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?