November 14, 2007

An Evangelical "Church" Split

Rereading the charming wit of Dorothy Sayers, I see how she has a profound way of speaking to the plight of the church even in our own 21st century context. In Creed of Chaos? she speaks intelligently of the gospel:
It is, in the strictest sense, necessary to the salvation of relevance that a man should believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Unless he believes rightly, there is not the faintest reason why he should believe at all.(p. 36)
So in a recent article published by Willow Creek in their Seismic Shift edition, I can't help but to think on Sayers' words as I read the words below:
A spiritually formed person loves God and loves others, but love is not just a feeling. It's doing things that are showing God's love in the world. It really comes down to, what is the gospel? What gospel do we preach? If the gospel is merely that Jesus came to die for our sins, so that if we believe in him we can go to heaven some day, then there is no need for spiritual formation. We're all just waiting. But what if the gospel is the work of God to transform human beings into people who love God and love others? What if it is big enough to change people, so that they begin to act in ways that give witness to that gospel? (page 13)
These are the words of Scott McKnight as quoted by Willow Creek. I'm not exactly sure who believes that you can be saved and not transformed in your daily living, I don't even know any hypercalvinists who believe this. This is simply not the message of the Gospel. So why say it? There is no argument from me or any other evangelical that the outworking of our salvation is transformed lives and the lives of others. But to suggest that some so-called Christians hold seems necessary to give weight to the next statement - what if it is big enough to change people, so that they begin to act in ways that give witness to that gospel?

The article continues:
For years the term "social gospel" was considered a dirty word of sorts in evangelical circles. The thinking was that fighting social ills was not as important as saving souls. But some Christian leaders, especially those in the spiritual formation movement, are hoping that the church is waking up to the fact that those two goals are not mutually exclusive. (page 13)
There is no doubt in my mind that Christians of all denominations fail in ministry. We are often hypocrites and liars and cheaters and who knows what else. But this isn't the exclusive domain of evangelicalism as the article would like to suggest.

My understanding of "social gospel" is not represented well here either. And I realize that it's one of those terms which can vary in definition and understanding, but there has historically been a closeness between the social gospel and liberation theologies.

It's never been an either/or thing for me, and while every Christian can improve upon their witness in society, I've never heard an evangelical suggest that we shouldn't fight social ills because it would distract from the work of evangelism. If that were true, many evangelicals would refrain from their work in the prolife arena (or is this not a legitimate area of social concern? Just asking). What I have heard, and oft repeated, are the famous words of Assisi, to "share the gospel, use words if necessary." When has the gospel been communicated without words? The gospel without words is the essence of the social gospel I have seen promoted, especially by mainline denominations. The Gospel of Jesus Christ states that we are sinners, yet Christ died so that we may live....believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Belief in something is a requirement, the work of the gospel relates to our sanctification and if we are failing in this area, then it is because we are not teaching believers a complete picture of Christianity.

What I want to know is if others see what I see. I see an anti-political sentiment coming from the proponents of this "emerging social gospel" which binds the work of their fellow evangelicals in the public realm instead of supporting it. I see the politically-interested or politically-involved evangelical being told that they have a choice - help the poor or protect the unborn. Recent books suggesting that Christians are perceived as too political make it difficult for evangelicals to continue the work they've been called to because of the perceptions of younger generations, mosaics and busters. Are we to conform our work and our mission to the perceptions of the average man because he doesn't understand it's value and importance? Are evangelicals to sit back and continue being told that they don't care about the poor, the widows, or orphans? Perception is reality only because we're not speaking truth. Let's get back to the work of discipleship or evangelicalism is sure to complete a church split.

1 comment:

Collin Brendemuehl said...

I must disagree, but only a bit. The Fundamentalists and Evangelicals did separate from the move to transform society as promoted by the post-millennialists and liberals (positivists). They did so because of their dispensationalism. The difference is their view of purpose of the church, and this critical to their eschatology.

Where the emergents and other postmoderns make their mistake is in assuming that the lack of a social transformation paradigm is the same as the lack of a social involvement paradigm. They are demanding a major shift by the premillennialists, and that seems to be a detail which has not been clearly stated, or at least not often enough.

Seeing a shift like this makes me want to read a book that came out a couple of years ago -- Is the Reformation Over? or something like that. It seems that many "evangelicals" are moving over to post-millennial positions. The matter deserves additional confrontation.