Different Approaches to Changing a City

About a year ago, I attended a webinar with David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw of Northern Seminary on the different approaches to changing a culture used by different segments of the church. David Fitch essentially defined the two approaches as Enlightenment Evangelical and Post-Enlightenment Anabaptist (or perhaps Neo-Anabaptist). As we enter a local government election year in Indianapolis, I have been revisiting these ideas.

As someone who has made it part of his mission in life (and the mission of the small faith-community I lead) to engage the issue of homelessness in the city, I end up rubbing shoulders with various people in leadership from time to time. I’m also part of a task force of faith-based workers who do outreach among friends experiencing homelessness that are seeking better ways to work together and work with the city. These areas of involvement bring me to places where I’m regularly interacting with other people of faith who are addressing the same issues. As I do, I see these two approaches being lived out in the real world.

In his comparison of the two approaches, Fitch focuses on three P’s: People, Power, and Posture. Though the first is important, the last two define much of the difference in how these two approaches address local political issues in our city. Summing up Fitch’s distinction, the Enlightenment-Evangelical approach tends to focus on using the tools of the culture to seize power in the culture and impose our pre-determined solutions. In contrast, the Post-Enlightenment Anabaptist approach enters into the area of concern (as a team and not individually) and seeks to bring the presence of Jesus with them as they humbly listen and discern how they can best represent Kingdom values in that setting. Change happens more by influence and less by seizing power and coercion.

When I first became involved in the issue of homelessness in Indianapolis, I noticed these two approaches at work. I was trying to figure out my own place. Some people I associated with were definitely operating in the Enlightenment Evangelical approach. As I pondered this, though, I felt a caution in my spirit that I believe came from the Spirit of Jesus. It led me to write a letter to our local paper on the need for humility around this issue. You can find a longer version of the letter in an old post on this blog.

In the years since we have seen progress on many fronts but old attitudes die slowly. This election cycle is bringing them out again. The Spirit of Jesus is telling me again to be faithfully present but to not give in to the tools of power created by our culture. If I continue to do this, I will continue to see proactive change. If I abandon that tactic to take up the political sword, I run the risk of having the things we have accomplished “die by the sword” (to paraphrase Jesus).






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