Me, Myself, and Jesus
The emerging response to personal justification and social justice.

David Fitch is back with part 2 of his critique of the emerging response to evangelicalism. In part 1 he noted the "we're in, you're out" mentality in much of the evangelical church, and the anemic emerging reaction to this black and white theology. Here, Fitch takes on our over emphasis of having a "personal relationship" with Christ while ignoring the social component of the gospel.

A second weakness I see emerging churches responding to is the individualizing tendencies of evangelical ways of being Christ's church. Our churches are organized to meet the spiritual needs of individuals, and our salvation is incredibly individualistic. Calling Jesus "a personal Savior" sounds like Jesus is in the same category as my personal barber, personal trainer, or personal dental hygenist (BTW, I don't have a personal trainer). The danger is making salvation all about me.

I know it didn't start out this way in evangelicalism, but it was latent in the structure of our soteriology. And so we have almost romanticized our relationship with God; created a narcissistic experience of it. And churches become all about preserving, maintaining, and nurturing this experience in their parishioners.

But the gospel is not about getting something, it is about participating in something - God's work of reconciling the whole world to Himself. And yes, we do have a relationship with God which becomes personal but it is inseparable from His mission.

I said in an article I wrote for Allelon:

Imagine what it would be like in our churches, if there were no such division (between personal justification and social justice). If we were not invited to go forward as individuals to receive a packaged salvation from God that gets us off hell, but instead came forward to become part of something, what God is doing in the world through Jesus Christ - the reconciliation of all men and women with Himself, each other, and all of creation (2 Cor 5:19), which BTW inextricably must still include my own personal reconciliation/relationship with God.

Again, McLaren is speaking to this when he says in an article:

The term missional asks this question: what is the purpose of the church? To enfold and warehouse Christians for heaven, protecting them from damage and spoilage until they reach their destination? Or to recruit and train people to be transforming agents of the kingdom of God in our culture? The missional church understands itself to be blessed not to the exclusion of the world, but for the benefit of the world. It is a church that seeks to bring benefits to its nonadherents through its adherents.
October 05, 2007

Displaying 1–8 of 8 comments

Justin Ames

October 31, 2007  10:13am

I agree that making salvation all about us is a dangerous thing. I was talking to one of my friends the other day about what being saved is and he said that salvation was joining God in the restoration of the earth and the reconciliation of all things to himself. I would love to learn more about this topic and other views on it

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Stephen M. Bauer

October 21, 2007  7:24am

As a Catholic, it's great to see that the evangelicals are finally coming around.

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Every Square Inch

October 16, 2007  10:17pm

Fitch says "the gospel isn't about getting something..." On the contrary, the gospel is first and foremost about receiving (getting) from God what he alone can provide for us - mercy, grace and a relationship w/ himself.

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Cliff Mikkelson

October 15, 2007  5:58pm

A sense of justice and compassion flows from realizing that you are one with God and with everyone and everything else. You naturally want to help everyone in practical ways because everyone is family. Once you are anchored in the oneness of God you realize your own security and well-being in the love of God and you naturally want to extend that to everyone. Jesus can help you in this realization.–Cliff Mikkelson, author of "Gospel of One; Letters of Aul."

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Richard Dennis Miller

October 08, 2007  4:20pm

Could you please specifically define social justice. The vagueness of this term, as you use it here is emotionally manipulative. .

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Todd Wold

October 05, 2007  12:48pm

Great stuff, this. I'd love to hear more about this: "...worldly power is this homogenous totality that engulfs, absorbs, and incorporates all resistance within it. So in essence, we start out working for justice against the dominant Symbolic order and end up supporting it, helping to spread its injustice even more." Perhaps an example to illustrate how this can happen. Thanks.

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October 05, 2007  11:04am

Thanks for the engaging post, I like the way it challenges my mind. In response I would add a few thoughts. First off the either or mentality is rife in both camps, but in my travels across the world this is not really a dominant issue outside of western Christianity. We must never lose sight of the broad range of justice. It certainly is helping people who are starving, people whose families have been devastated by calamity, disease, poverty, and a host of other global ills. It is dealing with the world wide crisis of AIDS, finding drinkable water, even assisting in the education needs of people across the world. I say we never minimize this side of justice and compassion. However justice and compassion is also helping marriage survive the onslaught of issues it faces every day, it is helping people develop moral compasses whereby navigating the seductive sensuality of our day. It is teaching people it can be done without falling into addiction to porn, drugs, alcohol, gambling and much more. Justice finds itself not in the extremity of our reach but in the partnership with what God wants done in this world. Justice is preventative as well. We cannot claim we are advocates of justice at the expense of developing people who will grow to be just. It is teaching parents to raise just people. It is salvaging unjust marriage partnerships and strengthening exiting marriages. It is teaching responsibility to people financially so we do not spend 110% of God's money on our lifestyles thus making participating in justice an event or trip verses a way of life. The fastest growing segment of credit card users is below the age of 40. Justice is not only running to the ends of the earth with a mission, it is also living that mission on my street. My Denomination says compassion and justice are defined as "Helping hurting people and Stopping what hurts them." We must be active on all sides of the equation and we must develop and maintain something that is sustainable for the long haul. Too many self proclaimed "emergents" are now leaving the "missional" because it is not too hard on the family. When they jumped in they were not married with children and now they are and in this season of life are leaving to find a different pace. Justice and compassion must be an expression of my community but also a result of being personally related to God as a son or daughter. There is a huge list of things God says "Should" be done in this world. I am responsible before God to lead people to the "Should List" and join God. As for God not working everywhere the reality is that if he is everywhere he is t work everywhere simply because of his presence. God does not lack for "should's" he lacks people to join him.

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robert austell

October 05, 2007  10:09am

I appreciate the perspective of the author of this column, though I think it is stereotyped evangelicalism that is being picked on. Many evangelical churches do embrace social justice and mercy ministries and see the direct connection between salvation and service. I particularly resonated with the last paragraph, about true social justice being predicated on living faith. I wrote about this in a blog-devotional on the woman who anointed Jesus' feet (and the disciples' cry of "What about the poor?").

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