How We Can Be Salt & Light
The next few posts are pieces of a longer article transcribed from John Stott (1921-2011). They are meant to be read as part of a whole, so please read it in the order it is intended [mentioned in the title].
Alienation was originally a Marxist word, and Karl Marx meant by it the alienation of the worker from the product of his labors. When what he produces is sold by the factory owner, he is alienated from the fruits of his work. But nowadays the word alienation has a much broader meaning of powerlessness. Whenever you feel politically or economically powerless, you are feeling alienated.
Jimmy Reid, the well-known Marxist counselor in Glasgow and leader of the Clydeside Ship Workers, when he was rector of Glasgow University, said, “Alienation is the cry of men who feel themselves to be the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. Alienation is the frustration of ordinary people who are excluded from the processes of decision-making.” Have we any influence? Have we any power? That’s the question.
The word influence can sometimes be used for a self-centered thirst for power, like in Dale Carnegie’s famous book How to Make Friends and Influence People. But it can also be used in an unselfish way of the desire of Christians who refuse to acquiesce to the status quo, who are determined to see things changed in society and long to have some influence for Jesus Christ. Are we powerless? Is the quest for social change hopeless before we begin? Or can Christians exert some influence for Jesus Christ?
There is a great deal of pessimism around today that grips and even paralyzes people. They wring their hands in a holy kind of dismay. Society is rotten to the core, they say. Everything is hopeless; there is no hope but the return of Jesus Christ. As Edward Norman, dean of Peter-house in Cambridge, once said in a radio interview, “People are rubbish.”
People are not rubbish. People are made in the image of God. Indeed they are fallen, but the image of God has not been destroyed. Are they capable of doing no good?
But people are not rubbish. People are men and women made in the image of God. Indeed they are fallen, but the image of God has not been destroyed. Are they capable of doing no good? The doctrine of total depravity, which means that every part of our human being has been tainted by the Fall, does not mean that we’re incapable of doing any good. Jesus himself said that although you are evil, you are able to do good things and give good gifts to your children. Now, of course we believe in the Fall. We believe that when Christ comes again he is going to put things right. If you develop a Christian mind, you don’t concentrate exclusively on the fall of man and the return of Christ. You also think about the creation and about the redemption through Jesus Christ. And we have to allow the creation to be, as it were, qualified by the Fall, and the Fall by the Redemption, and the Redemption by the Consummation. And the Christian mind thinks in terms of this total purpose of God, which includes the Creation, the Fall, the Redemption, and the Consummation.
If we are pessimists and think we are capable of doing nothing in human society today, I venture to say that we are theologically extremely unbalanced, if not actually heretical and harmful. It’s ludicrous to say Christians can have no influence in society. It’s biblically and historically mistaken. Christianity has had an enormous influence on society down through its long and checkered history. Look at this conclusion of Kenneth Latourette in his seven-volume work on the history of the expansion of Christianity:
No life ever lived on this planet has been so influential in the affairs of men like the life of Jesus Christ. From that brief life and its apparent frustration has flowed a more powerful force for the triumphant waging of man’s long battle than any other ever known by the human race. By it millions have been lifted from illiteracy and ignorance and have been placed upon the road of growing intellectual freedom and control over the physical environment. It has done more to allay the physical ills of disease and famine than any other impulse known to man. It’s emancipated millions from chattel slavery and millions of others from addiction to vice. It has protected tens of millions in exploitation by their fellows. It’s been the most fruitful source of movement to lessen the horrors of war and to put the relations of men and nations on the basis of justice and of peace.