To Reach or To Change the World?


I heard a sermon recently that called Christians to change the world, to take it over in the power and authority of Jesus. I don't believe this is our calling, responsibility, or the purpose of the Great Commission. In fact, Andy Crouch in his book Culture Making pointed out that "changing the world" talk is relatively new to Christian literature. He and Nate Barksdale searched the Harvard University library system for all books and titles that included the phrases "change the world," "changing the world" or "changed the world." There were 216 results; seventy-five were published after 2000. Another 101 were published in the previous decade. Eighteen were published in the 1980s, four in the 1970s, eight in the 1960s, and four in the 1950s. A total of six were published in the fifty years before that. Crouch delivered the punch line: "Of the 1.5 million titles in the Harvard collections published before 1900, how many included a reference to changing the world? Zero."[1]

There are a number of ways to draw meaning from such studies. I suppose one could conclude that because we think more globally today, global matters are of a greater concern. We know more about hunger, disease, and war around the world, and it is easier to publish our thoughts; everyone can be a writer via social networks available to anyone who cares to comment. The other factor is hubris. Because we know about the world, we are more likely to think we can change it.

The world is harder to change than most religious leaders think. In his excellent work on the Crusades, God's Battalions, sociologist Rodney Stark pointed out how long it took for a conquered nation to thoroughly change its religion. He found that it took an average of two hundred fifty years for a Christian nation to become a 50 percent Muslim nation.[2] This is apparent when one drives through Istanbul, Turkey. It was once the center of the Christian world, but now minarets of Islamic mosques dominate the skyline. The same is true of many other Muslim countries. These countries did not change because of missionary work or proselytizing. They changed because war and conquest forced a new religion and way of life on them, but it took on average more than two centuries for each country to change from an official Muslim country to a genuine Muslim country, where most of the general populace practiced the religion.

The New Testament calls Christians not to military conquest, but to a divine conspiracy of disciples making other disciples. We are told: "And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come."[3] The end that Jesus spoke of is the return of Christ, and it will trigger the kind of actions that will truly change the world into a semi-paradise.[4] In the meantime, Christ's followers are charged to be disciples, to make other disciples, to love one another and love the world—that is all we need to do. The church's calling is to send a transformed people into the living spaces of society and to establish a presence: the presence of Christ in every facet of a community.


[1] Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008), 188.

[27] Rodney Stark, God's Battalions (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009), 32.

[28] Matthew 24:14.

[29] Heaven as described in Revelation 21.

Written by Bill Hull

Taken from The Christian Leader by Bill Hull. Copyright © 2016 by Robert W. Hull. Used by permission of Zondervan.