Tyler Wigg-Stevenson: Is It Our Job to Save the World?

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson: “I think that the fact that we can’t fix everything is only a problem if you think that we ought to fix everything.”

Interview by Jessica Hanewinckel

 

I think it’s safe to say that Christians have always been concerned about poverty. This is certainly nothing new. But with this new generation, there would be little question that symptom-only relief, like a food bank or a clothes closet, would be a complete manifestation of Christian love for those who are impoverished. Those coming up now have totally internalized a commitment to addressing systemic problems and have gotten very creative in how they tackle those things.

I wrote The World Is Not Ours to Save because I saw spiritual pitfalls facing this generation. On a practical level I was encountering a rising cause fatigue, cynicism and issue burnout. Built into this “We can change the world” mentality is making that the focus of what it means to be a good Christian. That’s what I hear when I go to churches: “To be a good Christian you should change the world.”

That’s dangerous spiritually, because it puts us at the center of the story. It misdiagnoses the problems of the world and overestimates the difference we can make. It domesticates God to the causes we want to support and fundamentally it gets the nature of the human condition wrong, so that it underestimates the degree to which we are the problems we’re trying to solve.

The motivation behind a lot of the activism I see is the idea that if we really do this right, we can create a world that is essentially without problems for the next generation, and that seems, to me, to be totally misguided.

In my reading of Scripture, the salvation of the world was enacted at the cross and is now being carried out by God, but that will not be complete until the end, whenever that may be. The church is absolutely vital to the ongoing salvation of the world, which is being enacted right now. It’s just not going to be finished. We’re not going to be able to tie it up with a bow and then move on.

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This is where the church has to be very careful about the sort of thinking it’s adopting. The Christian notion of being in the world is a sight more humble and realistic about our place—that we’re given life, and then it gets taken away. And the world doesn’t belong to us completely to shape.

The fact that we can’t fix everything is only a problem if we think we ought to fix everything. But we do things all the time where we’re not going to fix them, but we live and love. I mean, what family is not fundamentally screwed up? Yet most of us don’t walk away from our families just because we can’t fix them in the end. That’s not the way families work.

By the same token, that’s how Christians engage in the world. We don’t give up on it, because we love it, not for all the ways in which it’s wicked, but because it’s us, it’s the people we love and it’s the creation we love, and so we’re there with it. Our motivation shouldn’t be to get in there to fix the world, but to serve and love. And that changes everything.