Posted tagged ‘Social Action’

Dan Kimball on Wholeness and Hell

November 19, 2007

Dan Kimball, a leading voice in the Emerging Church Movement, shares his concerns of an absence of evangelism and downplaying (if not outrightly rejecting) the reality of hell. Here’s an excerpt from Kimball’s blogpost (emphasis mine):

Something else I love about [this convention] is something I honestly feel is often missing often in the whole emerging and emergent church conversations – and that is evangelism. I am not talking about social justice or issues of Kingdom living in the now which is talked about and acted on a lot (thank God). I fully admit that most (not all) of the evangelical church didn’t pay the attention needed to how the gospel of Jesus changes this life, not just the afterlife. A wonderful book I would suggest reading about this is Ron Sider’s book “Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel”. The gospel of Jesus is more than just salvation for the life to come.

At the same time, I wonder if because we are reacting to perhaps the over-focus on the gospel being about the after-life only, that we have gone too far in response. Do we now focus so much on the gospel and Kingdom-living in this life and what that means (which is incredibly important) but we now neglect talking about the gospel’s impact on the after-life? Perhaps it is fresh on my mind and heart, since my dad just died and my thinking has been about the after-life. But something I have a personal concern for is balance. As we adjust to making sure we teach and live out the good (great) news of the gospel and Kingdom living here and now in this life – that we still talk and teach about the reality of the after-life. That we still talk about heaven and we also still talk about the reality of hell. I honestly don’t hear too much talk about hell in most (but not all) emerging and emergent church circles. I know it isn’t pleasant to talk about. I know there is much mystery with it. I know God is the only one who knows people’s eternal destinations. I know we have used “hell” in manipulative and incorrect ways. And again, I understand fully the reality of how we neglected understanding the Kingdom of God on this earth and what that means and perhaps focused too much on the after-life only when we talked about the gospel. But at the same time, how can we forget about the reality of the after-life and not talk or think about hell and heaven?

I know some of my friends may not agree with me, but I fully believe in the reality of both heaven and the eternity of a hell. I may not understand all there is to it and much of the hell imagery isn’t actually biblical truth, but a poor understanding of biblical metaphors and mixing in medieval concepts that we have historically used. But I believe from passages such as in Daniel 12:2 to a bunch of them in the New Testament which to me clearly indicate that there is an eternal separation of people in the afterlife. A horrifying and heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, mind-searing, painful thought. But a reality I personally cannot dismiss. So it doesn’t mean that we take the gospel and only focus on hell, as the gospel is about this life too. But at the same time, we can’t forget or dismiss the topic of hell either, which I am wondering if we are beginning to do in some circles.

But I hope in emerging church (and all church circles) we don’t forget the reality of hell and aren’t afraid to speak about it in a balanced way. I don’t mean to sound like a backwoods fundamentalist of some type here, but we must have a healthy balance of Kingdom living and the gospel being for this life and for the life to come. Hell is real and to some degree, it does motivate and compel me to never forget about evangelism and teaching about the gospel in terms of the after-life, as well as this life.

What Kimball is seeking is a balance between social action and evangelism, already (kingdom now) and not yet (kingdom to come). We recently discussed what Ajith Fernando wrote as part of the Christian Vision Project as well as an excerpt from Christopher J.H. Wright. As you can see, this is an issue of concern for those who tend to swing the pendulum to either extreme – Kimball’s concern for the extreme of social justice alone (kingdom now) in the emerging church and others (including myself) concern for the extreme of evangelism alone (kingdom to come) in the traditional church.

What do you think? Can there be a balance forged by emerging churches and traditional churches that strengthen our evangelism and encourages social action?

Extreme Home Makeover and Patrick Henry Hughes

November 16, 2007

This week we have been talking a little bit about mercy ministry, benevolence, and the gospel. Incidentally, the ABC hit reality show, Extreme Home Makeover, was in Louisville this past week. They have rebuilt the homes of the Hughes family. One of their sons, Patrick, you may have seen in a halftime ESPN special last year. If you didn’t catch it, here it is:

The construction was completed this past Wednesday, and it is estimated that the new home is roughly $2 million. Elite Homes, the general contractor of the project, has developed a website where you can see photos, the crazy week-long construction schedule, and blog. As you could expect, there are additional costs that the family will have as a result, and people in the community are donating to help defray the expenses. From what I understand, this particular episode of Extreme Home Makeover is slated to air in February.

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?


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.