Must the Sun Set on the West?
I wish I had come up with this clever title. I owe it to Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi, a scholar of Indian descent. The title comes from a series of lectures based on his book The Book That Made Your World in which he helps the reader understand the root cause of the West’s decline and what must be done to reverse it. He and other Christian leaders are sounding the proverbial alarm. The decline of Christianity continues to be a popular topic in Evangelical circles today. For example, the latest Barna studies report that only 4% of Gen-Zers (those born after 1996) have a Biblical worldview.1 In the same study, James Emery White, professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary concludes that we are for the first time truly post-Christian.
Many popular Christian apologists and evangelists try to avoid being labeled alarmist in their views by insinuating a doom and gloom picture of the state of Christianity. But it is challenging when the church is confused in that we don’t know whether to jump on the bandwagon (hopeless) or circle it (apologetics and evangelism). The prevailing culture seems to support neither. Ligonier ministries conducts an annual study to measure Evangelical’s responses to doctrinal questions. Last year, one of the statements was “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam” to which 51% of Evangelicals agree.2 This is just one example to show the widening gap between the church’s educational efforts and the outcomes it purports to achieve.
There are several popular ways to stem the retreat to into secularism. Some Christian leaders such as Greg Laurie promote their Harvest Crusades in the pulpit and radio. Others like Ravi Zacharias promote apologetics as solutions. The efficacy of these activities will obviously depend on the working of the Holy Spirit to transform lives as any activity involving changed hearts is concerned. However, there might be another way to go about this. A way that is less obtrusive, given the current sensibilities of our culture; perhaps it is through capitalism. Capitalism, not so much the kind imbued with partisan politics that triggers protest from a new generation. Nor the kind that elicits debate about what form of economic model that works. I am advocating the resetting of capitalism in a Weberian sense.
The message of the good news remain unchanged in this strategy. We are only using capitalism as a social carrier. Imagine today, entire neighborhoods, city blocks being restored, elevating human dignity whenever and wherever prosperity extends its reaches. A Weberian understanding of capitalism uncovers the second highest value (second greatest commandment) of all — brotherly love.3 Love may not be a prime motivator for businesses. However, it is operationally, if not intentionally, altruistic.4 Pastor and theologian Chris Brooks recognizes this point. He sees Detroit, (once the most innovative city on earth turned poorest city in the U.S. within a generation) as a mission field to promote capitalistic entrepreneurship to combat proverty. He said:
“We can see poverty change by unleashing the entrepreneurial, enterprising spirit that God has placed within each and every person within our community. When we begin to see them not just as mouths that consume, but minds that create, God restores flourishing”5
In this short blog, my modest hope was just to introduce others to the the rich foundation upon which capitalism was founded. Sure, there are abuses but that does not mean it should be thrown out, baby, bathwater, and all.
1Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the next Generation (Ventura, CA: Barna Group, 2018), 26.
2The State of Theology, , accessed February 14, 2019, https://thestateoftheology.com/.
3Max Weber and Stephen Kalberg, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 63.
4Dinesh DSouza, Whats so Great about Christianity (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008), 62.
5Joseph Sunde and Joseph Sunde, Loving Cities Well: Chris Brooks on the Church’s Role in Economic Restoration, Acton Institute PowerBlog, April 26, 2018, , accessed February 14, 2019, https://blog.acton.org/archives/101358-loving-cities-well-chris-brooks-on-the-churchs-role-in-economic-restoration.html.
10 responses to “Must the Sun Set on the West?”
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Edward, thank you for highlighting the current state of the church in the west. It should be a big concern for all of us. I believe we should pray for a revival in the church to reignite the spirit of capitalism but driven by a desire to honor God.
Amen to that brother. If we commit to being faithful to our calling as the early ascetic Puritans were but only in our modern context, at the same time embracing the kind of capitalism Weber discovered resulting from the Reformation, perhaps we can start Reformation version 2.
Harry, As always great scholarship coupled with great passion. You state, “I am advocating the resetting of capitalism in a Weberian sense.” How does your own research relate to this? Thanks again for your thoughts and perspectives.
Great question Harry. I think Vincent Miller, the next author we’ll be reading has some interesting things to say about how culture shapes our behavior. In the same way, if we engage in capitalistic activities with a heart for creating jobs, helping others find their calling, etc. we will help usher in a culture of human flourishing.
There is a self-correcting agency built into capitalism. For example, if an employer is unfair to an employee and treats him or her unjustly. That employee has the freedom to quit and work for another organization. Soon, the unjust employer will realize sooner rather than later that no one wants to work for the company and will have to change or face bankruptcy.
It’s the same issue with the debate over minimum wage. There’s a self-correcting agency built into the system. The boss who fails to pay fair wages will soon discover that it is difficult to keep employees because they will seek jobs with higher wages. This creates good competition for good employees. The end result ultimately is a recipe for human flourishing.
Anyway, just some random thoughts on this topic. Hope it’s not too off-base. 🙂
Harry, that is interesting that you mentioned Detroit, my hometown. I agree that capitalism can be great but only if there is equity. If everyone is given the same opportunity to succeed, then I am all for it. But when power is kept in the hands of a few, therein lies the problem. We will continue to see what becomes of Detroit.
I have a lot of hope for Detroit. Imagine this, and hopefully this is not a pie-in-the-sky, by and by kind of a thing. I know there are areas in Detroit where you can buy a home for less than $1K. Now imagine a congregation of a small church in the suburbs commit to moving to that area buying homes next to each other so they form communities of believers who will live and work there.
It’ll be rough at first but they each commit to supporting and protecting each other in the neighborhood. I imagine safety would be a concern but they can form neighborhood watches, community programs to clean up the area, after school programs and tutoring, etc. You get the idea. This is not too far fetched but it requires the church to do such a thing. I strongly believe this is the church’s no. 1 priority there. I mentioned Chris Brooks and he’s a pastor who gets it and he’s involved in these kinds of things in Detroit. There’s a ministry opportunity there — that’s for sure.
I really appreciate your perspective Harry. Have you seen Barna’s latest survey on evangelism? I’ll paste it here -According to new research by Barna, almost half (47%) of Christian Millennials believe it’s wrong to share one’s faith with others.
Thought of you and this post.
And I love your thought about desperate communities being transformed for Christ and realizing their dignity through the vehicle of economy.
Hi Andrea. Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I thought I saw something like that. I’m convinced Millennials have been successfully socialized into the notion that all religious talk only results in fights, confusion, intolerance and division. Christians are definitely not innocent in this because we let this happen on our watch. We share in the responsibility for this mess.
But our hope is in our Lord. As soon as the church takes seriously the prayer “…thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….” I will be among those who experience “…What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— (1 Cor. 2:9)
Hi Harry. Powerful post, my friend. I appreciate your reflection upon advocating the resetting of capitalism in a Weberian sense and using capitalism as a social carrier toward brotherly love. I believe love is the answer for all of the world’s problems and if people could only look through the eyes of love as they live life on this earth, I could only imagine how much different this world would be. Thanks for sharing, Harry!
I agree Nancy, in the words of Paul McCartney, “…all you need is love…” Our challenge as believers is not so much to understand the nuances of the second greatest commandment, because it’s quite simple, but to demonstrate it widely and liberally.
We Christians are good at writing books, organizing conferences, spend all sorts of resources on the subject of love and fail to actually love. Yes, just like you I imagine a neighborhood committed not to act until they’ve asked the question “What would Jesus do?” But not in the modern faddish sense which ushered the trinketry of WWJD bracelets. Instead to take on the challenge of testing whether or not Christian principles actually do foster human flourishing, just like the characters in Charles Sheldon’s classic book “In His Steps” did more than a hundred years ago.