I think we all realize the truth of Covey’s observations from the nature of human experience. As a parent, for example, it seems undeniable to me that my role is to raise my children to be responsible, creative, interdependent (not dependent) individuals who take responsibility for their own decisions.
But is this also biblical? In other words, is the importance of being proactive something we learn only from common grace (which we are to learn from — see, for example, Romans 12:17, where we are told to “respect what is good in the sight of all men”; that’s common grace), or is it also something we learn from the Bible?
William Carey, the great missionary and reformer to India, was proactive, and his proactive nature came directly from his understanding of the Bible. Vishal Ruth Mangalwadi describe the biblical basis of Carey’s proactive nature perfectly in their book The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture. They don’t use the word “proactive,” but this is one of the best descriptions of the term that I’ve seen:
Carey’s heroism — a result of his understanding of vocation and destiny — represents the best form of the Western individualism that followed the Protestant Reformation.
One central emphasis of the Gospel is that each individual has to stand alone before God and give an account of his life. I cannot blame others for my life, any more than Adam could blame Eve for eating the forbidden fruit. I am responsible for my choices. I have to trust God and obey Him, whether or not those close to me obey Him. If I have disobeyed, I have sinned and need to repent.
Christian life begins with repentance that leads to conversion. Repentance implies a radical individualism — a person assuming responsibility for his or her own life. In India, religion had been a tool of social control over a person’s conscience, an instrument for quashing a person’s individuality. In contrast, when Jesus called His disciples to “forsake all” for the kingdom of God, He set them free to be themselves, to follow God and fulfill their destiny — their calling.
Christ’s disciples, as a result, became heroes who turned the world upside down. Sixteenth-century Reformers and nineteenth-century missionaries who followed Carey’s initiative resembled Christ’s apostles at this point.
We should be grateful that some parts of the Indian church today have recaptured Carey’s missionary vision and the individual heroism that accompanies it. They are the best hope for India’s marginalized millions.
I’d like to end the post right there, because it highlights the fact that being proactive is not about yourself, but is part of what leads to the hope of social reform and change. But I think it’s also important to distinguish this type of individualism from other forms that are not biblical, as the authors go on to do:
These remarks are not to imply that all facets of Western individualism are good or are rooted in biblical teaching. One stream of individualism that sprang from Enlightenment thinking was the kind summed up in the ethic of “self-reliance” taught by Emerson. This increasingly dominant form of individualism turns individual self-reliance into selfishness. Carey’s individualism, like the Lord’s, was both self-sacrificing and balanced by the biblical emphasis on the church being a body.