart cries—loneliness, fear, love, family, anxiety, death, etc. Just as all humans are similar at the core of their physical nature, so too human needs and cries are similar.

I meet with my friend Gideon from Nigeria when he is in the U.S. We show each other the pictures of our wives and children. Why? Because we are husbands and fathers who deeply love and care for our families. This crosses every culture and people group. The gospel of Christ speaks clearly to the human need to be loved, to protect, to provide. And more, it calls humanity to see that we need to love and be loved by God. Intimacy with God and others is a universal need.

We also have inner longings. Bishop N.T. Wright calls these common longings “echoes of a voice.” These echoes, or “inconsolable longings” as C.S. Lewis called them, tell us that deep in our core we long for justice, relationship, beauty, spirituality, freedom, and I add, purpose. The same Lord is Lord of all.

The same Lord created all in his image. We are more alike than different, at least at the soul level of what it means to be human. I pray we trust that God, who made all, loves all, and desires all to be saved, will give us confident hope that the gospel is big enough to cross every culture, ethnicity, and race. To God be the glory; great things he has done!

Dr. Lon Allison is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He also serves as director for the Institute for Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College. He is co-publisher of Lausanne World Pulse.