Don’t Forget the Soul

Outreach

It seems to me the doctrines of sin, heaven, hell, atonement, redemption, etc., have fallen on hard times lately. What I mean is that these days preachers generally speak (especially my colleagues 40 and under in age) far less of the aforementioned truths than their predecessors. Perhaps that's a good thing. Probably not. We don't write about it on our blogs, we speak of it less from the pulpit, and seem far more interested in matters of social justice and community bridge-building than traditional soteriological evangelism. Perhaps it's because our view of lostness has shifted toward a kinder, gentler lostness (though there is no such thing–a subject for another post)…or our view of Kingdom has broadened to include earth as well as heaven (this is a very good thing). Whatever the case, the Bible teaches:

There is a heaven.

There is a hell.

There is a soul. 

There is one God.

The shift to a greater concern for social justice is a positive trend that's corrected a theological imbalance in the Church's understanding of the Gospel. Historically, if heaven/hell evangelism and kingdom implications for the world today were on a theological teeter-totter, the earthly affairs would be way in the air, and strict heaven/hell theology of evangelism would be the fat kid on the other end. For instance, it used to be we wouldn't feed or clothe anyone unless we preached the five-finger gospel to them first. It was evangelism at soup-point…terrible. Some even argued God didn't care at all about the body…but only about the soul. Add to this theological false dichotomies of flesh and spirit, personal and spiritual life, and heaven and earth–and you have theological imbalance that had brutal implications on the world around us and the name of Christ among skeptics–including the poor and marginalized.

Until quite recently, Christians had earned a reputation for cultural apathy that didn't speak well of the Savior's concern for the world. Some taught that God loved the world and God created the world…but He didn't want us to be concerned with it. He wanted us to have our minds and hearts on things above–despite the overwhelming biblical link between our relationship to others in this world and God. I'm thankful for the last 20 years or so in which we Christians have generally rounded out our theology of redemption to include this life as well as the next.

However, there's a new, meaty kid on the teeter-totter. Today, evangelism in general is outweighed by the "new school" of social concern and community bridge-building as evangelism. It seems that many now prefer feeding and clothing to preaching the good news of redemption from sin that Jesus brought. These are obviously not mutually exclusive and some of this new emphasis emerges from a more healthy and broader view of "Kingdom" to include neglected aspects of the Gospel. Praise God for that!

Yet, as we care for the body, we cannot forget the soul. Caring for the soul means loving people enough to get to know them, love them, and share Christ with them. The kind of outreach we see when we observe the ministry of Jesus. We need to make sure we remember and lift high the good news that Christ came to earth to save sinners. Rich or poor, clothed or naked, white-collar or no-collar, all must decide what they will do with Jesus, and all will eventually bow and say He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

There is no doubt that poverty is a damnable scourge of this world, but it is not worse than spiritual lostness. Even if a person is rich, they can still be poorer than the poorest of the poor. "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:17). Poverty is horrific, but it is not lostness. Lostness is lostness. Lostness is the condition of all those for whom Jesus is not Lord. Because Jesus is Lord, His people care about poverty because He cares about poverty. Poor or rich, we preach Christ crucified and authenticate our message with lives that demonstrate we follow the One who proclaims good news to the poor. 

So we understand ministry to the poor as intrinsic to the authentically redeemed soul rather than mistake social justice for the whole Gospel. Social justice and community bridge-building are characteristic of authentic Christianity and vital to earning a hearing for the Gospel. However, they are certainly not evangelism in it's entirety. I do not wish to generalize all who advocate for the poor and marginalized as unconcerned about the soul.

Not at all.

I'm simply suggesting the Church must stay unswervingly vigilant in seeking redemption of lost souls (how's that for a dusty phrase?). If nothing else, Jesus came to seek and save what was lost. When we lose that we lose the heart of our missionary God and are scarcely different from secular charities. Some might argue correctly that some secular charities do more good than some churches. Fair enough. I'm talking about real churches, though. 

One can serve the poor while disregarding Christ. One cannot follow Christ and disregard the poor. True evangelism begets social justice because it begets transformation into the image of Jesus, the Just One. So, for the sake of the world and the sake of the Kingdom in it's fullness…we cannot forget the soul. This doesn't mean we preach the five-finger gospel before the poor can have their soup. It means we understand our provision of soup as an extension of the redeemed life and care enough about those we're serving to care for their soul as well.

The ultimate question is not first, "is the world just?" It is, "Who is Christ?" The answer to that question is all. I'm not arguing that we must offer an invitation at every church pot-luck or that we should go back to our old world-neglecting ways. I'm putting in a good word for evangelism–the salvation of those who are lost. We need to teach the truth here as clearly as we can with our lives and mouths–which includes seeking justice for the oppressed. It also means seeking the salvation of the soul. Why? Because the Lord Jesus wants us to.

Thoughts? Have you noticed a shift away from salvation of the soul? How so? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Forget the Soul

  1. Bob,
    I think I was clear about the importance of service to poor and marginalized…and that it shouldn’t be contingent upon “whether they come to Christ” or not. It’s interesting, however, that Matthew 25 is an eschatological text…it too takes place at judgment.
    I am not speaking of body and soul in dualistic terms…but rather acknowledging they are not completely the same–as Jesus does when he tells us not to fear those can harm the body but the one who can throw both body and soul into hell. I believe that when the body dies the soul does not. They are not one in the same…though they are not completely separate either.
    Here was my broader point: Christianity is more than simply do-goodism. While it may not be completely about “making more Christians” as you put it…it is about that. Christianity is first about faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and living out the implications of that reality–inclusive of our treatment of others and our devotion to mission. Christian works come from lives transformed by Christ. Mere activism thinks good works are the end unto themselves. In the end…they save no one’s life (all die) and certainly save no one’s soul.
    I think it’s hard to make a case that eternal life was a peripheral concern of Jesus’ to life on earth. As you say, He sees them as linked…but He simply says too much about it. John 3:16 and dozens of other texts let us know that Jesus is concerned with eternal life, starting now…those who believe in Him shall never die.

  2. it’s because ‘traditional soteriological evangelism’ is xnty’s weakest aspect in a postmodern world.
    as far as what the bible ‘teaches’, concepts of heaven and hell certainly developed diachronically in the bible after the return from exile and most likely under the influence of persian zoroastrian religion. (remember, there is no speak of afterlife and/or satan prior to the exile). zechariah, job, ezra-nehemiah are all exilic/post-exilic.
    as for concepts of ‘soul,’ i’d challenge you to define soul outside of the jewish understanding of ‘life.’ soul is life. any bi- or tri-partite understanding of soul is hellenistic/platonic influence on xnty.
    as for the concept of one God, the introduction of multiple immortal, divine beings like angels, demons, etc. was an ongoing struggle (cf. the debates about afterlife and divine beings other than god himself between pharisees and sadducees in acts 23:8). combine that with the struggle to rationalize the theological construct that is the trinity for the first 300 years of xnty and one can understand why jews and muslims called xns polytheists.
    i am guessing the decreased discussion of these topics by young and increasingly educated pulpit ministers reflects their correct understanding that modern xnty is not as much of a cut-and-dry sectarian entity as the church has been in the past. the de-emphasis of systematic theology and doctrine should be expected in a scientific world that is regularly demonstrating archaeologically and literally that what we thought we knew about theological ‘proofs’ and the arguments that the church fathers made are increasingly problematic.
    likewise, we should celebrate the rise in interest in social justice and public service (and for that matter, the diminishing prominence of doctrine as a vehicle to separate ‘us’ from ‘them.’) of course, social justice and service don’t ‘pack ’em in’ on sunday like telling an audience that only ‘we’ know the truth, others are going to hell, and this is the only place where you get your weekly recharge, but then again, jesus was always more about service to those he never expected anything of in return than he was about saying things that the religious establishment (including his own followers) liked.
    where i take specific issue with your post is your comment here:
    “Today, evangelism in general is outweighed by the “new school” of social concern and community bridge-building as evangelism. It seems that many now prefer feeding and clothing to preaching the good news of redemption from sin that Jesus brought…Yet, as we care for the body, we cannot forget the soul.”
    the problem is that in matt 25:31-46, the sheep are not commended for their ‘evangelism’ or their ‘care for the soul’ (as if caring for one’s soul could ever be separated from care for one’s life or body! remember tim, we are xns, not platonists!). where exactly among feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned does jesus ever say, ‘and all that’s important, of course, but a proper understanding of heaven and hell, the concept of a soul, and caring for the ‘soul’ is also important”?
    in matt 25, xns are judged by their service to others. that’s it. that is a xn’s lived faith. and, those that neglected these in favor of, oh let’s say, ‘a proper understanding of heaven and hell, the concept of a soul, and caring for the soul’ ended up damned in eternal punishment.
    i’ll also take issue with your comment:
    “There is no doubt that poverty is a damnable scourge of this world, but it is not worse than spiritual lostness.”
    no, no, no! where in the bible is this found? what you are arguing when you say:
    ‘So we understand ministry to the poor as intrinsic to the authentically redeemed soul rather than mistake social justice for the whole Gospel. Social justice and community bridge-building are characteristic of authentic Christianity and vital to earning a hearing for the Gospel. However, they are certainly not evangelism in it’s entirety”
    is that good works are means to an end, not ends in themselves. i’d remind you that paul spends a great deal of time arguing against this very concept of works as means to an end.
    the service to others mentioned in micah 6:6-8 and matt 25:31-46 are not means to an end, they are ends in themselves. they are not what xns do once they are no longer ‘lost,’ they are what xns do. period. the service to others IS the service to and worship of god. everything else is secondary and tertiary.
    your argument appears to be far too worried about making more xns (or boosting worship service numbers) than about serving the poor and marginalized WHETHER THEY ‘COME TO CHRIST’ OR NOT.
    xnty is not about making more xns. it’s about serving others. when one is a condition of the other, we’ve lost our way.
    if we can remember that in hebrew, ‘soul’ means ‘life’ (on this earth), then this makes more sense. saving or helping one’s soul means helping and saving one’s life here and now on this earth, that is, service to others. only when hellenistic platonism gets involved to we separate soul from present life, and focus on the wrong one. we worry far too much about life after death and forget about the one lived before death.
    other than that, all is well. hope you are well. 😉