What was radical in ancient Babylon is radical today.
When a child living in Babylonia during its heyday as an empire looked at the stars and the heavens and asked what they were, Mom would tell the story of the battle of the demigod of order and the demigoddess of chaos. Order wins and fillets chaos, who was, fittingly, a fish. One fillet is the heavens and another is the earth. People and stars are the drops of the goddess’s congealed blood.
“It’s basically a conflict story,” Andy Crouch, author and executive editor of Christianity Today, told pastors, community members, faculty, administration and staff during his December 1, 2015, visit to Fresno Pacific University. To the Babylonians the universe was violence in the service of order, he said, with violence as the source of power.
Meanwhile a Hebrew child, part of an obscure people held captive by the Babylonian Empire, would hear a different story. “In the beginning…God said let there be light,” Crouch said. “How radical it was, how unbelievable it was.”
And still is. Because the story being told by today’s most powerful empire—Western rationalistic society—also equates violence with power and order.
The fish won’t win
Calling Darwinian evolution a good scientific explanation of how life began, Crouch distinguishes it from “Darwinism,” a message of conflict between species that is more Babylonian than Hebrew or Christian. While the struggle for survival of the fittest ensures order for now, physicists report the universe is expanding further and further and will eventually revert to chaos. “If you ask, ‘Is there anything deeper?’ the answer is, ‘There is not,’” he said.
But the radical story is still being told, and that story will still be told after the “scientistic”—not scientific—story will be as dead as the Babylonian fish deity—and Babylon itself, Crouch said.
How the radical story configures power affects organizations, churches, ministries and lives. God often offers in an invitation, rather than give it as a command. “Let it be,” not “make it so,” Crouch said, giving as examples Mary at the annunciation, Jesus at Gethsemane and The Lord’s Prayer. “That’s a very different picture of power,” he said.
When God did give a command in the creation story, it was not to limit behavior, Crouch said, it was “Go forth and multiply.” God wants abundance, not the kind of controllable outcomes that machines, or machine-like organizations, create. While abundance without order is chaos, God’s goal is abundance and order.
Healthy human enterprise orders the world without violence to produce abundance. “Most of what businesses do is take some aspect of abundance and use it,” Crouch said. “This is what we’re meant to do, add order to abundance to do good.”
Unfortunately, human structures, even in the service of abundance, slide to the machine-like as leaders exert control. “There’s this dream of the machines that haunts every human endeavor,” Crouch said. “It could be that the most important thing we can do as leaders is not tell people what to do, but make space for things to happen.”
Christ-like leadership is the unlikely pairing of authority and vulnerability, with authority being the capacity for meaningful action and vulnerability being the exposure to meaningful risk. Christ-like leaders at key points renounce authority and become vulnerable. “There are moments in every leader’s life when you must empty yourself,” Crouch said.
Crouch spoke to about 120 people in morning and evening presentations in BC Lounge on the main FPU campus, as well as another during the day for students. The event was part of the “Strengthening the Economy of the San Joaquin Valley” leadership series, and was sponsored by the FPU School of Business in partnership with Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.
The author of books including Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing, Crouch serves on the governing boards of Fuller Theological Seminary and Equitas Group, a philanthropic organization focused on ending child exploitation in Haiti and Southeast Asia. He is also a senior fellow of the International Justice Mission’s IJM Institute and spent 10 years as a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Harvard University. He studied classics at Cornell University and received an M.Div., summa cum laude, from Boston University School of Theology. He lives with his family in Swarthmore, PA.