Mike Metzger and John Seel write today about the problem with evangelical Christian efforts to live out the gospel. We fail to see how the gospel is meant to impact systems as well as individuals.
Christian Smith, a sociologist at the University of Notre Dame, found that evangelicals are drawn to missions of mercy to the poor, the homeless, and the addicted. “Worthy as these projects may be,” Smith warns, “none of them attempt to transform social or cultural systems, but merely to alleviate some of the harm caused by the existing system” (American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving) Individual responses are not enough, when a systemic response is required.
When Harvie Conn was a missionary in South Korea, he witnessed many prostitutes coming to faith in Christ. Yet there was no economic system for these women to find work. They were trapped between solicitation and starvation. The church was not equipped to respond to their need. That was due to its focus on saving individual souls over changing society’s structures. Faithfulness to the gospel demands both.
“The idea that the gospel is addressed only to the individual,” chides Anglican theologian Lesslie Newbigin (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society), “and that it is only indirectly addressed to societies, nations, and cultures is simply an illusion of our individualist post-Enlightenment Western culture.” Loving God and our neighbor requires addressing social and economic systems, not simply alleviating individual symptoms. Ours is a Big Picture gospel that often challenges the taken for granted."