The Impact Fetish (with Andy Crouch)
April 1, 2023
Andy Crouch returns to the podcast to question the widespread preoccupation with “making an impact.” Andy and Curtis talk about the limitations, drawbacks, and even potential idolatry involved when institutions and individuals are so focused on this definition of success. They then explore an alternative way to conceive of Christians’ role in the world, one that is rooted in the surprising model of Jesus.
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Wow, this episode was so resonant to me and connects deeply with other voices that I have followed for a long time. I would love to hear another episode with Andy expanding on this topic into the realm of the tedium/impact of caregiving. I will say that the caregiving I did for my late husband who died at 52 had a huge impact on my life and the experience of love and empathy in my body, that I carry forward into the rest of my life and relationships.
Keep up the good work Curtis. I am inspired by what you are doing with Redeeming Babel. 💕
Thanks so much, Julie – I do plan on talking about the topic of caregiving more, and hopefully with Andy!
Fantastic discussion. Andy’s explication of the book of Ruth was eye opening and there was so much more. As a Boomer elder to you lads (call me Pops), I have come to believe that at least a part of my work in the time remaining is to love and care for my contemporaries, including a dying brother. Not easy, starting with the mirror. Thanks for including us. Last but not least, an enthusiastic recommendation that listeners buy and read Andy’s latest book, The Life We’re Looking For. It’s superb, including the discussion on generations that was mentioned in the podcast. I will have greater appreciation for that discussion on my second reading of the book. And probably on my third, fourth and fifth readings. Bless him and bless you. j
Thanks for listening, Joseph – and putting up with us youngsters 🙂 !
With my kids all grown and one a prodigal, I have often wondered if what I did with them (homeschooling, attending church, family devotions and basic care) really mattered in their lives. Listening to your podcast and your discussion with Andy on impact verses influence with a 10 year or greater focus really encouraged me. I appreciated the “generational” approach too. After listening to your podcast, I asked the Lord to help me offer those precious years with my children back to Him. It’s true, I definitely wanted a greater impact on their lives, but by God’s grace, maybe my influence through those growing up years will be seeds that God uses in their lives in years to come…especially for our prodigal. Thank you again for your podcast and courses, Curtis.
Thanks for sharing, Leslie – those are tender and profound realities.
Hi, I’m a new listener. I really enjoyed this conversation and found myself wanting to jump in at several points. I hope you don’t mind if I jump in now.
There’s a distinction we make in ethics that I think helps elucidate the difference between the pursuit of impact and the pursuit of hesed. This is the distinction between consequentialism and non-consequentialism. Consequentialist theories of right action tell us that we ought to look to the consequences of our actions to determine whether they are right or wrong. On these views, actions aren’t inherently right or wrong. An action may be right in one situation because it brings about a certain valuable end and wrong in another because it brings about a harmful end. Non-consequentialist theories tell us that we have to examine the inherent rightness (or the right-making features) of an action to determine whether it is right or wrong. I’ve been thinking a lot about this distinction in the context of our faithfulness of Christians. It also relates to the pragmatism I’m seeing everywhere that focuses on producing desired results with little attention given to the nature of the actions that are employed to produce the results.
Anyway, my thought is that the pursuit of impact is justified through a consequentialist moral framework. Furthermore, I think the concept itself has both action and consequence baked in. It’s an attempt to know and control both the cause and effect. To pursue impact is to pursue action that you know or have good reason to believe will bring about particular effects. It’s even better if these effects are measurable. There are a couple problems with this.
The first is grounded in a more general problem for consequentialist frameworks—it’s difficult to know the consequences of actions. This difficulty is hard to overcome at the individual level and practically insurmountable as you scale up the number of people involved. Nonetheless, if you’re pursuing impact you’ll focus only on those actions with the most predictable effects. This leads to our overlooking significant issues that deserve our attention and effort. The most extreme form of the Effective Altruism movement serves as an example of this. You’ll have people saying that you should just do whatever it takes to make as much money as you possibly can so that you can give it away to solve the world’s problems (never mind all the harms you cause in the meantime). You’ll also hear of people advocating that we essentially neglect the world’s starving population and instead focus on global warming or colonizing other planets. The thought being that there will be far more suffering in the future if we don’t prevent cataclysmic events.
This leads to the second problem—hubris. The pursuit of impact presumes a level of knowledge about what will happen that we just don’t know (think of building more barns to store excess grain, or going this or that town to conduct some business). It also presumes a level of control that we just don’t have (or as you say, at least one that we can’t maintain). This seems especially the case in ministry. We can lay out a plan of action by which we expect to have x number of lives changed or y amount of growth this year, but the kingdom effects of our ministries are largely out of our purview. We are to be faithful and act in faithfulness with what we have been given. It’s God who knows and controls what will come about through this faithfulness.
Anyway, I just wanted to share these thoughts as I thought they might be helpful.