It has been a long time since I’ve underlined and dog-eared nearly every page of a book, but Daniel Darling’s The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity is my recent exception to the rule. And I would do it again without apology—sorry book lovers. His words are timely and enduring for a church that has been captivated by culture rather than her Christ, failing to value human life from the womb and to the tomb.
And before anyone lodges a criticism of Darling as a naive “world-changer,” I hope we can fully agree with him when he says, “Our work for the kingdom is not about us changing the world, but about joining what God is already doing in the world.” Christ’s kingdom is coming, and we are already recipients—receivers, not founders—of this kingdom.
As Darling writes, “We will never see complete and total justice. But we can work for it, even as we fall short of it, because we know that one day we will experience it.” Nobody—not us, not our neighbors, not our greatest foes—is going to stop Jesus from returning and bringing his new and better world. However, that kingdom is not fully and finally here—yet.
No Small Thing
So what do we do in the meantime?
That’s precisely where this book is so helpful for our generation. It provides tools, ideas, suggestions, and resources for doing something rather than nothing. Some might counter that this focuses our attention on becoming a bunch of do-gooders distracting us from fulfilling the Great Commission. But let’s not forget that God has given us both the Great Commission—“Make disciples”—and the Great Commandment—“Love your neighbor as yourself.” And these were not given to individuals, but to a people.
Early in the book, Darling describes the mission of the church as two-fold: to communicate and illuminate. Believers are tasked with preaching the gospel, and at the same time, all Christians are to illuminate the kingdom in and to the world. It’s both-and not either-or, and we have to move beyond the errors of “just preaching the gospel” and calling everybody we might disagree with a “social justice warrior.” Such either-ors lead us to become a people that is neither-nor. We are neither preaching the gospel with our lips, nor illuminating its message in our lives. Jesus calls us to follow him in both word and deed, but not just with our words and not only with our deeds.
As a whole body, we already are doing something, which is better than nothing. Believers are engaged in restoring human dignity to the workplace and providing alternatives to abortion and hope beyond euthanasia. We care about the justice system and issues like prison reform, advocacy for immigrants, and providing hospitality and protection for refugees who are already living on American soil. We prize the institution of marriage, defend religious liberty, and concern ourselves with our and our children’s use of technology, all the while engaging others with our politics. In each of these small and ordinary ways, we are making a sizable difference as a people knit together by “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.”
And that difference comes not because we are radical activists, but quiet ones. “Before we are activists, we are worshipers,” Darling says. But “if we are truly worshippers, we will be activists, because we worship a great God, and it is his image that we see in every person—for every person has God-given dignity, no matter their utility. A person’s a person, no matter how small.” It’s neither activism nor quietism. It is a quiet activism.
Signs and Signposts
I might be biased because he has been my hero since I could walk, but I think Mr. Rogers said it best: “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say ‘It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
If we are truly receiving a kingdom, then signs and signposts of that kingdom will be made evident. They appear as we gather every Sunday as rebels to the way modern tech has dehumanized us, calling on the God who made us and has redeemed us. As we eat and drink a foretaste of the supper of the lamb, we are re-humanized, but it doesn’t stop there. Receivers of this kingdom will remain its members in the Monday through Saturday grind, perhaps serving, marching, writing, speaking, listening, and engaging where we can. But we do so, most importantly and impactfully, by “investing our money, donating our time, opening our homes, and sacrificing our ease to love our neighbors—all our neighbors” as Christ has loved us.
You are valued.
I am valued.
We are valued.
The Dignity Revolution is a compelling vision of the truth, goodness, and beauty that only the gospel can create and sustain. With applications that extend across the entire range of human existence and beyond the scope of just one nation, Darling offers us the chance to reclaim a vision for humanity that the global church can embrace for the sake of the whole world.
Cover photo by Nick Cooper.