At the virtual opening of the Chinese Mission Convention Global 2021, Dr. Brian Fikkert delivered the opening session to introduce the Biblical story of change.
In his opening message titled “Who Are You Becoming?” preached on December 28, 2021, the founder and president of Chalmers Center for Economic Development argued against two common false stories of change and introduced the Biblical story of change, that is, “to serve as priest-rulers and to enjoy loving relationships with God, self, others and the rest of creation”.
Established in 1983, the Chinese Mission Convention is a ministry dedicated to the vision of “multiplying healthy churches locally and globally”, by mobilizing Chinese and non-Chinese Christians to live as ambassadors of Christ and reach Chinese, non-Chinese, and other unreached people groups. The 2021 Chinese Mission Convention was held online from December 28 to 29.
Dr. Brian Fikkert, Professor of Economics and Community Development at Economic Development at Covenant College and co-author of the best-selling book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself, opened his talk with the question “What is your story of change?”
“This question has two components: What is your goal in life? That is, what makes you happy? Second, how can this goal be achieved?” he added.
Dr. Fikkert explained why he asked these questions, “The Bible teaches us that human beings are transformed into the image of whatever god we worship (Psalm 115:1-8, 2 Corinthians 3:18). We are being transformed into the thing that we pursue, 24/7.”
“Our story of change actually changes us.” Dr. Fikkert stated that, once people have chosen a ‘god’ around which they orient their lives, the ‘god’ they worship gives them a story of change, a definition of a good life and how to achieve that. Then people exercise certain practices to change, which are formative to their lives, and the practices built a perpetual system to keep changes happening. “Eventually, the story, the practices, and the systems shape our individual personhoods.”
“Satan has been tempting us with false stories of change”, said Dr. Fikkert, who introduced two wide-spread and highly-influential false stories of change.
The first false story was the “American Dream”-style story, where human beings are considered pure physical creatures with no spiritual dimension. The story preaches that happiness is about owning more material stuff and as a result, people who buy it orient their lives around pursuing more consumption of material things by working hard to increase income.
The problem of this false story is that increase in wealth does not guarantee that in happiness. By showing line graphs of growing income and flat happiness scores in the US and China, the Professor of Economics and Community Development argued that this American Dream story of change, which had been sold to the world through globalization, is not what mankind is made of for. The rise of anxiety and depression among US college students from the 1930s and 2007, a period of rapid and sustained economic growth, is a manifestation that “our inner being is saying ‘I’m not wired for this’.”
The second false story is what Dr. Fikkert called “Evangelical Gnosticism”. This story admits that humans have a body and a mind, which are separable. Under this theory, Christians pursue the salvation of their souls on Sundays and yet allow the American Dream story dominating the rest of their time, because in their understanding Christianity has nothing to say concerning the worldly body. To give an instance of its impact, Dr. Fikkert said his students in a Christian university “looked the same as students of the world in many ways”.
Dr. Fikkert challenged this notion by examining the natures of human and God. He reminded us that a human’s soul and body are integrated. Being created by a Triune God in his image, who is intrinsically relational, human is likewise a body-soul-relational creature.
Reviewing the creation, Dr. Fikkert said, “Adam and Eve were priestly rulers. The wiring of body-soul-relational creatures is the exact wiring for the job of humanness: to dwell in God’s presence in deep communion and out of that deep communion with God and others, with a sense of dignity, we were to act as priest-rulers, extending the reign and worship of God through the whole earth. Not by serving ourselves, but by worshiping God and leading all of the creation in the worship of God, by engaging in the work of service to God and to others.”
“So the goal of the Biblical story of change is this: people experience human flourishing when they serve as priest-rulers, enjoy loving relationships with God, self, others and the rest of creation.”
He continued to argue that the Fall not only led to a legal problem between human and God but also fundamentally caused a “humanness” distortion, as an important part of human beings, relationship with God, was ruined. Referring to John 15: 4-5 the metaphor of branches and vine, Dr. Fikkert stated that only in Christ can we be restored, become whole again, and resume the identity we were made into: a royal priesthood and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9).
“The mission of Jesus and the mission of you and I is to be priest-rulers who declare and demonstrate God’s reign as far as the Curse is found. The way to achieve the goal is this: By the Triune God dwelling in the local church as it forms and fosters a community whose worship, story, systems, and practices embody the kingdom of God.”
“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth”, citing Revelation 5:10, Dr. Fikkert urged, “We are priest-rulers in the new creation. Brothers and sisters, start living to that right now. It’s a much better story and it’s what you’re wired for, what you’re called to.”