Since World War II Americans have held out the hope that democratic government might take hold in developing countries around the world. The federal government has invested billions in aid, millions of man hours, and multiplied thousands of American lives in an effort to help nations emerge from the darkness of tyranny or tribalism and embrace the hope of democracy.
And time and time again we have seen those hopes, if not dashed, at least, put on a kind of indefinite hold. In Southeast Asia, parts of Latin America, and in many nations in Africa the jury is still out on whether or not democracy can take root in soils long cultivated by tribalism or tyranny. The “Arab spring” infused a new surge of hope for democratic flourishing in Islamic lands, but, again, observers are holding their breath.
What we don’t seem to understand is that democracy only comes to fruition when it is sown into a particular kind of social and cultural soil. Absent conditions – spiritual, historical, cultural, and moral – favorable to the growth of democracy, it shrivels, withers, and, ultimately, fails to thrive. The American democratic experience grew from the soil of English democracy, and both those soils were heavily fertilized by the values and ideals of a Christian worldview. Where those conditions have not been present, democracy has too often appeared like a failed transplant, rejected and discarded by an inhospitable culture.
Does this mean we should give up seeking to bring democracy to the rest of the world? Not at all. It is simply to suggest that democracy, apart from the kind of conditions that enable it to flourish, will have a rough go of it anywhere. Which makes it all the more urgent that Christians work to promote the progress of the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Christian worldview as widely as possible.
The Christian worldview does not erase existing cultures. As Christian apologists argued at the end of the second century, and as Celtic Christians demonstrated for nearly half a millennium, whatever is good in pagan cultures will come to full fruition and beauty under the influence of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Now is not a time to for churches to be cutting back on their efforts to take the Gospel to the world. Further, now is precisely the time for churches to take up the challenge of living and teaching the Christian worldview with greater consistency and scope.
The democratizing of the world is not the objective of the Kingdom of God. God is able to work through many different forms of government to accomplish His good and perfect plan. But whatever polity is grounded in and shaped by the Christian worldview will promote a culture and society of law, freedom, and shalom, for these are the calling cards of God’s Spirit and the fruit of His cultivation amid the peoples of the world.
Resources for this topic
Doug Bandow, “Biblical Foundations of Limited Government”
Jennifer S. Bryson, “Promote Democracy: Start at Home, but Don’t Stop at Home”
Charles Colson, “Degraded Democracy”
Charles Colson, “Democracy in Egypt”
Charles Colson, “Pushing the (Moral) Limits”
Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Are There Christian Foundations for Political Liberty” (Lecture)
Labib Zuwiyya-Yamak, “Liberty, Equality, and Democracy”
Ethics is an important consideration when it comes to democracy and all forms of government. Unless we understand the different kinds of ethical systems, and know how to choose the right one, we may steer even an established democracy, such as The United States, onto the shoals of shipwreck. Order your copy of our new DVD series, Doing the Right Thing. Here’s a resource you can share even with your non-Christian friends, to help them think about the ethical crisis which has settled on our nation, and what we can do about it.
- Does your church teach the Christian worldview? Does it support the work of missions? Do these two come together in the teaching and ministry of your church? See what you can find out. Talk to some of your church leaders. Ask them these questions. Ask if you can send them a link to this installment of the Talking Points column, and urge them to check out some of the resources and see how your church might become more effective in promoting the Gospel of the Kingdom worldwide.
- Show this week’s "Two-minute Warning" to your pastor. Is this something he should address in his preaching and teaching? Should Christians in our country be concerned about growing Islamic political power in the Middle East?
- Email today’s Talking Points column to several Christian friends. Challenge them to read some of the resources, watch the "Two-Minute Warning," and take on one of the activities.
A conversation starter
Here’s a conversation starter you should try with several of your Christian friends: “It seems like the status of democracy in the Middle East is a bit shaky. Have we done as much as we can to lay a proper foundation for democratic government in nations previously ruled either by tyranny or tribalism?”