Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Choose Facts Over Fear

Written by: on April 28, 2022

An actual conversation I overheard last week: “Did you hear? There was another shooting.” “Yes, I did. We shouldn’t be surprised, though. Jesus said it would get worse and worse before the end.” “We are seeing that playing out right now. Maybe Jesus will return very soon.” “I sure hope so; it’s getting really dark.” I do not know Jesus’ timetable for return, but I did learn a lot this week about a world that is getting better, not worse.

Mark Twain gets credited with the line, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” The perception of the direction of our world, the world over, views things as bad and trending worse. So says Hans Rosling, a physician and an educator in Factfulness co-authored with his son and daughter-in-law. His definition of factfulness is “the stress-reducing habit of carrying only the opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.” Those opinions can inform issues like natural disasters, famine, lack of access to clean water, overpopulation, crime, terrorism, income inequality, and access to education. These are many of the issues perceived to be dire and deteriorating.

The belief in a  worsening world belongs to many cultures and continents. That phenomenon intrigued Dr. Rosling and led him to make his later life’s work the teaching of conclusions “based on years of trying to teach a fact-based worldview.”[1] Worldview proves to be a crucial term in this work. “People constantly and intuitively refer to their worldview when thinking, guessing, or learning about the world. So if your worldview is wrong, then you will systematically make wrong guesses.”[2] His language about the process of thinking and guessing sounded similar to Daniel Kahneman and heuristics. “Our brains often jump to swift conclusions without much thinking, which used to help us to avoid immediate dangers.”[3] Rosling states his premise in his Introduction as a goal “to change people’s ways of thinking, calm their irrational fears, and redirect their energies into constructive activities.”[4]

Extensive research accompanies Rosling’s claim that many circumstances exist in a more positive state than often perceived. He also writes with a sarcastic wit not often found in serious psychology studies. For example, he seems to take joy in noting that humans score worse than chimpanzees on the questions about the state of affairs in the world! Rosling unmasks certain “mega misconceptions,” especially the belief that “we have to divide all kinds of things into two distinct and often conflicting groups, with an imagined gap – huge chasm of injustice – in between. It is about how the gap instinct creates a picture in people’s heads of a world split into two kinds of countries or two kinds of people: rich versus poor.”[5] The author demonstrates that perception holding over from the middle of the last century, and in the time since then, the world has gotten better, not stayed static or gotten worse. He proceeds to divide people into one of four economic categories. The vast majority of people live in the two middle categories.[6]

The bulk of the book examines ten instincts that lead to false perceptions about the reality of the world’s condition. I took special note of the chapter titled “The Fear Instinct” because anxiety inflicts numerous challenges to leadership, according to Milton Friedman. Much of the chapter notes the propensity of the media to report fear-inducing reports. Fear gets ratings, views, and clicks. Fear also clouds people’s thinking. “Critical thinking is always difficult, but it’s almost impossible when we are scared. There’s no room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear.”[7] The media serves as an obvious target for anxiety-producing actions in ways similar to those noted by Tom and David Chivers in How to Read Numbers. My thoughts moved toward a ministry direction, and  I wondered, “In what ways do pastors induce fear to fuel certain results?” Presenting the state of the world consistently as negative may cause people to attend in person or virtually for the same reasons one might regularly tune into the news that shares the negative events of the day.

During this semester, one major takeaway for me pertains to the interplay between theology and practice. Bebbington, Weber, Miller, and Clark note how spiritual desires like assurance, providence, and purpose manifest in particular behaviors meant to flesh out beliefs. I have wondered why in the past, followers of Jesus engaged faith in practical ways versus a movement by some today toward far-right politics and waging a culture war with predictions of doom if “they” win. In this cultural moment, the church is better led by confidence in God’s sovereignty and practical expressions of faith that demonstrate His need-meeting values. Jesus made clear the irrefutable witness to the world, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV) May the church not exchange Jesus direction for an empty idol born out of fear.

[1] Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, and Anna Rosling Ronnlund, Factufulness (New York: Flatirons Books, 2018), 13.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 15.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 21.

[6] Ibid., 33.

[7] Ibid., 103.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

6 responses to “Choose Facts Over Fear”

  1. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hi Roy…thank you for this excellent summary of Rosling’s book, your engagement of Rosling with several other authors we’ve read, and for your exploration of the fear instinct. I found very valuable the take-away you shared out of Bebbington et.al.’s readings over the course of the semester connected to this fear instinct. What have you found most helpful, at a practical level, to invite church members to step away from fear and deeper into practicing love toward one another, neighbor, and stranger?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Elmarie, we have worked hard to establish a culture of service in the church. That effort has resulted in positive experiences for people as they engage people inside and outside of the church. We have repeatedly stated that “we engage the community with compassion” which we define as “showing God’s love in practical ways.” People want to be a part of doing something that helps others, even in small ways. We are also big believers in small groups as a way to serve and connect with others in ways beyond the surface level. Those kinds of relationships have proved to be powerful environments of spiritual growth and positive input to building a communal faith.

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Hi Roy: In regards to being known by our love, I’ve been wrestling with what this really looks like in our day. I’m interested to know your take on how you would encourage your congregation towards love even if it looks ‘unloving’ to the world? Love can sometimes be confrontational and in an age when I think many make love synonymous with agreement, this can be tricky. Jesus turned over the tables for his love of what was pure and holy, but to others that may not have appeared ‘loving’ in a sense.

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Kayli, you ask such a good (and hard) question! There is certainly a tension of loving people and not affirming certain behaviors. I believe every parent of every teenager ever, knows that you can love someone to the point of offering your life for them and, at the same time, not agreeing with their decisions. I believe there is a difference between acceptance and affirmation. Everyone is welcome (accepted). We will only affirm what we believe the Bible affirms. I realize that there are different understandings of what the Bible affirms and that, in my opinion, calls for a sound study and interpretation. I am a self-professed “biblicist” in Bebbington’s terms. It’s interesting to me that most of Jesus’ strongest words were directed toward self-righteous religious people (mostly the Pharisees). To those far from God, Jesus modeled the description given in John’s gospel – He was “full of grace and truth.” May we seek to live and speak with that balance.

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Roy: Great post. I like the connections you make with Weber, Bebbington, Miller, Clark. Now that we are at the end of the semester, I can see the arc of learning Dr. Clark put together in choosing these books. So good; I’m so glad I decided to enter this program. I’m also so glad Dr. Clark decided to end the semester with this book; so optimistic and hopeful. Have a great summer. I have a few 5k’s and 10k’s planned for the summer…

  4. mm Roy Gruber says:

    I agree with each point you make, Troy. If anything, it has been a lot to take in and process. This book is one to reread at some point. Run fast and enjoy!

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