Thursday, December 10, 2009
Acting In Society
- We must learn from church history.
- We must allow biblical and theological convictions to shape our engagement in social action.
- We must not collapse the already/not-yet tension.
- We must recognize that evangelical engagement with these issues will take different forms within different political, cultural and social contexts.
- We must prioritize proclamation of the gospel without neglecting social action
- We must realize that our actions are not self-interpreting.
- We must recognize the trend towards increasing social action and decreasing evangelism within the church.
- We must think through and articulate the connection between specific social action and the gospel.
- We must not allow people’s physical needs to blind us or them to their even greater spiritual needs.
- We must recognize the challenges that come with working with others of different beliefs.
There are some things to really like about those theses and some things that I really struggle with.
For example, it seems to focus on social actions almost solely as "feeding the poor" and related activity. As I see it, social action is virtually anything we do in society. It strikes me that if we understand social action to be things that are only plainly and directly "Christian" then there is no need for the thesis concerning the already/not-yet. The trick here is not to learn how to be a Christian doing Christian things, but to learn how to be a Christian doing, anything.
Which brings us to the "articulation of the specific connection between the gospel and a social action." Come on, there is so much necessary to the ordering of society that simply has not specific connection to the gospel. Number one, the gospel is such a limited understanding of the totality of Christian experience and number two, even if we take a much broader view of Christianity, there just is no connection with much of the mundane. Oh sure, we may develop some nice little sweet, trite saying like "cleanliness is next to godliness, but housecleaning is, in the end, just housecleaning. I may be sanctified, and my sanctification may bring a certain sanctity to my dusting, but come on, its just dusting.
I also have a real problem with the formulation that places social action and evangelism as somehow mutually exclusive. It's true that social action can be devoid of evangelism, but that is about us, not the social action. We are the evangelists and if we bring an evangelistic attitude to our social action, well then evangelism can and will occur in the midst of social action.
In the end, I think these theses suffer with entirely too limited a vision for what it means to be a Christian. It is not merely a set of ideas to which we subscribe. Being a Christian is a consumptive transformation of our total existence. We MUST grasp this.