Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

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


The New York Times on the New Art of Flickr

Originally uploaded by Thomas Hawk

Check out the outline, introduction, the philosophical ethical and practical reasons for separation first, and practical reasons for separation first, and then you will be better prepared to read this next section.

II. A More Human(e) Way

Our understanding of poverty will shape our understanding of development (Myers 1999:94), and a development organization that wants to take a more human(e) way will need to define poverty holistically in hopes of approaching development holistically. Being holistic does not mean that the organization must be comprehensive in their approach (do everything) because that is probably both unrealistic and unwise for one group to attempt to do it all. In an attempt to be holistic, a vital question that every development organization needs to ask is which script or story is “normative to all the stories” (Myers 1999:111).

Changing Scripts: Turning on the En(Light)enment

It is a bit simplistic to say that the biblical narrative should be our guiding story, for we only have to look at the present and the past to recognize that “belief” in God and the biblical narrative is no guarantee of virtuous living. As Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove writes, “It is not uncommon in our post-Christian culture to hear Christianity derided as bad news. Its Crusades were violent, its Inquisitions inhuman, its gender norms oppressive, its truth claims intolerant, its political imagination undemocratic” (Wilson-Hartgrove in Woodward 2010). But of course, we shouldn’t judge Christ by those who do things “in his name” but not according to “his way”. One only needs a casual reading of the narrative of scripture to recognize that the people of God as a whole have continually failed to live lives faithful to God, but this unfaithfulness does not erase the good news of Christ’s faithfulness. And the good news of Christ’s faithfulness and the gift of the Spirit give hope that the people of God can be more faithful to the God of the story.

While some today (Hitchens and Dawkins) are contending for a new enlightenment, many in the west have come to recognize that “even reason and science cannot always be relied upon to resolve disputes and settle truth claims. Rather, reason and science are often merely tools in the hands of deeper and more powerful forces such as economic and class conflicts, ethnic and racial hostilities, and gender divisions” (Brownson in Hunsberger 1996:229). Many in the West have already turned from the enlightenment story to a postmodern one.

Another danger of buying into the story of the enlightenment is that man becomes the measure of all things, and when this happens the non-poor are more likely to play god in the lives of the poor. For as Malcolm Muggeridge has said, “If God is dead, somebody is going to have to take his place.” And that somebody often becomes the development worker. (Myers 1999:89) It seems quite difficult to address some of huge issues of poverty that Jayakumar Christian identifies – “captivity to the god-complexes of the non-poor, deception by the principalities and powers, inadequacy in worldview, and suffering from a married identity” (Christian 1999:73) – without God in the picture.

The point that must be made clear is that everybody is a part of some narrative. Everyone lives in some story. I like the way Walter Brueggemann puts it, “Everybody has a script. People live their lives by a script that is sometimes explicit but often implicit. That script may be one of the great meta-narratives created by Karl Marx or Adam Smith or it may be an unrecognized tribal mantra like, ‘My dad always said …’ The practice of the script evokes a self, yields a sense of purpose and provides security. When one engages in psychotherapy, the therapy often has to do with reexamining the script–or completely scuttling the script in favor of a new one, a process that we call conversion” (Brueggemann 2005).

And while the focus and length of this paper does not permit a full apologetic of why the meta-narrative for any development agency should be the narrative of God as described in the scripture, I am making the contention that the reason we must fully integrate the Christian faith into our approach to development is because the scripture story, properly understood and fully entered into, provides the best hope for transformation for both those who consider themselves Christians, and those who don’t. The story of God calls us to listen to and walk with the poor as well as live in truth wherever it is found. The story of God invites the poor and the non-poor to be empowered by the Holy Spirit so that we both experience transformation and embody a different social ethic by practicing the politics of Jesus. I will contend that the story of God must be fully integrated into our approach to development if we have any hope in seeing “the powers that be” transformed, or the recovery of our true identity and vocation as human beings. Myers when talking about the nature of poverty, he says, “Poverty is a result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings. All four poverty frameworks provide explanations that rest on the idea of relationships that are fragmented, dysfunctional, or oppressive. Chamber’s poverty trap, Friedman’s access to social power, Christian’s framework for disempowerment, and Jayakaran’s lack of opportunities to grow, all have at their foundation relationships that lack shalom, that work against well-being, against life and life abundant.” (Myers 1999:86,87)

And the story of God is all about how to join God in the renewal of all things – our relationship with the Creator of all things, with other people, within ourselves and with all of creation. The story of God calls us to a love that serves, a faith that works and a hope that surprises. This script, the story of God is different from the dominant script of our day, which Brueggemann describes as, “the script of therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism that permeates every dimension of our common life” (Brueggemann 2005:1). The dominant script of today is a failed script. So Brueggemann calls people to relinquish this powerful script through the “steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script… rooted in the Bible” (Brueggemann 2005:2).

So let’s see how the script of scripture allows us to approach development in a more holistic and human(e) way.


One Response to Shalom Makers: Development in the Way of Christ – A More Human(e) Way Part VI

  1. Mike T. says:

    Regarding the statement about Christianity being “bad news” to some and that “we shouldn’t judge Christ by those who do things “in his name” but not according to “his way”. . . . I’m wrestling with what it means that the church so often lifts people to areas of leadership that don’t reflect Christ’s “way” resulting in the proliferation of “bad news.” I get that we can’t judge Christ by the “ways” of some individuals, but when it’s communities and even broad movements in the church that proliferate “bad news” to the world, one can’t help but wonder about the relevancy or nature of the faith as a whole.

Leave a Reply