They called me an Evangelical Part 6
Not only, but also
The next week, as Pete was collecting our empty laksa bowls, Larry said, “I’ve been thinking over what Marian said last week about the applicant who says he rejects ‘the social gospel.’ There’s a sad bit of history behind that attitude.”
“Do tell”, said Pete expectantly.
“Well”, said Larry, “when many mainstream churches were swinging towards Liberalism early last century, there were those who felt that they were selling the Bible short, and the Gospel with it. A group of scholars compiled a list of what they considered to be the ‘fundamentals’ of Christian faith.”
“Is that where Fundamentalism comes from?” Pete interrupted.
“Yes and no”, said Larry. “Certainly that’s when the label ‘Fundamentalist’ was invented, and at the time many Evangelicals were happy to wear it. But it started to go sour when the Fundamentalists’ concern to preserve the key conviction that we’re called to evangelise a sinful world made them oppose the Liberal tendency to put all the emphasis on Christian charity and social reform. They claimed that this was substituting a social gospel for the true Gospel which, they claimed, is all about personal evangelism.
“That’s ironical”, I said. “The long history of Christian missions shows that missionaries have almost always had a deep concern for the physical and social needs of people as well as the needs of their souls.”
“Of course they have”, said Larry. “and there’s no doubt that this is what Jesus taught and how he lived his message. And the world owes a great deal to the efforts of Christians in areas like health and medicine, education, and social welfare. The evidence is on every mission field.”
“Fundamentalists were also highly suspicious of academic scholarship”, he continued, “which appeared to them to be the cause of the problem. But the Evangelical balance began to be restored at the famous Lausanne World Congress on Evangelism organised by Billy Graham in 1974, where John Stott chaired the committee which drafted the famous ‘Lausanne Covenant’. The ‘Lausanne Movement’ which evolved from that Congress has been very active in promoting among Evangelicals a ‘full gospel’ concern for people in need.”
“I’ve just been reading about that”, said Marian. “Can I have a go at stating our thoughts in a sentence like you’ve been doing?” We nodded eagerly.
We respond to Jesus’s example and command to be on mission; notably through personal evan¬gelism, but also through social activism on behalf of all creation, with special concern for people suffering pain, injustice, or oppression.
“Brilliant”, said Larry, and Pete and I echoed him.
“By the way”, said Pete, “What made you mention ‘all creation’?”.
“Oh” said Marian, “I put that in because I think we Christians have something to say in the debate about environmental pollution and the extinction of so many species. Climate change is almost like a judgment on our greed.”
“Bravo”, said Larry. “and yes, that’s something that’s been coming to the fore in recent Evangelical writing. The Bible doesn’t say God created the world just to satisfy the needs of the human race. Jesus spoke of God’’s affection for sparrows and swallows as well as for humans. We’re to be stewards of the natural world, not merely a species that exploits it for our own benefit.”
“I not sure all Evangelicals are willing to run with that view”, said Pete.
“You mean, all the people who claim to be Evangelical”, said Larry. “I agree. That’s why we need to disentangle the words ‘Fundamentalist’ and ‘Evangelical’ from each other, though they’re often used interchangeably. The people who are today’s Fundamentalists are still locked in the defensive stance of the early 20th century. They’re still characterised by anti-intellectualism and a disinterest in social activism on behalf of the oppressed.”
“Yes”, said Pete, “that woman who knocked on our door last week talked a lot about the end of the world, suggesting that in the light of Jesus’s return there’s not much point in doing anything about current social and environmental problems. Do you know she gave a date for the Second Coming, next year!”
“That’s actually a pretty heartless attitude, isn’t it?” said Larry. “Imagine Jesus saying, ‘Well I can’t heal everyone and the Romans are going to kill most of you anyway, so I won’t heal anyone. I’ll just preach.”
Pete turned to Marian. “So that’s something else to ask your applicants about”, he said. “do they have a concern for the full Gospel?”
“You’re right”, she replied, “I’ll tell you next week how we got on – if the result is public by then.”
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