Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beware of World Changers

As Tanya and I prepare to return to Haiti in November, our team of 28 people has just completed the book When Helping Hurts. WHH is required reading for all of our Haiti teams. In the book, one of the premises is that North American Christians generally head into "third world" situations with a "fix-it" attitude, not realizing that much of our attitude is steeped in pride and an unawareness of God's present work among people in disenfranchised places like Haiti. Basically, God is already present in a place like Haiti, and despite my power and wealth as a North American person, I am NOT the Savior. In his book, Culture Making, Andy Crouch challenges the attitudes that "world changers" often knowingly or unknowingly carry with them. In his chapter "Why We Can't Change the World," Crouch argues for an attitude of humility to be adopted, especially among those who wish to "make a difference in the world":

Indeed, I sometimes wonder if breathless rhetoric about changing the world is actually about changing the subject- from our fitfully suppressed awareness that we did not ask to be brought into this world, have only vaguely succeeded in figuring it out, and will end our days in radical dependence on something or someone other than ourselves. If our excitement about changing the world leads us into the grand illusion that we stand somehow outside the world, knowing what’s best for it, tools and goodwill and gusto at the ready, we have not yet come to terms with the reality that the world has changed us far more than we will ever change it. Beware of world changers- they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin.

That is the humbling reality at the private level. And at the other end of the scale, Christians have learned from the Gospel of John and the letters of Paul that “the world” is the name for a realm of systemic active rebellion against God’s purposes. We are wrestling not against flesh and blood- even our own fleshly inclinations, though that would be challenge enough- but against spiritual powers in high places (Eph. 6:12). And any honest reading of history suggests that one of the most successful strategies of that cosmic rebellion is to twist well-intentioned endeavors in precisely the wrong direction, using human greed, fear and pride for extra leverage.

All the same, we are made to change the world. We are made to do so at small scales and (occasionally, and probably not as often as we think, hope or expect) at large scales. We are culture makers. But when we thoughtlessly grasp for the heedless rhetoric of “changing the world,” we expose ourselves to temptation. We find ourselves in a situation similar to Adam and Eve’s in the Garden. “You will be like God, knowing good and evil,” the serpent insisted. Made in God’s image, Adam and Eve were, in fact, already “like God.” And yet the serpent invited them to use their God-given power to extend their grasp just a bit further. The serpent’s invitation succeeded partly because it was so close to truth. It just called them a step beyond truth, into a fantasy that ended up destroying the very capcities they sought to extend.

Is there a way to change the world without falling into one of the many traps laid for would-be world changers? If so, it will require us to learn one thing the language of “changing the world” usually lacks: humility, defined not so much as bashfulness about our own abilities as awed and quiet confidence in God’s ability. Is the Maker of the world still at work “changing the world”? If so, what are the patterns of activity, and what would it mean to join him in what he is doing in every sphere and scale of human culture? How can we join his culture making and live out of our own calling to make something of the world, without slowly and subtly giving in to the temptation to take his place?  Culture Making, pp. 200-01

Consider this earlier post where my friend Kelly Kapic references economist William Easterly: http://hsumike.blogspot.com/2011/08/god-so-loved-he-gave.html. In the reference, Easterly notes that 2.3 trillion dollars spent on foreign aid the last five decades has amounted to basically nothing. Why? Easterly observes because of the "Big Plans" of the West to give away a lot of money, without listening to the voices of the poor. Again, in spiritual-speak, the problem is rooted in "Pride." So human pride leads to huge economic ramifications. I think Crouch's observations link well with Kapic and Easterly's and give us a lot to think about.

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