The Greatest Social and Cultural Transformation

I’m currently on a trip to my previous city and engaged in multiple days of back-to-back visiting. So I will likely be writing a bit less this week and instead posting a few articles that I have found very influential over the years.

This first one addresses the very relevant question of how missionaries can achieve the greatest social and cultural transformation. Should they make this kind of transformation a direct focus of their work or should they only focus on the “spiritual” work and trust that the transformation will follow in due time? In this article, John Piper comments on the research of J. Dudley Woodberry. Woodberry’s stunning thesis in his project, “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy” is to show that the historic presence of conversionary protestants is the most important variable in whether a society has developed a free and democratic society or not. When these conversionary protestants focused primarily on preaching the gospel and planting churches, significant social change was the consistent result. Piper says,

The implication is that the way to achieve the greatest social and cultural transformation is not to focus on social and cultural transformation, but on the “conversion” of individuals from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. Or to put it another way, missionaries (and pastors and churches) will lose their culturally transforming power if they make cultural transformation their energizing focus.

I live and work in a part of the world where we have many acute social needs. There are a thousand good causes I could devote my time to and if I did this many people would find real and meaningful help. So why do I spend so much time studying language and focusing on sharing the gospel, discipling believers, and ultimately, planting churches? How can I do this work in good conscience when my place of service is full of honor killings, FGM, refugees, genocide-related trauma, domestic violence, unemployment, human trafficking, and dozens of other issues that desperately require reform?

This article and the accompanying research help provide data that accompany the conviction that it is not unfaithful to focus on church planting in such a context. It is in fact the truest path toward true and lasting reform.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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