Archive for the ‘Social Reform’ category

Christopher J.H. Wright on the Gospel and Social Action

November 13, 2007

In his book, Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament, Christopher J.H. Wright writes about the mission of the Spirit-anointed Messiah being the mission of the church. Wright explains (emphasis mine):

“Historically the church has indeed seen its mission in these broad terms. It is not a matter of engaging in both the gospel and social action, as if Christian social action was something separate from the gospel itself. The gospel has to be demonstrated in word and deed. Biblically, the gospel includes the totality of all that is good news from God for all that is bad news in human life–in every sphere. So like Jesus, authentic Christian mission has included good news for the poor, compassion for the sick and suffering justice for the oppressed, liberation for the enslaved. The gospel of the Servant of God in the power of the Spirit of God addresses every area of human need and every area that has been broken and twisted by sin and evil. And the heart of the gospel, in all of these areas, is the cross of Christ.”

Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 118-19.

I think we need to look at this paragraph closely, especially in how Wright considers the relationship of evangelism and social action. If I understand him correctly, social action is in itself an expression of the gospel which is grounded in the mission of Jesus as the Spirit-anointed Servant. Contrary to Wright, I have heard others, including Mark Dever in recent talks, argue that social action are not aspects of the gospel in itself but rather implications of the gospel. I know this sounds like splitting hairs, but this is an important distinction that divides evangelicals on how they understand the relationship evangelism and social action.

So what are your thoughts?

Na says “Yes” to Word and Deed

October 13, 2007

At the New Attitude blog, Doug Hayes asks,

What is the mission of the church? Are God’s people called to evangelize the lost by preaching the gospel and calling people to repentance? Or are we to spend our time and resources ministering to the needs of the poor? Are these two activities even meant to be distinguished from one another? Is the gospel preached when we act in harmony with the mercy and justice of God? Are the needs of the poor best met when we address spiritual need, rather than putting food in the bellies of lost souls?

These questions deal directly with the recent conversation on missional and what Ryken was called for in “cultural transformation.”  Hayes answers the questions,

So which one is it? Is the church to be concerned with evangelism or care for the poor?

Yes.

It is the job of the church to preach the gospel, and it is the job of the church to care for the poor. Too often, these two high callings are treated as an “either-or” proposition, but Scripture calls God’s people to a “both-and” embracing of both. We are called very clearly to preach the gospel, and we are called very clearly to serve the poor. One should not be done to the exclusion of the other, nor does our obedience to one fulfill our mandate for the other.

Watch out Mr. Hayes!  Fundamentalists will start accusing you of preaching a social gospel!  But alas, Paul would agree as well as contemporaries like Carl F.H. Henry and Tim Keller.  Kudos for an article well written.  Here’s a couple more excerpts:

If we consider it our calling only to preach the gospel, we may address people’s spiritual needs very well, but we miss an opportunity to substantiate the truth of our words through our actions. We miss an opportunity to glorify God by displaying another beautiful aspect of his mercy. I believe Christians need to become more comfortable with the fact that God is glorified through our merciful actions, even if they never lead to the salvation of the person we’re ministering to. If you faithfully care for a suffering friend or family member over a period of years, yet that person dies without Christ, you have not wasted your time. You have greatly glorified God through perseverant, merciful action! This may seem like a startling statement at first, but Scripture does not command us to serve the poor merely as a pretense for evangelism. We care for the poor as a means of reflecting the merciful character of God. As we faithfully do that, his name is glorified. The eternal results are his domain.

We must never confuse these two great mandates the Lord has placed upon us as his people. We can’t accomplish one by doing the other, and the absence or minimization of either represents a failure to carry out the mission God has called us to. Yet even as we distinguish between evangelism and mercy ministry, we recognize that the gospel is the common thread that binds the two together. We desire to take advantage of every opportunity to proclaim the gospel with our lips even as we are demonstrating its authenticity with our deeds. The gospel is central to everything we do. It is the hub from which and to which all ministry flows. Our hope is always to proclaim the gospel, even when our primary ministry activity is oriented toward physical mercy rather than evangelism.

Outsourcing the Local Church?

October 1, 2007

This is a question I have been thinking about in the past couple of weeks.  Do you think it is a valid one?

Let me just mention a couple of areas.  Theological education has been outsourced to Baptist colleges and seminaries.  Church planting has been outsourced to denominational entities, namely the North American Mission Board (NAMB).  Biblical counseling has been outsourced to “Christian psychologists” or professional counselors.  Evangelism has been outsourced to vocational evangelists and revivalists.  Benevolence and mercy ministry has been outsourced to parachurch organizations such as World Vision, Compassion International, and Salvation Army.

Should these not be primarily functioning in the local church?  Why have these over the years become so outsourced in the SBC?  Have we lost confidence in the local church?  Am I missing it here?

The Forgotten Henry

September 6, 2007

It was in 1966 when Iain Murray’s book The Forgotten Spurgeon was first published. Murray explains that one of the main reasons why he decided to write this book was to “throw light on the reasons which have given rise to the superficial image of Spurgeon as a genial Victorian pulpiteer.” Murray argued that what was central to Spurgeon’s life was often ignored in biographies of him–namely that of his commitment to Calvinism. Throughout his book, Murray elaborates on three main controversies–Hyper-Calvinism/Arminianism (1850s), Baptismal Regeneration (1864), and the Down-Grade (1887-91). As a result of the efforts of Murray, Spurgeon was cast in a different light than had been seen before.

I believe that there could be a case for The Forgotten Henry–Carl F. H. Henry, that is. Henry is without a doubt one of the greatest evangelical minds of the 20th century. He is rightly to be remembered for his magnificent work, God, Revelation & Authority, and of course his influence on neo-Evangelicalism (and founding editor of Christianity Today). Today, Henry’s mind is being remembered in a number of ways, not the least of which are three centers names after him, namely The Henry Institute (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), The Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), and the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Christian Leadership (Union University). It is widely argued from the likes of scholars such as David Wells that Carl Henry is probably the most under-appreciated theologians in recent church history, and having the opportunity to read through some of his massive works, I believe his assessment is quite right. It has been three and a half years since Henry left us, and in this short period of time, I fear as a young evangelical, his life and legacy is going largely unnoticed and unappreciated among my generation.

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Carl Henry on the Christian in the Workplace

September 3, 2007

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”
Ecclesiastes 9:10

In recent years, there has been some good articles, essays, and books on developing a theology of work. Both Justin Taylor and Steve McCoy point us to some excellent resources, including Piper’s “Making Much of 8 to 5” (or in my case 11:00 p.m.-4:00 a.m.) in Don’t Waste Your Life and Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work. Others such as Tullian Tchividjian and Matt Harmon have also addressed the topic nicely. One of the recent works not mentioned was Gene Edward Veith’s book God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Crossway, 2002).

I would like to offer my contribution to the excellent articles by submitting a portion of my research on Carl F.H. Henry. Below are eight selected quotes I grabbed from my studies in which Henry addresses the Christian in the workplace (the sources are footnoted below). Henry believed that one of the most fundamental ways for Christians to influence society was through “the doctrine of vocation” through which Christians glorify God and embody the evangelical social ethic of loving their neighbor and doing them good.

Do you consider your job the way Henry describes it below? A “divinely appointed realm”, “doctrine of Christian vocation,” “divine calling,” “priestly nature of daily work,” “divinely entrusted stewardship,” and “a consecrating of energy”? Man, this is but one of the many reasons I love me some Henry!

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Dan Cruver and Carolina Hope Christian Adoption Agency

August 17, 2007

A couple of weeks ago, Dan Cruver contacted me to share the news that he had recently accepted the position of Ministry Outreach Coordinator for Carolina Hope Christian Adoption Agency, a licensed agency that services both domestic and international adoptions. I am really excited for Dan and his beautiful family about this new ministry opportunity and want to encourage you to get in contact with him if you, your church, or someone you know is interested in adoption either domestically or internationally. From very early on in our relationship, my wife and I have talked about adoption and continue think and pray about the Lord’s leading in this area (on our wedding day, our videographer as my wife how many kids I wanted. Dusti answered correctly, saying I wanted three boys and three girls–the girls being adopted).

Dan shared that his new ministry responsibilities include:

(1) networking with pastors/churches, mission agencies, children’s homes, and other organizations to inform them of Carolina Hope’s established full-service adoption ministry;

(2) speaking in churches, Bible study groups, and other venues to present adoption within the context of the larger story of redemption;

(3) writing content for Carolina Hope’s website and articles for publication. If you know of a ministry that might be interested in having me come to speak on orphan ministry in general and adoption in particular, please let me know.

Dan has also started a blog dedicated to all things related to adoption. As you may already know, adoption is a huge them of the gospel and redemption, and as Christians, being committed to and involved in the work of adoption is a powerful and vivid way of communicating to the world around us what God has done for those who know Him. Dan shares that the blog “will be a great resource that will provide information about important adoption issues and posts that will explore what adoption means theologically.” He also was interviewed on Calling for Truth, and the entire interview can be downloaded by clicking here.

Over the course of the past year that I have known Dan, I have found him to be someone who passionately believes and radically lives out the gospel of Jesus Christ. This new ministry expresses such a desire to communicate gospel realities through adoption. I encourage you to visit their website, read their blog, and get plugged into the beautiful work of adoption. Here is how you can contact Dan via email:
DanC (at) CarolinaHopeAdoption (dot) org
.

A New Emphasis for a New Breed of Evangelicals?

May 22, 2007

A week ago (May 14, 2007) on Larry King Live, the discussion was made over what were evangelical priorities when it comes to voting for President of the United States.  The theme of the show was “What’s God to Do with Politics?” and you can read the transcript by going here.  As a lead-up, I want to provide a couple snippets from the discussion.

David Kuo begins, arguing,

“I think there’s something very interesting, however, about what’s happened with the religious right in the last, let’s say, 15 or 20 years.”

Later, King asks Kuo about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and whether if he had pre-marital sex matters.  Kuo responds (emphasis mine),

“You know, I think we have become so focused on the tiny little details and we have missed the big details.  Frankly, I don’t care whether Governor Romney — when Governor Romney and his wife decided to couple up.  What I am interested in is whether or not Governor Romney is interested in caring about the poor.  I don’t particularly care about what Rudy Giuliani’s Christian — religious faith is. I am interested in whether or not he has a particular agenda to care for people who are in need.  You know, what’s ironic to me in this whole discussion about religion — about so many of these candidates talking about faith, is how few of them actually talked about things that, for instance, Jesus talked about. And one of those things that he talked about over and over and over again is caring for the poor.”

In a discussion about evangelical moral issues with King and Mohler, Jim Wallis comments:

“Well, Larry — Larry, I think the conversation could be quite different than it was last time and what Al is saying here, for two reasons. One, the agenda — the religious agenda is going to be very different this time. It won’t be the narrow two agenda issue that we’ve seen dominating in the past.  Poverty is a religious issue now. The environment — climate change; pandemics like HIV. It’s Rick Warren said this week that to focus on just two issues is un-Christian.  And so you’re going to see a wider, deeper agenda — faith applied as David Kuo said, to a whole variety of questions now.”

Mohler’s response:

” . . . I’m all for broadening the agenda. There’s a whole lot — given this country and given our responsibility that ought to be on our agenda, but evangelical Christians are not going to surrender those primary issues. We all have a hierarchy of concerns.  And politically speaking, the sanctity of human life and the sanctity and integrity of the family are at the very top of the evangelical agenda. So, by the way, are issues of personal morality . . .”

David Gergen chimes in the exchange, adding,

“This is a little complex and it’s very contentious. I think what we are seeing is the religious right is going to be absolutely focused on the sanctity of life and the sanctity of family. And by family, this is about the gay issue as well as other issues. And so, they’re going to insist on that in the Republican nomination. So I think that that is right.  But at the same time, Larry, something very important is starting to happen, and that is there are people in the religious right like Rick Warren who believes in the sanctity of life and the sanctity of the family, who also believe that the environment and poverty are terribly important issues. And people on the religious left are starting to make — like Jim Wallis, who is a great leader on the religious left, are starting to find common ground with the religious right on these other additional issues that are also vital to the future.”

Do you see where the conversation is heading?  I followed up this discussion with a post entitled “Evangelical Socio-political Priorities” where I asked five questions, including what a person believes are the issues topping the evangelical socio-political convictions.  Another question I specifically asked was,

“Do you believe that there is an shift to the left in evangelicalism as a result of the emphasis on poverty and global crises?”

Well, according to the New York Times, that answer would be “Yes.”  In their article, “Emphasis Shifts for New Breed of Evangelicals,” they argue that the younger generation of evangelicals, classified as “centrists” are a growing constituency (some 26% of the U.S. population) in contrast to the “traditionalists” who are considered “the Christian right.”  They explain,

“Typified by megachurch pastors like the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., and the Rev. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago, the new breed of evangelical leaders — often to the dismay of those who came before them — are more likely to speak out about more liberal causes like AIDS, Darfur, poverty and global warming than controversial social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.”

They also add that the new evangelicals are not politically activist-minded (contrast to Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson) and are interested in shaping culture through other means such as media and the arts.  Anecdotally, they state that while the new evangelicals hold to the same conservative convictions, especially on abortion, they are more accepting of homosexuality than the “traditionalists.” 

Denny Burk responded yesterday, opining,

“I think this line represents as much wishful thinking as it does reporting. The rest of the article bears out the fact that the life-issue still remains at the top of the list of policy priorities for evangelicals. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon, no matter what Rick Warren and Bill Hybels do.”

I tend to agree with Denny, but it appears that at least in politics, the issues have indeed broadened, and I do not hear conservative evangelical Christians talking much about issues like poverty, Darfur, or AIDS.  Will this in turn come to impact the presidential race in 2008? 

Politics or not, evangelicals are going to have to square with the issues facing the world today other than abortion and homosexuality.  Don’t hear what I am not saying.  Abortion and homosexuality should be top issues for evangelicals.  I am simply saying they shouldn’t be the only issues for evangelicals.  Am I wrong here?  Does this make me a liberal? 

I really don’t care either what Warren and Hybels think or do.  Personally, they are irrelevant to me.  But I do care about what the Bible says and having my convictions and conscience shaped by Scripture and manifested in my worldview.  I think far too long have conservative evangelicals, traditionalists, or whatever you call us, neglected or ignored issues of social justice and concern for the poor.  These should not be issues connected to a political party or liberal brand of Christianity; rather they should be issues connected with biblical Christianity with a comprehensive worldview that addresses all issues valued and appraised by God and His Gospel.  It is not that there should be a new emphasis for a new breed of evangelicals; instead, there should be a renewed commitment of what it means to be Christian.

Evangelical Socio-Political Priorities

May 14, 2007

Alright.

I just got through watching the Larry King Live special on Religion and Politics, counted to 10, and took several deep breaths.  As usual, Dr. Mohler was the lone, conservative evangelical voice in the five-person panel, the closest to him being Jim Wallis.  Most frustrating, however, was that every time Dr. Mohler spoke on an issue, Barry Lynn cut him off and immediately rebutted him.  It must be nice to be so reactionary and bankrupt of ideas where the best one can do on an hour long discussion forum is play tit for tat.  Anyway. 

One of the arguments Jim Wallis and others were making was the belief that abortion and homosexuality are no longer the front-burner ethical issues among evangelicals.  They argue that, for instance, the environment and poverty, are rising to the place of prominence among the evangelical corporate conscience to eclipse the central issues of marriage, family, and the sanctity of human life.  Ideally, I think most evangelicals would say it is not an either-or but a both-and matter, but Dr. Mohler was right to assert that every has an hierarchy of needs and convictions.  Consequently, I am curious to know more about just what everyone is thinking on such matters today.

The reason I am writing this post to ask you a couple of questions to get your thoughts on such certain issues.  Let me put the caveat out there that God is neither Republican or Democrat, and I am not siding with either party.  I am specifically asking about issues that matter most to evangelicals.  So let me know what you think.

Here are five questions that came to my mind after the show tonight:

_____________________________________________________________

1.  What do you believe to be the single most important socio-political issue today?

2.  Do you believe that there is an shift to the left in evangelicalism as a result of the emphasis on poverty and global crises?

3.  Are you personally involved in or committed to helping the poor, overcoming oppression, and fighting injustice?  (I am not asking if you believe in that, but are you doing something about it currently)

4.  Would you support or vote for a presidential candidate who is pro-choice?

5.  Do you consider global warming to be a scientifically legitimate issue?  Should it be a priority to evangelicals? 

_____________________________________________________________

As many of you already know, I did extensive study this past semester on Carl F. H. Henry on such front-burner issues.  I will begin assessing and providing excerpts from him soon.  In the meantime, please, if you have time, let me know what you think.  Thanks.

The Love of Idols

April 26, 2007

I suppose many if not all of you have heard about the “American Idol: Idol Gives Back” special yesterday where over $30 million was raised for various causes, not the least of which included HIV/AIDS, poverty, malaria, and education.  People from New Orleans to the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky to the disease-ridden countries of Africa were spotlighted as a call for the power and influence of American Idol to do something about the many world crises that trouble the concerned conscience. 

At the same time I was watching this, I was completing my paper on Carl Henry called “Surgeon for Social Change: Carl F. H. Henry and the New Evangelical Conscience.”  Sixty years ago Henry nailed his uneasy conscience on the door of modern Fundamentalism, and since that time evangelicals have done much to develop a world program and strategy for social change.  I hope to share some of the work Henry had done for almost six decades in bringing the evangelical world to realize the social implications and imperative of the Christian message.  Probably no other Christian has done more to call for evangelical engagement on social issues than Henry. 

So this past week we saw one of the biggest and most publicized thrusts for humanitarian aid the world has ever sponsored.  It should be noted that all the organizations that benefited from this campaign are secular in nature, and never at any point did the spokespersons point people to a supernatural grounding of benevolence and social justice.  Indeed, their worldview and sociological framework was altogether natural and at the same time anti-supernatural.  With all the talk about showing love to the oppressed, impoverished, and diseased, the Giver of life, the Source of love and justice, and the Healer of diseases was never mentioned. 

Now, it should be said that I applaud the efforts American Idols and the celebrity culture of America are doing for the sake of such humanitarian causes.  But I have wondered what the evangelical world thinks about such global social issues.  Are the social concerns of fighting HIV/AIDS, curing malaria, providing meals to the impoverished, and supplying educational material important enough for Christians to pioneer creative and leading avenues for social change?  Where, on the level of evangelical priorities, do such social issues lie in the program of Christians today? 

I have much more to say on this matter, but have to leave it at that for now.  But let me conclude with this question,

“Should the love of idols be a more inspiring motivation for social engagement and world betterment than the love of Christ?”

Tim Keller on the “Single-End Model” of Evangelism and Social Action

March 23, 2007

In his book, Ministers of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road (P&R, 2000), Tim Keller addresses the relationship of mercy ministry (social action) with evangelism.  I am quoting from his chapter entitled “Word and Deed” (chapter 7).  All emphasis is original.

Some teach that evangelism has primacy over mercy, meaning that mercy is a means to the end of evangelism.  That is, we minister to people in deed as a way of bringing them to Christ.  We conduct a social relief program simply to get the names for our evangelism visitation team to approach.  But deed ministry, like grace itself, is unmerited favor.  Luke 6:35 and context warn us not to lend or to do good so as to expect anything in return.  God sends down the rain on the just and the unjust, the grateful and the wicked (Matt. 5:45).  First John 3:17 tells us that the motivation of any ministry is love.  If we see a need, we meet it, if we can.  This put evangelism and mercy on an equal footing motivationally.  Does a person need an understanding of the way of salvation?  Then we share it.  Does the individual need medical help, a better education, or legal advocacy?  Out of love we give those as well (109-10).

Later Keller picks up and critiques the position espoused by Stott (go here for the positions). 

A second principle is that word and deed, mercy and evangelism are inseparable, existing in a “symbiotic,” interdependent relationship.  If there is one thing we must conclude from all that we have explored up to this point, it is that word and deed are inextricably united and inseparable. 

John Stott comes close to separating the two when when he says:

Social action is a partner of evangelism.  As partners the two belongs to each other and yet are independent of each other.  Each stands on its own feet in its own right alongside the other.  Neither is a means to the other, or even a manifestation of the other.  For each is an end in itself.

This seems to be inappropriate language.  We can recognize that Stott is seeking to avoid what we also argued against–calling social concern a means to an end.  But to say in turn that the ministry of mercy can stand on its own and is an end in itself may pave the way for social concern that is divorced from the preaching the gospel.  This must never happen.  Such deed ministry, even with a Christian motivation, cannot spread the kingdom of God.  In no way can we say evangelism and social concern are “independent.”  They are interdependent equals (111-12).

Finally, Keller presents his position as the “single-end” model.

The proper model is not (1) to see mercy as the means to evangelism, or (2) to see mercy and evangelism as independent ends, but (3) to see both word and deed, evangelism and mercy, as means to the single end of the spread of the kingdom of God.  To say that social concern could be done independently of evangelism is to cut mercy loose from kingdom endeavor.  It must then wither.  To say that evangelism can be done without also doing social concern is to forget that our goal is not individual “decisions,” but the bringing of all life and creation under the lordship of Christ, the kingdom of God (112).

So what do you think of Keller’s critique of Stott’s “two-ends” model?  Is Keller’s “single end” model a clearer and more faithful depiction of the biblical call for evangelism and social concern and their relationship with one another?

Stott on the Relationship of Evangelism and Social Action

March 15, 2007

In his book, Christian Mission in the Modern World, John Stott addresses the relationship of evangelism and social reform.  He begins his little section by asking the question:

“What . . . should be the relation between evangelism and social action within our total Christian responsibility?”

Stott argues that there have been three positions in relating evangelism and social concern.  I will lay them out for you in this post.

1.  Stott argues that some people regard social action as a means to evangelism.  He writes:

“In this case evangelism and the winning of converts are the primary ends in view, but social action is a useful preliminary, an effective means to these ends.  In its most blatant form this makes social work (whether food, medicine, or education) the sugar on the pill, the bait on the hook, while in its best form it gives to the gospel a credibility it would lack otherwise lack.  In either case the smell of hypocrisy hangs round our philanthrophy.  A frankly ulterior motive impels us to engage in it.  And the result of making our social programme the means to another end is that we breed so-called ‘rice Christians.’  This is inevitable if we ourselves have been ‘rice evangelists.’  They caught the deception from us.” (26). 

2.  The second position argued regards social action not as a means to evangelism but as a manifestation of evangelism.  Stott adds:

“In this case philanthrophy is not attached to evangelism rather artificially from the outside, but grows out of it as its natural expression.  One might almost say that social action becomes the ‘sacrament’ of evangelism, for it makes the message significantly visible” (ibid.).

3.  The third position (which Stott believes to be “the truly Christian one”), is that social action is a partner of evangelism.   He explains:

“As partners the two belong to each other and yet are independent of each other.  Each stands on its own feet in its own right alongside each other.  Neither is a means to the other, or even a manifestation of the other.  For each is and end in itself.  Both are expressions of unfeigned love” (27). 

Stott explained that the Apostle John helped him come to this conclusion when he wrote, “If any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17, 18). 

He concludes with a little caveat.

“This does not mean that words and works, evangelism and social action, are such inseparable partners that all of us must engage in both all the time.  Situations vary, and so do Christian callings.  As for situations, there will be times when a person’s eternal destiny is the most urgent consideration, for we must not forget that men without Christ are perishing.  But there will certainly be other times when a person’s material need is so pressing that he would not be able to hear the gospel if we shared it with him.  The man who fell among robbers needed above all else at that moment oil and bandages for his wounds, not evangelistic tracts in his pockets!  Similarly, in the words of a missionary in Nairobi quoted by Bishop John Taylor, ‘a hungry man has no ears’.  If our enemy is hungry, our biblical mandate is not to evangelize him but to feed him (Romans 12:20)!  Then too there is a diversity of Christian callings, and every Christian should be faithful to his own calling” (28). 

So what do you think?  Do you agree with Stott, that the relationship between evangelism and social reform is a partnership and not a means or manifestation?  I would be interested in any analysis or commentary you could provide.   

Bibliography: Evangelism and Social Reform

March 12, 2007

Alright.  I haven’t posted a bibliography in some time, but I thought I’d provide this one because I think it is particularly relevant today.  I am writing a paper on one of two things.  The first would carry the title of something like “An Examination of the Vacillating Relationship Between Evangelism and Social Reform in Evangelical Life, 1880-1980” where my thesis would carry the idea that theological initiative (primarily kingdom eschatology) and cultural reflection created tension between evangelism and social reform during the rise and fall of the fundamentalist movement.  There are three main eras that I have broken down: the revivalist movement (1880-1910); the fundamentalist movement (1910-1945); and the neo-evangelical movement (1945-1980).  The second possible paper is simply diving into the passion and concern of Carl F. H. Henry and examine his “uneasy conscience.”  As you will see in the bibliography, being the editor of Christianity Today gave Henry many opportunities to speak out on social issues, and I found it remarkable of that of all the things he could write about, social reform dominated much of what he wrote.  If you care to comment, I would be interested in hearing which topic interests you more – the first or the second?

In any case, below is my bibliography.  It is not comprehensive (also some entries are not complete), nor do I recommend all the books or articles.  The bibliography is to provide resources of every theological stripe and see how social reform and evangelism was handled from conservatives and liberals alike.  I will throw out one thought I have been thinking for what it’s worth.  Since 1980, fundamentalists and the conservative right under the direction of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson once again dichotomized evangelism and social concern (contra Stott and Henry).  What we have seen in recent years is modern-day theological liberalism embrace social reform while many conservatives find it taboo.  In other words, from 1980-2000, modern fundamentalism turned aside from social reform, and 2000-present, social reform, under the leadership of liberal theologians particularly in the emerging church movement, have embraced social reform as protest to contemporary fundamentalism and push a more radical orthodoxy by equating it with orthopraxy (giving a poor man bread = gospel).  So it is like we are back to 1910 all over again with Walter Rauschenbusch, and we are needing the voice of Henry today.  Just a thought.  I might be wrong on my analysis, but I will tentatively hold it as I do further research.  Now to the bibliography . . .

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Transforming Grace

March 6, 2007

Like many of you, my wife and I recently went to the movies to watch Amazing Grace.  Up until the time of the movie, I had only read one book about William Wilberforce and maintained merely a superficial knowledge about this man’s passion and purpose in life.  I say this to my shame.

I am not going to give a movie review here, but I would like to share a couple of thoughts that have been running through my head in recent days.  For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, this isn’t a spoiler, and you really need to go see it.  For those who have, maybe there is something here we can discuss.  Maybe not.  😉

I have often thought about what amazing grace looks like in real life.  We often sing songs soaked in radical, life-changing truths with such familiarity that they sometimes become nothing more than a broken record.  Part of the problem is that hymns like “Amazing Grace” are being sung by rote from the mouths of those who haven’t tasted the sweetness of God’s grace.  The life of William Wilberforce has changed much of that for me. 

When I watched and since then meditated on the life of Wilberforce, I see what amazing grace looks like.  I saw a man who lived in such a way as to be a conduit of such grace to others, from paupers to the prime minister.  So when I sing amazing grace, I think of shackles coming off, slaves set free, and lives transformed–by grace.

There are two dangers I face after watching a movie like this.  The first is to have a mushy sentimentality which admires the life and sacrifice of Wilberforce.  It is easy to tip the legacy with $8.50 and two hours of my time, shed a tear or two, and resume my normal daily routine.  The second danger is to develop a revolutionary mindset.  This thinking seeks to change the world without restraint, patience, wisdom, and humility.  After having witnessed the change brought about by this man, such inspiration should be a motivator to change the world, but not overthrow it.  As Wilberforce so pointedly stated, “I never want to hear that word (revolution) in my presence again.” 

I also don’t know what is worse: being in opposition and found on the wrong side of history or simply being indifferent?  I mean, the guys who were outspoken and ridiculing Wilberforce now have history as their foe and freedom as a testimony of their folly, but what about those who actually agreed with Wilberforce and were silenced by other allegiances, such as politics, power, or prosperity?  How many members of Parliament had the sentence of their conscience every time Wilberforce spoke only to find it seared in the end?  Such men, not having the courage of their convictions, some say find their resting places in the hottest places of hell.  I think the hell would be knowing the right thing to do, not doing it, and having all eternity to regret being silent for those who can’t speak and deaf for those who can’t have their voices heard.

So I am led to the type of Christian we need today.  No, we may not be facing a slave trade in the West Indies, but there are injustices abounding in our world.  From forced prostitution in the brothels of Calcutta to the child slavery to genocide in Darfur to the exploitation of the poor, such a time as this needs the spirit of Wilberforce again.  We need a Christian who is “haunted by 20,000 voices” and are awakened from the comforts of ease as we sleep in Zion.  We need a Christian who will see that singing the praises of God and changing the world is not “either/or” but “both/and.”  We need a Christian who can sing “Amazing Grace” and feel it through every fiber of their being.  We need a Christian who has been transformed by grace and has surrendered their life as an offering to transform their world. 

At the end of John Newton’s life (who was Wilberforce’s pastor and wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace”), he said, (paraphrased)

“There are many things I have forgotten throughout the years.  But two great truths I have never forgotten are that I am a great sinner and Jesus is a great Savior.” 

No wonder the driving passion in Newton’s life.  No wonder the thrust behind Wilberforce’s vision.  They were blind, but now they see.  God help us to see the world as they did, and by God’s grace, follow in their train.