by Joel Matthews
Secular development. At the very heart of the secular concept of human development is the belief in a better future world. The road to material well-being follows either the capitalist or the socialist route. These two basic views, both of which are economic theories, have not been challenged for at least 100 years.
Secular development. At the very heart of the secular concept of human development is the belief in a better future world. The road to material well-being follows either the capitalist or the socialist route. These two basic views, both of which are economic theories, have not been challenged for at least 100 years. The social sciences, as such, do not have a theory of development other than the economic models.1
During the Enlightenment and until the devastating reality of the world wars, it was generally believed that mankind was progressing toward a materialistic kingdom where utopia would be defined in terms of prosperity, peace, and justice. People believed that along with material well-being would come social well-being.
Because scarcity was believed to be a major cause of unrest, proponents reasoned that peace would be the inevitable outcome of prosperity for all. Tied to this was the belief that the social sciences were progressing along with the physical sciences. Social problems, if there were any, would be solved by the sciences. This hope, of course, is based on a naturalistic worldview where all reality is material and thus is governed by predictable laws.
Social sciences were said to be no different than the physical sciences in this respect. Once the laws were discovered, nature (including human behavior) could be manipulated to create the perfect society. One of the beliefs that supported all these fantastic hopes was the idea of the “limitless perfectibility of the human species.”2
Although such absolute optimism about the future has been tarnished more recently by war, limited resources, and the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor, faith in man to solve these problems has remained the cornerstone of the secular hope for the future. Guy Gran says that “to be truly effective in development is to be hard nosed utopian.”3
It would be unfair to characterize all secular development efforts as economic in nature. A relatively new discipline termed “humanistic economics” takes into consideration human needs based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in order to approach development from a holistic perspective.4
The most recent movement in secular holistic development seeks to help the poor and oppressed understand their world and to gain control over it through a blending of the participatory approach and conscietiza-tion. The approach relies heavily on Marxist ideology and the work of Paulo Freire.5 A popular training manual, Training for Transformation, is currently being used across West Africa; it is based on Freire’s work.6
SECULAR THOUGHT IN THE CHURCH
The problem of dualism. If the main goal of missionaries was to teach about God, why have they been called the largest secularizing force the world has ever seen? We can find the answer by looking at the dualistic nature of the Western understanding of reality. Bruce Bradshaw summarizes the influence of dualism on the church. “Dualism is a Greek idea that has had a profound influence on Western Christians. It has been a part of Western culture since Plato, a disciple of Socrates, wrote about it in about 350 B.C. Many early Christian theologians, particularly Augustine, were dualistic.”7
Dualism divides all reality into two categories, either material (physical) or immaterial (spiritual). The spiritual category includes God, spirits, and the mind. The material category contains everything else physical bodies, plants, rocks, etc. Renee Descartes moved us further along the path to absolute dualism. “Thus, Cartesian dualism of mind and body (or matter) enabled us to interpret the external world in mechanical and quantitative terms. . . .”8
This has been interpreted to mean that the physical and spiritual realms exist independently of one another. One of the problems with dualistic philosophy is that it only allows us to apply spiritual laws to the spiritual world and physical laws to the physical world. Henry Ford discovered this, to his dismay, in 1914 when he doubled the wages of his factoryworkers. The Wall Street Journal mocked him for “putting Biblical teachings where they don’t apply.”9
Dualism allows inconsistencies between faith and practice. It allows, for example, a Christian to have a consistent “quiet time” for his spiritual development, but also allows him to exploit his wife and his employees in his physical world.
In practice, agriculture and medicine—“the physical things of life”— have very little to do with God. Missionaries have reinforced this idea by teaching that all disease has a physical cause that can be cured by medical science. Similarly, all agricultural problems can be solved by applying natural laws that govern the physical realm. God is not involved with things on a physical level unless he intervenes with a miracle, which is theoretically possible but rare.
God then becomes an unnecessary appendage to any “Christian development project,” and he may be discarded. I propose that the reason why God may be discarded is that the program is not really Christian at all but rather a secular program administered by Christians.
One of the consequences of dualism in missions is double-minded-ness in converts. This can lead to unimaginable consequences in the church. For example, Rwanda was 80 percent Christian at the time of the 1994 genocide and had been held up as “one of the jewels in the crown” of Charismatic Christianity.10
John Martin, in his article on the Rwandan crisis, quoted a Catholic bishop as saying, “We have to begin again because our best catechists, those who filled our churches, were the first to go out with machetes in their hands.”11 We must ask ourselves some serious questions about the faith of Christians in Rwanda.
I believe the answer brings us back to dualism. Martin says, “There had been an emphasis on evangelism at the expense of social involvement. Missionaries had tried to be apolitical, retreating into pietism rather than teaching the Church how to engage in public life . . . .”
Not only does the church in this situation withdraw from public life, but Christians tend to support those in power without considering the moral implications. In the case of Rwanda, Martin says, “there was naive support for those in power, based on Paul’s comments in Romans.”
Uncritical acceptance of worldly philosophies. As Christians we tend to react to secular wisdom in one of two ways. We either throw it out, especially if it conflicts with our paradigm. Or we accept it uncritically, especially if it happens to encourage us in our pursuits. A famous example of the latter was the uncritical acceptance of slavery by many Christians. The fact that slavery was extremely lucrative discouraged Christians from considering the possible contradictions with their faith. Another example, more closely related to our subject, is the uncritical acceptance of prevailing economic thought. Most Western Christians accept uncritically theories that defend capitalism and throw out anything that smacks of socialism.
We need to realize how cultural biases can blind us to biblical truth. Many Western Christians have a vague feeling that capitalism is related to Christianity in some way. Adam Smith was, perhaps, the first Westerner to give capitalism a philosophical justification.12 While it is true that the justification of capitalism came from men who were from the Christian tradition, the philosophy itself was anything but Christian.
The real problem with capitalism is not the profit motive, but the myth that by being selfish, you are actually being good, since selfishness causes the economy to grow. This belief is as strong today as it was in 1776 when Adam Smith wrote his Wealth of Nations. Concerning the self-interested heroes of the economic world, George Gilder believes that “…they are the hope of the poor and…the redemption of an oppressed and desperate world.”13
Along these same lines of thought, a commencement speaker at the University of California said, “I think greed is healthy….I think you can be greedy and still feelgood about yourself.”14
How can such an amazing contradiction be believed? That’s the magic of rationalization. The speaker went on to say that success allows one to “take the role that nobility played in ancient times, by becoming involved in the arts, politics, science, and culture for the betterment of mankind.”
These justifications soothe the consciences of those of us who were brought up amid the West’s Christian heritage. Even if greedy self-interest did aid the poor (which it doesn’t), it must be condemned on scriptural grounds. Any philosophy that promotes selfishness as a means to good directly contradicts Paul in the book of Philippians. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look after your own personal interests, but also the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
It was in the ’30s that the most profound justification for greed-based capitalism was made. The distinguished British economist Lord Keynes stated: “For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.”15
If such a blatantly unchristian philosophy could be acceptable to Christians, imagine what other evils we might cheerily accept without critical evaluation because they suit our need. How is it that the words of Isaiah do not come crashing down upon us: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute light for darkness and darkness for light” (Isa. 5:20)?
If the church did not cry out to expose this blatant lie, some notable atheists did. Many of the social reformers like Karl Marx were reacting to the ungodly injustices they saw, justified under the guise of “Christian civilization.”
Today we look at socialist solutions for a just society and scoff. Rather than sneer at Marx and triumphantly point to the failure of communism to create a “good” society, we should be shamed by the failure of the church to do the same. Actually the church itself is supposed to be a “good” society in the Christian sense, and therefore Christian societies should be “good.” Even though we do not approve of Marx’s solution, we must understand his criticism of modern capitalist values. Marx was very conscious of the hypocritical applications of biblical values to economics and business. In his critique of free trade, Marx says, “In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.”16 These criticisms, to be sure, should have been coming from the church.
THE CHURCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Today, many Christians who believe that they are “doing holistic ministry” are operating from a dualistic world view. Holism is not something we “do.” It is the Christian understanding of reality. The best a dualist can manage is to practice physical and spiritual ministries together. In Christian dualism, medical or agricultural work is attached to, but separate from, the gospel.
Preaching, for the dualist, has to do with the redemption of the soul in the afterlife, not with our physical lives in the here and now, not with farms and animals and sickness and hunger. The implication, and often the explicit declaration, is that the spiritual part of man is the only part that is worth saving.
One might protest here and say that he or she prays for the sick and for good harvests. That may well be, but if medicine and agriculture work because of science, what does prayer have to do with it? Will the antibiotic work without prayer?
Will the fertilizer work without prayer? Confusion is the natural outcome of dualism. The gospel then is something that is tacked onto the medical or agricultural work rather than being a foundation for all of life. The missionaries then are accusedof doing medical work as a vehicle to proselytize, much in the same way one would be accused for passing out political tracts at a medical clinic. In this case, it can be seen that medical work and the gospel are essentially unrelated but are done together. This is “holism” for the dualist.
But why should people convert to a god who is unconnected to their physical lives? Why should they give up their powerful gods for a “spiritual” god who does not intervene in their lives with farms and animals and sickness and hunger? Those who recognize the need for salvation will cling to their earthly gods while on earth and keep the spiritual god for the afterlife. This is called syncretism, and it is the result of confusion, I believe, in the minds of the missionaries. The solution is a correct worldview: biblical holism.
Proper holism is the understanding that God created one reality, not two. Rather than divide the world into the seen and unseen or physical and spiritual realms, we should understand reality as divided between the Creator and the creation. God is alone in his category. Everything else is in the created order—angels, humans, plants, rocks, etc.
The biblical view of redemption is also broader than Western Christians suppose. People’s souls are not the only objects of redemption. God’s ultimate purpose is the redemption of the entire created order. “For the anxious longing of creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God…that the creation itself also will be set free from the slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom. 8:19,21-22).
How does biblical holism affect the way we live? When we realize that God’s plan for redemption includes all of creation, the gospel and development become inseparable. The earth and our physical bodies are no longer unimportant or unnecessary packages, but are part of the “good” that God created. This does not mean that we believe the earth to be eternal or our final abode, we know that it will burn up one day. That should not make us unconcerned with his property.
Everywhere we look we see a world that is in “slavery to corruption.” When God created the earth, it was good. Because of the Fall, however, the goodness of the creation has become spoiled.
The created order “waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.” Why? After the Fall, man became an abusive landlord. While he had dominion over the earth, he was not a good steward, so the earth, and everything in it, suffered under his hand.
When Jesus came, he came to destroy the works of the devil, and to restore our rightful place as sons and daughters of God.
As children of God, we should be working for the redemption of all that God has given us dominion over. Why should the children of God sit back and let the created order be ravaged, or ravage it ourselves, when God has appointed us as stewards? We participate in the redemption of the created order when we return to our rightful place as stewards of the creation. Of course, we realize that complete redemption of the created order will not happen until the end of the age, yet we participate in limited redemption now.
CHRISTIAN TRANSFORMATION AND SOCIETY
Why has the church not been at the forefront of creating ideal societies on earth? Is it not worth doing because life on earth is only temporary? Or are we too busy with our own pursuits to be bothered with Christian community? When we hear of secular attempts to create ideal societies, we smile knowingly at the ignorant and foolish people who fail to understand the nature of man. Has dualism convinced Western Christians that salvation is only for the soul, and cannot fundamentally change the way we live together as children of God? The apostle John forever settled the question of dualism when he stated flatly, “If someone says, ‘I love God’, and yet hates his brother, he is a liar….” (1John 4:20).
The Wheaton ’83 Evangelical Consultation recommended that the word “development” be replaced with “transformation.”17 Stan Roland gives us this definition: “Transformation is a change from a condition of human existence contrary to God’s purpose, to one in which the people are able to enjoy the fullness of life in harmony with God.”18
Christian transformation, I believe, encompasses much more than individual lives. It includes the very society that transformed people live in. In a true Christian community we should see a restoration of all relationships previously marked by alienation and exploitation exactly what utopian visionaries have always wanted to achieve, but were unable to, because they did not understand either sin or the reality of spiritual transformation.
I would like to add to Stan Roland’s definition. The goal of human development should be the formation of healthy, cooperative and productive communities where people share resources and labor, where they care for the sick, the elderly, and the poor, where people share a common vision for their community, and where individual advancement does not block community development.
The modern Western church has never really become the center of a spiritual community where people pursue common goals and share material things, except in the rare case of Christian communes. It could be that we feel it is too late for us, as Westerners, with our wildly individual and highly mobile lives, where economic prosperity has become an overriding concern too late to return to a simple, genuine understanding of the kingdom of God.
Can we imagine events in the book of Acts ever occurring among us today? “And all those who believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:44-45).
I think we cannot imagine it because our priorities are different. Our housing is determined by our standard of living, not by goals we share with the community of believers. Our jobs, likewise, are based on material concerns, almost wholly independent of the church.
Evangelical Christianity focuses on changed individuals, but tends to leave society to its own devices. On the other hand, liberal Christianity, like socialism, seeks to transform unjust structures in society, without transforming individuals. Biblical Christianity, however, seeks to transform people, and from that, to transform society.
While it may be too late for the church to create true Christian (ideal) communities in the West, I believe it is not too late in the developing world. Many of the villages where today’s missionaries work are ideal settings for such communities. But will it be possible for us to teach something that we ourselves have never been able to achieve in our own countries?
AGRICULTURE AND HEALTH IN REDEEMED COMMUNITIES
How would agriculture or medicine, for example, be any different in a transformed community? The difference is that the church is the focal point. Life purpose has been transformed, people no longer pursue selfish goals. Life purpose becomes to participate with the work of God in reconciling all things to himself to extend the kingdom of God on earth. This involves preaching and teaching the redemptive plan of God and reclaiming our rightful place as stewards of God’s creation.
When Jesus commissioned his disciples, he sent them out with the words, “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:7-8). He sent them out and gave them authority to restore what had been lost in the Fall—to undo the works of the devil.
The mission of God’s people has not changed. Many times this involves healing the sick. While there are various reasons for sickness, many causes are spiritual. Proverbs instructs us to “fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing toyour body and refreshment to your bones” (Prov. 2:7-8).
God has given us authority to pray for healing. “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed any sins, they will be forgiven him” (James 5:14-15). God has given his children a mandate to bring about healing, which is aligned with his purposes—the redemption of all things.
This does not mean that healing or wholeness is guaranteed. We live in a fallen, groaning creation. But God’s purpose is restoration and healing, just as Satan’s goal is disease and corruption. Notice that we do not treat physical and spiritual disease separately.
In agriculture, we should seek to restore the place of soil, plants, trees, and crops to their created purpose to glorify God and provide abundantly for man’s needs. As faithful caretakers, we are to lovingly restore and tend the royal garden for our Master, knowing that it all belongs to him. We are keenly aware that God created mankind in his own image and has given us dominion over his creation (Gen.1:27-31).
Biblical holism teaches us that God’s ultimate purpose is the redemption of all things in Christ, and that everything good is from God and is to be used with reverence and thanksgiving to accomplish his purposes. This makes agriculture, social reform, physical healing, spiritual rebirth, and all other forms of redemption supremely spiritual tasks. Therefore, whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, let us do it all for the glory of God.
1. Steve Brush, chair, Community Development, U.C. Davis, personal conversation, September, 1997.
2. French mathematician and philosopher Condorcet, in Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1976), p.121.
3. Guy Gran, Development By People: Citizen Construction of a Just World (Praeger Publishers, 1983), p. 8.
4. Gran, op.cit.
5. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Continuum Publishing Company, 1970, Revised 1993).
6. Anne Hope and Sally Timmel, Training for Transformation (Mambo Press 1984, Revised 1989).
7. Bruce Bradshaw, Bridging the Gap (Monrovia, Calif.: MARC Publishers, 1993).
8. Titus, Smith, Nolan, Living Issues in Philosophy (Wadsworth Publishing, 1979), p. 68.
9. Mark Gerzon, A House Divided (New York: Putnam Books, 1996) p. 50.
10. John Martin, “Rwanda: Why?” in Transformation, April, 1995.
11. Martin, op.cit.
12. Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations (1776) wrote the following: “. . . he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. . . . By pursuing his own interests he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intend to promote it.”
Quoted from Donald Kagan, The Western Heritage (Macmillan Publishing Co., 1983).
13. Gerzon, op. cit. p. 48.
14. Gerzon, op. cit. p. 53.
15. Quoted from E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (Harper and Row, 1973), p. 24.
16. Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (Washington Square Press, 1964), p.62.
17. Stan Rowland, Multiplying Light and Truth (Campus Crusade for Christ and Evangel Publishing House, 1990), p.19.
18. Rowland, op cit. p.19.
Joel Matthews is director of MIDP (Maradi Integrated Development Project) in Maradi, Niger, West Africa, with SIM International. He graduated from Simpson College with a B.A. in biblical literature and anthropology. He and his wife Alice began work with SIM International in Niger in 1991.
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