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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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God’s Global Mission in an Era of the Autonomous Self

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How do we approach mission work in a context of hyper-individuality and globalization?

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Many church leaders do cultural studies and wrestle with the sociology of place. On a different track, others try to get their heads around the social imaginaries that make up the personality of our cities (sometimes referred to as a horizon or a space).

We need to help ministry practitioners across North America put these two approaches together so that in examining one’s context as a place, we are also learning to look very closely at the social concepts that are reflected in the urban context. Place is space with historical meanings, different identities, varied societal preoccupations.[1]

As we explore the mission of God in our North American contexts, we recognize that we are in an era of two realities: Hyper-individuality and globalization. These are two unquestionable dimensions of the emerging social imaginary of city dwellers. But you will also notice the term for which Charles Taylor is well known – the autonomous self.

At times, Taylor refers to this as expressive individualism, self-sufficing individualism or in terms of exclusive humanism and the buffered-self.[2] Today, there is a near categorical rejection of any source external to the individual to serve a basis for ethics.

This culture of authenticity[3] is “…the understanding of life….that each of us has [for] realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live one’s own way, as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from outside, by society, or the previous generation, or religious or political authority.”[4]

So how are we to “think” in an era marked by secularity and pervasive hyper-individuality? Or what is often referred to as the privatization of beliefs? In large ...

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