Friday, May 25, 2012
The Tension Of Christianity
Some evangelicals talk as though personal evangelism and public justice are contradictory concerns, or, at least, that one is part of the mission of the church and the other isn't. I think otherwise, and I think the issue is one of the most important facing the church these days.OK, with the exception of that highly judgmental "abandoned the gospel" crack, this is pretty good stuff. But like most things I have been seeing lately, the effort to be pithy, "follow Jesus," can be as problematic as it is helpful. That statement can be over-analyzed to the point of being a problem. And it is that over-analysis that is the real issue. This kind of intellectual tension is part of the way that we learn that Christianity is about more than what we THINK.
So how does the church "balance" a concern for evangelism with a concern for justice? A church does so in the same way it "balances" the Gospel with personal morality. Sure, there have been churches that have emphasized public justice without the call to personal conversion. Such churches have abandoned the Gospel.
But there are also churches that have emphasized personal righteousness (sexual morality, for instance) without a clear emphasis on the Gospel. And there are churches that have taught personal morality as a means of earning favor with God. Such also contradicts the Gospel.
We do not, though, counteract legalism in the realm of personal morality with an antinomianism. And we do not react to the persistent "social gospels" (of both Left and Right) by pretending that Jesus does not call His churches to act on behalf of the poor, the sojourner, the fatherless, the vulnerable, the hungry, the sex-trafficked, the unborn. We act in the framework of the Gospel, never apart from it, either in verbal proclamation or in active demonstration.
The short answer to how churches should "balance" such things is simple: follow Jesus. We are Christians. This means that as we grow in Christlikeness, we are concerned about the things that concern him. Jesus is the King of His Kingdom, and He loves whole persons, bodies as well as souls.
I spent many years in my earl Christian walk trying to find the equilibrium point for these tensions. As a chemist I was quite used to being able to calculate, with precision, the perfect balance point in an equilibrium between two competing forces. Why should I not be able to in this instance?
As I have grown older, I have learned that there is much more than figuring out where the balance is. I have to develop as a person, emotionally and spiritually so that I can, when confronted with such circumstance, judge the balance point, not calculate it.