Community and Societal Development

How can cross-cultural development workers help communities and societies thrive by following godly principles?

From Industrialization to Shalom

WCIU Journal: Community and Societal Development Topic

July 24, 2015

by Maureen Singer, WCIU MA student


“The fruits of evil—sickness, poverty, illiteracy, and inhumanity—draw our attention when we need to be concerned with the roots of evil.”—Ralph Winter

WCIU’s conceptualization of “international development” recognizes that the needs of humanity—and indeed of the planet—exceed primarily socioeconomic realities. This elevates its “goal” from industrialization to “shalom” and grounds that quest in a cosmology that transcends national and cultural hierarchies.

In his writings Ralph Winter proposes that the fundamental predicament of humankind, and indeed of the planet, is that it has come under the power of an “intelligent evil.” Further, he states that the primary quest of God is simultaneously the eternal destruction of this malevolent presence (1 John 3:8), and the reclamation and restoration of His creation to Himself. As such, he states, the central purpose of all reclaimed humanity is that of co-laboring with God for the reclamation and “restoration” of a creation that is yet in the grip of the malevolence, and the malevolent one. (See Beth Snodderly’s article, The Story of the Battle for Our Planet).

The question remains, does this conceptualization sufficiently encompass the problems international development seeks to address? Is it a viable womb for the emergence of effective strategies to address the tasks of international development?

Reacting to a hegemonic conceptualization of development post World War II (popularized as “Truman’s Doctrine,” arising from Harry Truman’s Inauguration Speech on January 20, 1949), as “a bold new program for making the benefits of [the West’s] scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas,” Wolfgang Sachs states, “the idea of development stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape. Delusion and disappointment, failures and crimes, have been the steady companions of development and they tell a common story: it did not work” (Sachs 1992, 1).

Responses to Accusations Leveled Against “Development”

Accusation 1. It presumes an ideological supremacy, where the West (capitalism) sought to align as many nations as possible to itself, in a battle against communism (embodied by the the USSR). As such, it is now irrelevant because the historical reality it sought to address no longer exists.

Response: An understanding of international development as the work of being “a blessing,” to all nations; the staking of God’s claim on all creation, recognizes that the history of international development precedes and exceeds the socioeconomic analyses and propositions of the early 1940s, for “God builds His church throughout culture and history,” and “God’s work in history has continuity and will come to an ultimate culmination.” As early as Genesis 1 is recorded God’s ongoing work in pursuit of the restoration of all creation to Himself. He will do so until evil is forever destroyed, as such an understanding of international development as cosmic battle remains relevant throughout time as we know it.

Secondly, rather than the pursuit of ideological supremacy, as “development” commonly conceived, there is a mutuality that exists in this conception of reality that evens the playing field (Romans 3), “The Bible shows God carrying out His redemptive purpose through a covenant relationship with His people and redeeming all of mankind through Jesus, the Messiah for all peoples.” Despite the mistakes of Christians, the overall trend has never been the pursuit of the control of resources, or the promulgation of ideological supremacy, but what Scripture calls, the healing of the nations.

Accusation 2. It asserts that so called developed nations lie at the apex of a social evolutionary scale that has been developed without reference to the inherent value and individuality of the various cultures of the world, creating a false dichotomy of uniformity in the world, branding them as simply “underdeveloped.” In so doing it works to eliminate diversity, making as its goal, the westernization of the world.

Response: By contrast, although the recognition of an “urgent need for radical contextualization is an incredibly new frontier,” throughout history, “God does not require people to give up their cultural identity to be followers of Jesus.” As far back as Abraham, the calling of international development has been blessing from a place of mutuality, rather than that from a place of superiority. It has sought to preserve cultural diversity rather than impose uniformity. “A characteristic of biblical faith is the willingness to take upon itself the cultural clothes of every tradition. True faith always is evidenced in true obedience, but the form of that obedience is always cultural.” All cultures stand in need of redemption, and “God is at work in all cultures and wants to redeem them for His glory.”

Accusation 3. It not only reduces development to economics, it proposes that the economic development of beneficiary nations will eventually match that of donor nations. This proposition has been repeatedly shown to be problematic because not only have the problems of the world been seen to transcend economic development, but the gap in wealth both trans-nationally (across nations) and intra-nationally (the gap between the poor and the rich within a nation) has instead grown exponentially over the decades.

Response: The conception of international development as the pursuit of shalom proposes “strategic wholism in which community development is integrated with church planting,” where societies work to authentically address systemic evil, including the ethics of the control of resources. The history of the epochs of Christianity as chronicled by Winter illustrates the outworking of this, including the repeated rise and collapse of civilizations seemingly on the tide of the apprehension and address of the reality of evil.


Sachs, Wolfgang. 1992. The Development Dictionary. London: Zed Books.