Evangelicalism vs social action - a false dichotomy?

Discussion in '2003 Archive' started by Matt Black, Sep 24, 2003.

  1. Matt Black

    Matt Black
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    In my brief sojourn here, I have noticed that for American Christians it would seem that the more evangelical you are, the less in favour you are of the 'social gospel' and the more critical you are of social action programs and environmental concerns - and vice versa too ie: if you are conservative theologically you must be politically too. I am curious as to how this situation arose. Over here, we have less of a conflict - it is quite possible, indeed common for evangelicals to be conservative theologically and yet left-of-centre politically. I guess this is why so many evangelicals in Europe are left wing and so many in the US are right-wing.

    Here's something I prepared earlier on the subject:-

    "Drawing much closer to the centre of the spectrum – Left-of-centre rather than Left-wing – we have a group who are often called ‘social Gospellers’; men such as Ronald J. Sider, an American evangelical theologian who, in his books ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’ and ‘Evangelism and Social Action’, strives for a balanced view whilst still erring on the side of the poor and marginalised: “Jesus’ special concern for the poor extended to all the marginalised, weak and socially ostracised. In strong contrast to his contemporaries, Jesus demonstrated a special interest in the disabled, children, drunkards, prostitutes and lepers (cf Luke 7:32-50; 19:1-10).” Sider would assert that, at least sometimes, redressing of structural inequalities is as important if not more so than prayer; on the eradication of malaria he writes “Was that not only more effective but also more Christian than praying for the sick one by one…” I would also place within the ‘Left-of-centre’ bracket Tony Campolo, whom I have already quoted above with approval with regard to his criticisms of the Right, and to whom I will refer again later on; I do not have a problem with this as long as readers understand where the various individuals whom I quote are coming from in the spectrum, so that they can reach an informed opinion.

    Both Sider and Campolo have good evangelical credentials and indeed there would appear to be little in their soteriological standpoints with which to disagree ; in this they differ from the liberation theologians. A major feature in Sider’s approach, and to a lesser extent in that of Campolo, is the need to concentrate on structural as well as personal change. By this it is meant that there are political, economic and social institutions and structures in the world which are inherently oppressive, dehumanising and, in short, downright evil, and that Christians are called upon to dismantle such structures. Here Campolo (describing those on the Left as “New Evangelicals”) sets out the basic differences between Left and Right and the need for structural reform:

    “The New Evangelicals charge that the social system is designed to serve the interests of the rich and the powerful, and therefore must be challenged and changed. The call for basic changes in the structures of American social institutions so that oppression may be ended and justice instituted. They want an end to male chauvinism in marriage and a change in the role prescriptions for husbands and wives. They call for a new economic order in which production will be designed to meet basic human needs, rather than to have a primary orientation to maximize profits by producing things that meet artificially created wants. They demand a government that is more committed to human rights at home and abroad than it is to the preservation of its own political and economic self-interests. They argue that the basic value system of the United States is in conflict with the value system presented in the Scriptures. The New Right views the New Evangelicals as a dangerous enemy – and all the more so because of the conservative theological stance which its members embrace.”

    Searching for a British equivalent of the likes of Sider and Campolo, I can do a lot worse than Robin Gamble, an evangelical Anglican based in Bradford. He also would seek to tie together evangelism with social change, and he draws a distinction between what he calls the ‘social gospel’ and the ‘spiritual gospel’: “The social gospel sees with a very clear eye that people are living in terrible housing conditions; that their children have little or no educational future; that the aged and disabled are being brushed aside by the enterprise culture. It relates all these and similar issues to God’s loving concern for every part of our lives, and then bases a mission strategy on the need for the church to do something practical and positive about such social evils…Social gospel people tend to be involved with community and maybe political compaigns (sic), and usually come from a liberal or middle-of-the-road theological background…The spiritual gospel attitude sees with an equally clear eye that people are living without Christ; that they have little or no experience of the joy of knowing God in this life, and nothing to look forward to in the future. It relates this to the love of God and the saving death of Christ, and then bases a mission strategy on the need for the church to reach out and tell people of Jesus and his gift of eternal life…Spiritual gospel people tend to be very involved with congregational and maybe even evangelistic campaigns, and usually come form an Evangelical or Anglo-Catholic background.”

    A major theme of debate within this Left of centre school of thought is which of the two needs (if at all) – evangelism or social activity – should be the priority for the Christian. This is a point that exercises both Sider and Gamble. Having set out the two apparently competing needs above, Gamble goes on to say, “The Jesus gospel holds together and actually puts into practice the social and the spiritual gospel. It represents the full depth and breadth of God’s love, without missing anything out. It confronts sin and offers salvation in two overlapping zones, the corporate zone and the individual zone.” Having thus apparently allied himself with the liberation theologians who state that salvation can pertain to societies, Gamble goes on to qualify this: “The Jesus gospel brings judgement for the victimisers and compassion and healing for the victims, into this corporate zone…[and] brings judgement against all evil, but it also offers forgiveness and salvation to all evil-doers who are prepared to change their ways and believe” (italics mine)."

    Comments - on Gamble's words in particular?

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  2. ScottEmerson

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    Thanks for the post. I'm one of those mixed breeds here in the states - someone who is interested in both spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ while actively attempting to be an agent of social change. I'm the only guy on staff who is not a card-carrying Republican here at my church. I actually taught about the social gospel last Wednesday to the students. They are bringing clothing, money, and food tonight that we are going to bring to those who need them. We're going to ask God to bless our offering - that through our gifts, other people will understand the love of Christ, and be one step closer to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

    In other words, how are people going to understand the love of Christ if they are starving to death and freezing to death. Unless we give to the least of these, how will they understand Christ's sacrifice?
     
  3. bryan1276

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    It depends what your goals are basically. If your goal is to spread the gospel, you'll do that first and fill peoples needs in order to get a chance to spread the gospel. I preach at a mission for instance and sometimes give stuff over there, but their main need is to be fed by the words of God and they will tell you that. The social gospel idea is something that originated with a mingling of marxism and christianity and the Vatican pushed it to the forefront calling it "liberation theology" in South America; urging social justice and the "bourgesie" to revolt against evil capitalists. There is not social gospel in the Bible. The Lord preached, saved, healed for the purpose of getting folks saved, but never healed for healing sake. So if your goal is to save the earth and you claim to be a Christian, read 2 Peter 3;10 that tells you the earth melts with fervent heat in the end. If you want to eradicate poverty, read Matt. 26:10--the poor ye always have with you. If you want no division in income earners, read Titus 2:9, 1 Pet. 2;18, Col. 3;22 and so on. Historical facts are these: The idea of capitalism was only a fruit of Biblical freedom that God granted to this country (USA). It is envied, but its not a CAUSE of freedom. A social gospel is useless unless the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is preached. Hand outs and good works are vain in themselves.
     
  4. Jimmy C

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    We must do both, I believe that if we follow the example of Jesus we will be socially active as well as evangelical.

    The social gospel has received a bad name because of liberation theology, and the actions brought about as a result. Yet I can look at ministries around us that reach out to the most needy of our communities as people that are truly fulfilling the gospel. Ministries like Crisis Pregnancy centers, Mission Arlington in arlington texas run by one of the most godly women I have ever met (Tillie Bergon), etc.
     
  5. Jim1999

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    The Salvation Army has it right in their unofficial motto:

    Soup, Soap and Salvation.......and in that order....Feed the physical man and clean him up and he will ready to hear the gospel.

    Cheers,

    Jim
     
  6. Matt Black

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    Disagree with you there apart from the last two sentences.

    Re: liberation theology and the Vatican; although LT originated with the RCC, the Vatican is certainly not pro-LT; .” Although I am not usually in agreement with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Catholic Church’s successor to the Inquisition, I find much with which to agree in his statement that “liberation is first and foremost liberation from the radical slavery of sin…As a logical consequence, it calls for freedom from many different kinds of slavery in the cultural, economic, social and political spheres, all of which derive ultimately from sin…[emphases on]…liberation from servitude of an earthly and temporal kind…seem to put liberation from sin in second place.” (Ratzinger, “Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation”, August 1984. This excerpt from the letter also coincidentally sets out Ratzinger’s view on the evangelism v. social action dilemma of the social Gospellers like Sider.)The present Pope has something of a love-hate relationship with LT in general. Whilst criticising the more extreme liberation theologians – Boff in particular has received harsh treatment from the Pope and his theological henchman Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – John Paul II has published documents that are decidedly Left in leaning. For example, in Redemptor Humanis, he argues that as the Incarnation expresses God-with-Man “the dignity of people is grounded in Christ’s presence to them” ; the mission of the Church is “the Gospel and the engagement on behalf of social justice”. In Laborem Exercens, he goes on to give priority to “labour over power” and to denounce “domination built into the economic system” , asserting that “humans constitute themselves by labouring”. However, he urges workers to have a greater voice in the control of political and capitalist organisations on a co-operative basis rather than a revolutionary class-struggle, to protect “personal freedom and pluralism.” He states that the church should “influence particular political and economic issues…by believers acting as citizens” whilst at the same time not wishing to represent Jesus as a “political figure, a revolutionary, [or] as the subversive from Nazareth.” John Paul II also attacks liberationist soteriology by saying that it is a “mistake to state that political, economic and social liberation coincide with salvation in Jesus Christ.”

    Re social gospel not being in the Bible - all I can say is that you obviously have some different version to mine! In the OTA seemingly-endless procession of mainly bad kings ruled over both Israel and Judah, practising pagan rites and exploiting the poor, Ahab’s theft and murder in the acquisition of Naboth’s vineyard being but one example (1 Kings 21).Against this backdrop of hedonistic paganism and exploitative decadence, the great Old Testament prophets rose up to denounce the nations of Israel and Judah and their rulers. Amos is particularly ‘anti-rich’, attacking their lifestyles and their abuse of the poor, together with injustice and judicial bribery (Amos 2:6-7; 3:15; 5:7; 5:12-13; 6:4-5). This is unacceptable to God (Amos 5:21-24). Micah is equally critical: the rich appropriate others’ property and destroy the poor (Micah 2:2; 3:2-3). Similar themes can be found in Isaiah 3:14-15; 10:1-4 and 58:1-6.
    It does not necessarily follow from the above, however, that the prophets were categorically against people having wealth; it would appear that they were more concerned about how that wealth was acquired and at whose expense. Nevertheless, the dominant theme of prophetic diatribe against the secular and religious establishment seems to be that of justice for the poor, widows and orphans.

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  7. Matt Black

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    In accordance with BB policy on copyrighted material (see Announcements forum) I should state that the quotes in the OP come from the following sources:-

    Ronald Sider, "Evangelism and social action", pp. 64 and 148

    Tony Campolo, "Partly Right", pp. 216-217

    Robin Gamble, "The Irrelevant Church", pp.125-126

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  8. bryan1276

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    The Vatican is a political entity and plays both sides of every idea. I agree with the soup, soap and salvation motto. Social action in itself is a vain idea. As to Naboth and his vineyard, that was about removing ancient landmarks not about the rich vs. the poor.
     
  9. Matt Black

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    No, Naboth was about the rich king, Ahab, who had everything, stealing the vineyard of the poor man who had next to nothing, by murder.

    I agree that social action on its own is vain, but it should also be an integral part of preaching the gospel and expression of our felloship with each other; I think that James waxed eloquent on that point

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  10. Mark Osgatharp

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    It is the responsibility of every Christian to help anyone who is in need. "Pure religion and undefiled", said James, is this, "To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction; and to keep himself unspotted from the world."

    Notwithstanding, the idea that the churches of Jesus Christ exist to administer social programs is contrary to the explicit statements of the Scripture. To start with, the very reason deacons were appointed in the church at Jerusalem was so the gospel ministry would be unencumbered from social work. Peter put it this way:

    "It is not reason that we should leave the word of God to serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word."

    Furthermore, Paul instructed that the church was to care for widows only in the most destitute cases. Otherwise, it falls on families to care for their own (see I Timothy chapter 5).

    It seems to me that those who talk much about the need for social work are those who always have their hand stuck out for someone else to finance their endeavors. How contrary is this to the true "good Samaritan" who, finding a man in need, treated him with his own oil and wine, placed him on his own donkey, took his own time to carry him to a place of safety, and promised to pay whatever costs were incurred in caring for the man.

    The modern day "Good Samaritan, M.D." would have organized a hospital and appointed a board of directors, sent his ambulance to pick the man up, billed his insurance company an exorbitant price for emergency medical supplies, lodged him in his own hospital for $900.00 a day, and then asked the churches and the government for finacial aid for his "faith based initiative."

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  11. Kiffin

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    I think there is a social responsibilty for churches though our primary duty is preaching the Gospel. At my former church we fed a low rent government housing project once a month though we had hoped to eventually be able to do it once a week. We also set aside money to help those people in our community who needed help with their rent or utilities or who may have had a tragedy such as a house fire. Our Church also had a blanket drive to send blankets to the persecuted Christian churches in Sudan via Voice of the Martyrs . My understanding is that one of the reasons churches have tax exempt status is because churches were expected to take up the slack in helping the poor. Instead today we have this Government Social welfare that seems to waste more money than help people.
     
  12. LarryN

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    To go into certain foreign mission fields that are officially closed to the Gospel, the only way to enter these countries is under the official purpose of providing some service or other humanitarian aid. Providing medical care, teaching proper crop cultivation methods, or some such stated reason are the only way certain countries will permit you in. And then the missionary has to follow through on that objective, as well as spreading God's Word. To boldly state that your primary (read: only) purpose is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ means that you'll be refused entry at the start.
     
  13. Dr. Bob

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    My motto:
     
  14. Matt Black

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    Can't argue with that, in fact couldn't agree more! Straight from Isaiah 58 - 'nuff said [​IMG]

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  15. BevR

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    I am certainly not a theologian, but I have always read Matthew 25 to say that, if we are to be judged at all by God, it will be for the way that we have treated those on the lowest rungs of our society. To my mind, how can I communicate to someone that God loves them, when they have never experienced love, respect and kindness from humans?

    Beverly
     

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