Wednesday 4 December 2013

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson on (Not) Saving the World

An edited version of this review appeared in the November edition of EG, published by LICC.

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good (Downers Grove: IVP, 2013), 222pp., ISBN 9780830836574.

‘We don’t have to be the hero of the story, just the steward of our calling’, writes Tyler Wigg-Stevenson in this timely call for a ‘calibration check’ on what it means to have ‘a faithful commitment to doing good’. Although he has a certain kind of activism in sight, there is persuasive wisdom here for all who want to live out their faith in everyday life.

What makes the discussion particularly powerful is that Wigg-Stevenson writes not as a bystander on the Jericho Road, but as someone who gets his hands dirty. As founder of the Two Futures Project, a movement of Christians for the abolition of nuclear weapons, he can’t be easily accused of not caring about the world. Still, he has some straight challenges to the mindset that engages complex issues like poverty and ecology as if the world is ours to save.

So, part one of the book diagnoses the limits of the activist sensibility in which we paint ourselves as saviours (and there are some insightful pages here on our tendency to read ourselves into the heroes of biblical stories, where we are David defeating Goliath rather than one of the nameless bystanders). In addition is the danger of misdiagnosing the problem of our world, underestimating the brokenness of sin and overestimating our ability to fix things. Then there is the risk of depicting a God who is domesticated to serve our causes, along with being blinded to our own complicity in the pain of the human condition.

Part two – ‘a deeper calling’ – provides an alternative. Wigg-Stevenson offers a rich extended meditation on Micah 4:1-5 with its vision of peace with God, seen in worship, discipleship and evangelism, peace among the nations, involving justice, industry and nonaggression, and peace in community, marked by dignity, prosperity and security. God’s kingdom is a world order which God will bring about rather than which we will build. And it is precisely here that our confidence lies: since it is God’s to bring about, we needn’t worry that the welfare of history ultimately rests on our shoulders, and we can rejoice in the foretastes of the kingdom we see ahead of time. We live in its light, orientated towards the promised new world, where it is not our task to win the victory but to show through our lives that the victory has been won.

So, this is not an exhortation to passivity, still less a retreat from culture. The book concludes by proposing that a faithful and sustainable activism can be seen through the lens of calling. Wigg-Stevenson, who served as a study assistant to John Stott and to whom he dedicates the book, provides a moving tribute here to the man whose ‘apprehension of Christ’s supremacy and singularity led him to model a comprehensive embrace of vocation’. As such, Christian activism is most faithful when it is channeled through our primary calling to follow Jesus in whatever we do.

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