The Gospel & Social Concerns

The Drinkers

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh; Chicago Institute of Art

Photo: JAC

   Nothing we’ve said so far should be understood to imply that you should get involved in social concerns merely to enhance your ability to evangelize your colleagues. On the contrary, we have meant to say and have said is that our involvement in social concerns is and should be an expression of our spiritual formation as followers of Christ. That is, since we believe it is true that followers of Christ ought to see Christ’s character cultivated and formed in our lives, then it follows that we will want to do many of the things that He did. And He went about both proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God and healing the sick and binding up wounds.

    That doesn’t mean to become Christ-like each of us have to literally die on the cross as He did.  Indeed, while you could die on the cross as He did, none of us qualify so as to serve as the atonement for sins as He did. However, given his sacrificial death, and understanding the nature of the sacrificial life He lived, does in all likelihood entail a willingness on our part to make significant sacrifices.  This would include things like a willingness to love your neighbor as yourself and a willingness to proclaim the truth that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.  So deeply imbedded in seminal ideas about our spiritual formation--in following Christ--is a willingness to concern ourselves with the well-being of our neighbors and to seek and save those who are spiritually “lost.” And therefore it is no stretch to see that social concern and evangelism are not at odds with each  other, rather from our perspective they both follow from our desire to follow Christ.

    Of course, we know a fair amount from the published research on university professor's attitudes. They are indeed very interested in politics and social concerns and it may well be you’re involvement in social concerns--especially if your involved in particular social concerns that they see important--may open a door for conversations. And opening doors for conversations have both intrinsic and instrumental value.

    Parenthetically, it is useful to note that what largely separated these two virtues (proclaiming gospel and social concern) historically occurred during the fundamentalist/modernist controversies of the late 19th century and the beginnings of the 20th century. Both groups in wanting to have a distinctive which separated, as it were, the sheep from the goats, together succeeded in promoting this unneeded dichotomy.

    So it seems proper to encourage you, as part of the stewardship entrusted to you from your spiritual formation responsibilities--which, by the way, comports with the message of the gospel of grace--to take the gospel and the outworking of the gospel in social concern seriously. And as it turns out, assuming you take these seriously, your taking it that way sets you up to enter with integrity into conversations about what you do and why you do it.  And things can go from there.

    Of course what you do in a very real sense speaks for itself, and in many cases your life will speak more loudly than your words, but it is not a sin to enter into conversations about it with your colleagues either. And in academe these sorts of conversations can be and should be entered into wisely.

    Seen this way evangelistic conversations will likely come about as a result of you doing what integrality of life requires of you. You do what you do because you believe what you believe....and explaining those things is something that can be seasoned, as it were, with salt so you may know how to respond to each person.

    For your benefit let us also provide you with a link to a provocative article written by Tim Keller. The article is entitled, “The Gospel and the Poor” and we think it has some important insights into several areas we are talking about on this tab. You can check it out by clicking on the hypertext above.

    Now there are many other things to say about the gospel and social concerns other than they should properly “live together” in one’s life that will not be discussed here. Some of those items will be discussed on other tabs under this larger heading. So our plan is to accumulate some resources that might help you see how theological acuity, theological sophistication, and careful thinking--ends in themselves--have also a valuable instrumental use in forming a well lived life. © Academic Connections, International