Gothic Giving

 In Fred's Blog

I wrote last year on the transition from Gothic architecture to Baroque and how that change reflected a larger and more theological shift in society. Gothic was focused on the hereafter and Baroque was shaped by the desire to make this life better instead of thinking only of the hereafter. “So the emphasis was not spires ‘reaching toward heaven’ and the ‘ordered nature of structure’ but light color ” texture and art intended to draw people in – a kind of celebration of

It was not change in a vacuum or an innovation for the sake of innovation. It was an alteration in worldview.

In the same way, you can follow the trends in literature, art, and music.  We have periods of flowery and ornate Victorian language which transitions to the highly edited and simpler style of Hemingway that pared away every nonessential word.  Music goes from symphonic to the almost nihilistic style of John Cage.  Art is probably our most obvious record of change – from Rembrandt to Monet through Picasso to Jackson Pollock.

As in architecture, these reflect changes in worldview.  While a little simplistic, Schaeffer’s “How Should We Then Live?” traces these theological and worldview changes and the effect they had on every aspect of culture.

It is also true for philanthropy. There were the earlier periods of enormous concentrated wealth whose founders moved us from charity to organized giving. These were followed by foundations with professional staff pursuing “scientific philanthropy.”

Lately we have seen venture and impact philanthropy followed by crowdfunding. Gradually the players are moving from a few wealthy elite to include millions of individuals making gifts from mobile devices for thousands of causes. Again, it is not just a function of innovation in a vacuum. These changes are a result of a change in worldview and yes ” theology of the givers. Gifts are pointing less toward the heavens and more toward the here and now. They are less concerned with a long-term perspective and more with the immediate. We have it in our power to change the world.

I say this because one of the classes at The Gathering conference this year will feature Jacquelline Fuller, the director of Google’s giving. While Google has supported a number of clearly defined initiatives that measure results impact and sustainability – like Charity:Water Donors Choose and the Polaris Project – they have also made a $2.4 million grant to GiveDirectly which makes direct cash transfers to Kenyan families living in extreme poverty. According to Google’s research, cash transfers are a proven approach to lifting people out of poverty.

And perhaps we are seeing a move from measured results, impact accountability, strategy, and investment criteria to something more direct and less complicated. You might even say less elaborate. It may be that GiveDirectly is a predictable next phase driven by Millennial givers that moves us toward something less Gothic, complicated, and ornate to a form that is simpler, cleaner and more focused on the here and now.

On the other hand, as James K.A. Smith points out in an excellent essay in Cardus titled “We Believe In Institutions”, the destruction of institutions actually makes room for injustice. In other words, the best innovations for Christian philanthropy will always keep an eye on what we are saying about the world and not just how we are saving the world.

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