The following by Dr. Gary Gilley, pastor of Southern View Chapel, is republished at Apprising Ministries with permission:

(October/November 2011 – Volume 17, Issue 5)

One of the important issues which the church   has always had to address is that of its role in society.  In the Old Testament, the Lord chose Abraham   to be the father of a called-out race of people.

Years later, the Lord would establish the   nation of Israel under the Mosaic Covenant. Detailed laws and regulations were   given to Israel at the time including how that nation was to be governed, how poverty   was to be dealt with, how widows and orphans were to be helped and how   injustices were to be corrected.  All of   these matters were addressed almost exclusively within the context of the   nation of Israel, with relatively minor concern for the surrounding nations. The   Old Covenant would continue to be in force throughout Old Testament history   until finally superseded at the dawning of the church age in Acts 2 with the   coming of the Holy Spirit at the day of Pentecost.  While the Jewish people and the nation of Israel   still retain a primary place in the plan of God, and the Lord still has an   eschatological plan for Israel, presently we live in what is commonly called   the church age.  The church, which   functions as the chosen people of God for this age, is composed of regenerate   people of all nationalities.  It is not a   nation in an official sense and has not been given laws by which a governmental   structure could function.  The church,   being the people of God scattered throughout the globe, cannot possibly function as the nation of Israel did during the Old Testament times.

Still, most recognize that Christians live as   citizens not only of heaven but also of earth and as a result have   responsibilities pertaining to life on this planet here and now.  What those responsibilities are and how they   are to be worked out has been the topic of much debate for almost 2000   years.  The pendulum has swung at times   from total disinterest in this world to the idea that solving social problems   is the primary objective of the church.  With   the advent of the internet and other rapid forms of communication, a plethora   of voices is weighing in on this issue.  Most   recently the shift toward the social agenda has gained the upper hand in most   evangelical circles and is rapidly being given equal status with the proclamation   of the gospel message.  As a matter of   fact, a two-tiered gospel has arisen composed of both the Great Commission and   the so-called Cultural Mandate.  In this   paper I want to try to make some sense of all of this and draw a conclusion which I believe is faithful to the New Testament program for the church.  We will begin with a glance at history.

The Social Gospel of the Past

The 1800s proved to be years in which   evangelicalism was radically changed, especially in English-speaking societies.  As the world moved into the nineteenth century,   the effects of the Great Awakening under Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield   in the 1730s-1740s in America and the Evangelical Revival under the Wesleys in   England were largely a memory.  Those   reading the accounts of these earlier movements of God longed for something   similar but, many seemed willing to settle for the outward emotionalism of   revivalism[1] rather   than follow the content-oriented approach of their fathers.  Thus, when the so-called Second Great   Awakening began in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1800, subsequently spreading   throughout much of New England and parts of the American South, it had a very   different flavor from what Edwards and his peers experienced.  Edwards believed the Great Awakening was a   true revival sent by the Lord, but he also knew that there were excesses,   pretenders and “false spirits” mingled in.  What took place in the first half of the nineteenth century flipped the   ratio.  While there were undoubtedly true   conversions and fervor for the Lord, there was much that was little more than   fleshly passion. Nineteenth century people longed for a spiritual experience   that the camp revivals and traveling evangelists seemed to provide.  A good motivational speaker, such as Charles   Finney, could draw huge crowds to hear his messages which often provided   sensational, if temporary, results.  Churches   would be packed during “revivals,” but sadly, after the evangelists had moved   on life returned to normal and church attendance did as well.  It did not take pastors long to figure out   that if they wanted large, enthusiastic meetings they would have to dump their   more subdued method of teaching the Bible and offer revival-style services   complete with “new means” that were field-tested and handed down by Finney and   other lesser-known revivalists. This soon led to a predictable pattern.  People would be whipped into emotional   frenzies by evangelists and pastors through the use of new and creative   techniques which were devoid of solid biblical content.  When the emotions subsided, a new round of   similar methods was needed to bring back the “revival.”  One critic of the Finney-style revivals wrote   in 1858, “Singing, shouting , jumping, talking, praying, all at the same time…   in a crowded house, filled to suffocations, which led to people having fits and   giving their names as converts but, as soon as the excitement was over, falling away.”[2]

This cycle became so common that certain   sections of New England, especially the state of New York, became known as the   “Burnt-over District” where the fire of revival meetings had swiped so often   through some areas that people ultimately had grown resistant to the things of   God.  To this day, these regions remain   perhaps the most spiritually hardened parts of the American landscape.  It is interesting, however, that in the mid-1800s   many of the standard cults that are prominent today emerged from the   “Burnt-over District.”  In addition,   numerous utopian societies would arise at the same time and place, each offering   some form of heaven on earth.  All of   these things appear to be the direct result of revivalism of the early 1800s   which heavily promoted emotional excesses while minimizing the study of the Scriptures.

All these things dovetailed to create much   confusion and division within Christian circles. By the mid-1800s, some were   seeing a need to push back and establish criteria by which a true evangelical   could be identified. In 1846 “the Evangelical Alliance was formed to bring   together the Protestants all over the world who were the heirs of the awakening   of the previous [18th] century.”[3] The   Evangelical Alliance confirmed the standard conservative doctrines of the faith but offered four important hallmarks of an evangelical:

  • belief   in the inspiration, authority and sufficiency of Scripture,
  • acknowledging     the centrality of the cross upon which the sacrifice of Jesus provided the   way of salvation for men,
  • affirming     the need for conversion in which by repentance and faith a sinner becomes   a new creature in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit,
  • and     activism in which the child of God is busy presenting the gospel and   ministering to those in need.[4]

Those who rejected the doctrinal orthodoxy of   the World Evangelical Alliance (as it was also called) attempted to infiltrate   it with liberal theology, but when that failed they withdrew in 1894 to form   their own organization, The Open Church League, which later was renamed the   National Federation of Churches and Christian Workers in 1900.  By 1950 the National Federation was   reorganized as the National Council of Churches.[5] This breaking away by the liberal factions and the forming of their own   organization led to the demise of the World Evangelical Alliance.  It is noteworthy, in light of the common   misunderstanding that conservative Christians are the source of most   ecclesiastical  disunity, to mention that   it was the liberals “who separated from the evangelicals to found their own   organizations to promote church union among those who rejected the authority of   Holy Scripture.”[6] Liberals, both in the past and today, desire   unity, but do so at the expense of doctrinal purity.  They are happy to join hands with any except those who insist on certain essential truths remaining foundational to unity.

The liberal theologians (known as modernist in   the late 1800s) were bringing German rationalism into English speaking churches,   especially in America. Many in these churches, pastors and laymen alike, had   long since abandoned the careful study and teaching of Scripture, making these   churches fertile ground for heretical ideas, especially since the liberals   often disguised their teachings by using the same words that evangelicals used   but giving those words new meanings.  Added   to these factors was a move from Enlightenment thinking with its preciseness to   Romanticism with its impreciseness and emphasis on feeling and experience over   theology and Scripture.[7] Together   all of these threads were drawn together during the second half of the   nineteenth century to produce a radical makeover in Christianity.  The cardinal doctrines held dear by   evangelicals since at least the Reformation were now being jettisoned.  And with the denial of essential biblical   truth came a shift in the focus and purpose of the church.  If the incarnation was in doubt, and the   Scriptures suspect, and theology itself under attack, then that left social   action as the mission of the church.  And thus was born what would be called the “social gospel.”

Church historian David Bebbington informs us,   “The most characteristic doctrine of the social gospelers, that the kingdom of   God was to be realized by social improvement, was derived primarily from the   German liberal Albrecht Ritschl.”[8] However, it is important to realize that the social gospel did not overwhelm   the gospel of spiritual salvation all at once.  For some time, “There was much agreement in America that the gospel was   primarily a matter of spiritual salvation, but that under modern conditions it   was also necessary to strive for social reform.  In its origins the social gospel movement was in large part a broadening expression of evangelicalism.”[9]

Perhaps doctrine increasingly took a back   seat to social action because of pressure by influential people like George   Elliot who taught, as many increasingly do today, that “salvation of the   individual soul was not sufficient.  Society must be saved as well as Christians.”[10] Nevertheless, evangelical forces held their   ground during most of the latter half of the century, but their front lines began   to crumble by the last decade and the war was essentially lost by the turn of   the century. Many pockets of resistance remained for a time, but by the   twentieth century the liberals could claim virtual victory.  And with that victory not only had the great   truths of Scripture been undermined but the purpose of the church had been   shifted from fulfillment of the Great Commission with its emphasis on   evangelism and discipleship to the social gospel and saving society from   itself. Probably no one has described the social gospel better than H. Richard   Niebuhr who famously wrote, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a   kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”[11]

By the early 1900s, most theological liberals   had made social concerns central to their understanding of the gospel.  Historian George Marsden writes, “While not   necessarily denying the value of the traditional evangelical approach of   starting with evangelism, social gospel spokesmen subordinated such themes,   often suggesting that stress on evangelism had made American evangelicalism too   other-worldly… and individualistic… Such themes fit well with the emerging   liberal theology of the day.”[12] The theology of the day was increasing acceptance of Darwinian theories, higher   critical attacks on the Bible and Freudian redefining of human nature.  In light of these modern challenges to the   Bible and conservative evangelical thought, liberal theologians believed   Christianity needed to change to survive.  That which was unacceptable to modern man,   such as the incarnation, the atonement, creationism, inspiration and authority   of Scripture, etc., had to be rejected.  That which was acceptable and appreciated by the culture was to be   retained and emphasized.  Western   societies had little problem with the social agenda and as time moved forward   the church accommodated such thinking.  Of course not everyone was in lockstep with the social gospel, but by   the turn of the 20th century virtually all the major denominations,   schools, seminaries and Christian agencies had been infiltrated by liberal   thinking, and by 1920 they had capitulated almost entirely. The test of   orthodoxy had shifted from what one believed to how one lived. As Marsden   states it, “The key test of Christianity was life, not doctrine.”[13] Drawing from Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of Christian liberalism, what increasingly mattered was experience and not truth.  Renald Showers observes:

Liberal Protestant   advocates of the social gospel declared that the church should be concerned   primarily with this world.  It should   divert its efforts from the salvation of individuals to the salvation of   society.  The church should bring in the   kingdom of God on earth instead of teaching about a future, theocratic kingdom   to be established in Person by Jesus Christ… the Church was to save the world, not be saved out of it.[14]

Conservatives kicked against the modernistic   drift of Christianity through booklets such as TheFundamentals and the   writings of such men as Princeton professor J. Gresham Machen. Machen, in his   classic book Christianity and Liberalism, called liberalism a different religion altogether.  Machen warned during this turbulent period,   “What is today a matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies   and pull down empires.”[15] His insight has proven all too sadly to be true.  But neither Machen nor other conservatives   were able to rescue the denominations and schools, as Princeton itself   officially rejected its doctrinal roots and adopted liberalism in 1929.  It was left to the conservatives to either   stay within their systems and work to redeem them or separate and start new   denominations, schools, churches and ministries. Many took this latter route, with   Machen himself starting Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929 and the   Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936.  Many others from all denominations would follow suit including the founding   of the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, the Conservative Baptists, and   the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.  According to Marsden, 26 schools from Bob   Jones to Wheaton College were founded during the Great Depression.[16] Seminaries   such as Dallas Theological Seminary, mission agencies, and parachurch   organizations would soon follow.  The   conservatives focused on evangelism, theological training and discipleship,   while the liberals were increasingly defined by the social gospel accompanied   by their view of the kingdom.  To the   liberals the “kingdom was not future or otherworldly, but ‘here and now.’  It was not external, but an internal ethical and religious force based on the ideas of Jesus.”[17]

The colossal differences between liberals and   conservatives were crystallized around the turn of the century with the   subsequent division of the two camps occurring in the 1920s and 1930s.  At this point the conflict was often referred   to as the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, but as the years rolled by,   another division was looming, this one among the fundamentalists.  By the 1940s the question of cultural and   social engagement had arisen within the fundamentalists’ camps.  The original fundamentalists, perhaps   oversensitive to the social gospel that was at the heart of liberalism, often   pushed away from any form of social action.  In time, some felt that they had gone too far and needed to become more   involved with the culture and improve society, as well as preach the   gospel.  This ultimately led to a split   within the conservative camp in which the fundamentalists would take a separatist   view.  That is, they would separate from   any who taught false doctrines and, rather than try to infiltrate society, they   would live as lights of the gospel calling men to Christ.  On the other hand, the opposing position   would be termed new (or neo) evangelical.  Neo-evangelicals believed that the church had the mandate not only to   win and disciple the lost but to engage the culture and make the world a better   place to live by changing social structures that cause grief and   suffering.  Many see 1957 as the official   rupture between fundamentalists and neo-evangelicals, for it was that year that   the two groups divided over Billy Graham accepting an invitation to conduct a   crusade in New York City sponsored by a consortium of conservative and liberal   churches.  The fundamentalists virtually   anathematized Graham while neo-evangelicals made him the face of their movement.[18] Since that time neo-evangelicals have become   better organized, more influential, and more widely funded as they have united   over many causes, both spiritual and cultural. Evangelicals, however, have not   been without their problems.  The   movement has continued to spread and broaden theologically to the point that   defining the word “evangelical” has become an exercise in futility.  Conservatives, Pentecostals, Prosperity   Gospel proponents, and even many Roman Catholics are all claiming the title   evangelical, although the doctrinal beliefs between these factions differ   widely.    Fundamentalists, on the other hand, perhaps   because of their very nature as separatists, have been increasingly   marginalized and content to go about the business of fulfilling the Great Commission.

As we have now made the turn into the 21st century we can look back with some insights and some questions. Liberalism,   which seemed to have won the day as the 20th century dawned, has   lost most of its steam.  Evangelicals   make most of the waves today, but in order to do so, they have had to   increasingly widen their views and doctrines to include those they would have   deemed heretical in the mid 1900s. They seem to be united mostly over social   action rather than the Great Commission. Without question, it is the   fundamentalists who have been able to safeguard the gospel and the Scriptures,   even as they have lost influence in society.  As one student of the church has observed, “At root, however, it is a   question of how to engage the culture without losing one’s soul.  Fundamentalism feared losing its soul and did   not engage the culture; evangelicalism feared being different from the culture and is in danger of losing its soul.”[19]

The Social Agenda of Today

I was in flight from South Africa last   October after three weeks of strenuous ministry and travel.  I was exhausted and looking forward to sleeping   throughout the night, and when I sat down beside two businessmen, I grunted a   relatively polite hello and then tried to position myself for rest.  The two gentlemen were gracious to my obvious   desire to be left alone and began a conversation between them that would   continue off and on throughout the flight.  The man sitting next to me was returning from one of the interior   countries of Africa from what he termed constantly as Christian “ministry.”  He had been on a “missions trip” and his   ministry, for several weeks, had been to work with a Christian agency to dig   wells in various rural areas to provide clean water for the tribal people   living there.  The man next to him was on   a similar venture in another African country, but he was with a social agency   funded, I believe, by the Bill Gates Foundation.  The two men had much in common and therefore   conversation flowed.  The only   discernable difference that I could gather between the two was that one   considered what he did “ministry” while the other considered his involvement an   act of social kindness.  I listened in   vain throughout the night for the man who saw what he did as Christian ministry   to mention something about the gospel or teaching anything about God or the   Bible.  By the time I was alert enough to   desire to enter into the conversation I felt I could not do so without   inappropriate embarrassment to the Christian man.  I wanted to ask how he viewed what he had   done any differently from what the Bill Gates-connected man had accomplished.  After all, both dug wells for poor people,   providing fresh water (a good thing).  And neither man attempted to influence the tribal people with their own   views.  Yet one had been on a “missions”   trip, doing missional work, and the other had bettered the living conditions of tribal people as part of a private social program.

I have thought often of that conversation   which I think represents some of the thinking in evangelical circles.  I hear endlessly of people going on missions   trips around the world, even though many of the ones I know going on such trips   are not Christians themselves.  On many of   these adventures, there is no attempt to present anything of the gospel or   provide any form of discipleship.  These   are purely social missions in which wells are dug, people are fed, buildings are   constructed or medical attention is given.  All of these are worthy causes with which the conservative evangelical   church has been involved throughout the ages.  Everywhere true Christianity has gone it has benefited the society which   it has touched.  But historically,   conservative Christianity has always seen social improvement as taking a   backseat to the church’s true calling of proclaiming the gospel and making   disciples.  It has never seen the social   agenda as an end in itself – until now.  The social gospel became the hallmark of the liberal church, as pointed   out above, because the liberals had emptied their message and ministry of   biblical truth and were left with no other “good news” than solving physical   problems.  Sadly, evangelicals today are increasingly adopting the missional, social gospel of liberalism.

However, it would be unfair to say that this   is yet a majority opinion or action among true evangelicals.  Rather, the more common approach is to   espouse a two-tiered gospel which is composed of the biblical gospel of   redemption and the social gospel of world betterment.  While this is an upgrade from the purely   missional model of liberalism it nevertheless lacks biblical warrant and endangers the true gospel of salvation.  Let’s take a look.

John R. W. Stott, an early architect of the   two-tiered approach, posthumously published an article in Christianity Today stating, “We are convinced of the power of the   gospel in evangelicalism – that it brings salvation and redemption to those who   respond and believe in Jesus.  But it   isn’t only the gospel that is powerful.  All God’s truth is powerful.”[20] We would not inherently disagree with such a   statement but we need to see where it leads.  Stott, who has had more influence on the Lausanne Movement[21] than   anyone, has endorsed, if not created, the vision statement of the movement: “The   whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.”  While this   makes for a catchy slogan almost every word has to be examined carefully.    Given the high emphasis on ecumenical unity at all three of the Lausanne conferences,   including the latest in Cape Town in 2010, it appears that the “whole church”   includes virtually all branches and traditions within Christendom including   Roman Catholic and Orthodox as well as mainline denominations. The “whole   gospel” will be defined by what is meant by the “whole world.”  According   to the Lausanne website the whole world means “becoming empowered by the Holy   Spirit to alleviate world suffering brought about by economic injustice,   disease, environment and poverty.”[22] The “whole gospel” by default includes not only the good news that Jesus Christ   has died to provide salvation, but also addresses the social injustices found   in our world today.  As further evidence   of this, we turn to positional papers flowing from Lausanne III (also known as   Cape Town 2010).   For example, one such document from Lausanne III reads:

Cape Town 2010 must call evangelicals to   recognise afresh the biblical affirmation of God’s redemptive purpose for creation itself. Integral mission means discerning, proclaiming, and living out, the   biblical truth that the gospel is God’s good news, through the cross and   resurrection of Jesus Christ, for persons, and for society, and for creation. All three are broken and suffering because of sin; all three are   included in the redeeming love and mission of God; all three must be part of   the comprehensive mission of God’s people… Christians who are working in   environmental biology and creation care have a valid missional calling which   needs to be recognised, encouraged and resourced by the church, for they model   how to integrate the care of creation into what it means to proclaim Jesus as   Lord. Caring for creation is an act of fidelity to the whole biblical gospel   and the mission that flows from it…. Our missional calling demands more careful   and critical consumption, creative production, prophetic denunciation, advocacy   for and mobilization of the victims of world injustice. While we stand with the   Micah Challenge in holding our governments accountable to their commitments to   “make poverty history”, we also dedicate ourselves to “making greed history” in our own lives, churches, communities, countries and world.[23]

It becomes clear from   such statements that Lausanne, which represents much of mainstream   evangelicalism, is co-mingling a form of the social gospel with the biblical   gospel.  To be fair, the Lausanne   leadership attempts to give evangelism the pre-eminence stating: “Although   reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social   action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless     we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our     Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and     man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message     of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation,     oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist.”[24]

This statement goes   to the heart of the issue.  The question   is not if Christians should play a responsible role in society, nor if we   should denounce evil and injustice, but whether or not both “evangelism and   socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty,” and if so, to   what extent?  Later in part two of this   study I will try to address this question from Scripture, but for now I would   like to document that whatever the intention, the drift of much of the evangelical   movement has shifted to social-political involvement at the expense of the   Great Commission.  As much has happened   around the turn of the 20th Century, we are in danger of losing the baby (the true commission of the church) in the bath water of social activism.

First, we need to document that this concern is widespread and   contagious.  Some of the most popular   Christian leaders and authors stress the social agenda.  Francis Chan, in his wildly popular book Crazy Love, wants Christians to live as   simply as possible in order to give more toward the alleviation of “suffering   in the world and change the reputation of His bride in America.”[25] I think one of the reasons Chan’s book has   been received with such enthusiasm is that he is not telling people anything   that our culture is not already saying.  When Bill Gates and Warren Buffett pledged much of their vast fortunes   toward the same agenda, the world applauded, just as it has for Chan.  Chan is concerned about the reputation of the   church in America, and not without reason.  However, the true church doing the true work of God (calling people to   Christ) will never win the world’s approval.  Our message is offensive (1 Cor 1:18-25) and once the world catches on   to that we are far more likely to be vilified and persecuted than we are to be   cheered – as Jesus promised (Matt 5:11-12).  We should find it a source of concern, not a reason for rejoicing, when the world likes us, as Christianity Today in its lead article in August 2011 affirmed it did.

A similar voice is   David Platt’s and his book Radical.  Platt offers better balance than Chan but   still propagates a two-tiered gospel composed of the true gospel of redemption   and the social gospel.  While Platt is careful to elevate the true gospel,   the social gospel of feeding the hungry and giving to the poor is the primary   focus of the book and accounts for its popularity.[26] He writes, “As we meet needs on earth, we are proclaiming a gospel that   transforms lives for eternity.”[27] The author does not advocate the social agenda as opposed to true evangelism,   as mentioned above, but he does say that caring for the poor is evidence of   salvation.  As a matter of fact “rich people who neglect the poor are not   the people of God.”[28] However, when we turn to the New Testament,   we find that, while Christians are to be loving and generous to all people,   they are never told to attempt to remedy the consequences of the sin of   unbelieving humanity through social action.  Instead, they are instructed   to meet the needs of brothers and sisters in Christ, something Platt admits in   a footnote (p. 225).  In fact, the church is never commissioned to rectify   injustices by dealing with the symptoms of sins but to “radically” uproot sin itself through the gospel.

Well respected   evangelical leader Timothy Keller offers a similar message.  In his book The Reason for God, which offers many helpful insights, Keller   nevertheless promotes the two-tiered gospel.  Drawing from N.T. Wright and the “missional” understanding of   Christianity, Keller infuses a social dimension into his gospel definition.   Keller’s gospel is more than the good news that Christ has come to reconcile us   to God; it is also solving the world’s problems of injustice, poverty and   healing the troubles of this earth. He quotes N. T. Wright, not Scripture, to   support his view: “The message of the resurrection is that this world   matters!  That the injustices and pains   of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice   and love have won… If Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity   becomes good news for the whole world… Easter means that in a world where   injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to   tolerate such things – and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement victory of Jesus over them all.”[29]

Later Keller makes   clear what he means: “The purpose of Jesus’ coming is to put the whole world   right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to   bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world…   The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care and   cultivate the face of the earth, the material world.”[30] Scripture knows nothing of such a gospel message. Nowhere in the New Testament   will you find such a commission given to the people of God. You will, however,   find a similar message in the Emergent church, N.T. Wright’s New Perspective on Paul and those reviving the old “social gospel” agenda.

With this in mind we   turn to N. T. Wright himself.  In his What Saint Paul Really Said he tells us in   “older theology, ‘the gospel’ is supposed to be a description of how people get   saved,” or how “Christ takes our sin and we his righteousness” or something   along that order.[31] To Wright   this is not what Paul meant by the gospel. The gospel instead is “the narrative   proclamation of King Jesus;”[32] [Paul] “is announcing…that Jesus is King, not just of Israel but of the whole   world.”[33] Said with greater clarity, “The gospel is the announcement that Jesus is Lord –   Lord of the world, Lord of the cosmos, Lord of the earth, of the ozone layer,   of whales and waterfalls, of trees and tortoises.”[34] While no thinking Christian would deny the lordship of Christ over all things,   nevertheless when the gospel itself becomes the message of lordship rather than   the message of redemption and justification, there will necessitate a seismic   shift in our understanding of why Jesus came and died and what we are to   proclaim as a result. Wright leaves no doubt where he is headed:  “As soon as we get this right we destroy at a   stroke the disastrous dichotomy that has existed in people’s minds between   ‘preaching the gospel’ on the one hand and what used to be called loosely   ‘social action’ or ‘social justice’ on the other.  Preaching the gospel means announcing Jesus   as Lord of the world; and… we cannot make that announcement without seeking to   bring that lordship to bear over every aspect of the world… its bringing the whole world under the lordship of Christ.”

Add to the above   sources Rick Warren’s PEACE plan.  After   the success of Warren’s book The Purpose     Driven Life he developed his PEACE plan for changing the world.  PEACE is an acronym for Promote   Reconciliation, Equip Servant Leaders, Assist the Poor, Care for the Sick, and   Educate the Next Generation. Originally the first letter of the acronym PEACE   stood for Plant Churches and, as such, would be the only thing distinguishing   the PEACE plan from any other well-meaning secular program either privately or   governmentally funded.  The initial idea   was to motivate and coordinate churches across the globe to solve the four   social problems identified in the rest of the acronym (EACE). Warren’s logic is   that the church is already present throughout the world and where churches were   lacking more could be planted to meet these social needs. But as Warren’s focus   changed and he wanted to enlarge his influence, he changed the “P” from   Planting Churches to Promote Reconciliation, which has removed any Christian uniqueness from the PEACE Plan.

Whether the church is   to invest its time and resources in a purely social agenda is another matter   altogether, one that will be taken up in the second part of this study.  For now it is most interesting to see how   quickly a major initiative by a leading evangelical, which attempted to offer   both the gospel (assuming that planting churches included the idea of   evangelism and discipleship) and social outreach, morphed into purely social betterment. If the lessons from the late 19th and early 20th centuries tell us anything, this should have been expected.

What is unfolding   before us is what the Emergent leader Brian McLaren terms “missional.”  Missional, McLaren tells us, is “a generous third     way,” between the conservative “personal Savior” gospel and       liberal version of it.[35] McLaren further explains, My missional calling: blessed in this life to   be a blessing to everyone on earth… My mission isn’t to figure out who is   already blessed, or not blessed, or unblessable.  My calling is to be blessed so I can bless   everyone.”[36] He continues, “From this   understanding we place less emphasis on whose lineage, rites, doctrines,   structures, and terminology are right and more emphasis on whose actions,   service, outreach, kindness, and effectiveness are good…. (In order) to help   our world get back on the road to being truly and wholly good again, the way   God created it to be…”[37] Rob Bell adds, “For Jesus, the question wasn’t   how do I get into heaven? But how do I bring heaven here?…The goal isn’t escaping   this world but making this world the kind of place God can come to.  And God is remaking us into the kind of   people who can do this kind of work.”[38] The rationale of McLaren and Bell is a mere echo of the original founders of liberalism.

So far I have traced a brief overview of the history, and resulting   devastation to the church, of the social gospel that saw its pre-eminence about   100 years ago.  I have also attempted to   document the rise of a new social gospel which is spreading rapidly within evangelical   circles.  It remains in part two of this   study to examine what the Scriptures have to say on this subject, including the biblical role and mandate for the church.


[1] Revivalism could be defined as an attempt to orchestrate a spiritual awakening   through man-made techniques, and manipulation in contrast to revival which is often defined as a genuine movement of God.

[2] David W.   Bebbington, The Dominance of     Evangelicalism, the Age of Spurgeon and Moody (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), p.106.

[3] Ibid., p.21.

[4] See ibid., pp.22-40.

[5] Robert   Lightner, Church-Union, a Layman’s Guide (Des Plaines, Illinois: Regular Baptist Press, 1971), pp.31-32.

[6] Ibid., p.62.

[7] See Bebbington, p.166.

[8] Ibid., p.247.

[9] Ibid., p.248.

[10] Ibid., p.250.

[11] H. Richard Niebuhr

[12] George   M. Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), p.29.

[13] Ibid., p.34.

[14] Renald E. Showers, What on Earth Is God Doing? (    Bellmawr,    NJ: Friends of Israel, 2005), pp.79-80.

[15] George   M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American     Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), p.137.

[16] Ibid., p.194.

[17] Ibid., p.50.

[18] See Ibid., p.75.

[19] John H.   Armstrong, General Editor, The     Compromised Church (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1998), p.27

[20] John R.   W. Stott, “Salt and Light,” Christianity Today, October 2011, p.41.

[21] The   Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization is an Evangelical Christian that   grew out of the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization and defines   the movement’s goals and expresses its commitment to spreading the Gospel of   Jesus Christ.  It was organized in part   by Billy Graham and met in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974.  Some 2,700 participants and guests from over   150 nations meet here to discuss and promote evangelism.  One result of this conference was the   Lausanne Continuation Committee, which planned to sustain the movement stated at Lausanne.



[24] (emphasis mine).

[25] Francis   Chan, Crazy Love, (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2008), p.21.

[26] David   Platt, Radical, (Colorado Springs:   Multnomah Books, 2010), pp.13-17, 19-21, 76-82, 108-140.

[27] Ibid., p.135.

[28] Ibid., pp.110, 115.

[29] Timothy   Keller, The Reason for God, (New York: Dutton, Penguin Group, 2008), p. 212.

[30] Ibid., p.223

[31] N. T.   Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said (Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1997), p.41.

[32] Ibid., p.45.

[33] Ibid., p.53.

[34] Ibid., pp.153-154.

[35] Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), p.105.

[36] Ibid., p.113.

[37] Ibid., p.223.

[38] Rob   Bell, Velvet Elvis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), pp.147, 150.

This teaching appears in its original form here.

See also: