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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Is The Social Gospel Biblical Enough For Conservative Christians?

Is the Social Gospel biblical enough for Conservative Christians, especially American Conservative Christians? We should note that not all Conservative Christians are politically conservative and socially reserved like American Conservative Christians. So the question is whether the Social Gospel is Biblical enough for these Christians to adopt?

Of course, the next question is what is the Social Gospel? Here, we must acknowledge that the Social Gospel is not a monolith. It doesn't have just one definition. The Social Gospel can mean many things to many people. So I am going to define Social Gospel by what it means to a Christian Fundamentalist like myself. Note that not all, or even most, Fundamentalists, will agree with my definition.

Before defining what the Social Gospel is, we must ask how are the Gospel and Social Gospel related? There are two fatal errors that can be made when answering this question. The first one is to reduce the Gospel to the Social Gospel. This is the sin practiced by theological liberalism and they do this because they reduce all of reality to the physical realm and nature. To do so would be to deny both the nature and redemptive work of Jesus Christ who, being God's Son, died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead. It is also a denial of salvation by faith alone.

The second fatal flaw here would be to sever the Social Gospel from Gospel of Christ. Why? It is because the Social Gospel is an integral part of following what Jesus has either directly commanded or what can be implied from His commands. To amputate the Social Gospel from our faith is to encourage a kind of sanctification that revolves around how to be righteously selfish. That is the less we live for the benefit of others, the more our Christian life becomes an exercise in pleasing ourselves as long as we do not violate the accepted Christian taboos. Such leads to a kind of consumer Christianity and is thus a violent assault on the Gospel's call to all to repent. For we must ask whether the Gospel merely calls us to stop breaking certain religious conventions of our day or does its call to repentance penetrate that surface to challenge hearts full of selfish ambition.

We can think of the Social Gospel as the call to give temporal help to those whose need is caused by systematic neglect or oppression. Here, the Social Gospel consists of three parts. These parts are Social Justice, Social Action, and Personal Action. Social Justice would consist of calling on society, especially those with wealth and power, to cease their oppression and neglect of those who are suffering and are in great need. One of the rubs that exists here for many American Conservative Christians is how to obey Romans 13's injunctions to respect and submit to the governing authorities, or superiors as the Westminster Standards labeled them, while supporting those whom the authorities make suffer. We should note that those considered to be authorities include all from the public sector in addition to some from the private sector. Authorities from the private sector would include business owners and management.

The Social Gospel also includes actions that are designed to provide immediate relief from suffering. Sometimes this help comes from groups and sometimes from individuals. When groups provide such aid, it can be called Social Action. The many groups that went to the aid of the victims of Hurricane Sandy were involved with Social Action. Groups that provide food, housing, cleaning services, healthcare, and other care for society's neglected and oppressed people participate in Social Action. Here we should note that the demographics of those involved with Social Action cut across the conservative-liberal-leftist divides. The only controversy that can occur is in the identity of the recipients of the help. Liberals and Leftists will tend to help those who are more marginalized by the law. An example of such a group that will receive more help from Liberals and Leftists are "illegal" immigrants.

When help for those who suffer neglect or oppression come from individuals, rather than groups, we can call this Personal Action.This is the third part of Social Justice. People who have never heard of the Social Gospel or think that they oppose it have been practicing the Social Gospel whenever they help someone who is disadvantaged. This applies to people who tutor students or coach athletics from poor neighborhoods or to shut ins or the sick. This also applies to businessmen who donate goods to the poor or who give opportunities to the same people move up the company ladder.

So where's the beef with the Social Gospel? The contention lies with the first part: Social Justice. There are two bases for disagreement American Conservative Christians have when opposing the Social Justice part of the Social Gospel. The first grounds for objection is personal by church members and the second is theological by denomination and church leaders.

The personal reasons church members might have to oppose Social Justice can include tribalism, an unquestioning submission to authority, and an already comfortable life. In addition, some church members will have a grasp of the theological reasons taught by their leaders to maintain the same old, same old where the Church benefits from the status quo. Nothing illustrates that more than when ordinary church members who object to criticizing and trying to change the system as trying too hard because we have to wait until God brings His Kingdom to earth.

We can see tribalism in church members as they ignore the abuses of the their government in the name of patriotism. To even criticize America here is akin to siding with the enemy and thus being a traitor. The problem that such church members have is that the more their patriotism inhibits their examination and criticism of their country's moral failures, the more moral concerns become endangered. And the more such church members hold fast to unconditional submission to authority, the more these church members resemble the compliant citizens who have lived under the most tyranical regimes such as Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, and Red China. Unless we admit that these regimes provide the minimal standard of evil, then we must realize that the wrongdoing of any country must be opposed and opposed first by the people of that country.

Finally, we must address the Christian theologians who teach their followers to be passive in the light of the sins of those with wealth and power. The Social Gospel has been "delegitimized" by these theologians through theological models such as the New Legalism and theologies about the Kingdom of God. The models of thought that attempt to persuade people that they can prefer a life of comfort to bearing one's cross run the risk of following the example set by the pharisees as recorded in Matthew 15:1-20. What Jesus challenged the phariees on was their setting aside God's commandment to honor one's parents by taking money that could be used to support them by declaring those funds to be a religious donation.

We must ask these theologians this: which is more important, God's command to love our neighbor as ourselves or their definition of God's Kingdom or legalism? We must ask them this: which is more important, to preach the Gospel to all regardless of the status and wealth of the audience or to follow their theological models? We must ask these theologians this: which is more important, to be a faithful steward for God by trying to make the world a more just place or to pay more attention to these traditions that claim to interpret the Bible?

See, the Social Gospel doesn't have to based on sophisticated models of Biblical interpretation but on simple Biblical values of caring for others and wanting to spread the Gospel. And though one can legitimately argue that one does not care for someone by teaching false doctrine, neither can one love one's neighbor by ignoring their suffering that is a result of systematic oppression and neglect.

And so the question becomes for those who wish to relegate the Social Justice to be mere humanism and thus discarded, which reflects the love of God as seen in the sending of His Son to save those who were His enemies; is it seeking a life of personal peace and prosperity (a.k.a. seeking to live a quiet and peaceful life as long as one does not break current Christian taboos) or is it promoting Social Justice by challenging those with wealth and power to quit living as the rich man did in Luke 16: 19-31 as well as to treat all others as equals who have been made in the image of God?

The more people rely on the religious traditions of today to discredit Social Justice, the more they become pharisees who rejects God's Word that commands them to love, preach, and be good stewards so they can revel in their their sophisticated, theological constructs.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Curt,

Thank you for your thoughts (on this).

Our Lord bless and keep you and your family.

And keep up the good work!

Sincerely in Christ,
Jason

Curt Day said...

Thank you Jason.

I believe that the Social Gospel is a key test of the medal of the American Christian's faith. I believe this because one's reaction to or involvement in the Social Gospel detects or reveals how self-serving one is or is not. As long as we are not trying to justify ourselves by our works, the more we are involved with more people as equals, the less we self-seeking (see Romans 2:8) we are. But again, our involvement cannot be out of pride or any desire to prove our own righteousness. Rather, we are so involved to reflect how God has been and is involved with us.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Big Brother Curt! :-D