August 27, 2008
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” Romans 1:16
For various reasons, Christians of different sorts have tinkered with “the gospel of Christ” as though it needed adjustments. Not major alterations, most will tell you, but just some minor tweaking here and there. The changes often begin by one’s declaring that there is no real change involved, simply a shift in emphasis. Yet, no matter what the rationale may be, the end result is being “ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”
To be “ashamed of the gospel” covers a number of attitudes from being totally embarrassed by it to thinking one can improve upon it a bit to make it more acceptable. One example of the former is the recent claim by an Emerging Church author that the teaching regarding Christ’s paying the full penalty for the sins of mankind through His substitutionary death on the Cross is irrelevant and viewed as “a form of cosmic child abuse.” More subtle examples include trying to make the gospel seem less exclusive, and the “softening” of the consequences from which the gospel saves mankind, such as the wrath of God and the Lake of Fire.
Prevalent among many religious leaders who profess to be evangelical Christians (i.e., Bible-believing Christians) is the promotion of a gospel that is acceptable to, and even admired by, people throughout the world. Today, the most popular form of this is the social gospel.
Although the social gospel is common to many new movements among evangelicals, it is not new to Christendom. It had its modern beginning in the late 1800s, when it developed as a way to address the various conditions in society that caused suffering among the populace. The belief was, and is, that Christianity will attract followers when it demonstrates its love for mankind. This could be best accomplished by helping to alleviate the suffering of humanity caused by poverty, disease, oppressive work conditions, society’s injustices, civil rights abuses, etc. Those who fostered this movement also believed that relief from their conditions of misery would improve the moral nature of those so deprived.
Another driving force behind the introduction of the social gospel was the eschatological, or end times, views of those involved. Nearly all were amillennialists or post-millennialists. The former believed that they were living in a (symbolic thousand-year) time period in which Christ was ruling from heaven, Satan was bound, and they were God’s workers appointed to bring about a kingdom on earth worthy of Christ. Post-millennialists also believed they were in the Millennium, and their goal was to restore the earth to its Eden-like state in order for Christ to return from Heaven to rule over His earthly kingdom.
The social gospel, in all of its assorted applications, helped to produce some achievements (child labor laws and women’s suffrage) that have contributed to the welfare of society. It became the primary gospel of liberal theologians and mainline denominations throughout the 20th century. Although its popularity alternately rose and fell as it ran its course, it was often energized by the combination of religion and liberal politics, e.g., Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. Midway through the last century and later, the social gospel influenced developments such as the liberation theology of Roman Catholicism and the socialism of left-leaning evangelical Christians. It is in this present century, however, that the social gospel has gotten its most extensive promotion. Two men, both professing to be evangelicals, have led the way.
George W. Bush began his presidency by instituting the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. His objective was to provide government funding for local churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious ministries that were providing a social service to their community. Bush believed that programs run by “people of faith” could be at least as effective as secular organizations in helping the needy, and perhaps more so because of their moral commitment to “love and serve their neighbor.” As he prepares to leave office, he has declared that he considers his Faith-Based program to be one of the foremost achievements in his tenure as president. Presidential candidate Barack Obama stated that, should he win the election, he will continue the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Rick Warren, the mega-selling author of The Purpose-Driven Church and The Purpose-Driven Life, has taken the social gospel to where it’s never been before: not only worldwide but into the thinking and planning of world leaders. Warren credits business management genius Peter Drucker with the basic concept that he is executing. Drucker believed that the social problems of poverty, disease, hunger, and ignorance were beyond the capability of governments or multinational corporations to solve. To Drucker, the most hopeful solution would be found in the nonprofit sector of society, especially churches, with their hosts of volunteers dedicated to alleviating the social ills of those in their community.
Warren, acknowledging the late Drucker as his mentor for 20 years, certainly learned his lessons. His two Purpose-Driven books, translated into 57 languages and selling a combined 30 million copies, reveal the game plan for what Drucker had envisioned. Warren had local churches implement this vision from his books through his enormously popular 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community programs. To date, 500,000 churches in 162 nations have become part of his network. They form the basis for his Global P.E.A.C.E. Plan.
What is his P.E.A.C.E. plan? Warren’s presentation of the plan to the church is found at http://www.thepeaceplan.com. On video, he identifies the “giants” of humanity’s ills as spiritual emptiness, self-centered leadership, poverty, disease, and illiteracy, which he hopes to eradicate by (P)lanting churches, (E)quipping leaders, (A)ssisting the poor, (C)aring for the sick, and (E)ducating the next generation.
Warren uses the analogy of a three-legged stool to illustrate the best way to slay these giants. Two of the legs are governments and business, which have thus far been ineffective, and, just like a two-legged stool, cannot stand. The third very necessary leg is the church. “There are thousands of villages in the world that have no school, no clinic, no business, no government—but they have a church. What would happen if we could mobilize churches to address those five global giants?” Warren reasons that since there are 2.3 billion Christians worldwide, they could potentially form what President Bush has termed a vast “army of compassion” of “people of faith” such as the world has not yet experienced.
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