WHY NOT NOW?
Caribbean in Crisis:
The Key to Breakthrough
After a generation of independence, and as we cross the threshold of the Third Christian Millennium, the Caribbean is in crisis.
Jamaica, perhaps, is the most urgent case. For example, in April 1999, Jamaica’s lingering crisis again boiled over when the Finance Minister announced a thirty- percent gasoline tax, to help pay the bill for the bailout of several major financial institutions.
The next day, gas prices went up, and initial protests began. Then, for three days the following week, the island was locked down by protests, ranging from residents of upper class communities standing with placards next to their parked Pajeros, to marches, to streets blocked with rubble and burning tyres.
Transportation, education, industry, government and commerce were paralysed. Bridges were burned, and stores were looted. One hundred and fifty-two were arrested, and at least seven were shot dead, some under questionable circumstances. Sadly, there were also strong feelings that unless protests were violent, even lawless, the protesters would simply have been ignored.
Finally, on day four, a Commission was set up to investigate alternatives to the full thirty percent gas tax. That evening, also, after a small protest by church leaders, two of Jamaica's leading churchmen were interviewed on national radio about the church's failure to provide timely, effective moral leadership in the crisis. While the two were able to point to exceptions, these only served to highlight the overall pattern: silence or shallowness.
Since that time, it has become all too plain that Jamaica’s leaders, by and large, have lost their way. Corruption scandal after corruption scandal has surfaced, and the cry has gone out to a church that has seemed to be just as adrift as any other institution: provide leadership in the crisis — or else!
That cry both recognises the relevance of the church, and rebukes it for not living up to its prophetic calling. For, Caribbean people instinctively understand that God has purposed “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” [Eph. 1:10.]
Thus, we recognise that, through Christ, God is creating harmonious order — cosmos — out of the chaos caused by our sin. So, in crisis, we look to men and women of God for vision, leadership, refuge and renewal.
Therefore, given the chaos and crisis in the church as well as the wider culture, if the Caribbean is to break through to renewal and transformation, we must first begin with repentance and reformation of the church.
How this can be is the focus of this book.
The Challenge facing the Church
First of all, we must squarely face the leadership failure of the church. While the gas price crisis and its aftermath are specific to Jamaica, the underlying pattern is region-wide. For instance, Dr Hilary Beckles (a leading regional Historian), as he spoke to yet another regional crisis — that of Cricket — commented:
There is no [Caribbean] political movement that connects its manifesto to the idealism of the historic struggle for social change with justice. As a consequence, the region's 'labour parties' have become anti-labour, and workers everywhere are running for shelter and leadership within the walls of a revivalist evangelical christianity [sic] that now commands the communities' largest social gatherings.
The death of social idealism, and the triumph, for example, of 'born-again religious escapism,' signal the abandonment of the youth to apolitical social engagements . . . ["Rethinking West Indies Cricket: Notes on the Third Paradigm." Caricom Perspective, No. 66, 1996; p.75.]
Perhaps, these words are too sweeping and sharp, but they raise concerns we must squarely face.
First, context: when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and then when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, socialist economics and Marxist ideology were exposed and abandoned as deceitful, destructive, futile delusions. This easily explains the wistful nostalgia of many of our region’s Post-Marxist intellectuals, who are now forced to reckon with “the death of social idealism.”
Then, in the early 1990’s, we heard of a New World Order, an era of free trade-driven global Capitalist prosperity and peace. However, paradise did not arrive with the Internet. For instance, many of the formerly Communist nations soon fell into economic, ethnic, and military turmoil. As one sad result, "Ethnic Cleansing" has now entered our language.
Global environmental challenges and economic earthquakes soon followed. These issues are of particular concern to the Caribbean, for we are especially vulnerable to global economic downturns, and to the intense hurricanes and rising sea level that are projected as likely consequences of global warming. This is sobering, because economic troubles and natural disasters have repeatedly caught us napping, exposing inadequate preparation and poor management.
As a direct result, Caribbean countries have, on the whole, been economic underachievers over the past thirty years, especially since the oil price shocks in 1973 and 1979. So, almost everywhere in the region, traditional agriculture — sugar, bananas, cotton, spices — is in serious decline. The competitiveness of our manufacturing industries is an open question. Nor has tourism, now our dominant industry — it accounts for a fifth of our employment and up to a third of national income in some countries — proved to be a cure-all.
Consequently, the stability of our economies and currencies is threatened, especially as the World Trade Organisation's rulings against the traditional protective European tariffs that favour our bananas begin to work out on the ground. For, competitiveness is the new global theme song, and inefficient or inferior producers — in this case, us — will simply be run down, run over and forgotten.
On the social front, our illegitimacy rates have sometimes climbed to over ninety percent, reflecting even more alarming declines in self-control, sexual morality and family life. Education, too, is a major concern, in the face of a new high-tech age. Further, crime is clearly trending upwards, accelerated by our increasing materialism, the illicit drug trade and one of our few unwelcome imports: deported criminals.
Dramatic changes are also taking place in the Caribbean’s spiritual climate. While many of our educated people are still skeptical over any form of spirituality, the inner emptiness caused by modernism’s failed attempt to dismiss God as a fairy tale has created a great hunger for spiritual experience.
But since the church often seems to be just as discredited, irrelevant and outdated as Marxism, "New Age" spirituality — repackaged paganism — is rapidly spreading across the world, including in our region. Islam, too, is aggressively responding to the hunger, and is working hard to win converts and build a strong base in the Caribbean. Even Hinduism is now taking a far more assertive stance, especially in the Southern Caribbean, where it has a strong ethnic base.
In short, there is clearly a multi-dimensional regional crisis, one that is largely taking place at the expense of the church. And, thus far, we have largely been silent or shallow.
So, the challenge to the church now is whether we can be like the "men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do." Or, will we be like the Pharisees and Sadducees: "You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times"? [1 Chronicles 12:32, vs. Matthew 16: 3b.]
For, in times of severe crisis — as we now face in the Caribbean — men lose confidence in their abilities, institutions and leaders. So, as communities and nations grope blindly, hoping for a vision of the way out of distress, they are open to new leaders and messages.
While this naturally provides a powerful opportunity for the gospel, if it is correctly and wisely applied, it also often makes us vulnerable to "blind leaders of the blind." Such misleaders will "tickle [our] itching ears" with what we want to hear, but they are only capable of leading us into the nearest ditch. [Cf. Luke 6:39, 40 and 2 Tim. 4:3, 4.]
Responding to our Times
The first step out of our crisis is to correctly understand it. For, those who fail to correctly interpret the signs of their times will follow misleaders and their pernicious myths down a path to ruin. This is precisely the lesson provided by the failure of Marxism!
The ancient Chinese provide a crucial insight for this task. For, traditional Chinese writing uses pictures to represent words and ideas. As it turns out, the word-picture for "crisis" is made up from two other symbols: "danger," joined with "opportunity."
The wisdom in this is the insight that dangers and opportunities are the key aspects of a crisis. The trick, as Jesus pointed out, is to have the discernment to tell the difference under pressure.
So, given the strong feeling across the region that the church has failed to provide adequate leadership in the face of crisis, we must ask and credibly answer some hard questions:
1) Does the gospel have anything significant to say to our region in the face of its growing, multi-dimensional crisis?
2) Or, are we simply indulging in what Dr Beckles calls "born-again religious escapism"?
3) Last, but not least, would our attempts to be relevant to national concerns be likely to deteriorate into a “right-wing” power grab?
Paul of Tarsus, Apostle to the Nations, provides a powerful answer to these questions, one that opens the gateway to national renewal and reformation under Christ.
For, as Acts 17:16 - 34 records, on his Second Missionary Journey, Paul had gone to Athens to take a brief rest from his stressful Macedonian adventures. Thus, the Apostle came to visit the renowned city of the founders of Western Civilisation’s intellectual, artistic and democratic traditions.
However, as he walked about, he found the shock of that city’s extreme idolatry too disturbing to keep silent. So, he went to the Agora, the marketplace. There, as Socrates had done five hundred years before, he started to discuss the things of God with passersby.
Soon, a group of pagan philosophers came by, and decided to play along. So, they invited Paul to a meeting of the same council of Athens' leading citizens that had tried and condemned Socrates for being an intellectual gadfly. There, Paul addressed Athens' leaders about nationhood under God:
q He began with the critical flaw in pagan thought, by drawing the philosophers’ attention to an altar dedicated: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. For, on the most important possible point of knowledge, the Athenians were forced to admit their ignorance by building a public monument!
q In fact, such man-centred systems of thinking always come to grief on this point. For, in the end, all philosophical or scientific arguments are forced to rest on assumptions that — however plausible they may seem to adherents — are inevitably open to doubt and debate. Thus, as Paul would later write: “in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him.” [1 Cor. 1:21.]
q Instead, it is through encounter with the Living God that we may come to know Him — just like how we know any other person. And, through knowing Him, we can truly know all other things as he reveals them to us. For, “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” [Prov. 1:7.] So, the Apostle continued: “what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”
q Thus, Paul speaks as one who had been stopped in his tracks by the risen Christ, knocked off his high horse, and been made to see the light. So, he stood before the Athenians, not as just another Philosopher full of clever arguments and speculations, but rather as a witness, one who has met the Living God and experienced his life-transforming power. As he would later say: “I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven . . . [to the Jews] and the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” [Acts 26:19 – 20.]
q So, speaking with the authority of one who has met with, heard from, and been sent out by God, Paul spoke to the purpose of nationhood. Specifically, God created the nations from one man, and "he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” [Acts 17:25 - 27; emphasis added.]
q In short, the nations were created to foster godliness, and God therefore so controls our times that he brings us to decisive points — crises — where we must decide whether to seek or serve Him. Consequently, godliness should be the fundamental focus for national life: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” [Psalm 127:1.]
q But, this directly implies that national prestige, power and prosperity — usually the principal targets of national policy-makers — should be a secondary goal, a means to the primary end: godliness. Therefore, just like the Athenians of Paul’s day, we see the basic folly of such idolatry: substituting something else for God. For, when a community puts anything in the place of God, it walks down a road that has always led to chaos, tyranny and ruin. Thus, we see Jesus’ contrast with Satanic powers: “The thief comes only to steal, and kill and destroy; I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full.” [John10:10.]
q In his epistles, the Apostle expanded this theme. For, God (in judgement) will let those who rebel against him have their own way. So he “[gives them] over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity . . . . since they [do] not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he [gives] them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” [Rom. 1:21 – 24, 28, 29.] Consequently, when people reject God, they become “darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all [moral] sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” [ Eph. 4:18, 19.]
q Plainly, then, the moral chaos that so often cripples societies and frustrates progress — whether in the first century Roman world, or in today’s Caribbean — is the direct result of putting substitutes in the place of God. So, it can only be corrected by our turning back to God, as individuals, families, communities and nations.
q Therefore, in love, Christ sends his missionaries, prophets, evangelists, pastors and people, armed with the gospel, to nations that have come to the point of crisis. For, if any nation is to truly progress, it must put God first: repentance, renewal and reformation must be put at the top of its national agenda.
q Quite logically, Paul then concluded: “now [God] commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day in which he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." That man, of course, is Jesus.
Clearly, the Athenians got far more than they bargained for. Starting from a careful analysis of the basic error in their culture and thinking, the leaders of Athens were forced, step by logical step, to face the challenge of nationhood under Christ.
For, God created the nations and so controls our times that, through crises triggered by the sinful folly of putting substitutes in his place, we are forced to grope for him, however blindly. Finally, as the Apostle warns, we shall stand before God to account for our lives. God’s signpost for this is the resurrection of Jesus, which is God’s proof and warning to all men that we must reckon with the gospel and his command that “all people everywhere [must] repent.” [Acts 17:30; cf. 1 Cor. 15:1 - 33.]
Thus, the gospel is extremely relevant to our own regional crisis. For, it exposes our root problem — sin and the chaos and destruction that flow from it into our lives, families and communities — and provides God’s solution. Moreover, this insight therefore also underscores the relevance of the church’s basic mandate: “disciple the nations.”
But, equally, the proper weapons for executing our mandate are spiritual, not worldly ones. We must never turn to deceit, violence, manipulative power grabs and tyranny. For, to resort to such would be to become just what we claim to oppose.
Sadly, Christians have too often fallen to just this temptation, with predictably disastrous results. For instance, this is what happened with the Crusades, with many medieval and Renaissance Popes, and with the equally horrible excesses of the Reformation. [Cf. 2 Cor. 10:4 – 5, and John 18:36 – 38.]
Rather, the essence of the Christian way of national renewal is to apply the truth of the gospel, working it out it in our own lives and bearing witness to it through discipleship. Thus, we must learn to trust God to use the power of the truth worked out in love and purity, to renew and transform individuals, families, communities, institutions and nations. So, in Paul’s immortal words:
Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. [2 Cor. 4:1 – 2.]
Now, as a rule, such a strategy is not very impressive to the powerful and learned. [Cf. 1 Cor. 1:18 – 2:8.] So, it is no great surprise to see that, apart from a few noteworthy exceptions, the leaders of Athens failed to heed and follow the truth.
But we know now who had the better case that fateful day — the future belonged to the Missionary, not to the Philosophers and Politicians. Indeed, as Ken Prior notes:
What is important is that Paul’s ministry in Athens led to the planting of a church. His aim was not only to see the salvation of individuals, but to plant churches, and with his eye for missionary strategy, to do this in a centre as important as Athens would more than compensate for the small number of converts . . . . From the small beginnings which resulted from Paul’s visit, the church sooner or later grew, because by the first half of the second century it was quite flourishing. [The Gospel in a Pagan Society, (Ross-shire: Christian Focus publications, 1995) pp. 169 – 170.]
So, as the history of Greece records, from small and apparently insignificant beginnings, the gospel prevailed in Athens.
Nationhood under God in the Caribbean
Now, in light of Paul’s counsel to the Athenians, we can see that our own crises in the Caribbean are being used by God to bring our nations to a point where we will be open to his Word, and to his Christ. This speaks straight to us as our region struggles to emerge from an oppressive colonial past and to find its own place in the Sun:
q First, we must recognise that God created nationhood to foster godliness. Godliness under Christ should therefore be the driving force of national life in the Caribbean. Thus, Christ would “fill all things” in the region: individuality, family, education, science and technology, industry and commerce, culture and arts, media and entertainment, law, public policy and politics, and so on. [Cf. Eph. 4:9, 10.]
q While, clearly, Christians must also respect the right to peacefully dissent from or reject such a consensus of godliness, we are duty-bound to point out that to serve substitutes for God — idols — is to follow a road to ruin. For, if our nations turn their backs on our Creator, our passions will spin out of control, darkening and twisting our vaunted wisdom and understanding into evil and futility. This would lead us to follow misleaders and deceptive myths down that way “that seems right to a man, but in the end . . . leads to death.” [Prov. 14:12.]
q For instance, perhaps the most attractive deception in our region today is the temptation to worship wealth. Let us, rather, heed Moses: “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”
q For, wealth, being a gift from God, is good, and a key part of national development. However, it can also tempt us into materialism, arrogance and selfishness — instead of godliness, caring and giving. Such a road leads straight to ruin: "If you ever forget the LORD . . . and follow other gods . . . you will surely be destroyed." [Deut. 8:17 - 19. Cf. 1 - 16.]
q “The deceitfulness of riches" also points to our general duty to refute false thinking, beliefs and values. As the classic text on spiritual warfare points out: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” In so doing, of course, it should be equally clear that "by setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."[2 Cor. 10:4 -5; 4: 2; emphases added. Cf. 2 Tim. 2:23 - 26.]
q Further, since “the church . . . is [Christ’s] body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way” [Eph. 1:22, 23], those who come to Jesus should be prepared, supported and sent out to influence and renew all aspects of life with God’s power and grace. For, as Eph. 2:8 - 10 adds: "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith . . . not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." [Emphasis added.]
q Clearly, then, the Caribbean church, under its discipling mandate, has an especially vital role in nation-building. For, “[Christ] who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill all things.” [Eph. 4:10, emphases added.] "All things" clearly must include the various aspects of individual, family, community and national life.
q Practical steps to godly nation-building in the Caribbean should therefore include:
ü Systematic discipleship training for all believers, to consolidate our commitment and equip us for life, service and leadership under Christ in the church, home and community. That is, we must learn how to go about the ordinary business of life, "in Christ."
ü The developing of integrated strategies to target and renew key activities and institutions in our region: the family, the church, education, business and industry; the media, sports and entertainment; the arts and music; government and politics.
ü Sustained, coordinated and well-supported Christian initiatives under these strategies, all across our region. (The well-proved small/cell group and ministry team structures, backed up by our churches and parachurch ministries, would be a practical way to carry this out. Internet web sites and e-mail would greatly improve our communication and operational coordination, at quite low cost.)
ü Publicly, consistently and credibly speaking God's word to key issues, thus promoting renewal through the gospel's power at national and regional levels. This implies the effective use of print, radio, television, the arts (especially music and drama) and the Internet.
Therefore, far from being irrelevant, the gospel (thus, the church) can and should be in the vanguard of true national and regional renewal, development and transformation as our region crosses the threshold of the Third Christian Millennium.
How that can be is the focus of the rest of this book. Since the first step down that road is the link between revival and national transformation through reformation, to that we will now turn.
But first, a challenge: Why not now, why not here, why not us?
§ What are the typical solutions being put forward by various leaders and groups?
§ Are these proposals likely to end up as part of the answer, or as part of the problem? Why?
§ How, then, could God be using our present crises and chaos to open our hearts and minds to the gospel?
§ Has he sent missionaries, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers with breakthrough words, to call out and build up the people of God in your community?
§ How should God’s people in your community respond to the chaos, the crisis and the breakthrough word?
§ How can we respond to the counter-arguments or even attacks that would be made, in the church and the wider community?
§ How, then, can we begin to lead people and communities in renewal and reformation under Christ?
§ When can we start, and how?
§ Draft and mail a letter to the Editor that responds to a major current issue, based on your discussions.
§ Plan and present a public panel discussion to raise and respond to the same issue.
§ Discuss the results.
Prior, Kenneth. The Gospel in a Pagan Society (Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 1995).
 Greek: ethne; people-groups, as modern Missiologists render it. See Gal.2: 8.
 Philosophy, etymologically, is philo + sophia, the love of wisdom.
 See John 16:12 – 15, 17:17; 1 Cor. 2:4 – 16.
 See Matt. 28:18 – 20, Mark 16:15 – 20 [cf. Heb. 1:1 – 4& 2:1 – 4], Luke 24:45 – 48 &Acts 1:1 – 11, John 17:13 – 23, Eph. 4:9 – 24.