Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Shalom Makers: Development in the Way of Christ – A More Human(e) Way Part III

The New York Times on the New Art of Flickr
Originally uploaded by Thomas Hawk

Check out the outline and introduction first.

II. Is it More Human(e) to Separate Humanitarian Aid from Faith?

Philosophical Reasons for Separation

Christopher Hitchens is a secular humanist who posits that faith in God and holy texts (religion) is the poison we must banish from all discourse. More than anything else, he believes we need a renewed enlightenment, primarily based on science and reason. By looking at the major religious texts and recounting his own “dangerous” encounters with “religion,” he argues against the soundness of religious faith.

He quotes Heinrich Heine saying, “In dark ages, people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind old men as guides” (Hitchens 2007:43).

While it is unlikely that Christians would buy into Hitchens’ arguments against faith, it is possible for Christians to privatize their faith in their approach to development (and justice) to such a degree that their story better reflects the story of the enlightenment rather than the story of God. Hiebert reminds us that enlightenment thinking based on Platonic dualism, and science based on materialist naturalism, resulted in the privatization of faith and a focus on other-worldly problems. This same modern worldview resulted in science and reason becoming public truth, with a focus on this-worldly problems (Hiebert 1999:89).

The story of the enlightenment seems to have shaped the church’s understanding of her mission in the last century. Newbigin says, part of the church saw her mission primarily in terms of personal conversion at the congregation level and the other part saw her mission primarily in terms of God’s justice embodied in social programs outside the local congregation.

The danger he saw in this was that: “each is robbed of its character by its separation from the other. Christian programs for justice and compassion are severed from their proper roots in the liturgical and sacramental life of the congregation, and so lose their character as signs of the presence of Christ and risk becoming mere crusades fueled by moralism that can become self-righteous. And the life of the worshipping congregation, severed from its proper expression in compassionate service to the secular community around it, risks becoming a self-centered existence serving only the needs and desires of its members. Thus both sides of the dichotomy find good reasons for caricaturing each other, and mutual distrust deepens” (Newbigin 1995:10,11).

Jayakumar Christian, in his desire to learn from the history of the church, talks about the practical ramifications of distancing development work from the church. “These … assumptions suggest that God, church and conversion have practically nothing to do with the day-to-day economic good of the people. Poverty is an earthly issue for which God, the church and conversion are not the solutions” (Christian 1999:100).

Yet Jesus came to bring Good News to the poor, not just the poor in Spirit. So if our gospel isn’t good news for the poor, it is not the same good news that Jesus came to proclaim. When we separate the church from her mission, its impact on the church is negative.

Christians who approach development in a way that keeps their faith private still witness to something, though the question then becomes to what or whom they are witnessing (Myers 1999:207). While we need to recognize that sharing our story requires great sensitivity, wisdom and care, Myers reminds us that “the bottom line is that we need to be concerned about who gets worshipped at the end of the development program.” Myers continues to say, “Jayakumar Christian reminds us that whatever we put at the center of the program during its lifetime will tend to be what the community worships in the end” (Myers 1999:207,8).

The next post in this series deals with ethical reasons of why some contend for separating faith from humanitarian aid.

8 Responses to Shalom Makers: Development in the Way of Christ – A More Human(e) Way Part III

  1. chad milller says:

    great post – I am from a mennonite church in Calgary AB. As mennonite we have a relief and development agency MCC or Mennonite Central Commitee – formed initially to help Mennonites in Russia during WW II. MCC does great work around the world but it does seems to keep some ministry at arms lenth from the local Congregations. ie. in Calgary the Mennonite churches with MCC used to run a center for newcomers..esl and job placement ect.. now it has grown and recieves gov. funding and has nothing to do with the local congregations – we are missing this great oppurtunity to connect with, relate to and befriend these immigrants to Canada because we have outsourced our ministy.

  2. jrwoodward says:


    Glad you liked the post. That is kind of sad to hear. In my research the MCC is one of the better groups when it comes to integrating their faith into what they do, so this example kind of saddens me and kind of wakes me up to the problem of turning everything over to government. Thanks for your thoughts

  3. chad milller says:

    Yeah, I don’t mean to dis MCC they do good work – it is easy for some our churches to send money and not divest ourselves into our city and our world. I want to start more conversations with our local MCC Calgary office and how they can help local congregations relational connect with the needs in our city.

  4. Scot McKnight says:

    JR, have you seen JIm Wallis’ (largely unknown) book “Faith Works”?

  5. jrwoodward says:

    I think I’ve seen it, but haven’t had a chance to read it. Sounds like a good one to pick up. Thanks for the tip.

  6. jrwoodward says:


    I didn’t think that you were dis’n MCC. Glad to hear that you are starting some conversations with MCC Calgary. HOpe it goes well.

  7. Shawn Manley says:

    Actions that manipulate hand-raising are not Christ-like. The critical question is not how we deliver services, but why. Documents like the International Red Cross code of conduct are 99% correct in controlling relief effort actions, but there is one section that directs motivation. If a volunteer or NGO employee is motivated to serve because of their faith, then we should acknowledge that (and not be threatened by it). Hitchens was motivated because of his faith in people (at least in himself). The power of social movements is not in getting people to do what we want them to do, but allowing them to experience their own purpose and motivation, which comes from their faith. To separate a person’s faith from their action is completely and totally impossible.

    In my experience, the “rice Christians”, those who are forced into “conversion” in order to be fed/clothed/sheltered, are nill.

    Great post!

  8. JR Woodward says:


    Thanks for your words bro. I’m with you in that whole “rice Christians” deal. That is quite sad.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.