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Mustard Seed Versus McWorld: Reinventing Life and Faith for the Future

By Tom Sine
Baker Books. 1999. 249 pp. Pb. $14.99. ISBN 0-8010-9088-1

Reviewed by Elizabeth Dodson Gray


Watchman, tell us of the night,
What its signs of promise are.

-- Advent season hymn

It is seldom that we find a Christian preacher or writer like Tom Sine, who can stand like an Old Testament prophet on the parapet of the city and tell us of the present and the future without losing his own footing in the Christian faith.

Sine is a futurist who has done his homework, so he competently, crisply and clearly lays out the awesome and also ominous aspects of the rapid globalization of life and commerce which has been an increasingly major feature of our world since the fall of communism. Sine likens the waves of the future about to break over us to large Hawaii-style surfing waves. He counsels us as Christians and as churches to learn now to anticipate and “ride” these waves. Otherwise we will get what he calls “a wild ride” and “a wet one.”

Sine’s book is easy to read. Do not expect long, dry accounts of global economic realities. Sine has designed a user-friendly book with short paragraphs, arresting section titles, interspersed questions with “Things to Do,” and numerous personal stories and encouraging accounts of contemporary Christians in action. Throughout the book he uses graphic icons (similar to those used in computer operating software) to say, “This is the focus and intent of this section,” and “Here are the key points,” or “Here is what you can do.” So the book comes to the reader already outlined and highlighted.

Though his presentation is user-friendly, Sine is addressing the big issues of the emerging global marketplace. We are already being swept along by that wave of the future, even if most of us don’t think about it or talk about it, especially in church. Sine understands this “big picture” as a futurist and future consultant, but he also is asking, “What does this mean for Christians?” and “What do we need to be doing now in our churches and Christian contexts to prepare for what may be ahead?”

Sine asks whether we as Christians (or as Christians acting in Christian organizations) have any Christian vision of the future that provides an alternative to the globalization vision of more free-market capitalism with consequent increasing affluence for some, poverty for many, and the destruction of natural environments and indigenous cultures? To use H. Richard Niebuhr’s terms, this is a Christ-Against-Culture perspective on the emerging global capitalism and free market.

“McWorld” is the dominant culture of frenetic achievement and change, affluence, consumerism and preoccupation with ever-more complex technologies as the means to the “Good Life” understood as wealth, luxury and “having things.” Sine fears today’s Christians have so “bought into” these values that we have little time, energy and money left, even at the margins of our lives, for the call of Christ and the challenge of co-creating God’s Kingdom.

Sine describes that call, and the commitment it evokes, as “the mustard seed.” He recounts many imaginative and creative small beginnings by Christians from New Zealand to Africa to Latin America to American cities, where individuals and Christian communities are bringing forth a flowering of community and social justice. Read Sine to have your eyes opened to Christian innovation and response in places most of us will never see or otherwise hear about.

The Great Homecoming of God (Isaiah 2 and 30) is Sine’s chosen image and the focal point for his lyrical and passionate explication of an alternative Christian vision of our global future. This stands over against the McWorld vision of a global marketplace of free enterprise, free markets and unfettered capitalism. I see it as tragic that those who care most about saving souls, evangelism and “planting” churches, are so late in generating a critique of the effects of unfettered capitalism.

Those who are not evangelicals (as Sine is) should not dismiss this book as written from a Christian perspective they do not share. Sine is deeply critical of what he calls the “dualistic vision” — saving souls and meeting human needs — that characterizes many conservative Protestants. What Sine is advocating is a whole gospel for an integrated mission which does justice to the Christian vision of the future and includes God’s hopes for a Kingdom in the here-and-now, manifest in celebration, community and justice. This is a book every Christian leader should read and ponder.