Moving Beyond Extremes to Gospel-Centered Love

Moving Beyond Extremes to Gospel-Centered Love February 17, 2014

Extreme positions often get the biggest hearing. It seems like you have to be liberal or conservative or pro-choice or pro-life to get people to listen. People so easily close their ears and hearts and shut the door when complexity enters the conversation.

I am pro-life. In fact, I am pro-all life. Please allow me to unpack what I mean. It is important to care for the sanctity of human life for the unborn. But what about bringing those little ones into the world? Shouldn’t our care for the sanctity of their lives continue on beyond birth? Such care will extend to healthcare and food for those living in poverty and for education. Shouldn’t we also be concerned for the air they breathe and the water they drink? Air and water pollution impact the world they inhabit. Pro-life is a very good thing, especially when it concerns all of life.

Some people in my Evangelical Christian circles want to know if you are pro-life or not without framing pro-life comprehensively. The same either/or thinking extends at times to matters of the gospel and justice. In fact, for some, if one is committed to advocating for justice concerns, then one has given up on the gospel. Let me pause for a second. I am not an adherent of what many people in my circles call the “social gospel.” As defined in my circles, the social gospel entails the rejection of attention to eternal concerns over one’s eternal destiny in favor of concerns for physical and social well-being. Having said that, the gospel bears upon social issues through and through. Jesus addressed people’s lives in their entirety—soul and body, and their society as a whole, as he proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom in word and deed (See Matthew 4:23; 9:35). So, I would caution against a liberal rendering of what is defined here as the social gospel; but I would also warn against an anti-social gospel. Any gospel not concerned for the whole of people’s lives, including their spiritual and physical well-being, is not concerned for the fullness of the good news that Jesus brings and embodies. I for one desire to be conservative in my reading of the Bible and liberal in compassion. Far from contradicting one another, we find the union of conservative or orthodox biblical conviction and liberal compassion modeled in the Lord Jesus. He always crosses man-made divides and bridges the gap.

Now some Christians label anything smacking of holistic gospel witness as emergent. I am not always sure what they have in mind when they throw around such terms as “emergent.” Do they mean “missional”? Do they mean “liberal”? What do they mean? The definition of emergent is hard to come by. Some practitioners and theologians distinguish between emergent and emerging churches and communities. It seems like such terms are always evolving and emerging with use. In fact, in many circles, words like “emergent” have lost their meaning and are now seen as passé. One thing that is true of those associating themselves with “emergent” or “emerging” was/is a reaction to the established church, including what those “emergents” took or take to be missing in terms of the articulation of the Christian faith and the lack of faith’s engagement of the arts and social issues. I do not associate my views with this or that emergent or emerging voice or group, but with historic evangelical orthodoxy. Still, I welcome any group’s attempt to encourage the church to be more comprehensive in addressing a broad range of social concerns while remaining rigorously committed to biblical exposition and evangelism. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy as well as proclamation and demonstration of our Christian faith must always go together. We must not pit one side against the other. Rather, we must love people in actions and in truth (1 John 3:18) and live by faith and with works (James 1:26-27, James 2:1-7), as the Bible makes clear.

We at New Wine, New Wineskins of Multnomah University are looking forward to hosting The Justice Conference Portland this week. The aim is to expose people to pressing justice concerns. While we may not agree with everything everyone says, we will wrestle with what people say with open Bibles and open hearts. Our aim is to educate our community in pressing social concerns in view of Scripture so as to move beyond extremes to Gospel-centered love revealed in Jesus. Please join us.

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