The World Is Not Ours to SaveWritten by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson Reviewed By Andy Snider
Evangelicals seem to have a great capacity for arguing about activism of various kinds—mercy ministries, social justice efforts, and their place in the life of the church. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson is an anti-nuclear-weapons activist with a specifically kingdom-oriented vision for Christian activism, and this book has much to contribute to the conversation. It is divided into two halves: the first lays the theological groundwork for the activist task, the second develops that vision according to a particular biblical description of God’s kingdom.
The world’s problems are difficult and intractable. Wigg-Stevenson begins with the story of how he was forced to come to grips with the hopelessness of his goal (the global eradication of nuclear weapons). His crisis point provides the title for the book and one of its key insights: the world does not belong to those of us who are trying to right its wrongs. Activists who fail to realize this may be bound for ultimate discouragement: “Christians heaven-bent on saving the world make me fear for the church of ten, twenty, or thirty years from now—when, barring the Lord’s return, the world is profoundly different than it is now but still irretrievably broken, violent and wicked. I wonder what will happen to us in the process” (p. 13). He fears that this “failure” to change the world will result in the retreat from activism into a sealed-off suburban church life, or the reduction of the gospel to a social program in which a person’s eternal salvation plays no significant role.
An example of Wigg-Stevenson’s unique insight and refreshing humility is his discussion of the activist tendency to think in terms of heroes and heroism. Seen this way, activism can take our focus away from “our personal discipleship as followers of Christ” (p. 24) and place it more on being the one who made a difference in the world. But the Christian activist must think of herself first and above all as a follower of the true Hero, the one who has already won the victory over evil and who will one day bring that victory to its final crescendo.
Perhaps the heart of the book’s argument is found in chapter three. Here, Wigg-Stevenson embraces and applies the theological truth that the world’s problems are too big, complex, and systemic for humans to fix. Activists often present their appeals for support as solutions to their particular global problem, but our author admits that universal ills such as poverty, war, and slavery are just that—endemic and systemic in the fallen human race. In other words, we have all created the problem. Consequently, the (Christian) Good Samaritans of the world must realize two principles: “First, the fact that we are collectively culpable for global crises leads to the overestimation of our individual capacity to be a part of a solution”; and second, “our realization that we are collectively responsible for the stewardship of the world can lead to the belief that we can fix its brokenness altogether” (pp. 52–53). Wigg-Stevenson reminds us that the only complete solution to the universal problems we seek to solve through activism is the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ alone.
Our author presses this issue yet further when he discusses the problem of evil—not to “solve” it but to state it and situate it in the everyday thinking of the Christian activist. By telling biblical stories like the annihilation of the Amorites during the Canaanite conquest, Wigg-Stevenson shows that we cannot allow the truth of God’s saving love to negate the horror that we sometimes feel at the outbreaking of his unbending holiness. And we cannot wave aside this horror with the knowledge that God is sovereign over history and can bring his good purposes about even through the evil that men do. The appropriate conclusion is to embrace the tension and fear God while we work to embody his kingdom on his earth.
The remainder of the book is an examination of Micah 4 and the characteristics of the Messiah’s kingdom portrayed there, along with a variety of stories illustrating how Christians have embodied these characteristics, especially under the most trying circumstances imaginable. The goal, again, is not to “save the world” or eradicate its brokenness: “Our job is not to win the victory, but to expose through our lives that the victory has been won on our behalf. And as a result, we will see shoots of God’s kingdom erupt in our midst” (p. 182). While at times his application of Micah’s prophecy may outstrip his exegesis, the strategy as a whole is sound: Christians are citizens of a kingdom that has not yet come in its fullness, yet we must live as faithful citizens of that very realm.
This is a powerful book. The author is an expert storyteller, harnessing the power of narratives—some deeply personal—without being sensational or manipulative. For those who are skeptical of Christian activism for various reasons, Wigg-Stevenson offers an approach that is deeply rooted in a biblical worldview and richly informed by sound theology. He replaces the false dichotomy between activism and evangelism with an approach that incorporates both naturally in an exhortation to embody the kingdom of Jesus Christ now, wherever possible. For the burned-out activist, the author provides encouragement to be energized by the gospel and by a simple embracing of the fact that the victory over evil has already been won. The task of God’s people is simply to inhabit that victory as we inhabit our broken world.
Santa Clarita, California, USA
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