Beliefs Culture Institutions Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

Can the church turn the world upside down? I’m going to investigate.

Image courtesy of Boston Public Library - Flickr Creative Commons (
Image courtesy of Boston Public Library - Flickr Creative Commons (

Image courtesy of Boston Public Library – Flickr Creative Commons (

In Acts 17, the Jews in Thessalonica grew jealous at the explosion of Christian converts among them. So–like religious people are often wont to do when they grow envious–they formed a mob and went on a witch hunt. Unfortunately, the biggest troublemakers, Paul and Silas, were nowhere to be found. So instead, they dragged Jason and some recent converts before the city authorities shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here, and Jason received them.”

This passage has always stuck with me. What does it mean for the Church of Jesus to “turn the world upside down?” Is that merely hyperbole or is it really possible?

This week, I won’t be posting any new columns because I’ll be investigating these questions. I depart tomorrow to spend the next week in Malawi to see the good work being done by Tearfund in that country. They are working to mobilize local churches to change lives, restore communities, lift people out of poverty, and bring hope to people there. They believe the local church is unlike any other business or non-profit because of their “local knowledge, local relationships, and a life-changing capacity rooted in something deeper, stronger, and more powerful.”

Too often, I focus my gaze on the failings and foibles of the modern Christian church–from partisan political entanglements to fixations on the apocalypse, from waning cultural influence to the damaged perception of Christians among many. I’m excited to spend some time focused on some of the better things happening in and through the Church next week. I’ll be returning the week of May 13th. I look forward to reporting back to you then.

For now, here is a video on how Tearfund operates:


About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


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