Early on in his storied career as a pastor, bishop, ecumenist, and missiologist, Lesslie Newbigin gave a series of lectures entitled, “The Kingdom of God and the Idea of Progress.” In the first lecture, he makes the following observation:
The true reading of history seems to be this, that every new increase of man’s mastery over earth and sea and sky opens up possibilities not only of nobler good, but also of baser and more horrible evil, and that even those movements of social progress which can point to real achievement in the bettering of society have to be put side by side with these equally real movements of degeneration which have sometimes actually arisen out of the same social improvements.
Any Christian view of the state should always be heavily chastened by the doctrine of sin, which should keep our faith in progress (which, in modern democracies, often trumps faith in God) in proper check. Newbigin invites us to something more nuanced than much contemporary political discourse: a view that is neither triumphalist nor fatalist, but one which recognizes that even within the brightest moments of human achievement, seeds of real evil can be planted.
One would think that the goddess Progress might have been slain after two World Wars and countless atrocities, but methinks she is a hard deity to bury.
From Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History by Lesslie Newbigin, ed. by Geoffrey Wainwright (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s 2003), 16.