What Can I Do? Making a Global Difference Right Where You Are. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Kindle Edition. $9.99..
David Livermore recognizes that globalization changes the missional context of domestic vocational ministry. His latest work, What Can I Do? is a practical guidebook for coming to terms with this new context and taking initial steps to engage it. He aims to broaden the typical American Christian’s view of mission and help the church to overcome the overwhelming, often paralyzing uncertainty experienced in the face of a world full of need.
The book addresses a confluence of concerns: missional church, holism, vocational ministry, cross-cultural intelligence, and globalization. Its primary burden is twofold: to convince the reader that one’s everyday work and service is mission and to demonstrate that such local mission carried out in a globalized world will necessarily have a global impact.
Livermore delivers on his promise to provide a “solution-oriented, hopeful picture” (loc. 155) of what the church can do on a global scale from its own backyard. Livermore skillfully parses out the big global issues and paints a picture that is serious but not overwhelming, despite the title of section one, “A Big (Inspiring Yet Overwhelming) Picture.” He adopts the now prolific method of reducing the earth to a 1000 member village in order to make the statistics more comprehensible. Furthermore, the premise of this village as a single community stands behind the portrayal of a fully interconnected, transnational, glocal (i.e., global-local) world. With this as the framework, Livermore discusses major issues in a nicely simplified taxonomy: economics, disease, environment, trafficking, war, changing international realities, and world religions.
After a brief biblical overview in the creational-missional vein discussed above, the introductory section concludes with seven general strategies for a positive global impact that any reader can implement immediately. These include lifestyle choices as simple as being aware and making others aware, and as challenging as conscientious shopping and socially responsible investing. Livermore complements these suggestions with practical insights and a sprinkling of online resources. The second section proceeds to deal with five specific vocational fields, namely (1) business and management, (2) science and technology, (3) art, (4) health care and wellness, and (5) teachers, family and friends. These chapters are helpful signposts that guide the reader into a world of possibility rather than being exhaustive treatments of any one profession’s best engagement with global issues.
Livermore is practically-minded throughout his treatment of these vocations, ending each chapter with a “Before You Turn The Page” section featuring a handful of suggestions for taking immediate action. Some of these are reductive, such as the admonition for heath professionals to pray with their patients. It is difficult to imagine a serious Christian health professional finding this in any way instructive. The overall point remains, though, that every vocation provides a platform for accomplishing a great deal in global mission. The chapters’ ideas are suggestive and inspiring. Yet, section two ends with a word of caution. Livermore wisely makes space for healthy, realistic counsel that should temper the zealous activism of readers empowered by his practical advise.
Section three consists of two chapters aimed at preparing the reader and the reader’s community for deeper engagement in glocal mission. These feature various tools and methods for discerning what specifically to do and where to start. Finally, a FAQ at the end of the book addresses concerns that might have lingered for some readers, such as the question of the social gospel or the apparently secular nature of many of the book’s concerns. These are useful clarifications, but it is well that they do not take up space in the main body.
Two issues may give readers pause. One, although Livermore is familiar with missional church thinking (loc. 2448), and although he clearly advocates a broad understanding of what constitutes mission, there is still a sense throughout the book that local work is mission only because of the way globalization has made the local to be glocal. As he puts it, “My aim in this book has been to expand your view of global mission” (loc. 2229; emphasis added). “Mission” is still essentially global in character for Livermore, even if one does not have to live in a foreign country to be a missionary. It is fair to say that because he targets an audience that equates mission with the work of cross-cultural missionaries, his approach is a strategically sound way to open up the idea of mission. But it is noteworthy that this route ends with a narrower definition of mission that than many are currently advocating.
The second reservation is related. Livermore keenly roots his argument in creational theology: as God’s image-bearers, humans were created to serve the world’s needs—which he takes to mean created for global mission (locs. 366, 399, 489). Yet, there is a certain tension between this rather universal idea on one hand and the special circumstances occasioned by postmodern globalization upon which the book’s argument depends on the other. Given that we are made to have this global impact, what would the church do if its ministry were not so glocally situated? Must its global intentions be frustrated and reduced to “merely” local impact; and is this still mission?
Nonetheless, in the final analysis the volume is a useful tool for the average American Christian. It is accessible and practical. The reader who takes the time to follow Livermore’s lead will benefit greatly and likely come to make a truly global impact. This is just the sort of book churches need to be reading if they desire to face up to the new realities of the present century and embark on a new journey as glocal citizens of God’s world.
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