Tuesday, June 10, 2008

the myth of progress

N.T. Wright raises an interesting point about the "myth of progress" in his new book Surprised By Hope. He describes the "myth of progress" as the pressing theme in the Western world growing out of the liberal modernism of the 19th century.

The "myth of progress" is the idea that on our own, humanity can press toward the future and achieve a kind of civil utopia. If only we enact the right laws, establish the right programs and move together in the right direction, then our societies will all move toward a perfect world. This was the driving motivation behind both the rise of Democracy and the rise of Communism. It was this humanistic myth of progress that gave Karl Marx his foundation for Marxist revolution.

The problem with this myth is that it has no answer for evil in the world. In light of all the apparent "progress" that has happened in the world, an equal amount of evil has grown along with it. Technology has had great advances but nuclear weapons have been created. Wars have been fought and won but peace is still elusive. The church has spread around the world but the church has also committed some horrible atrocities throughout history. Diseases have been cured but AIDS is the new epidemic of our time.

The myth of progress is a myth because not only does it fail to explain all the evil that continues to grow in the world but it doesn't have a plan on how to address this evil. Generation after generation, sin remains and humanity is no closer to utopia than we were thousands of years ago.

We can see the myth of progress in its triumphant failure in the Genesis 11 story of the Tower of Babel. People decide to come together as never before. They united in a common language and with a common purpose. They even had a brand new technology (bricks) propelling them into their new invention (the city). The highlight of human achievement was the tower itself which reached into the heavens. It spoke to the people who created it. It proclaimed to the whole human race that soon they would build a tower tall enough to be in heaven. And soon they would be gods over their own universe.

This story shows us the fruit of every human project that begins under the guise of "progress." Initially, it brings people together; it unifies humanity under a common cause; it marvels in new technology and fosters a hope for the dawn of a new day. But this utopian fervor doesn't last long. Soon sin creeps in and pride comes before the fall. God, knowing the intoxication of the myth of progress, ended this project by his own hand by confusing the language at the Tower of Babel.

And that was the first of many human-born revolutions that ended in tragedy, pain and division. Since then we have seen hopes rise and fall. We have seen kingdoms and peoples come and go. And the only lasting Kingdom has been the one, not established by humanity, but by God Himself.

Jesus described the world best with his parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13). He cuts through the myth of progress and reveals the truth about our broken world. The wheat and the weeds will grow up together and they won't be divided until the harvest. The wheat will be brought into his storehouse and the weeds will be thrown into the fire. The Kingdom of God will progress on this earth, but it will always grow side by side with the sin and evil that is of the kingdom of this earth. The matter won't be settled until Christ returns and makes everything right again.

So our role as Christians is to avoid buying into this "myth of progress." We are called to be a part of God's Kingdom on earth. We are called to take this world back from the Enemy and proclaim through our redemptive work that "Jesus is Lord." We are called to go to the least of these and treat them like Jesus Himself. We are called to make this world a the kind of place that God had always intended it to be. That means we strive for justice, peace, love and forgiveness. That means we live by hope.

But our hope is not in a false notion of progress. Our hope is that Jesus is, in fact, Lord of all Creation and that He will return one day and give us resurrected bodies. And we will get to reign with him in the new heaven and new earth. Our hope is that the goodness of that future world yet to come has broken into the present through our Messiah Jesus. And because the future has burst into the present, our hope is not just a hope for the future but a hope for today. Our hope is that God will redeem and is redeeming His Creation and His people right now. This full-bodied Christian hope should help us see through the thinly veiled notions of progress and humanistic utopia.


Post a Comment

<< Home