We are continuing to make our way through the affirmations found in the Missional Manifesto. I am enjoying looking at these in greater detail and the conversation we are having around them. We have tackled seven of the affirmations in previous posts. You can read about them here:
Today we come to the eighth affirmation on duality. Here is the statement from the Missional Manifesto:
We believe the mission and responsibility of the church includes both the proclamation of the Gospel and its demonstration. From Jesus, we learn the truth is to be proclaimed with authority and lived with grace. The church must constantly evangelize, respond lovingly to human needs, as well as "seek the welfare of the city" (Jeremiah 29:7). By living out the implications of the gospel, the missional church offers a verbal defense and a living example of its power.
One of the most intense debates surrounding the current missional conversation has been that of the duality of Gospel proclamation and Gospel demonstration. Some see works of mercy and justice as an implication of the Gospel, others as a facet of the gospel "diamond," and others as a co-equal of the Gospel. How we resolve the tension is important as we and our churches move forward missionally.
It is interesting to me as a missiologist that many think this is the first time in missions history that we have struggled with the tension between these two poles. It is not. We would all do well to understand historically how these discussions have turned out in the past. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it would be historical naivete not to. We need to discover that the last two times Christians "discovered" social justice, it did not end well.
The distinction between social justice and Gospel proclamation might go back to Jonathan Edwards, who said that God's work has two facets: 1) the converting and sanctifying of individuals and 2) the grand design in creation, history, and providence. Many of you know Edwards as one of the preeminent theologians of the church in the 18th century, a preacher used by God during the Great Awakening. You might not know that he championed both of these mandates.
Between 1865 and 1900, however, attention to social and political deeds faded (though not entirely) among evangelicals. Consequently, from about 1900 to 1925, nearly all progressive social concern garnered suspicion among evangelicals and therefore drastically waned. The expansive sweep of the participation in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Awakenings had shrunk to a narrow and socially uninvolved sectarianism. (Some of this view still prevails in certain church contexts around the world.)
One of the most influential historical happenings related to this discussion was that of the missio Dei movement in the late 1960s and 70s. In the Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions under the heading, "Missio Dei," we get an overview of this movement:
(J.C.) Hoekendijk challenged missionaries to identify and integrate with the suffering masses, seeking to realize God's shalom on earth. As this occurred in the 1960's and 70's, the World Council's ministry focused almost entirely on social, economic, and political "liberation"...Unfortunately, the leaders in the World Council of Churches also...neglected humanity's need for reconciliation with God.
In the late 20th century, another movement emerged called a theology of liberation - a complex phenomenon coming from the Third-World. To a large degree, theologies of liberation developed in protest against the failure of the Western church and missionary circles to grapple with the problems of systematic injustice. In this paradigm, Third-World peoples had to take their fate into their own hands and unfetter themselves through a revolution.
Also in the late 20th century, the theme of "God's solidarity with the poor" began to take hold with the World Council of Churches and by the time of the Bangkok conference on the Division of World Mission and Evangelism in 1973, terms like "salvation" were repainted as "liberation." At the CWME at Melbourne in 1980, the poor were put in the very center of missiological consideration.
In recent missions history, while the mainline tradition was wrestling with the missio Dei movement and Liberation Theology, evangelicals were largely absent from those two conversations. In the middle of the last century (before the missio Dei emphasis), evangelicals began to consider a shift in attitudes toward Gospel proclamation and social justice. They were not so much "in" the ecumenical conversation, but they were influenced by it. Some might say they were challenged by it.
It wasn't until 1966 when the Wheaton Declaration affirmed the evangelical social concern in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and stressed the magnitude of ministering to physical and social needs, that they also stated that these efforts should occur "without minimizing the priority of preaching the gospel of individual salvation." At the 1966 Berlin World Congress on Evangelism, Billy Graham spoke for many evangelicals when he included a social facet within evangelism but added that improved social conditions were a consequence of successful evangelism. Throughout the 80's more efforts coalesced to overcome the dichotomy between evangelism and social justice from evangelicalism.
The duality of Gospel proclamation and social justice is always a challenging one. Evangelicals have generally seen the ecumenical approach as unhelpful and to be avoided-- while often co-opting some of the ideas and even language of the ecumenical movement. I want to remind you of something I said in the post in this series on the gospel.
I think it is crucial to remember that there is a difference between the gospel and the implications of the gospel.
The gospel is news: the good news of the gracious work of Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection that restores our relationship with God when we, as the manifesto says, repent of our sin, confess the Messiah as Lord, and trust in him. A gospel-centered mission will always include a call to the individual to place their faith and trust in Jesus. This is why evangelism is an indispensable part of mission.
But the gospel is also a story. Many today prefer to describe the story-arc of the Bible as "Creation-Sin-Redemption-Restoration." The addition of restoration emphasizes that God 's end game is to restore His creation back to its original order. God's purpose is to redeem individuals, who join God in acts of restoration (mercy and justice) and ultimately, gathered as one people who will dwell securely forever in a restored creation (Revelation 21). So while the gospel is God's work of redemption in Jesus Christ, the followers of Jesus Christ demonstrate the hope of the gospel in both words and deeds.