I have been having a little back-and-forth conversation with a close friend of mine about proclamation. What sparked this conversation was our debating Brit Hume’s remarks concerning Tiger Woods, Christianity, Redemption, and Repentance. The focus of our conversation was essentially about the effectiveness vs. faithfulness of our public witness for Christ.
In the background of all that, we have spent a good deal of time talking and thinking about what is commonly referred to as “The Social Gospel.” (I hesitate to call it “social.” I would rather refer to it as the “Whole” or “Holistic” gospel.) We have discussed some of the movements that stem from this theology, like the New Monasticism or Simple Way Community that Shane Claiborne is involved in.
The following is a list of 2 of my friend’s concerns and my responses to them, as I consider myself deeply committed to this “social gospel”
1> That they make social justice the point… or “the gospel”. He says “The Gospel certainly involves social justice, but social justice is not the gospel.” I agree. So let’s start there and ask ourselves an honest question: If Social Justice is definitively part of the gospel call on the church, then why isn’t the church practicing transformational social justice? Why does so much funding go to building up the institution that is church, and not to the overall health of the community that it thrives in?
2> That the social gospel is not concerned with conversion to Jesus Christ. I have to confess that I see it exactly the opposite. My concern is that the institutional church by itself is not concerned with concrete conversion. I actually happen to think it would be quite easy to make a profession of faith, claim to be a Christian, claim to be redeemed from sin, be a dedicated member of an institution call church, and never really change one single aspect of your life other than refraining from partying, cussing, drinking, and smoking. And I have to say, being a follower of Jesus is a lot bigger than this. But in the social gospel, the concern becomes about being part of a radical community that schools us in the “ways” of Jesus in a rebellious world. A giving of ourselves to this counter-cultural way of living (seen most clearly in the Sermon on the Mount) is in itself authentic conversion.