The Gospel Is Not Social

By Dr. R. Scott Clark - Posted at The Heidelblog:

Every culture and generation has been tempted to capture Jesus for their own agenda. The Gnostics portrayed Jesus as a second-century figure (a dead give away) who was a Gnostic opposed to the church and the Christian gospel of free salvation from the wrath to come through faith alone in Christ alone. The Constantinian (post-4th century) church often portrayed Jesus as such a fearsome king and judge that the church began to search for other saviors and mediators. In the Modern era, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) re-made Jesus into his own rationalist image—he produced his own version of the New Testament stripped of supernaturalism. In the Carter 1970s and the Reagan 80s, as the baby-boomer-dominated culture turned inward, Jesus became a facilitator for our personal sense of well being. Now, with the rise of the Millennial generation, the product of the war against terror and a Carter-esque economic malaise, the concern is ostensibly other-centered but once again the Christian faith has become yet another vehicle to carry social concerns. There is renewed talk among young evangelicals and others of the so-called “social gospel.”

By social I mean broader cultural and civil concerns that are not ecclesiastical. It may refer to current events (e.g., Ferguson, Missouri, ISIS) or to persistent social ills (e.g., poverty or racism). By gospel I mean the message of Christ’s incarnation, his substitutionary suffering active obedience for his people, his death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and return. The expression “social gospel,” however refers to a distinctive movement and re-casting of the gospel message. Before I describe this movement, however, briefly let me say that I understand how such a re-casting happens. When I became a believer in the mid-1970s I did the same thing. I did not know Jeremiah from Matthew. I remember being surprised that there were “minor prophets” in the Bible. I was utterly ignorant of the Christian faith but upon coming to faith in Jesus I immediately imputed my (then leftist) social views to Jesus and criticized the visible church for its indifference to suffering. After all, who is more concerned about the poor and the downtrodden than Jesus? I began to argue with my new friends that the church should support feminism, environmentalism etc. I was a typical child of the social progressive movement and I baptized all my prior social convictions as I came to faith. It would take me a number of years to begin to be able to criticize my own social views, to learn that much of what I assumed to be biblical was not, that I had baptized covetousness and called it Christian. Only as I got to know Scripture more thoroughly, as I came to know a little bit more about the sources of the views I had inherited, as I came to learn the Christian faith on its own terms, was I able to see things a little more clearly.