Fascinating article that I found through someone’s Twitter (really can’t remember who it was – sorry if it was you!). The article comes from the New Yorker, and discusses how David beats Goliath, both literally and metaphorically.
David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.
In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.
The article also talks about a girls basketball team, a war-games artificial intelligence machine, and Lawrence of Arabia, among other things. But there are some fantastic correlations between all of the “Davids” beating their “Goliaths”.
- When David plays on Goliath’s terms, and sticks to the “tried and true”, he will usually get beaten
- In all of the cases discussed, there was a sense of hopelessness from the outside of the “Davids”, and a sense of desperation on the inside
- It usually requires that David comes from (or is lead by someone who comes from) a place outside the regular system. Insiders are too stuck in the accepted model to be prepared to change
- Any attempt at bucking the system results in widespread social ridicule. The reaction from Goliath at an unconventional attempt is always to patronise.
So here’s my thinking. I think this has to have some impact on how we do mission in the western world. Because we’ve been Goliath, but certainly in Australia and increasingly elsewhere: we’re David. Christianity as a whole is up against it, and we’re no longer the commanding voice we still like to believe we are. And there’s something central to the Christian gospel that makes a lot more sense when you’re the minority, but that’s a conversation for another day.
I do think that if the whole church sticks to the “tried and true” – we’re already beaten. That’s not to say there’s not a place for church as it looks in its current form, nor to dismiss “big-church” as archaic, or anything like that. But it’s completely reasonable to suggest that even if institutional church hits the mark for everyone they market themselves at – that’s not even close to half the population.
There’s a fascinating quote in the article, talking about the computer simulator for war games:
““Eurisko was exposing the fact that any finite set of rules is going to be a very incomplete approximation of reality,” Lenat explained. “What the other entrants were doing was filling in the holes in the rules with real-world, realistic answers. But Eurisko didn’t have that kind of preconception, partly because it didn’t know enough about the world.”
I wonder if, as we re-think mission and how we engage with the world, if we need to re-assess where our “filling in the holes” of gospel might have gone off-track, and only feed in the things that are central to the mission of the holy spirit in revealing the kingdom of God – rather than allowing the extra pre-conceptions fill in the gaps and get stuck in the same old mode.
I want to know what you think, but before I ask there is one more thing I’ve got to clear up. If the church as a whole is to take the challenge of mission in a post-modern context, one thing is for sure. We’ve got to understand who Goliath is. And Goliath is not the church, not the institutions, not even the bureacracy. Our Goliath is apathy, it is Satan, and it is the brokenness of this world. We can’t be here to prove “big church” wrong. It’s got to be all of us, ready to get about the work of transforming this world and revealing the Kingdom of God.
So, have a read, and talk back. What do you think? Am I off track, or does this story have some pretty full on implications for the out-working of the gospel in the here and now?