Understanding the New Calvinism: Social Justice

(Read the entire series.)

The New Calvinists are quite concerned about social justice, and rightly so. As citizens of this planet we have an obligation to care for the world and the people in it, not only spiritually but physically as well. But many make the mistake of not distinguishing between the mission of individual Christians, as dual citizens of both heaven and earth, and the mandate given to the church as the corporate people of God, which is outlined in the Great Commission. As a result not only can the church lose its unique place in the world as the one institution ordained by God to preach the Word, function as Christ’s body and make disciples, but the gospel itself can be mutated.

Timothy Keller perhaps is the most influential representative of the social agenda approach to ministry within New Calvinists ranks. The official vision statement for the church he pastors, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, in New York City, reads:

As a church of Jesus Christ, Redeemer exists to help build a great city for all people through a movement of the gospel that brings personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal to New York City and, through it, to the world.1

Keller and Redeemer clearly see the mission of the church as having a social dimension in which the church helps to bring about cultural renewal, social justice, elimination of poverty, and more. And while this has the appearance of benevolence and love, it is lacking any New Testament mandate or warrant for the church. Historically when the church has added solving the world’s social problems to its mandate it has eventually lost its way and the social agenda became its primary ministry. The theologically liberal denominations and institutions stemming from the late 1800s in America are “Exhibit A” proving this thesis. They exchanged their gospel mandate for mercy ministries and ultimately forfeited their uniqueness as the church.

And there is a further concern—confusing the gospel. Drawing from N.T. Wright and the “missional” understanding of Christianity, Keller infuses a social dimension into his gospel definition. Keller’s gospel is more than the good news that Christ has come to reconcile us to God; it is also the call to solve the world’s problems of injustice, poverty and ecological concerns. He quotes N. T. Wright, not Scripture, to support his view:

The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won… If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense—[then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my personal life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world—news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts. Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things—and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement victory of Jesus over them all.2

Later in The Reason for God, Keller makes clear what he means:

The purpose of Jesus’ coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world…. The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care and cultivate the face of the earth, the material world.3

Scripture knows nothing of this type of gospel message. Nowhere in the New Testament will you find such a commission given to the people of God. And as E. S. Williams points out, “Of the many works of the Holy Spirit revealed in Scripture, caring for and cultivating the material world for its restoration and purity is not one.”4 You will, however, find a similar message in the emergent church, N.T. Wright’s “New Perspective on Paul,” and those reviving the old “Social Gospel” agenda.

Williams documents that Keller’s book Generous Justice speaks of and leans on the teachings of Gustavo Gutierrez and his book, A Theology of Liberation. “But he does not tell his readers that Gutierrez was [is] a Dominican priest, widely accepted as the founder of liberation theology.”5 This should be considered carefully before one follows Keller and others too far down the social justice road as the mission of the church.

As one author writes, “At root…is a question of how to engage the culture without losing one’s soul. Fundamentalism feared losing its soul and did not engage the culture; evangelicalism feared being different from the culture and is in danger of losing its soul.”6

Conclusion

In 2009 Time Magazine published its list of ten ideas changing the world today. Number three on that list was New Calvinism.

If you really want to follow the development of conservative Christianity, track its musical hits. In the early 1900s you might have heard “The Old Rugged Cross,” a celebration of the atonement. By the 1980s you could have shared the Jesus-is-my-buddy intimacy of “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” And today, more and more top songs feature a God who is very big, while we are…well, hark the David Crowder Band: “I am full of earth / You are heaven’s worth / I am stained with dirt / Prone to depravity.” Calvinism is back, and not just musically.7

The article goes on to point out it is not traditional Calvinism that is changing the world, but the New Calvinism variety that is being described in this paper. Some of the things I have detailed in this article and the last concerning New Calvinism have been positive. But much is challenging the very definitions of the church, as well as having powerful theological ramifications. We dare not ignore New Calvinism, but as always it is to be examined in the light of Scripture.

Notes

2 Timothy Keller, p. 212.

3 Ibid., p. 223.

4 E. S. Williams, p.20.

5 Ibid., p. 21.

6 John H. Armstrong, General Editor, The Compromised Church, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1998), p.27.

Gary Gilley Bio


Gary Gilley has served as Senior Pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois since 1975. He has authored several books and is the book review editor for the Journal of Dispensational Theology. He received his BA from Moody Bible Institute. He and his wife Marsha have two adult sons and six grandchildren.

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Joel Shaffer's picture

I believe that the author's social justice argument against the New Calvinists is the weakest out of all the posts.  

Historically when the church has added solving the world’s social problems to its mandate it has eventually lost its way and the social agenda became its primary ministry. 

I have committed my life to studying the social gospel because I was falsely accused of propagating it because I was doing compassionate ministries alongside preaching the gospel in our urban ministry. From my years of studies, out of everyone who lost their way and embraced the social gospel,  the lack of sound doctrine when they disregarded the fundamentals of the faith (such as denying the depravity of man and original sin, replacing substitutionary atonement with a moral atonement, and disregarding final judgment and the traditional view of hell), was the common thread among these churches, not necessarily their over-realized view of the kingdom.  There are simply way too many evangelical churches and historical figures that believed in a over-realized kingdom who never compromised and never went down the slippery slope towards the false social gospel (Think of William Carey who was spent much of his time doing cultural renewal alongside preaching the gospel in India)

Anyway, if the author believes this to be true, he needs to somehow establish that the new Calvinists have already made the social agenda its primary ministry.  None has been made.  

Another frustration that I have is the author's reliance on E.S. Williams' research on Keller.  It is shallow and sloppy. For instance, In his book and articles I've read, Williams attempts to argue that Keller's main influence when it comes to social justice is his neo-marxist background in college, therefore tying him to liberation theology.   Actually he was much more shaped by the late Harvie Conn, an urban missiologist at Westminster Theological Seminary during the 70's, 80's, and 90's.    One can see Conn's fingerprints all all over Tim Keller's writings if he actually took the time to read Conn's books such as "Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace" or "Urban Ministry: the Kingdom, the City, and the People of God."     

Larry Nelson's picture

...we must do both.  The Bible has plenty to say about Christians not neglecting "social justice" (e.g. hunger, poverty, sickness, oppression, etc.):     

 

"Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause." (Isaiah 1:17 ESV)

"Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy." (Proverbs 31:8,9 ESV)

"Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute." (Psalm 82:3 ESV)

'But if anyone 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 talk but in deed and in truth." (1 John 3:17,18 ESV)

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction..." (James 1:27 ESV)

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:7-11 ESV)

"Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him." (Proverbs 14:31 ESV)

"A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge." (Proverbs 29:7 ESV)

"Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse." (Proverbs 28:7 ESV) 

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ (Matthew 25:35,36 ESV)

"And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." (Luke 11:39-42 ESV) 

"For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matthew 5:46,47 ESV)

 

Those are just a few of many examples woven throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New.  Why are some otherwise Bible-believing Christians so quick to dispense with, or to discount, such clear teachings?  The fact that Liberalism has largely taken up so-called "social justice" causes at the expense of the Gospel doesn't justify Fundamentalism largely abandoning social justice causes in return.  

If I'm reading the article above correctly, the author's thesis is that social justice is not a mission of the Church, but its administration is something that is left up to the individual Christian.  Yet I'm left to wonder what other scriptural mandates for Christians are excluded from the oversight/aegis of the Church, if the author is correct.

If our churches at best simply pay lip service to "social justice," and at worst discount it, why should we expect individual Christians to then take it seriously?  If what they hear from churches is that they face a choice of either practicing/pursuing social justice or obeying the Great Commission (a false dichotomy), we can expect a predictable result.  We shouldn't be surprised if a majority of otherwise Bible-believing Christians will choose to neglect the needy, the sick, the oppressed, and others to whom the Bible would have us display through our actions God's love.    

 

Bert Perry's picture

I'm all for bringing in the material needs of people when ministering to them, but it ought to be noted that too many seem to desire to do it from a distance.  You won't see them ministering in the trailer park, in Compton, with Joel in Grand Rapids, or the like, but you will see them urging more transit funding, driving a Prius, etc.  Something of the difference between "Stuff White People Like" and real compassion.

 

One example of real compassion; swapping out the chairs in my garage so a friend (now in infantry school) would actually get his hands greasy on his own bike.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Gary, really appreciated your series.  I think, since the New Calvinism mocks we dispensationalists, we need to recognize -- in return -- that many of their errant beliefs come from confusing the coming Millennial Kingdom with the church.

Many of the above cited verses are talking about acts of mercy toward the poor either within Israel, among believers, or ethics to be practiced by individual Christians as part of life.  That is not to say that groups or churches cannot or should not be involved with ministries of mercy.  But the primary mission of the church is evangelism, baptism, and ongoing discipleship (indoctrination, learning, obeying).  The key commands of the Christian life are loving God and others, which is where some of these acts of compassion come into play.  They are the fruit of godliness and discipleship.  The goal of the church is not to make the world a better place (we cannot create the Millennium).  The goal of the church is to make disciples, and by their transformed lives, those disciples make the world a better place as a by-product.  This may seem picky, but misplacing a fruit that develops down the line -- and putting it near the top -- makes doctrine and discipleship lesser than good works and subservient to them.

"The Midrash Detective"

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Ed Vasicek wrote:

Many of the above cited verses are talking about acts of mercy toward the poor either within Israel, among believers, or ethics to be practiced by individual Christians as part of life.  That is not to say that groups or churches cannot or should not be involved with ministries of mercy.  

 

And the Ten Commandments were given to the Israelites.  Does that mean that they are not universally applicable even today?  Take a second look at merely the verses cited from Proverbs above.  Are they to be seen as applicable only in the era or context in which given (therefore giving us a free pass)?

Jesus Himself did not minister only to the spiritual needs of people; He frequently met their physical needs as well.  Right off the top of my head I can think of numerous instances.

Yet paradoxically, Fundamentalism has a history of institutionally belittling ministry to physical needs.  (I'm sure you can think of some of the same examples that come to my mind.)  I've personally heard statements from the pulpit (fortunately not in my present church) such as, "Let the Catholics have their shelters and soup kitchens; we're interested in seeing souls get saved."  When people hear things like that, I fear it's taken as a blanket pass (collectively or individually) on "ministries of mercy." 

 

 

  

Larry's picture

Moderator

Joel, keep in mind that he is distinguishing the mission of the church and the mission of the individual Christian. That is a vital distinction for the point he is making here. 

Larry Nelson's picture

 

A while back, one of our local food shelves approached us with a request.  Their stock was running low, and they knew that we had responded to them in the past.  They asked my church if we'd be able to help.

Our pastors prayed about it, and issued a challenge to the congregation: could we collect 10,000 lbs. of boxed & canned food to help out people in need?  (This seemed like a stretch goal.)  

Over the next couple of weeks, it was amazing to see God move the people of the church to respond.  The final tally?: over 26,000 lbs. of food was delivered to a food shelf that expressed much gratitude, but arguably the bigger impact was in the hearts and minds of the congregation at my church.  We, collectively and individually, learned some priceless, biblical lessons about generosity and being the hands & feet of the Body of Christ.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

A while back, one of our local food shelves approached us with a request.  Their stock was running low, and they knew that we had responded to them in the past.  They asked my church if we'd be able to help.

Our pastors prayed about it, and issued a challenge to the congregation: could we collect 10,000 lbs. of boxed & canned food to help out people in need?  (This seemed like a stretch goal.)  

Over the next couple of weeks, it was amazing to see God move the people of the church to respond.  The final tally?: over 26,000 lbs. of food was delivered to a food shelf that expressed much gratitude, but arguably the bigger impact was in the hearts and minds of the congregation at my church.  We, collectively and individually, learned some priceless, biblical lessons about generosity and being the hands & feet of the Body of Christ.

 

That is my point.  It has always been "in" to help people and have compassion.  Our church (in the early 60's) helped found our local rescue mission, which is also our city's biggest food pantry.  They serve hot meals twice a day (good ones) with hundreds of people being fed (from the community).  We have collection bins in our foyer for canned and packaged goods.  It doesn't take a fad, just obedience and love.  But pretending that no one else has done this before -- it's all hype.  The New Reformed are not adjusting to the Bible, IMO, but the younger generation's ethic of "justice" (which has little to do with justice, but more with social relief).

Of course nowadays to be "in," you have to call such places "soup kitchens" much like you must call curtains "window treatments."  Silly.

A lot more image and tokenism than substance sometimes.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Joel Shaffer's picture

Larry wrote:

Joel, keep in mind that he is distinguishing the mission of the church and the mission of the individual Christian. That is a vital distinction for the point he is making here. 

Yes, I don't mind that he is doing that.  However, he butchered 19th and 20th century church history with the slippery slope logical fallacy argument in regards to the social gospel and he tried to connect Tim Keller with liberation theology based on very poor research in order to make his point.         

apward's picture

The author seems to be saying that proclaiming the gospel and making disciples are the ONLY goals of the church, meanwhile individual Christians are responsible for both those things and other things as well such as social justice.

So a church should not run a soup kitchen, but a member of a church can run it? Here’s the problem with that: if a member of a church is running a soup kitchen, then the church IS running the soup kitchen. How can you make a distinction between what the individual Christian does and what the church does? How can you say that it is a responsibility of an individual Christian, but not the church? We shouldn’t encourage each other to do these things? We shouldn’t work together to do these things? Church leaders should not give guidance on how to run these things?

I think that it would be more accurate to say that the Great Commission is the church’s PRIMARY mission and goal, not it’s ONLY mission. Evangelism and discipleship should be a Christian’s primary goal whether they run a soup kitchen, a barber shop, or an insurance company. And the church should be a group of Christians working together to accomplish the mission in ways that could not be done individually.

A valid criticism would be that someone is moving the gospel to a lower priority or removing it altogether. One may call that the “social gospel,” i.e. saying that providing social services alone is a fulfillment of the Great Commission. Now that would clearly be wrong.

One could say that our mission organization here in Togo has many “social” ministries. We have 2 hospitals, mobile community health clinics, a school for the blind, 15 Christian schools, etc. We are concerned about people being healed of diseases and receiving a good education, but I can assure you that the primary goals of each of those ministries is evangelism and discipleship, not social justice.

And I’d like to make 2 relevant points: 1. Our evangelism and discipleship efforts are more effective because we use “social” ministries. 2. We could not do these ministries as individual Christians – they have to be done cooperatively and be accountable to church leadership.
 

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Ed Vasicek wrote:

...but the younger generation's ethic of "justice" (which has little to do with justice, but more with social relief).

...

A lot more image and tokenism than substance sometimes.

 

Here is the type of "social justice" organization that is supported by many in the "younger generation" that you seem to be disparaging:

http://asourown.org/

I'm met Ralph Borde, the head of this organization.  He grew up in India, but came to the U.S. and here earned his graduate degree.  Haunted by the memories of the human trafficking he had seen in India, he left an executive job in corporate America to return to India to confront such injustice head on.  He has been very successful in rescuing a multitude of Indian girls from a life of human slavery, but he is foremost committed to seeing them also come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ--and in that he has also seen great success.

I'm hardly representative of the "younger generation" (I'm 52), but I know of many other organizations and causes that seek not only to be Gospel-first, but also to confront serious injustices that exist in this fallen world.  The verses I cited several posts up increasingly convict me---and I am troubled by what I have seen as Fundamentalism's sometimes apparent indifference to them.  Fundamentalism, sadly, has not only tolerated injustice at times, it has at times put its imprimatur upon it.

Example?  Here is a picture of Lester Maddox (revolver in hand) chasing a customer from his restaurant in the 1960's solely because he had dared to try to eat at a "white's only" establishment.  (Maddox's son is wielding the axe handle.)  What's the connection to Fundamentalism?  This was taken not long before Maddox was awarded an honorary doctorate by a prominent Fundamentalist university, which effusively praised him as being a model citizen.     

   

 

Ed Vasicek's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

 

Ed Vasicek wrote:

 

...but the younger generation's ethic of "justice" (which has little to do with justice, but more with social relief).

...

A lot more image and tokenism than substance sometimes.

 

Here is the type of "social justice" organization that is supported by many in the "younger generation" that you seem to be disparaging:

http://asourown.org/

I'm met Ralph Borde, the head of this organization.  He grew up in India, but came to the U.S. and here earned his graduate degree.  Haunted by the memories of the human trafficking he had seen in India, he left an executive job in corporate America to return to India to confront such injustice head on.  He has been very successful in rescuing a multitude of Indian girls from a life of human slavery, but he is foremost committed to seeing them also come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ--and in that he has also seen great success.

I'm hardly representative of the "younger generation" (I'm 52), but I know of many other organizations and causes that seek not only to be Gospel-first, but also to confront serious injustices that exist in this fallen world.  The verses I cited several posts up increasingly convict me---and I am troubled by what I have seen as Fundamentalism's sometimes apparent indifference to them.  Fundamentalism, sadly, has not only tolerated injustice at times, it has at times put its imprimatur upon it.

Example?  Here is a picture of Lester Maddox (revolver in hand) chasing a customer from his restaurant in the 1960's solely because he had dared to try to eat at a "white's only" establishment.  (Maddox's son is wielding the axe handle.)  What's the connection to Fundamentalism?  This was taken not long before Maddox was awarded an honorary doctorate by a prominent Fundamentalist university, which effusively praised him as being a model citizen.     

   

 

The type of relief you mention is hard to find fault with.  In my experience, however, a lot of what is passed off as justice is related to this nation and is more along the lines of what we are seeing with the police shootings of black young men or equalizing everyone's income.  I do not think the example you cited (with photo) is what fundamentalists advocate, but an example of hypocrisy and racism. I am not against mission trips to New York City, but I don't think we will build the kingdom of God that way.

Making a distinction between the unique calling of the church and responsibility as a human being may seem like splitting hairs.  We are all commanded to be compassionate, to love God and love others, beginning at home and especially within the household of faith, but not ending there (Galatians 6:10).  Many Christians, for example, support the Red Cross or human service agencies that are secular in nature, and that is not wrong.

What is happening, IMO, is that foreign missions are being displaced, and that is the problem.  It is great to add on to missions, but what can happen is that Christians lose interest in missions with the more tangible results we see with other forms of compassion. To me, this follows the world, as the trend is to view missions as evil (as in the photo above) and as interfering with the indigenous culture, whereas relief is welcome everywhere.  It is as though the church doesn't quite go along with this trend, but almost.  

And that is what is most disturbing: the world (culture) sets the agenda, and we find Scriptural support for that agenda (and modify it) after the world sets it.  If a ministry is good, it would have been good 100 years ago, too.

Compassion in the Name of Jesus Christ and associated with actually communicating the Gospel is a wonderful approach.  This is not a new approach, although the areas in which we show compassion does change with need.  It was conservative Christians who started rescue missions, agricultural missions, and started some mission hospitals.  This is nothing new, but the point is that the local collective church -- unlike secular relief agencies -- wants to bring the Gospel or relief along with the Gospel.  As individual Christians, however, we want to do good, sometimes with the Gospel, sometimes without.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed Vasicek's picture

Additional Thoughts: The 10 Commandments

In an earlier post, I mentioned commands given to Israel.  I was asked if these apply to us, too.  I say, 9 out of 10 do, yes (I do not believe Christians are under the Sabbath Day command).  As a matter of fact, Israel was given 613 commands in the Torah, and I do not know if any of us believe we must observe them all.

In my understanding, the church has a world-wide calling known as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).  The commands given to Israel address not proactively going, but having compassion upon people nearby, usually people you know in your own community.  Thus the man beaten by robbers whom the Good Samaritan helped is a neighbor because he came across him in his daily doings.

This is a different setting from traveling to a far nation where beaten bodies are all over.  There is a difference between seeking out need and addressing need as it comes along in the doings of life.

That is what I meant by saying many of those commands apply to Israel or church life.  Things become much more complex when true needs far outweigh resources. In such instances, we must chose (in some way) the needs we address and the needs we do not address.  Much of the differences of view on this issue relate to what those needs are or how they should be addressed in light of limited resources (or perhaps the "balance" is the right term).

 

 

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture

A former pastor of mine noted that in the second century,  the church grew greatly in part due to providing care for the victims of an epidemic in Rome.  The article doesn't say what the disease was, but it apparently was one that was survivable with very modest care-giving, but was almost always lethal if care was not given.  Those pagans who were cared for often gave Zeus the boot as the worshippers of Jehovah gave them what their own relatives would not.

We model that reality with hospitals, crisis pregnancy centers, and the like today, and I think we need to understand our duty for social justice in a few terms.  Would love to see if Ed and Joel (or others) might agree.

  1. It seems that the model used by the ancients--certainly Christ and the apostles model this--is of personal interaction with those in need.  You don't get to just write a check and sent it 10,000 miles away and call it good.
  2. It also seems that the ancients--really all of our forebears prior to this century--tended to eschew big publicity in their charity.  
  3. It also seems that our "evangelism specific" activities might do well to apply these two principles.
  4. And if we do, I wonder how much of the resource constraints Ed mentions might go away.....

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Would your church financially support someone like Baptist Pioneer Missionary William Carey, even though he and his missionary colleagues, his missionary society, and eventually the church that they planted in India was also very involved in social justice and cultural renewal while they proclaimed the gospel, translated the Scriptures and made disciples?   If we were honest, most of us would say no because our churches are too concerned that these social justice activities will somehow distract missionaries from the real mission work, making disciples and planting churches.    

Here is an article that explains all of the social reform and justice activities that William Carey was involved with while he spread the gospel and made disciples.  It is staggering.  If the author is blasting Tim Keller the way he did, he would be doing the same thing with William Carey.  Could Neo-evangelical Carl Henry been on something when he critiqued the lack of social concern in fundamentalism with "the uneasy conscience of modern fundamentalism?"    This is the early evangelical's history, even with an 18th century 5 point Calvinist Baptist like William Carey.   

http://www.wciu.edu/docs/resources/Mangalwadi-Who_%28Really%29_was_Willi...

Ed Vasicek's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

A former pastor of mine noted that in the second century,  the church grew greatly in part due to providing care for the victims of an epidemic in Rome.  The article doesn't say what the disease was, but it apparently was one that was survivable with very modest care-giving, but was almost always lethal if care was not given.  Those pagans who were cared for often gave Zeus the boot as the worshippers of Jehovah gave them what their own relatives would not.

We model that reality with hospitals, crisis pregnancy centers, and the like today, and I think we need to understand our duty for social justice in a few terms.  Would love to see if Ed and Joel (or others) might agree.

  1. It seems that the model used by the ancients--certainly Christ and the apostles model this--is of personal interaction with those in need.  You don't get to just write a check and sent it 10,000 miles away and call it good.
  2. It also seems that the ancients--really all of our forebears prior to this century--tended to eschew big publicity in their charity.  
  3. It also seems that our "evangelism specific" activities might do well to apply these two principles.
  4. And if we do, I wonder how much of the resource constraints Ed mentions might go away.....

I think there is confusion here once again over the meaning of "the church."  My understanding was that individual Christians did these things, certainly strengthened by the example of other Christians.  I do not know that they sent teams into foreign lands and raised funds for them to do this relief there.  They may have.  What individual Christians do, however, the church does, because the church IS believing individuals.  We do know from the epistles that churches sent relief to other churches in need.

My concern, as mentioned earlier, is displacement for traditional missions, like Bible translation, church planting, etc.  I am all for helping needy people, too,especially those that help people learn to provide for themselves (teach a man to fish, etc.).  I would rather see convictions -- rather than fads and generational preferences -- guide our choices.

"The Midrash Detective"

apward's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:

My concern, as mentioned earlier, is displacement for traditional missions, like Bible translation, church planting, etc.  I am all for helping needy people, too,especially those that help people learn to provide for themselves (teach a man to fish, etc.).  I would rather see convictions -- rather than fads and generational preferences -- guide our choices.

 

My concern is with the concept that there are 2 different kinds of mission works – #1 “Traditional” works (church planting, Bible translation, door-to-door evangelism, printing and distributing tracts, etc.) and then there are #2 “social” works (medical care, education, orphanages, soup kitchens, addiction counseling, etc.).

I think that when one makes a division of this kind, one may end up with an impoverished ministry.

 

For example, have you ever seen a missionary presentation that went like this?

A missionary is focused on “church planting,” so he rents a building hangs a sign, sets up chairs, then goes around town saying “y’all come! We’ve planted a church.” And after a while, we now have 6 semi-regular attendees. We are starting a Bible Institute. Alcohol addiction is a major problem in our area, we need to pray that God changes people’s hearts.

After the presentation, during the Q&A, the missionary is asked, “what is the greatest obstacle to your ministry?” Missionary’s answer: “the spread of Calvinism.”

 

Now I pray that God blesses this missionary’s ministry. I pray that many people hear the gospel and believe it through this man’s ministry. But I think all of us need to constantly be reconsidering our concept of missions.

If we follow the Great Commission then we will be planting churches, certainly. But the Great Commission is not “to plant churches,” it’s to make disciples and teach them. Planting a church is often the fruit, not the means, of its accomplishment. I think we need to recognize that there are many different, creative, and good ways of making a disciple, and many of those ways are called “social” ministries.

Larry's picture

Moderator

My concern is with the concept that there are 2 different kinds of mission works – #1 “Traditional” works (church planting, Bible translation, door-to-door evangelism, printing and distributing tracts, etc.) and then there are #2 “social” works (medical care, education, orphanages, soup kitchens, addiction counseling, etc.).

Where do you see this in the NT?

But the Great Commission is not “to plant churches,” it’s to make disciples and teach them.

I am curious as to why you left out baptism which requires a church.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Here is the type of "social justice" organization that is supported by many in the "younger generation" that you seem to be disparaging:

It seems to me that a lot of younger people (and older people) are fine with "mission" that doesn't include the exclusivity of Christ and the making of disicples. And here is where the rub is. The organization you link to is not a church. And that's fine. Providing water for people is a good thing. Helping to thwart human trafficking is a good thing. I don't know anyone who disagrees. 

The issue is whether or not that is what Christ commanded the church to do as the church. Can a church be a church without doing these kinds of things? That is the key question, it seems to me. What does it requires to be a church?

I wonder, though, why you reach back 50 years to Lestor Maddox. Are you under the impression that that is a widespread issue today? What is the statute of limitations on using guilt by association with sinful people from past generations? 

 

 

apward's picture

Larry wrote:

My concern is with the concept that there are 2 different kinds of mission works – #1 “Traditional” works (church planting, Bible translation, door-to-door evangelism, printing and distributing tracts, etc.) and then there are #2 “social” works (medical care, education, orphanages, soup kitchens, addiction counseling, etc.).

Where do you see this in the NT?

But the Great Commission is not “to plant churches,” it’s to make disciples and teach them.

I am curious as to why you left out baptism which requires a church.

 

Where do I see it? Well, Jesus and the apostles went out preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, but also healing and casting out demons. Of course, they did these things supernaturally with sign gifts and the NT doesn't give us a record of what they did after those gifts had ceased. My conclusion is that Christian doctors didn't stop healing unbelievers and Christian business men & women didn't stop helping the poor even though they did so with natural means.

Why did I leave out baptism? Because my argument is not that Christians should be doing these things without the church, just the opposite, we should be doing them as the church, through the church, under the authority of the church, and being accountable to the leadership of the church. I considered baptism to be natural and logical to my thought process, not contrary to it. For example, tomorrow! A former student of one of our Christian schools (a ministry of a local church) here in Togo is being baptized (yes, at a church). Her family is muslim and forbade her from coming to church. Ministries like the hospital the Christian schools provide us with opportunities to give the gospel to more people, and I believe, are more effective than only going door-to-door or handing out tracts.

 

Joel Shaffer's picture

I think there is confusion here once again over the meaning of "the church."  My understanding was that individual Christians did these things, certainly strengthened by the example of other Christians. 

When it comes helping the poor outside of the church, the argument is often made by certain conservative evangelicals and most fundamentalists that the early church organized themselves to help other poor Christians, but left helping the poor outside of the church to individuals within the church.  Therefore, they automatically jump to the conclusion, "that's how we should go about it too!"  However, we need to be very careful not to confuse description with prescription.   When it comes to helping those in need, the book of Acts and the Epistles are mostly describing how the church helped the poor and needy, rather than prescribing how they were to help the poor and needy (with some notable exceptions such as helping widows, those who refuse to work, and "doing good to all, especially to the household of faith").

I find it fascinating that the early church adopted certain aspects of the surrounding culture's ways of doing things (as long as it wasn't evil) such as how to take care of the poor.  For instance,  when the church first began in Jerusalem at Pentecost, it quickly adopted the synagogue model of helping the poor, taking up offerings to help fellow Christians who were in need. Later, the Apostle Paul uses the offering model among all the Macedonian and other Gentile churches to bring a large financial gift to the impoverished Jerusalem Church.  Yet as the church expanded throughout the Roman Empire, and faced slander and persecution from non-believing Gentiles  (I Peter 2:12-3:17) they seem to have also adopted aspects of the Greco-Roman benefactor.  However, instead of all of the Pagan pomp and circumstances that gave glory to the rich for their good deeds and at the same time humiliated the poor for their dependency on the benefactor (the poor were often pressured to publicly proclaim and shout to everyone near the benefactor's home how needy they were and how great their rich benefactor was for helping them) , Peter encourages his Christian audience to do good deeds publicly for the purpose of pagans giving glory to God (I Peter 2:12), to silence the ignorance of foolish people (I Peter 2:15), to obtain a blessing(of suffering) (I Peter 3:9-14), and for apologetic purposes (I Peter 3:15). Likewise, Paul makes sure there the church of Galatia understood that these good works were to be done towards everyone, but with a priority towards Christians (Gal. 6:10). 

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