Hammer Theology

He calls it "the theology of the hammer." I'm talking about Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity. Fuller has just been awarded the Medal of Freedom, our nation's highest civilian honor, by President Clinton. Fuller is a shining example of how Christians can live out the Gospel and transform our society. Building homes for the poor was the last thing on Fuller's mind 20 years ago. A millionaire by the time he was 29, Fuller thought he had it all: a successful law practice, a beautiful home, and a luxurious lifestyle. But his personal life was crumbling. During this time of crisis, when his marriage was threatening to dissolve, Fuller accepted Christ. He then began searching for a way to put his new-found faith into practice. That's when Fuller became aware of the tremendous need for decent housing for the poor, and Habitat for Humanity was born. Fuller brings together churches, businesses, and local governments to provide money, land, and lumber. He then mobilizes volunteers from local churches to do the actual building. When a home is finished, it's sold at a modest price to a carefully chosen needy recipient. These new homeowners have to put in hundreds of hours of what Fuller calls "Sweat Equity": They swing a hammer or a paintbrush alongside Habitat volunteers. Twenty years after he first picked up a hammer, Fuller has built a remarkable ministry that has earned kudos from liberals and conservatives alike. Habitat volunteers have built nearly 50,000 homes around the world. In the United States alone, more than 3,000 homes were built last year, making Habitat the twentieth largest home builder in the country. I've seen Fuller's "theology of the hammer" in action myself. Ten years ago I worked on a Habitat project on the west side of Chicago. About a hundred other volunteers, including some men furloughed from prison, were there. So was former president Jimmy Carter . Together, we sawed boards, nailed studs, and put up drywall. We also prayed together and had devotions twice a day. Five years later, when I was in Chicago, I decided to go see the houses that President Carter and I had worked on together. I walked up the steps of one of the homes and met the owner. To my astonishment she recognized me and gave me a heartwarming story of her life in the home our own hands had helped build. And she told me how the house had helped her build a strong family life, as well. Habitat for Humanity illustrates the way Christianity leads to the right ordering of civil society. All too often, Christians are told to keep their faith private, out of the public realm. But in Millard Fuller we see what happens when a man takes his faith out into the street: Poor people get homes. The next time you hear your secular neighbors criticizing the influence of Christian faith in our culture, ask them if they know who America's twentieth biggest home builder is. And tell them that without a theology of the Cross, there would be no theology of the hammer.


Chuck Colson


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