(The following is excerpted from a recent “Heretic’s Guide to the Bible” lectionary study, posted on my premium blog. click the link here for more information, or click on either banner at the top or bottom of this post.)
Was Jesus more concerned with what happens to us after we die or how we’re living, here and now? This is one of the fundamental questions that seems to divide Christians more than any other. And whereas in the past, Christianity historically has focused on the salvation of souls, there is a growing movement that emphasizes salvation of lives and the world in real time.
This is not necessarily a new concept. At the very beginning of the 20th century, Walter Rauschenbusch gave rise to movement that is now called the Social Gospel. He felt that Christians up to that point had focused far too much on individual sin and had largely neglected inherently broken – or sinful – social systems. It took a new approach to the Lord’s Prayer offered by Jesus, suggesting that the words, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” is a call for us to strive to realize a Christlike vision for our world, rather than waiting for some idyllic afterlife as a select journal reward for individual faithfulness.
His notion of evangelism was not one of rhetorical argument to coerce someone into a confession of faith, but rather to take on a servant’s heart and to invest ourselves in writing the wrongs within our communities. The social Gospel movement has been picked up more recently by those advocates of what is called a “missional church” model. He even seems more conservative evangelical Christians have begun to take on more and more social causes like ecological conservation, poverty, gender issues and, in some cases, even equality of rights for the LGBT community.
Do we all agree on the significance of the death of Jesus and what it means for our faith? Definitely not. Will we ever? Not likely. But all who read the Gospels can certainly find common ground in the call to serve those who are suffering, marginalized or otherwise cast outside of various social circles and denied equal access or opportunity. This may look different for each Christian, and it should. We are all called to different respective ministries. God places on our hearts a longing to rectify those particular things we see as the world’s deepest needs.
And will take such a diversity of efforts to help realize the kingdom vision that Jesus cast for the world. And the best part is that we have the opportunity to help ensure that this vision becomes a reality.