The Social Gospel and Eternity
The Importance of Worldview
By: Kim Moreland|Published: February 19, 2010 4:30 PM
In his book Social Salvation, the Rev. Washington Gladden says that we must not worry about men’s souls, but their earthly work.
Gladden was a leader in the social gospel movement.
A growing number of Christians are becoming adherents of the social gospel movement. Its members believe it is within their ability (largely with the aid of the political process) to completely eradicate poverty and other types of social ills.1 The question for them is: Does the Bible support this view?
In the latter part of the 20th and now in the beginning of the 21st centuries, we can see the same social gospel movement flourishing. Some of its adherents, like Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Daniel Berringan, offer their support to politicians who believe in big government to take control of the United States highest offices.
In a letter warning readers about the topsy-turvy disregard for eternity and adoration of big government and restrictive laws, Institute of Religion and Democracy president Mark Tooley writes, “Many liberal religionists believe this temporal world the final reality.” The view that this world is the final reality stands in stark contrast to an orthodox Christian belief that the kingdom of this world will end, but the kingdom of God is eternal.
Social gospel ideas have had a trickle-down effect. The language of individual sin and repentance and the discipline of change through Christ have been replaced by sins of society. Instead of redemption and restoration being brought about by the good news of the Gospel, by individuals working within their spheres of influence and creating culture, proponents of the social gospel movement shirk personal sin and believe that social redemption is brought about by political force.
The idea of this world as final reality has seeped into many Christian ministry appeals letters too. According to Tim Glenn, director of Compassion International, the letters are written with a reference to eradicating poverty. Glenn says that while it is vitally important and commanded to give aid to the poor, we will never be able to eradicate poverty. Jesus’ words in Mark 14:7 are plain, “The poor you will always have with you.” Until Jesus returns, there will always be sin and suffering—poverty of the spirit and poverty of the purse.
Eternity, personal sin, redemption, and restoration have everything to do with real and lasting prosperity, as those of us in the West have experienced. Unlike the social gospel movement, which has jettisoned the eternal perspective, there is a constructive way, with an eternal perspective, to think about the poor, and how we carry out God’s command to help mitigate poverty and ameliorate suffering.
How do we see the issue?
Scott Allen and Darrow Miller of Disciple Nations Alliance have been helping the poor around the world for years. In their booklet, The Forest in the Seed, they point out that despite vast amounts of money being spent to help poverty-stricken nations, the aid has had little effect, and sometimes it has increased suffering. One reason for this is that it makes people feel helpless and destined to poverty. And people may locate the problem of poverty outside themselves, in a lack of natural resources, for example.
A tragic illustration of the poverty of the spirit is found in the January 2010 Haitian earthquake. The city of
The way a culture views human beings has great economic impact. Allen and Miller observe that the number one factor for staying poor is the way people view humans—the idea that they have great potential and worth is unfathomable to whole nations. Humans are the best resources around, but if they are seen as bits of bacteria or machines or helpless creatures, they will be treated as such, generating hopelessness. But if people are viewed as being created in the image of God and as co-creators with Him, then communities and society flourish.
Lest one get too comfortable with the wealth and prosperity of the West, as the belief in materialism is on the rise so too is the view that humans are merely consumers and blights on the environment.
These ideas are being touted by many social gospel proponents, including Richard Cizik, who are fostering this idea by blaming the West and its citizens for the global warming predicament. Scaremongers end up worshipping the earth instead of its Creator, and non-humans become more important than humans. For some, mankind has become a “parasite or disease of this earth.”
The results of the true Gospel
Christians believe that God created the material world, which is stable, rational, and knowable universe. We believe that God loves us unconditionally and encourages us to use our talents to cultivate the earth like our Father in heaven does. God intervenes in this world, and sent His son to pay the penalty for our sins, and when we die we will have everlasting life.
God has given us the Gospel, which tells us about Him and our meaning and purpose, and further informs us that this world is not our final resting place. One pastor calls the Gospel the “cutting edge [to] positive social change.”
Our ultimate freedom is found in God, not political process, technological advancement, monetary gains, nor capricious spirits. Prosperity is the result of faith in God. It is only through the atoning work of the Cross that the bonds of depravation are defeated. Redemption leads to restoration because we are called to pursue goodness and use the gifts our Father gave us. Simply put, we are free to create all manner of good things in all areas of life, and since we work to glorify God, our workmanship is excellent.
We don’t need gobs of money to start the process of creation either, because we have incredible individual resources like our minds, bodies, and spirits. Allen and Miller assert that as “followers of Christ,” we are to use the “arsenal” which we have in abundance. We are to use our “God-given creativity” to cultivate the earth, which means inventing cures or machinery, creating paintings or sculptures, learning how to farm or cook. We are to use our considerable imagination and skills to create culture—the sky’s the limit since the world is “our sanctuary for worship.”
What we believe in is vital to our well-being. Allen and Miller describe a story about Guatemala highlands Indians, the Ixil, who despite receiving aid from different groups, both financial and educational, stayed poor. The case was an eye opener for the authors because it showed them the immense importance that worldviews can have in determining who will flourish and who will stay poor. Government policy or financial aid from philanthropic organizations didn’t change the way the Ixil thought of themselves, and their own ability to change their desperate plight. It was only after missionaries helped inculcate the Ixil Indians with a Christian worldview and faith that they became successful.
Contrast the Ixil’s state before their conversion to Christianity with that of a son of a slave, scientist George Washington Carver. Despite the poverty into which he was born, Carver, a strong Christian, used his God-given imagination to produce amazing innovations from peanuts and other natural products.
The testament to the belief in Christ and the phenomenal progress and prosperity is evident in the history of Western civilization. Throwing money at the poor and downtrodden without teaching them they have meaning and purpose in God doesn’t work.
The social gospel movement and other belief systems place their eggs in the here and now and the political process, or in other mind, body and spirit crushing beliefs. Christians who have an orthodox belief work toward restoring all creation, and envision spending an eternity with God.
Kim Moreland is a project manager and research associate for BreakPoint.
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