Great Commission Christianity vs. Cosmic Redemptive Christianity

I'd like some feedback, in terms of critical thinking, of this article, esp "cosmic redemptive Christianity" gospel. 

Well, the link is weird. if you could paste this into your browser, or google this  https//www.fathommag.com/stories/the-great-commission-christianity-keeps-blacks...

If anyone has time, I would appreciate it. I'm not sure how to put things into words yet, the good the bad. 

891 reads
Rob Fall's picture

is sending me to a home improvement web site.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Anne Sokol's picture

I put the link in the post in a more clear way, I hope. 

Thanks 

Bert Perry's picture

Compare with this.  What's interesting is that both Bradley and Trueman are proceeding from a Reformed perspective (vs. most of our dispensational perspectives), but are coming to some fairly different conclusions.  There are two points where I differ fairly strongly with Bradley.  First of all, that the black church is significantly Reformed in doctrine--some are and some are not--and second, that the black church is uniquely positioned to remedy things along the lines of cosmic redemption.  

Regarding that second bit, it's important to note that 2/3 of blacks are middle class or higher, but you've got a really sticky point regarding that last third.  Maybe all those churches in Gary (20 miles from my boyhood home) are slowing that city's slide into the abyss, but it's not clear to me that they can show us the way out.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Anne Sokol's picture

I don't really remember what reformed and dispensational mean, so I'm kind of lost there. 

I was really surprised by this article, in that it was posted in a group of thinking Christian women and hailed as wonderful. But I don't know that I agree with the basic tenants of "cosmic redemptive Christianity."  

The author has a few key paragraphs/definitions that I want to look at: 

For GCC [Great Commission Christianity], the gospel is “the announcement of the good news of Jesus’ work to restore sinful image-bearers to the rightful worship of God.” The kingdom of God is “the rule of God demonstrated on earth among a worshipping people.” And redemption is “God’s work to free His people from slavery.” Again, this view is not wrong. It’s just limited in application. Its hyper-focus on saving individuals and the work of the church says nothing about the redemption of creation, which God is also reconciling to himself through Christ. 

So, accepting all his analysis of the main terms, do I accept that the "hyperfocus" on saving individuals is incorrect? That we are really to be working for the redemption of creation...Because he faults GCC for not being able to encourage Christians in social justice issues--this is his definition or application of redeeming? 

I have actually deeply struggled with this question in personal ways, which is maybe why this article ... bothers me. He says: 

I’d define the gospel by saying it is the good news of God’s saving work in Christ and the Spirit by which the powers of sin, death, and judgment are overcome and the life of the new creation is inaugurated, moving towards the glorification of the whole cosmos. The kingdom of God is the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ over the entire cosmos. Redemption, then, is God’s work to restore the whole of creation to himself.....

Cosmic Redemptive Christianity, as a redemptive-historical approach, seeks to call God’s people to himself through evangelism and to liberate creation from the power of the devil until Christ returns.  

Are those true statements? 

Great Commission Christianity doesn’t typically preach a redemption of all creation. They never have. Great Commission Christianity preached a revivalistic, individualistic, truncated gospel to slaves on plantations and did not seek to free slaves from slavery. GCC did nothing to thwart and fight against lynching during Reconstruction. GCC did nothing to liberate blacks from Jim Crow. In fact, it was the opposite. It was typically GCC church members in the South that fought against the black church led Civil-Rights Movement. Fast forward to recent American racial tensions, and you will find a parallel. GCC advocates were unable to respond well to what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. It’s no wonder that African Americans—like Lecrae—who once aligned with Great Commission Christianity “divorced” themselves from white evangelicalism. 

To garner participation in social issues from Christians, Great Commission Christianity has to justify their encouragement of justice work by casting it through the lens of evangelism. This effectively dismisses the real suffering that comes at the hands of injustice....

So, is he preaching a political version of the gospel? Or is he right? 

(Oh, also, aren't there examples of Christians very active in social justice issues and also GCC?? william wilberforce? quite a few missionaries today are too....)

Also: 

Redemption, then, is God’s work to restore the whole of creation to himself. 

Is it? I have been taught that creation, in the final run, will be destroyed then remade, so I don't see it as a trajectory of improvement in social issues until the reign of Christ. Maybe that's getting into more of the end times ideas, then.... 

Those are some things I'm trying to wrestle through with these thoughts.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Anne, 

The context of this article is important.  It was written as a result of the needless battle between conservative evangelicals over the emergence of Social and Racial Justice.  He is responding (not very well) to being attacked by those such as Dr. James White, Phil Johnson, and Dr. John MacArthur as one who is compromising the gospel for a social gospel and cultural Marxism (which is slander).  

Dr. Bradley is communicating more Kuyperian Reformed thinking.   Here was one of my former professors, Dr. Wittmer who also is more Kuyperian Reformed and may give you an idea as to where Dr. Bradley is coming from.  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/you-were-made-for-ea...

Despite Dr. Wittmer's belief that there is some continuity between the present and the new creation, he is actually Pre-Mil in his Eschatology.  

I have read much of Dr. Bradley (and I agree with much of what he says) and he is not preaching a social gospel, nor a political gospel, but rather an over-realized kingdom Gospel. I too hold to a form of the already-not yet view of God's kingdom but not his stripe.   He claims that he is borderline Post-Mil with his Kuyperian Reformed theology.  So I've always felt he had a much more over-realized view of the Kingdom.  Therefore, he is not above being critiqued.  However, White, Johnson, and MacArthur are critiquing him for the wrong things.  

So even though I believe what he says are generally true statements (although I see both continuity and discontinuity between the present and the New Earth), I also believe that he overstates his case.  Not only to make a point but because his over-realized Kingdom-view compels him.  

 

Anne Sokol's picture

That  helps a lot. I will read the link tonight.  Can you explain your viewon this? You said. "I too hold to a form of the already-not yet view of God's kingdom."

 

No trick questions, I really want to hear it.  I have my own questions i might get around to.  Thanks. 

Bert Perry's picture

I am wondering if we might find a bit of a synthesis with some of what Bradley notes if we renew paying attention to passages like James 1:27 as we undergo our sanctification processes.  It has struck me for a long, long time that all too often, "our tribe" seems to view conversions like notches on one's Bible case, and what happens afterwards doesn't really matter.  I came to this site, for example, telling the story of a church that claimed about 800 conversions over the previous 20 years of VBS, but had zero people in church out of those 800 "conversions". 

And as I'm interacting fairly intensely with a couple of young men, and as my wife does the same with a young lady from our church, I'm more and more struck by how little we know each other.  The young lady commented that she'd tried out another church because nobody at church knew her--I half wondered whether, outside of her family and her boyfriend, whether my wife and I know her better than anyone else on earth.  We don't know her that well, and we're just starting to get a picture of their hopes, dreams, and struggles.  Some of it is theological, some of it is pretty practical, stuff like "how do I learn a trade?".  And I wonder if a lot of that is how evangelicals can really start learning to reach out to those who look and think differently from themselves.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Anne Sokol's picture

That was a good article.

Do you think  that his cosmic reach of the gospel idea is the reformers' idea re-stated? 

Joel Shaffer's picture

Anne, 

When it comes to God's Kingdom reign, I see it both as a future and present reality.  Future, because Paul primarily points to God's Kingdom reign as a future event, but also it is present because God has "rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son he loves" (Col. 1:13) and that "the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness (what true social justice is based on) peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Romans 14:17). 

As for the cosmic reach of the gospel question and the Reformers, it depends on which reformer you are talking about as well as their immediate context.  Their battles were different and had much to do with addressing a corrupt Roman Catholic church that had compromised the gospel in many ways (including its relation to the state) and was oppressing and neglecting the poor.  Here's an insightful article from the TGC website about Calvin's theology of Social Justice.  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/john-calvin-theology-social-j...

Whereas the late 19th/early 20th-century neo-Calvinists such as Kuyper and Bavinck were responding to the social, cultural, and religious effects of the enlightenment/modernism in Europe.  Here is the Wikipedia page that explains several emphases of these neo-Calvinists (which Dr. Bradley aligns himself with).   Actually, I embrace most of these as well.  

Anne Sokol's picture

So I read this article, and I need to talk about this without terminology and with using examples, if it's possible, because I don't know most of this terminology and my life has become a little confused by real-life examples. 

Maybe I'm just confused because my examples are not talking about this issue. 

From the wiki article: 

"Cultural Mandate. Genesis 1:26–28 has been described as a cultural mandate. It is the mandate to cultivate and develop the creation.[6] There is a historical development and cultural unfolding. Some Neo-Calvinists hold that the Cultural Mandate is as important as the Great Commission.[7]"

Creation, fall and redemption. God’s good creation has been disrupted by the fall. Redemption is a restoration of creation.[8]

This is what I wrestle with. What is really the restoration of creation, if that is even possible, and where does it confuse with our biases of what that restoration should look like? 

(I will say, that sometimes, I have a learned suspicion of these topics because I feel like I'm being railroaded into agreeing with a political agenda. Have you ever experienced this?)

Example #1. My work with childbirth. Is it even possible to return this to creation "redemptively," from the use of this word in this discussion? People have such different ideas of what is right and best and safe regarding childbirth, and the act itself is under a curse..... I personally would use the term redemption more to mean that no matter what happens, God uses it for the good of His person--Luther's explanation on Romans 8:28, that we are kings and queens because everything that happens to us serves us, to make us like Christ. 

As much as I am passionate about childbirth, i have a really hard time fully devoting myself to restoring what it should be--that is a very cultural and controversial debate. I worked a lot with unsaved clients and it was almost depressing that i could help them have a better birth experience, but ... they were still ultimately going to hell....In my birth work, I didn't have a systematized way of sharing the gospel, and it bothered my conscience to be spending so much time on one life event that will probably not be repeated in eternity, particularly for people in hell. 

I mean, I really struggle with this. Perhaps it's that I perceive myself more as a missionary than I see myself as a birth worker. But I was working with people that didn't have other witnesses in their lives, too. So it was somehow unsatisfying in that way. 

Well, OK, I will stop with this example. It might have nothing to do with this conversation, or something. I don't know Wink But this is what it pricks in me that is a painful and confused place even now. 

Anne Sokol's picture

Last year, at our mission agency office, I was part of a small meeting where a representative of former senator Bill Frist's office came to talk to us about his "The Mother and Child Project: Raising Our Voices for Health and Hope" (that's the name of the book).

Here's an example: http://news.belmont.edu/frist-gates-lead-conversation-at-belmont-on-moth...

they are, understandably, very concerned about women in Africa learning to use birth control. 

So, is this redemptive? or how to understand it? because they don't teach abstinence to unmarried, they teach how to use birth control.

and the lady who spoke to us was a Christian nurse, and she said, as a nurse, she wants to keep people alive so they can hear the gospel. I actually really understand that perspective. So maybe as a missionary, someone who upholds the word of God, I wouldn't teach abstinence out of one side and hand out contraception on the other side. But statistically, teaching abstinence is not as effective at preventing pregnancies as teaching birth control. 

So, in this hotly political issue, fortunately, I don't have to make a public decision about how to handle this, and I just told the nurse that I know the statistics, but I'm not sure what I think about how to handle it. And she was gracious to understand that. She's probably wrestled with it herself. Does she just have a public health perspective, and I have a uphold-the-Bible perspective? 

Another example, is having a clean-needle program for drug users. It's supposed to be statistically more effective but ... Mike Pence, for example, doesn't support it because he thinks it sends the wrong messages. 

What's redemptive in these situations? I think that in sinful situations, there sometimes is no right way to act. So what is to drive us? 

Joel Shaffer's picture

This is what I wrestle with. What is really the restoration of creation, if that is even possible, and where does it confuse with our biases of what that restoration should look like?

(I will say, that sometimes, I have a learned suspicion of these topics because I feel like I'm being railroaded into agreeing with a political agenda. Have you ever experienced this?)

What's redemptive in these situations? I think that in sinful situations, there sometimes is no right way to act. So what is to drive us?

Some great questions.   Dr. Bradley or Tim Keller (some of the prominent one who uses this language) I feel don't define what it looks like, leaving it quite vague.   By the way, sorry it took so long to respond.  My week was crazy.

Here’s how I see it.  As to what is redemptive, I think we need to look at what our callings are as Christians.  I believe there are basically 3 different mandates and they intersect with each other to form what our mission is as Christians.  I believe there is a Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:26-28, Gen. 2:15, Gen. 9:1, Jer. 29:5-7) in which all humans as God's image bearers participate, yet God’s people (in their normal day-to-day activities as they participate in culture), demonstrate to the world how it is intended to be fulfilled.   This provides a foundation for doing mission. I believe there is a love mandate (Love God, Love Neighbor) that Christians are to display not only towards their fellow Christians but also towards non-Christians as well. Without the Sacrificial love that flows from our union in Christ, we gain nothing (I Cor. 13:1-3).  The Love mandate provides the context for doing mission. I believe there is a redemptive mandate because it is only the redemptive work of Christ that goes to the root of humankind’s problem, which is sin. Only the gospel of Jesus can undo, heal, reconcile, redeem the brokenness of sin that has ravaged this world. The church’s specific calling to Make Disciples produces gospel-centered people.  Therefore, the redemptive mandate is the central mandate, which provides direction to how we love and how we participate in culture.

I like to use the example of William Carey, the Father of Modern Missions.  Unfortunately, conservative Christians from America seem to have cherry-picked and domesticated his story and the actual redeeming and cultural impact that he made in India through Jesus.   William Carey, the father of Modern Missions, preached the gospel faithfully, discipled many Indian nationals, and translated the Bible into 40 different languages.  At the same time, Carey also spent a significant amount of time righting the wrongs that had permeated the Indian culture during that time period. In other words, the conservative Calvinist Baptist missionary William Carey also championed social justice.  Vishal and Ruth Mangalwadi (who have been jailed several times for evangelizing Hindus and doing Christian Community development/social justice among impoverished Hindus) wrote this about William Carey:

William Carey “introduced the concept of savings banks to India to fight the all-pervasive social evil of usury.  Carey believed that God, being righteous, hated usury, and thought that lending at the interest of 36-72% made investment, industry, commerce and the economic development of India impossible.”  William Carey “was the first man…who led the campaign for a human treatment for leprosy patients.  Until his time they were sometimes buried or burned alive in India because of the belief that a violent end purified the body and ensured transmigration into a healthy new existence.”   William Carey “began dozens of schools for Indian children of all castes and launched the first college in Asia…..For nearly three thousand years, India’s religious culture had denied to most Indians free access to knowledge, and the Hindu, Mughal, and the British rulers had gone along with this high caste strategy of keeping the masses in the bondage of ignorance.”   William Carey  "was the first man to stand against both the ruthless murders and the widespread oppression of women, virtually synonymous with Hinduism in the 18th and 19th centuries.   The male in India was crushing the female through polygamy, female infanticide, child marriage, widow-burnings, euthanasia and forced female illiteracy, all sanctioned by religion…..Carey opened schools for girls.  When widows converted to Christianity, he arranged marriages for them. It was Carey’s persistent battle against Sati for 25 years which finally led to Lord Bentinck’s famous Edict in 1829, banning one of the most abominable of all religious practices in the world: widow-burning.”   (The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture)

 

Carey spent significant time and effort reversing the depraved Indian Culture and exhibited sacrificial love towards the Indian people through the many good works and addressing several social injustices.   But what drove him was “making disciples of all nations.” That is, fulfilling the great commission that Jesus gave to his disciples and to the church.

Therefore, I believe Anthony Bradley is both right and wrong in his assessment.  He is right that too many conservative Christians devalue the importance of the cultural mandate and the love mandate in its relation to the redemptive mandate.  What they don’t realize is that by ignoring the foundational cultural mandate in Genesis-which is later reiterated in Jeremiah, and the love mandate Jesus and Paul reiterates from the Old Testament, they are in some ways functionally unhitching the Old Testament from the New Testament leading to what Dr. Bradley calls a truncated Gospel.    At the same time, I believe Bradley is wrong because he is advocating an unclear, hazy mission when the Great Commission isn’t at the forefront, which can be just as dangerous. This is one of the reasons why there is mission drift among a significant number of Christians in America. For instance, when 51% of American Christians (according to Barna) have no clue what the Great Commission is, maybe our central emphasis of the Great Commission isn’t such a bad idea after all.    

 

Anne Sokol's picture

I like the three mandates. 

I think they are a lot more intertwined than we can separate in real life, you know? That is probably why discussions like the one in this link are rather frustrating. It's all words, and life will never be that easily categorized. 

Why I start feeling political railroading is when I'm urged to believe something and do a particular thing as a result. I might believe something, but I might not agree with the chosen road of action. 

Great Commission Gospel changes the culture A LOT, everywhere, and I feel like that is being given short shrift. I was talking about this with a friend who urges statistically-motivated public health measures. I guess that's fine for government health policy makers, but evangelizing and planting a church (for example, in Kyiv) has created an ever-widening group of people that are promoting and mostly living out good public health policies-- for example, it's created a group of friends that encourage you not to drink or smoke or do drugs, that encourage you to remain pure until marriage, to remain faithful to your marriage, to father and mother children, to raise children with kingdom values .... it goes on and on. 

My parents are missionaries in Togo, and I don't think anyone has ever used the term "social justice" even once in all the years their mission has been there, but they've started amazing schools for children that actually educate children lovingly and adequately, a hospital, school for the blind, loads of churches; it goes on and on-- as Great Commission Gospel missionaries, they have done a lot more for what this conversation would call "social justice" and "redemption" than probably any other force in that country. 

So I don't know. I have to swim in these issues periodically. And the bottom line often looks like, once God changes the heart, a lot of things will domino-change from that. And we do our acts of mercy in Jesus' name-- which is one thing I love about Samaritan's Purse. They do tons of helps, and they are unashamed to do it in Jesus' name. 

i have more thoughts maybe, when I can organize them, but my daughter is bumping me off the computer...

Joel Shaffer's picture

I think they are a lot more intertwined than we can separate in real life, you know? That is probably why discussions like the one in this link are rather frustrating. It's all words, and life will never be that easily categorized. 

Absolutely.  The only reason I created categories was for clarity sake.  They are definitely inextricably linked together in real life.

Why I start feeling political railroading is when I'm urged to believe something and do a particular thing as a result. I might believe something, but I might not agree with the chosen road of action. 

Same here.  Especially from my poverty-fighting Christian colleagues from the left. Many think they need government action for actual change.  Dr. Bradley is actually more of a conservative, but believes in the concept of "White-Privilege" yet is very critical of today's victim narrative as well as Affirmative Action.

Great Commission Gospel changes the culture A LOT, everywhere, and I feel like that is being given short shrift. I was talking about this with a friend who urges statistically-motivated public health measures. I guess that's fine for government health policy makers, but evangelizing and planting a church (for example, in Kyiv) has created an ever-widening group of people that are promoting and mostly living out good public health policies-- for example, it's created a group of friends that encourage you not to drink or smoke or do drugs, that encourage you to remain pure until marriage, to remain faithful to your marriage, to father and mother children, to raise children with kingdom values .... it goes on and on. 

I completely agree as well.  Let me give you an anecdotal example of two of my former students, whose lives changed as young men in their early 20's.  One through the gospel of Jesus and one through the current black nationalism conscience movement.  Both of them grew up in a single parent family without a father-figure.  Both at one point or another sold drugs and were part of gangs.  Both had sharp business minds.  10 years ago, both had young 3 kids from two mothers.  10 years ago, former Student #1 trusted Christ for his salvation, was discipled in all areas of life as the scriptures now govern every area of his life because of his union in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  A few years later, he married one of his best friends and now have a 2-year-old child, he has been a faithful husband, has started several businesses, is about to become a deacon in our church, and is a part-time staff member within our ministry, discipling others and teaching entrepreneurship to students as well. 10 years ago, former Student #2 turned to black nationalism and black consciousness for his "salvation."  While he now works a steady business job in insurance, he now has 4 more kids from 4 more different mothers (7 kids from 6 moms). Although his pagan worldview helped him with economic stability and motivation in life, it has done nothing to help him the deal with his heart and the works of the flesh, not only the sexual ones but also his tendency towards enmity, strife, and division (which is why he can't stay in a relationship for a long time).    Former Student #1 is a very stable and a loving husband and father and a great role model for many in the neighborhood and is making a formidable impact for Jesus. He demonstrates Christ-like sacrificial love for those around him. Although former Student #2 really works hard to be a good father, his pagan worldview did nothing in his life in regards to sacrificially loving others and he is quite unstable.  All it did was provide self-love of himself and his fellow African-Americans.  

My parents are missionaries in Togo, and I don't think anyone has ever used the term "social justice" even once in all the years their mission has been there, but they've started amazing schools for children that actually educate children lovingly and adequately, a hospital, school for the blind, loads of churches; it goes on and on-- as Great Commission Gospel missionaries, they have done a lot more for what this conversation would call "social justice" and "redemption" than probably any other force in that country. 

Yeah, terms like social justice are pretty synonymous with what's been called social action, social responsibility, social concern. And if you lived in the 19th century, it woud've been called social reform.  Right now there are paranoid conservative Christians in America who equate social justice with redistribution of wealth in conservative evangelical circles and think conservative evangelicalism is being overrun but Christian Cultural Marxists.    I kinda envy gospel-centered missions overseas because (at least in my circles) they don't get nearly the suspicion and scrutiny that urban missions in poverty-stricken areas do here in America when you include Christian community development as part of discipleship.  However, over the years, overseas missions got an undeserved bad rap from progressive Christians and secularists, when in actuality, the gospel-centered missions created conditions for social reform.  Here's a wonderful article from Christianity Today 5 years ago that has changed the narrative and has shown how the gospel really transformed people's lives and laid the foundation for social reform in those nations.  https://www.disciplenations.org/media/CT-Article-On-Missionaries-And-Glo...

   

 

Joel Shaffer's picture

Here's a pertinent article from the TGC website that relates to this conversation.  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/evangelism-social-action-friends/   Some good quotes, including this:  "Jesus made it clear that saving one lost sheep is worth nearly everything. It moves angels to dance for joy. As Christians, we want to love our neighbors and bring practical blessing to as many as possible, but only the gospel of grace has the power to save. In the end, everyone’s biggest problem is their need for God’s forgiveness of their own sin (e.g., Matt. 9:1–8). Without this mindset, we are in danger of helping people down a broad path that leads to an improved life here, but destruction in the end."

 

Anne Sokol's picture

I like that article. It really resonates with what I have wrestled with. 

I like your example of the two students, too. 

Thanks for all you've written.