The 'Big Idea' revisited

November 21, 2005

WHY ARE WE CHRISTIANS BETTER KNOWN FOR WHAT WE DON’T WANT IN SOCIETY, THAN WHAT WE DO WANT? We’re known to be against abortion, euthanasia and homosexual marriage, ecetera. But what are we known to be for – apart from a return to Pleasantville? Do we have a clear idea of the kind of society we do want? J√ºrgen Moltmann says the church should be like an arrow, sent out into the world to point the way to the future. So what should that future look like?

Last year I wrote about a ‘Big Idea’ that a Christian think-tank in Cambridge proposes as a Biblical vision of society (See ww 05 jul 2004 – What’s the Big Idea?). The main mover behind this think-tank, Dr Michael Schluter, points out that when someone once asked Jesus, ‘Teacher, what’s the Big Idea?’ – or words to that effect – Jesus simply answered with a four-letter word: L-O-V-E. LOVE God and LOVE your neighbour, even if he’s your enemy. The whole law hung on these two imperatives, said Jesus (Matt 22:36-40). In other words, relationships were the glue of society, implied Jesus.

Such an answer, I suggested then, would be considered na√Æve, impractical and unrealistic in today’s real world. LOVE is not the language of money, economics, politics and military power. It’s not a language widely spoken in Moscow or London, Washington or Brussels, Tel Aviv or Baghdad. Yet Dr Michael Schluter and his think-tank boldly suggest this very Big Idea – the imperative to love God and neighbour – is the way forward for Europe, for the Americas, for Africa and for Asia. They dare to propose that this Idea presents a practical alternative to capitalism and to socialism.

An economist with the World Bank in the 1970’s, Schluter was searching for a biblical alternative social vision to the situation in socialist Tanzania. With other scholars he took a fresh look at the Old Testament as an ethical foundation for public life, and noted a remarkable internal consistency in an apparently random collection of laws. The Jubilee laws for land, the ban on interest, the role of the Levites, political structures, welfare arrangements and military organisation all cohered in central theme, the key to which he discovered in the New Testament.

Schluter then realised the Big Idea of Old Testament law was relationships. The Mosaic laws – seemingly random and unconnected – protected and promoted relationships in the long run. Society, in other words, should not be evaluated by its GNP, or the efficiency of its markets, but by the health of its relationships. Relationships were the key both to interpreting and applying biblical law today, and to evaluating society today, concluded Schluter.

This idea he called Relationism. He and his team developed this idea to embrace a wide range of social initiatives, including employment schemes, relationships audits in multinational corporations, and the Keep Sunday Special campaign in England. He has worked to improve warder/prisoner relationships with the Scottish Prison Service, and advocates ‘relational healthcare’ and ‘relational justice’. He co-authored The R Factor and The R Option, and founded the Relationship Foundation, the Jubilee Centre in Cambridge and the think tank that produces The Cambridge Papers. (See:,,

Far from viewing such ideas as “na√Æve, impractical and unrealistic”, some politicians are beginning to take Schluter seriously. In Holland, the Christen Unie political party rewrote its manifesto after considering his message, with the title: From ‘me’ politics to relational politics. A major Australian party has invited Dr Schluter several times for policy consultations this year, and leading papers down-under seriously reflected on his message (See

Two very useful new resources have just been released, which I personally highly recommend:
· Relationism: the way forward for Europe? is a DVD with two one-hour introductory messages by Dr Schluter, recorded at last year’s Hope for Europe Round Table held in Greece. This resource tool, very usable in schools, home groups and leadership seminars, is available for ¬£5.99 via
· Jubilee Manifesto: a framework, agenda and strategy for Christian social reform (IVP 2005), is the fruit of over two decades of ‘serious reflection and practical experience’. Members of Schluter’s think-tank contribute chapters to this compendium exploring nationhood, government, family, welfare, finance, economics, criminal justice and international relationships from a relational perspective, in an informed, practical and realistic approach. This I suspect will be a milestone publication. You can download a four-page introduction from the Jubilee Centre website, or order the book via:

In YWAM, we have begun assessing what Relationism can mean for our mission. What should a global, relationally-based university really look like, such as we want the University of the Nations to be? What might this framework for biblical social reform mean for our curriculum and teaching styles in our various colleges? How relational are we really on our YWAM bases? If we were to conduct relational audits within our ministries, what might we discover? How should the R-factor shape our strategies and methods of mission?

To explore these and other questions, Lynn Green (our YWAM International Chairman), myself and other YWAMers plan to join the Dr Schluter and other contributors to the Jubilee Manifesto at the first Jubilee Centre Winter School to be held in Cambridge in the New Year, Jan 3-6. Why not join us for these stimulating sessions together, co-sponsored by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, Care, Tear Fund and YWAM/University of the Nations? Check out the Jubilee Centre website for details.

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

Till next week,

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