The World Is Not Ours To Save: Finding the Freedom To Do Good [A Review]

I’ve seen it time and time again. Name a daunting social issue, civic predicament, or public plague and I can – more likely than not – give you a story of someone or someones who have decided to take it on. This isn’t inherently a negative thing, but more often than not, the proposed cure for said ill must be of equal magnitude. It isn’t enough to take on something particular and local, to say nothing of the disease in one’s own life; a big problem needs a big answer.

And so we often find in our world of big problems, tactics urging us to make a response towards a big answer. By doing this or that, we are able to declare our assistance in the panacea to myriad of the world’s ailments. The circle of problem and answer seem to revolve around the same wheel chasing each other into oblivion.

You, too, can be a hero. After all, isn’t that what we’re called to? Isn’t being a hero – in some fashion – what justice is about?

Isn’t this world ours to save?

Questions such as these and their ilk are what Tyler Wigg-Stevenson proposes we wrestle with as he pushes us beyond the largeness of both the plagues and recommended solutions of our world.

Objective and Structure

“The question to us is, simply, how can we seek the particular shape of faithfulness in the time and place that God has called us into being and over which God has given us the privilege of stewardship? This book is an attempt to answer that question in two parts.” (p. 20)

So states Tyler Wigg-Stevenson as his objective in this book. From here, he moves us into the remaining two parts. Part One is comprised of the “diagnosis of the potential dangers in the activist sensibility currently on the rise within the church.” He then “critiques four tendencies” he sees all too often in “Christian efforts to save the world” – including within himself. (p. 20-21) These critiques center on an understanding of calling, the problem of our world, our witness of God, and the human condition. He argues that an improper vision and practice of these essentials “make us into bad activists.” (p. 21) With a firm grip on false realities, we enter into our world perfectly positioned for “discouragement, burnout, and cause fatigue.” (p. 21)

Part Two builds upon this with a “constructive alternative” starting where the critique left off. This inverted alternative begins with the human condition and flows backwards into God, the world, and calling. Taking his cue from Micah, Wigg-Stevenson asks us to consider the human condition in light of the peace of God’s kingdom. Continuing with Micah, we are challenged to wonder anew what worship, discipleship, and evangelism have to do with being at peace with God. Furthermore, if peace with God is attainable, how does this beckon us into peace among the nations through justice, industry, and nonaggression? Finally, Part Two, concludes with living in peace in community revolving around dignity, prosperity, and security along with a “new vision for Christian activism.” This activism manifests itself in nine possible modes: priestly, didactic, architectural, judicial, prophetic, pastoral, diplomatic, militant, and sectarian.

Reflections

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and thought it touched on vital issues very much in need of being addressed. Topics such as just war theory, biblical servanthood, and the fear of God are buttressed by personal stories of pain, joy, and discovery. Much of the realms pushed into stem from Wigg-Stevenson’s real life. Growing up within a family seeking a world free of nuclear weapons, later travels to cities devastated by such weapons, and marrying into a family whose history was heavily affected by South African apartheid make one’s imagination capable of writing such a book. His own pursuits are engulfed with “seeking the abolition” of nuclear weaponry, which places him smack dab in the middle of this world-saving action.

For me, however, the emphasis on peace stood out. As he says, for most of us, myself included, we have heard more about grace than peace despite Paul’s conjoining of the two. In many circles, peace is not something to strive towards, whether it be in your neighborhood or with countries across the globe. As he states,

Unfortunately, when Christians disdain peace, it is a clear triumph of cultural religion over biblical fidelity, because peace is at the core of what it means to follow Jesus. (p. 108)

If peace is truly the answer to the human condition, then we must attend to our means of perpetuating it through “extending [it] to saturate every aspect of existence.” (p. 102) He does well to remind us of our orientation to this peace: it must be a present awareness acted out in the everyday while it yet remains a future reality. More than just a spiritualized feeling of some sort, it is an active peace struggled for in the life of disciples of Jesus. “Jesus does not bless the peace-feelers or the peace-talkers, but the peace-doers.” (p. 110)

There are many aspects of this book not mentioned here that make the book worthwhile. If you are one of those wondering about the current models of activism and how to morph, exchange, or break free from them, I suggest this book for you. I pray this is helpful.

Full Disclosure: I received this book for free from InterVarsity Press with the condition I would read it and write a review. I was under no obligation to write an endorsement for the book; nor did I receive any monetary incentives. All words, unless cited with a page number, are my own and are not reflective of the authors or IVP.

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2 thoughts on “The World Is Not Ours To Save: Finding the Freedom To Do Good [A Review]

  1. I really like the quote. It seems undeniable to me that peace is at the core of what it means to follow Jesus and therefore that peacemaking and peace advocacy are inherently part of Christian discipleship. But I agree that it does seem that the Christian focus (in America at least) is far more on grace than peace. Perhaps that is because it is far more common to focus of what God can do for us, rather than what God can do through us.
    Good post.

  2. Pingback: Books of 2013 | Storied Community

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