Social Ethics

Directions in Evangelicalism (Fifth in Series)

This essay’s first appearance at SharperIron was in January of 2009. Previous installments in the series: 1, 2, 3, and 4.

The Gospel According to Walt

We have examined the vision of the gospel that is being propagated by Scot McKnight of North Park Seminary and by Timothy Gombis of Cedarville University. They are certainly not unique in the evangelical world. Indeed, their understanding of the gospel has become influential among an increasing number of evangelicals.

The theory, however, is not new. As an example, consider Walt. Like Scot and Tim, Walt did not wish to abandon the gospel of personal salvation. Also like Scot and Tim, he yearned for a gospel that could deal with problems that he deemed larger and more important. Here is what Walt said:

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Materialism: It's Probably Not What You Think

Ask most people to describe materialism and you’ll hear references to big screen TVs, computers, SUVs, big houses and overpaid CEOs. A few might mention “consumerism” and “greed.” Most would agree with the idea that materialism has been a major obstacle to relieving world poverty. Some would say it’s the cause of that poverty.

Four myths of materialism

But what if materialism isn’t really what most people think? We could fall prey to materialism unawares or reject good ideas we have misidentified as materialism. In seeking to help the poor, we could waste our efforts opposing what really contributes little to the poverty problem.

So what is materialism? I’ll pursue a definition by countering four popular myths.

Myth 1: Material things are not important.

A widespread attitude, especially among Christians, is that materialism involves attaching value and importance to material things—and that these things are not truly important.

But wouldn’t that make God the first materialist?

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Social Involvement without the Social Gospel

social250.jpgRepublished with permission from Baptist Bulletin May/June 2011. All rights reserved.

Can churches create compassionate social ministries in their communities without inadvertently becoming sidetracked from their essential gospel motivation?

The question is not new—a promising young German seminarian slipped down this path in the 1880s. “The idea came to me that I ought to be a preacher, and help to save souls. I wanted to go out as a foreign missionary—I wanted to do hard work for God,” Walter Rauschenbusch said in 1913. “Indeed, one of the great thoughts that came upon me was that I ought to follow Jesus Christ in my personal life, and die over again his death,…and it was that thought that gave my life its fundamental direction in the doing of Christian work” (Rauschenbusch, “The Kingdom of God” in The Social Gospel in America, 1870–1920).

Rauschenbusch, who began his ministry with an orthodox view of salvation, would later become known as “the father of the social gospel.” Regrettably, once he became pastor in the Hell’s Kitchen district of New York City, he preached a different gospel, altering his Biblical message to address social ills such as poverty, unemployment, and malnutrition. In the process, Rauschenbusch lost his emphasis on Christ’s atoning sacrifice for the sinner.

Even today Christians tamper with the gospel message, as Rauschenbusch did, applying his ideas to our modern problems.

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