Avoiding the hole in holism

In his book, Change Across Cultures, Bruce Bradshaw writes: The Church’s outreach in the 19th and 20th centuries resulted in the planting of churches around the world. It was less successful, however, in transforming the societies in which people lived. Poverty, injustice, corruption, violence, and oppression continued unchecked in much of the world, despite the growth of the church.

The Church’s emphasis on church planting grew up in a cultural context. Western cultures had been shaped by modernity, leading the Church to overemphasize individualism. This overemphasis led to the development of a personalised gospel which ignored the significance of social and cultural systems. This overemphasized individualism missed the fact that God is concerned about transforming our relationships with Himself, with each another, and with His creation- not just sign us up for a hassle-free eternity.

The tragedy in Rwanda and Burundi exemplified this flawed tendency toward individualising faith. The church planting work in these two countries had been tremendously “successful” in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet, many of the people in these new churches participated in the ensuing genocide. This lack of transformation in communities has also been seen in places like Pakistan, where churches have been planted but it appears that little viable transformation has occurred in believing communities. Western countries also contain many examples of individual faith not impacting communities. One such example is the incidence of divorce amongst Christians and non-Christians. The rate is sadly similar.

In the 1970s and 1980s holism grew as an alternative model to church planting. Holism inspired people to use their careers and skills to reveal the love of God and help communities develop. Holism as a paradigm for overseas engagement drew from the principles of international development. After World War II western nations opportunities for development work exploded. Yet, a problem developed within the holistic movement. People gradually depended on their work to be their witness. Thus, talking about one’s faith was deemed unnecessary. As a result holism degenerated into Donut Holism (holism without the core). Donut holism expects the kingdom of God to be realised without people encountering the King.

To correct the weaknesses of holism and church planting, wholism (or integral mission) emerged in the late 1990s. Wholism is the ‘whole gospel for the whole person.’ It seeks to avoid putting faith, life, work and ministry in separate categories and it embraces the broadening understanding of what constitutes the church’s mission (empowerment of the poor, advocacy for the marginalised and disadvantaged, stopping human trafficking, etc). Wholism intentionally integrates people’s faith into their lives and into their work. The goal of wholism is to see individuals and families encounter Christ and communities of faith established, while also working intentionally to see these individuals, families, and communities transformed spiritually, socially, economically, and physically.

Interserve is committed to wholism. When we are truly wholistic we will not allow our efforts to be reduced to accomplishing numerically measurable targets. The goal in wholism is to intentionally impact communities so that they are either in the kingdom and living out the kingdom, or moving toward the King and his kingdom in significant ways.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.’

Jesus’ words in Matt 5:16 give no doubt that the disciples of Jesus will do good works. There is also no doubt that these works should be done in such a way that people understand why they are being done – to give praise to God.

Therefore, wholism leaves us with a dual challenge: to be Jesus’ representatives through our actions and be his spokespersons through our words. We are to live and speak in ways that enable others to become disciples who in turn live and speak and ways that enable others to become disciples.

Does this energize you? Do you want to know how to go about this even in the spaces and relationships of your life here in the US? If so, contact us!