The West, as a whole, has developed beyond the rest of the world and in fact has blessed many in other parts of the globe. Notwithstanding its postmodern critics, including professors who love to censure Western civilization, the history of the West has something to teach the rest.
While there are always exceptions in our sin-cursed world, biblical theism, rightly applied in the realm of economics, generally leads to human flourishing and bounty. This is why the West, with its Judeo-Christian roots, generally is wealthier than the rest of the world.
Animism, by contrast, produces material poverty. I know of not a single animist society where many of the people are wealthy. Secularism—the new faith of the West —can lead to physical opulence, but produces a profound moral and spiritual poverty.
The Bible teaches that the true purpose for human life is to worship and serve God. When we do, bounty is the happy byproduct.
It starts with a culture’s view of creation
Most secularists in the West, even in today’s post-Christian climate, are familiar with the creation account in Genesis. They may deny a Creator, but often speak of a “big bang creation.” But not all cosmologies begin with a Creator.
Daniel Boorstin writes, “For the Hindu the creation was not a bringing into being of the wonder of the world. Rather it was a dismemberment, a disintegration of the original One-ness ….’”[I]
The heart of Buddhism, with its roots deeply lodged in Hinduism, is suffering and death. The Buddhist’s goal is not to combat suffering but to escape death and suffering and the world.
By contrast, biblical theism, parent of the West, begins with the Creator, one who remains actively involved in all he has made.
God began history by planting a garden (Gen. 2:8) and will end it by completing a city (Rev. 21:2, 9–27). God told man to “work” the garden and “take care of it” (Gen. 2:15). He made the human his representative.
Humans are stewards of God’s creation
In a parable, Jesus pictures God as a master who gives his servants money and tells them to put it to work until he returns. God has entrusted the earth to people to do his will. We will be held accountable for our stewardship (Luke 19:12–15). God’s mandate for people to develop his creation is found in the first chapter of Genesis.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen. 1:26–28)
After creating people, God blessed them so that they could develop the earth. That mandate appears in God’s covenant with Abram to be a blessing to all the nations (Gen. 12:1–3), which closely parallels Christ’s Great Commission to the church to make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:18–20). The creation mandate (Gen. 1:26–28) and the Great Commission are both cultural commissions. The former creates culture, the latter disciples culture.
Starting in the garden, we are called to contribute to the building of the City of God. God gave us minds which enable us to move ahead, leap over barriers, devise new methods, solve problems. We have a task to perform, a purpose to fulfill.
Humans are sub-creators made in God’s image
Our imago Dei nature allows us to move beyond physical reality. We can dream of a better world and make it happen. Where there is darkness, we can create a light bulb; where there is desert, we can drill a well.
- Where mountains are barren, we can plant a forest;
- Where people are forgotten, we can set them free through the power of the gospel;
- Where people are ignorant, we can build schools and libraries;
- Where people are sick, we can develop a cure;
- Where there is silence, we can hear the music and play it.
Science is one way we think God’s thoughts after him. We use our God-given reason and analytical ability to penetrate creation’s secrets.
Technology is the moral application of science to benefit humanity and creation to the glory of God. The problem with technology today is that it has been separated from morals. We often become slaves of technology.
Technology applied to moral ends, however, benefits the human race in many ways. Medicine, energy sources, agricultural advances, and the information revolution have all improved not just the quality of life but also its quantity.
During most of human history, oil was a nuisance—a mess to be scrubbed from your feet if you were careless enough to step in it. Then someone had the bright idea of burning it to provide energy and suddenly oil was a resource. Dark streets could be lit, homes heated, cars driven. The oil hadn’t changed. But someone’s ingenuity had made this formerly worthless substance into something we call “black gold.”
A single grain of sand has no value. But transform it into a silicon chip, impregnate that chip with data, put it in a computer, and now it’s very valuable. Intel is valued at $225 billion, built on grains of sand.
Jesus sends humans to take risks for the kingdom
David C. McClelland of Harvard was interested in why some countries grew rapidly and others did not. He focused not on external factors, such as trade and resources, but on internal ones—“in the values and motives men have that lead them to exploit opportunities, to take advantage of favorable trade conditions; in short, to shape their own destiny.”[ii] McClelland called this attitude “the need for achievement.”
Jesus appealed to this dimension of the human psyche. He repeatedly encouraged his followers to take risks for the kingdom, since they had the ultimate insurance policy: God himself. “With God all things are possible!” (Matt. 19:26). “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move” (Matt. 17:20). “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). “Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:20).
Robert Fulghum described Mother Teresa of Calcutta as “a little old lady in sari and sandals.” Yet she gave us a model of someone who is willing to give all she has in the service of God. At a conference of quantum physicists and religious mystics in Bombay, Mother Teresa once said, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”
Are we ready to risk all for Christ and his kingdom?
- Darrow Miller
This DM&F Classic blog post is excerpted from the book Discipling Nations. For the entire text go here.
[i] Daniel J. Boorstin, The Creators (New York: Random House, 1992), 18.
[ii] David C. McClelland, “The Achievement Motive in Economic Growth,” in Industrialization and Society, ed. Bert Hoselitz and Wilbert E. Moore (Geneva: Moutouni UNESCO, 1970), 74.