Why would Lakeside Covenant Church cancel its Sunday services in order to assemble AIDS caregiver kits for use in Africa instead? What's happening when the Sunday coffee hour on the patio at Praise Center becomes a weekly open-air breakfast for indigent people? Why would 25 adults in one church use most of their annual vacation to travel to New Orleans and clean houses ruined by Katrina, while another 10 from this same congregation go to Washington, D.C., to lobby their congressional representatives to continue support for Katrina victims five years after the tragedy?
Are these signs of a dynamic ministry embodying the wholistic gospel of Jesus Christ for all, including the poor and vulnerable and oppressed? Or are such actions indicative of a foreboding breakdown in evangelical clarity about the gospel's priority of spiritual salvation?
It helps to examine what accounts for the shift in the last decade from a common evangelical skepticism regarding issues of injustice to the enthusiastic engagement we see today. Will this concern for justice last, or will it be another evangelical fad? I'm hopeful it's here to stay, but we need to identify what it will take for this change to be sustained.
Understanding the times
Since the modernist-fundamentalist debates of the early 20th century, "social justice" was considered the passion of the theologically liberal, while "evangelism" was the passion of the theologically conservative. This divide had not characterized the church in earlier eras, but it emerged as a response to shifting theological and cultural ground in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This divide has been a hallmark of American Protestantism ever since. But as the 21st century dawned, this dichotomization of the ...