The evangelical church is finally turning the corner. For most of the 20th Century, we were embroiled in the fundamentalist/liberal fight, in which “real” evangelicals were defined by those who repudiated the “social gospel” and concentrated exclusively on the saving of souls. But from within the movement, leading evangelicals called into question this false dichotomy.
Thanks to the likes of Lesslie Newbigin, Ron Sider, and many missionary agency leaders within evangelicalism, we now understand that we are not actually living the gospel if we do not have a holistic approach to solving problems and overcoming injustice in the world. The gospel of the Kingdom of God has come back into the vocabulary of the evangelical church, a gospel that says that God’s “good news” is about the universal flourishing (shalom) of all in his creation.
It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition: either saved souls or social justice. No, the corner has been turned. It’s both/and: God wants to redeem his creation, through those who have been transformed by the power of Christ.
The premise of "Missional Community" for which I advocate here at Vanguard Church is this: When evangelical Christians live for the purpose of joining with Christ in his reconciliation of all things to himself (see Colossians 1:20), when we seek justice and shalom for the world, when we join in the work of the Kingdom taking part in God’s redemption of a fallen world, then we are actually doing the work of evangelism. Our witness of the incarnational love of Christ through our good works is the means by which we can tell people of God’s plan to make all things right through Christ. We offer people to move from being a part of the problem and being a part of the solution when we ask them to yield to the Lordship of Christ.
So, how refreshing it is to read an Op/Ed piece in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof that applauds evangelicals for our love for our neighbors! Kristof wrote,
__Evangelicals have become the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria, and doing superb work on issues from human trafficking in India to mass rape in Congo.
__A pop quiz: What’s the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization?
__It’s not Save the Children, and it’s not CARE — both terrific secular organizations. Rather, it’s World Vision, a Seattle-based Christian organization (with strong evangelical roots) whose budget has roughly tripled over the last decade.
__World Vision now has 40,000 staff members in nearly 100 countries. That’s more staff members than CARE, Save the Children and the worldwide operations of the United States Agency for International Development — combined.
Kristof reports that, once again, it is a missionary agency leader that shows the way for the rest of evangelicals:
__A growing number of conservative Christians are explicitly and self-critically acknowledging that to be “pro-life” must mean more than opposing abortion. The head of World Vision in the United States, Richard Stearns, begins his fascinating book, “The Hole in Our Gospel,” with an account of a visit a decade ago to Uganda, where he met a 13-year-old AIDS orphan who was raising his younger brothers by himself.
__“What sickened me most was this question: where was the Church?” he writes. “Where were the followers of Jesus Christ in the midst of perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time? Surely the Church should have been caring for these ‘orphans and widows in their distress.’ (James 1:27). Shouldn’t the pulpits across America have flamed with exhortations to rush to the front lines of compassion?
__“How have we missed it so tragically, when even rock stars and Hollywood actors seem to understand?”
I thank God for the witness of Stearns and World Vision! Their love for those suffering must not be the exclusive practice of missions agencies, but should be the model for every church, seeing their witness for Christ being the missional work of embodying the love of God. Listen to the impact of Christians living as Christians had on Kristof:
__One of the most inspiring figures I’ve met while covering Congo’s brutal civil war is a determined Polish nun in the terrifying hinterland, feeding orphans, standing up to drunken soldiers and comforting survivors — all in a war zone. I came back and decided: I want to grow up and become a Polish nun.