I am immersed in a church culture that has always been suspicious of those "social gospel" people—those who make the gospel of Jesus only about helping the poor and hungry, fighting injustices, or caring for the needy. Not that my church culture demeans these actions as unimportant; we just insist that the gospel is about personal salvation through believing in the death of Jesus to atone for our sins. If helping the poor, fighting injustice and caring for the needy gives us a platform to share the gospel of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, then that’s great. If it does not have that as its ultimate purpose, then it is no longer gospel work.
Scot McKnight has a continuing series at his blog, Jesus Creed, called “Letters to Emerging Christians” (which I understand may become a book someday). His latest letter deals with this issue, and it got me thinking about my church culture and how it is too truncated in its understanding of the gospel.
Evangelicals have been fearful that if we create too broad a category for evangelism that would include such actions as stopping injustice, then we will lose the importance of proclamation. So we have insisted (especially in light of the social gospel movement of the past century) that there are two categories: “Gospel proclamation” (telling people about Jesus), and “social justice” (doing Kingdom work). Ron Sider, who I deeply respect, even makes this distinction in his very good book, Good News and Good Works.
What we need, however, is a bigger view of Kingdom living. The purpose of living as a Christian is to live authentically as Christ’s disciples in every aspect. We need to rid our lives of the dualist thinking that one thing (gospel proclamation) is what’s really important and everything else is some sort of second-tier Christian living.
Of course, our sinful nature will tend to push us toward thinking that “if all I do is help people, I’m doing gospel work,” and then quote Francis of Assisi (“Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words”) to rationalize our point. Christians can easily fall into the mode of “I’m living my life as a testimony” without ever saying a word about their testimony. That is not the legitimate holistic Christian life - it is not living the fullness of what it means to live as Christ’s disciple.
But the other side of the coin is just as illegitimate. We may think, “if all I do is proclaim Christ to people by explaining the cross, then (and only then) am I doing gospel work.” That separates one part of my gospel-living life in a way that makes it lose its power.
I want to drive home this point:
When everything that we do is seen as gospel work, then evangelism by proclamation becomes a natural part of who we are. It no longer feels forced; it no longer feels like an imposition on others; it flows from the core of who we are. We live it; we share it.
So it is no longer a debate between "Gospel Proclamation" versus "Social Justice." Why can't we live in a way that embraces both as one holistic gospel life?
technorati: emerging church, missional, justice