Public Humility: Thinking About the World

Public Humility: Thinking about the World

Crusaders going east were terrified by what the Arabs called Al-jibra; sorcery! Actually it was algebra – which is now a foundational part of our mathematics.

The movie Braveheart – William Wallace. Was he a hero (freedom fighter) or a terrorist? Depends whether you are English or Scottish. Same with the 1857 “Indian Mutiny.” The Indians call it “the first Indian war of independence.”

Iran says to America “you are enslaved to your wealth, your power, your idols – we are free.” America says to Iran, “we have freedom of speech and women who wear miniskirts – we are free (and you are not).”

Our history puts us at the centre and everyone else is periphery.

If you are a white, western, educated, democratic, male you think you are the hero. To most people in the world, you are the villain. You think you are where history is going, to everyone else you are a historical anomaly.

A) Power-sensitivity

B) On Memory

Postcolonialism is the world’s strongest form of memory,” Fritz Kling

That’s history: in the US means not important. In the majority world means “that’s who we are!”

The postcolonial world slopes from West to East. It is not a level playing field. The on-going values-dump from the West, combined with “English linguistic imperialism” and a past of oppression and stifling control shapes the worldview and sense of identity of many millions on the planet. 

C) You are not a “normal” Christian. Neither is your Christianity normative.

Timothy Tennent, “We must expand our ecclesiastical cartography… The Western Church has not yet fully absorbed how the dramatic shifts in global Christianity are influencing what constitutes normative Christianity.”

D) The relationship between the church and culture is seasonal:

  1. Winter describes a church that is not only in a hostile relationship to a pre-Christian culture but is gaining little traction; is seeing little distinctive, vital Christian life and community; and is seeing no evangelistic fruit. In many cultures today, the church is embattled and spiritually weak. 
  2. Spring is a situation in which the church is embattled, even persecuted by a pre-Christian culture, but it is growing (e.g., as in China).
  3. Summer is what Niebuhr described as an “allied church,” where the church is highly regarded by the public and where we find so many Christians in the centres of cultural production that Christians feel at home in the culture. 
  4. Autumn is where we find ourselves in the West today, becoming increasingly marginalized in a post-Christian culture and looking for new ways to both strengthen our distinctiveness and reach out winsomely

Implications: church looks different, witness looks different, success looks different, different bits of the Bible become important, even eschatology looks different.

Conclusion: Many in unreached nations resent the West’s power. The church must work hard to show that it is not western. Western gospel agents must work hard to show themselves extra humble. Western models of mission are often predicated on money, whilst majority world diaspora mission is free from this.

Harvey Kwiyani talks about a school in Malawi who demolish a building every few years so that when short-term mission teams come from Europe they have something to do!

Public humility means being power-sensitive, historically informed, and prepared to embrace totally different views of history, politics and the world, told from totally different perspectives.