Here’s Why the Gospel of Personal Salvation Isn’t Enough:

A large industrial company pollutes the environment and puts the health of the community at risk. The common laborer in the company might blame the management – they gave the orders. The head of the company might blame the board – they pressured him to act. The board might blame the chairmen – he only had his eye on the balance sheet. The chairmen of the board might blame the stockholders – they demand higher stock prices. Yet the average stockholder is invested in mutual funds, so they have no idea which specific stocks they own, much less that they’ve invested in a company which pollutes the environment. Every person from top to bottom could experience personal salvation and the problem would continue. The gospel of personal transformation does not have the power to change societies. It changes people for sure, and sometimes the contexts they live in, but cultures and societies as a whole need to encounter the good news as well. How can the gospel be good news in a situation like corporate pollution?


First, we must realize there is such a thing as corporate or social sin. This refers to sin which is not traceable to one single person, but which is rooted in our systems. Then, we must begin to respond to corporate or social sin just as we do personal sin – with the gospel. If there is such a thing as corporate sin, and I believe there is, then Jesus died for that sin as well. The gospel most certainly addresses our broken social and societal structures. The gospel is both personal and social. In fact the nexus of the personal and social is where the power to change societies and cultures lies. The gospel is the game changer – not political wrangling, not mere personal transformation.

The question is – practically speaking – how does this work out? Ideas?

About Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. He is the author of several books: Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), and An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade Books, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals. Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. He has planted three successful churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • http://www.wayneferguson.com Wayne Ferguson

    Perhaps the individuals in the corrupt system are in denial. It's one of those inconvenient truths (e.g. the harm that our medical and pharmaceutical industries are inflicting on our public health — whose the biggest employer!? How many doctors want to speak up against the goose that is laying all those golden eggss!? How many nurses or lab techs want to risk their familie's income by leaving their job or working to expose the racket!?).Think of the recent bank failures–everyone involved new those mortgages were no good, but everyone was making too much money to speak up. No one wanted to leave the merry go round while it was still paying off. In short, it is not clear to me that a corrupt system can really be made up of truly "transformed" individuals, from top to bottom. Perhaps we need to challenge individuals to be more cognisant of the various systems that they are part of and to accept more responsibility for the integrity of the system.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Wayne – that's a great word. I do believe there is a kind of sinfulness that is "super-personal," yet this does not mitigate personal responsibility. You could write the same sort of summary about the energy systems & oil companies, economic systems, educational systems, legal systems. You said we need to challenge individuals to be more cognizant of how they participate in systems which are unjust. I think you are right. In fact, I think this is the place the personal gospel falls down. Thanks for pointing this out!

  • Chris Pittenger

    I disagree– sort of. I think the only hope of change in a corrupt system is the truly transformed individual working within it. Cloistering ourselves and our families away from systems that are unjust will only ensure that they will continue unchanged. Do I shelter my kids from a public school system that pushes agendas and is motivated by money instead of education? I know the brokenness exists, but I choose to have our family there, making friends and impacting others (hopefully). While it is true that the most fundamental reason I work as a nurse in a well-known corrupt health care system is to help financially support my family, it is also to use my knowledge, gifts, and passions to care for the sick and injured and uneducated patients and families. I guess the difference is that I participate in corrupt systems as a transformed individual, but I do nothing to change the corporate sinfulness of the whole even though I know it exists. I just can't give up on the notion that what we do in our personal contexts as followers of Christ, can change the world. If the gospel is the game changer in corporate sin– who will bring it if not the "merely" personally transformed?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Hey Chris,

    I'm confused about which part you disagree with…

    I think I would agree with you, that simply being personally present to the systems is a way of working on them (it is being salt and light). It's part of how we bear witness to a better way. But on the other hand, I think we have to acknowledge that we become transformed (at least to some extent), as we participate in communities – the new community in particular. So even our ability to be a transformed person who works in a fallen system comes – in part – through a social system.

    I will always believe the gospel is personal. I'm always going to be an evangelical, and that is one of our central beliefs. But I've come to believe the gospel is not merely personal. I believe the scriptures teach us that the gospel is both personal (having to do with the person & God) and social (having to do with the systems of the world). To the extent that we go too far to one side or the other (toward either the person or the social), we begin to veer off course.

    So – I'm with you that the transformed person will help address sin that has become bound up in the systems of this world to be sure. But the transformed person is always rooted in a community. If they are a part of the new community – the church – then I believe there is an obligation to justice.

    One of the questions I'm still trying to think through is this: to what extent we "work on" the systems of the world? Do we get involved in changing the systems? Do we just speak the truth to power? Do we just live a whole different kind of life as the people of God & let unjust systems abuse us & bear the scars of injustice? Is the difference between those a calling thing – where we're called to one or the other? Do we do all of them? I'm still pondering it.

    What do you say? Yes? No?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06513887206764478930 hazratio

    All the best to Chris and others who continue to work, as best they can, within this or that system without wearing blinders to the harm the system is doing. They are in position, perhaps, to do some real good, at least on the margins.

    Apropos of the efficacy of action against the system, this arrived in my email recently — the source may be "thedotconnector.org":

    "Something is wrong with the world, but you cannot see what exactly. It's because nothing has ever been wrong with the real world. What is wrong is the virtual world, like the wool pulled over your eyes by the System to blind you. The more you invest yourself, your forces and talents into repairing and improving that virtual world — the more you improve the System, and the more you help it to better blind and enslave you. The System is not a kind of divine superpower. It is neither above you nor elsewhere outside of you — it is inside … well, not of you, but of what it made you believe you are. It made you believe your body is all there is of you here, in this world. "Which world?" you may ask. Because the System is right: in its artificial, virtual, blinding, enslaving, fake world you are nothing but flesh and bones. But in the real world you are infinitely more than that — not just a mortal human, but an immortal universal being! "


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