In 2002, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof proclaimed evangelicals the "new internationalists," lauding us for engaging such issues as sex trafficking, slavery, and HIV/AIDS. We actually became internationalists with the blossoming of the modern missions movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Wherever missionaries took the Good News, they contributed to development by expanding literacy, promoting public health through sanitation, diet, and medicine, and improving the lot of women, children, and orphans.
But nearly ever since, we have debated the wisdom of faith-driven development work. Some harbor a suspicion that development work will squeeze out gospel work, while others argue that gospel work is impossible without it. That discussion continues now that international justice and development concerns have been mainstreamed by popular Christian musicians, megachurch pastors, and the National Association of Evangelicals.
Pope Benedict XVI can help us think through the issues. In July, he released his encyclical on development, Caritas in Veritate. Many took it to be about global economics, since the Vatican released it the day before the G8 Summit was to begin just a short drive from Rome. But Benedict's letter dealt with much more than economic life, focusing instead on what people and societies are and are called to be.
As Baylor University's Francis Beckwith explained on Christianity Today's website, the encyclical is "a brief against secular materialism in its economic and metaphysical forms, and its harmful consequences on the human family's common good." Secular materialism is an ideology, and ideologies are reductionistic. Thus, they are lies—or at best, distortions of the truth. They treat ...