30 January, 2013

The Thinking Salvationist


by Casey O’Brien BSoc.Sci(Crim), MPICT, MISS
The Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission

The Salvation Army today exists in 125 countries. Its 15, 765 Corps are made up of a total of 1,132,823 soldiers. That’s 1, 132, 823 individual minds who have committed to the principles and practices of The Salvation Army as a movement, and who claim to follow the ways and teachings of Jesus in their everyday lives. Those 1,132,823 individual minds each hold the capacity to make their own decisions and form their own opinions on everything from their favorite meal to their governments. Each of those 1,132,823 individuals live separate lives, in differing environments with a variety of conversations, engagements, meetings and makeup of each day. 1,132,823 minds, created by God, with the capacity to think, engage and form ideas – that’s not something to be sneezed at. However, for these minds to be a strong force in a world which so desperately needs new ideas, they must be active and willing to think. They must be ‘thinking Salvationists’.

In his 2004 lecture at William Booth College, General Shaw Clifton asked ‘What does it take to be a thinking Salvationist?’ (Clifton, 2010). In his exploration of this question, he paid tribute to the life of General Frederick Coutts, taking a look at what it was that made this man worthy of such a description. General Clifton points out that in order to be a Thinking Salvationist, one must have both a knowledge of his history as a Salvationist and a knowledge of the present day. He writes, “Unless we know where we have come from, we cannot know who we are today… a Thinking Salvationist has a knowledge of our past, a sense of our history, so that she or he can think intelligently and in context about the present and the future… a sense of history and a working knowledge of our past are crucial to being a modern thinking Salvationist”. He emphasizes the importance of being simultaneously aware of the world today, writing “A sense of history is not enough on its own. A sense of the social, moral and political trends of the present day is also crucial to the Thinking Salvationist. Keeping in touch with, and understanding, the world beyond the often introspective confines of The Salvation Army is absolutely central to our soul-saving and soldier-making mission under God” (Clifton, 2010 p. 19).

Today, globalization and the internet have made the accessing of information and knowledge, and therefore the capacity for the world to form opinions in a split-second, much easier. On a daily basis we are bombarded with information, facts, propaganda and issues – watch the News for half an hour and you will likely feel overwhelmed. Too often, when a current issue comes up in conversation, we hear “Oh I don’t know enough about that to be able to comment”, or “I figure someone must know what they’re talking about, so I’ll just leave the decision-making up to the decision-makers”. It is all too easy to be so caught up in the goings on of our daily lives that we simply ‘don’t have the time’ to look outside our immediate view. As Salvationists, we must challenge this attitude of accepted ignorance. We must be aware of what is happening in our world and be prepared to inject a Christian perspective into conversations. We must be ‘teachable’ thinking Salvationists (Clifton, 2010).

The beauty of today’s fast-paced, information-accessible world is that that information is readily available to us too. Ten minutes a day spent reading the headlines and delving into those topics to which God draws your attention, will slowly dissolve the ‘I don’t know enough about that to comment’ urge. When prayerfully considered, God will use our minds by developing thoughts, opinions and perspectives on issues which we previously knew nothing about. While this prospect is exciting, it must be noted that this may be uncomfortable at times and General Clifton’s call for Thinking Salvationists comes with a warning. He writes “It sometimes takes enormous moral courage to be true to oneself. Let all aspiring to be a ‘thinking Salvationist’ note this. There may be a price to be paid. You may often be misunderstood’ (Clifton, 2010, p. 24). Yet as our calling to be a Salvationist came with the warning of self-sacrifice for living counter-culturally and speaking the words of God, we must be ready to experience such misunderstandings at times for the importance of speaking God’s truth into a messy, chaotic world.

Romans 12:2 urges us to no longer be conformed “to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. We need Salvationists to consistently challenge the thinking of those around them through intelligent, scripturally-based conversation, and that cannot be done until Salvationist themselves are challenging their own thinking. The ISJC’s resource, Jesus and Justice, is a great place to begin to challenge one’s own thinking and the thinking of those around them. It can be used as an individual study or as a group study and provides a starting point for the exploration of world issues. Additionally, the website of The Salvation Army’s Ethics Centre in Canada provides a list of issues which can be explored and the New Zealand and Tonga Territory’s Moral and Social Issues Council website provides Discussion Documents for the same purpose. Through the ISJC, I have developed a series of papers which are designed to challenge Salvationist thinking on issues of war and terrorism, and the way in which we as Christians respond to it.

While reading this, some ‘Thinking Salvationists’ whom you know may spring to mind. The Salvation Army is blessed with many intelligent, educated people who are contributing to academic debate across the world. However it is my belief that The Salvation Army is full of Salvationists who hold the knowledge and capacity to contribute to conversation on social justice issues in their own areas of life, yet are simply staying quiet. The circles in which you move and the things on which you think are your God-given area of expertise, and the knowledge and lessons you have gained through moving in this area are unique to you. We need Soldiers, Future Officers and Officers to recognize that whatever it is they are called to do, that ministry is inextricably linked with their calling to be a Salvationist. Whether you are called to be a Lawyer, a Receptionist, an Exercise Scientist, a Courier, a Salvation Army Officer or an Information Technology specialist – God has a plan for you to use that calling in your ministry as a Salvationist. Soldiers of The Salvation Army are strategically placed by God in all areas of life to speak into all areas of life!

Let me share a little from my own experience. Upon completing a Bachelors Degree in Social Science (Criminology), I felt a strong calling to undertake further education. This had not been in my planning for my future, and I was largely unimpressed at the concept of more years on a student’s (lack of) income and the thought of writing more essays. My plan was to work as a Criminologist for a few years in prison reform, and then enter the School for Officer Training to fulfill my calling to be an Officer. However, this new calling for further study was unmistakable, so I began to explore what it could be that God was asking me to study. Through a series of events, the answer became clear – I was to study a Double Masters program – a Masters in Policing, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism and a Masters of International Security Studies. What? I wrestled with this concept and questioned how God could possibly use a Masters in Counter-Terrorism in ministry in The Salvation Army. However, acting on the wisdom of a number of people around me, I began to study and slowly but surely understood that God did, indeed, have a plan to use this degree. I began to pray about this overwhelming task. As issues of power, war and conflict were discussed in classes, I began to sense very clearly God's desire for His truth to be spoken in these discussions. I became aware of a common mentality among some of my classmates which I as a relatively young, non-military background, Christian female did not have. I realised that by challenging this mentality through my essays and class discussions, God was using me to be His mouthpiece and inject His perspective into an otherwise unchallenged conversation. I often found myself to have a completely different perspective within that context and this fact was  noticed by Lecturers and students. The challenging of perspectives went both ways - As I was learning copious amounts from my colleagues, they were being challenged by my own views on what they were teaching me. I am so grateful for this time and for these perspective-expanding conversations with some knowledgeable and wise people. Having completed my degrees, God has given me a very clear vision as to how they are to be used both within and external to The Salvation Army.

We need strong Christian voices who are aware of not only their own contexts but of situations in the broader world, and are prepared to speak truth into these situations. Before we attempt to speak truth into the world, we must be one hundred per cent sure that the truth we are speaking is, in fact, God’s truth. As General Clifton states, “‘Being a man of God transcends any thought or aim of being a ‘thinking Salvationist’. We can hold all the views we like on Army history, Army personalities, Army policies, Army methods, Army theology, or the Army’s future and still not be godly. The greatest need is our personal holiness” (Clifton, 2010, p. 25).

In our ever-changing and growing world, we as The Salvation Army must be prepared to form God-inspired, counter-cultural opinions. Let us be vigilant in keeping up with the movements of the world in an effort to stay ever-relevant, intuitive and entrepreneurial in the way in which we share God’s love with the world. Let us be present where God has placed us and use the knowledge which He has given us to educate others about what we know. As General Clifton stated of General Coutts, let it be said of us that we are a holy people who place our mind, brain and thinking capacities all at the disposal of our Lord. Let us be Thinking Salvationists.

So what can I do?...

• Pick a topic which affects people outside your sphere of influence to educate yourself on. Choose something that you find interesting. If you’re looking for ideas, take a look at The Salvation Army’s in Canada’s Ethics Centre website (www.salvationarmyethics.org/issues/), or the New Zealand and Tonga Territory’s Moral and Social Issues Council’s Discussion Documents (www.salvationarmy.org.nz/our-community/church-life/masic/).

• Stay tuned for the ISJC’s upcoming articles on ‘The Thinking Salvationist, focusing on issues of war and terrorism. (See below for full articles). 

• Stay up to date with current world issues. Each day, spend ten minutes catching up on world news. Alternatively, subscribe to an email update that will send you an email each morning with summaries of current issues. Foreign Policy, CNN and Stratfor are good examples of these.

• Download “Jesus and Justice”, the International Social Justice Commission’s bible study resource on understanding Social Justice as a lifestyle, rather than a series of acts. It can be accessed under resources at www.salvationarmy.org/isjc

• Surround yourself with people who are passionate about different issues and try to discover why they’re so passionate.

• Engage in discussion on issues that you don’t know about. Listen to the various points of view, ask questions and keep an open mind.

• Actually act in situations where you feel as though you need to comment or suggest alternatives to decisions being made. Write a letter to the government making those decisions. Start an online petition. Find out what the Army is doing about that issue.

About Casey: Casey O'Brien is a Salvationist from Sydney, Australia, who has recently returned from a twelve-month stint at The Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission in New York. Casey's background is in Social Science, Criminology, Policing, Intelligence, Counter-Terrorism and International Security. She loves her Corps and seeing how The Salvation Army can influence the world at both a local and an international level, as well as politically. Casey is passionate about Social Justice, loves watching The West Wing and 30 Rock, eating cookie dough and reading Crime Fiction.

As part of her internship at the International Social Justice Commission Casey has written additional articles designed to challenge Salvationist thinking on issues of war and terrorism, and the way in which we as Christians respond to it. Each paper is designed to be controversial, to push boundaries and to encourage critical thinking with the aim of encouraging discussion. These topics are merely examples of areas in which Salvationists can challenge their thinking - they are a starting point from which Salvationists everywhere can begin to challenge thinking within their own area of interest. The papers are designed with the average Salvationist in mind in the hopes that Thinking Salvationists will rise up from every corner of the globe, acting as catalysts for innovation within The Salvation Army. Just Salvos highly recommends you take the time to read them.

Download here: 
1. The Thinking Salvationist (extended version of the article above)
2. Thinking Big - This article explores the importance of The Salvation Army challenging not only the obvious symptoms of the problems it faces in society, but also challenging the root causes of these social evils on a daily basis.
3. Western Consumerism - This article challenges Salvationists' thinking about the way in which they use their money. 
4. Informed - This article asks Salvationists to step outside their everyday thinking and explore new areas of thinking.
5. Terrorism - This article, based on the Author's area of interest, raises questions about how The Salvation Army and Christians alike should view issues surrounding Terrorism.


Clifton, S., ‘Selected Writings Vol. 2, 2000-2010’, 2010, Salvation Books, London, United Kingdom.

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