Darrow Miller and Friends

Wholism: A Powerful, Biblical Idea

The 15th century European reformers had a motto that reminded them, in a very practical way, of God’s comprehensive concern for all areas of life and all spheres of society. The phrase was “coram Deo” which means “before the face of God.” All of life is to be lived before the face of God and to his glory. There is no higher, no lower—no sacred, no secular. God is Lord of all. Today a new word is proving useful in directing Christians back this same comprehensive, undivided mindset—the word “wholism.” While the word is relatively new, the idea behind it is not. It is as old as the universe itself. Wholism derives from the root word “whole” and is used to describe whole systems made up of multiple, interacting parts that function together. Think of your life as an example. There are different “parts” that include your family life, your career, your private life and your public life. A divided mindset will split these parts into sacred and secular categories. A wholistic mindset will seek to glorify God in all areas of life recognizing that God is concerned for the whole of life (1 Cor. 10:31).

Think of Christian ministry. Some ministries focus on evangelism, others on discipleship, and still others on providing care for the poor and needy, and so on. A divided mindset will separate these activities into higher and lower (or more important, and less important) categories. A wholistic mindset sees them as equally essential parts to the total ministry of advancing God’s Kingdom. Jesus showed us by example how to practice such a ministry. In Matthew 4:23, we read that “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” What are the “parts” of Christ’s ministry? Which of these parts was most important? For Jesus, such a question wouldn’t make sense. They were equally important and essential for his whole kingdom-advancing ministry.

The concept of wholism is both liberating and challenging. It holds the power to free us from a debilitating mental dualism. It provides a fresh, faith-expanding perspective—one that leads to a newfound freedom to enjoy embodied human life in all its wonder. It opens the door for us to take new interest and delight in God’s magnificent creation. It liberates us to explore vocational alternatives outside of “full time Christian service” and still know that we are both serving and glorifying God. (For more on this, I recommend LifeWork: A Biblical Theology or What you Do Every Day and the resources available at MondayChurch.org). As whole churches gain this new perspective, they escape from the Christian ghetto as Christians infiltrate the culture, taking with them the power of God’s Word lived out in human flesh. Wholism can lead to social and cultural transformation.

Yet it is challenging because it shows us that our faith must impact our entire lives.  When we truly grasp wholism, we realize we can no longer withhold certain segments of our life from God. Jesus wants our whole lives—every part—to glorify him. He wants us to join him in advancing his Kingdom in all areas of culture and all spheres of society. For those who have been trapped within a divided mindset, this can appear to be a fearful and radical step. Yet he promises that when we join with him, our burden will be easy and our yoke will be light. The responsibility of advancing the Kingdom belongs to God, yet he gives us the privilege of joining with him. When we do, he supplies the strength we need to do things we could never do on our own.

– Scott Allen

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Scott Allen serves as president of the DNA secretariat office. After serving with Food for the Hungry for 19 years in both the United States and Japan, working in the areas of human resources, staff training and program management, he teamed up with Darrow Miller and Bob Moffitt to launch the DNA in 2008. Scott is the author of Beyond the Sacred-Secular Divide: A Call to Wholistic Life and Ministry and co-author of several books including, As the Family Goes, So Goes the Nation: Principles and Practices for Building Healthy Families. His most recent book is Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice. Scott lives with his wife, Kim, in Bend, OR. They have five children.