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Cashing In on Big Ideas

Marshall Poe's Meme Weaver: The Author Tries—and Fails—to Cash in on a Big Idea (The Atlantic Monthly, October 2011)
Cashing In on Big Ideas

Big ideas, big dreams and big actions—those ideas, dreams, and actions that actually change the world—are not wrong in and of themselves, but they too often become merely part of the idol-making process, the bane of everyman. As soon as we begin thinking, “This idea, this dream, this action is the one that is going to make me famous, or rich, or powerful, or happy, or [well, you fill in the blank]“ then that idea, or dream, or action is doomed to be something that contributes not so much to the furtherance of God’s Kingdom purposes here on earth, but rather to the building of an image of our own divinity, our castle in which we do what we want and from which we rule the world.

I say “not so much” because even our idols can in fact be useful to God’s work, quite apart from the evil they cause us. But this just underscores the subtlety with which a big anything becomes an idol and therefore much more difficult to discern than we had thought when we began to research it. This article tells a moving, funny short story of the author’s quest to write a “big ideas” book and what happened as that quest began to be fulfilled. His conclusions make us rightly skeptical of anyone or any thing that attempts to reduce the complexity of most of reality to a few simple principles or ideas, the so-called “big” ideas. The big ideas are big because they have so much stuff attached to them, so many complex and difficult questions and propositions that flow from and into them that they are not easily understood, much less proclaimed. Just look at Martin Luther’s “big idea” of sola fides: we are still talking, writing and arguing about it 500 years after it was re-discovered by the German monk.

Meme Weaver is a great article for discussion: brief, easily readable, very slyly humorous, and most of all: greatly thought provoking.


  1. Love this article. While recognizing the limits and futility of making complex ideas and realities into compelling dreams and fashionable big ideas, I do think there is an important place to seek the ways God is calling us to dream big dreams that can change the world for the sake of God’s kingdom. The challenge is to pursue these dreams in step with the Spirit, holding loosely to our assumptions yet believing redemption can really happen even thru people like ourselves because God has created us with a purpose which glorifies Him. I admit it I’m a dreamer but it’s tied to God’s purposes in creating us for His glory and not for our own self glory.

    Comment by brucealwood — December 30, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

  2. I agree, Bruce, while I do have some concern that we spend too much time trying to hit the home run instead of plodding along hitting the single and stealing the base. The key is whether or not we allow either hubris, fear or stubbornness to interfere with the dreaming. Some are simply made for the home run to keep on with the baseball analogy, but many more for the single. What is necessary is for us to discern our capabilities and our calling, and, as you put it, to use those in accord with God’s Spirit and for His glory alone. To put it in James Hunter’s terms, all of us need to establish a “faithful presence” in the world, actively working for God’s glory. But for some of us, that faithful presence will require participation in “big” dreams, for others of us much “smaller” ones.

    Comment by drewtrotter — January 19, 2012 @ 9:27 am

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