Thursday, October 29, 2009

Link: Civatate Dei: The Social Gospel of Mars Hill --yes, Dan, they have one. :-)

Dan over at Civatatedei wrote a tongue-in-cheek observation about the social gospel of Mars Hill. Having had a connection to Mars Hill that has lasted about a decade I would say that, yes, Dan is totally right. The Mars Hill vision Driscoll has repeatedly articulated that "young men would love Jesus, get jobs, take wives, and make babies" is totally a Social Gospel idea, a vision that through the preaching of the Gospel society will be transformed by Jesus into a better society. The fact that this is not a LEFT-leaning social gospel does not make it any less a social gospel.

When the vision is to see the city transformed by Jesus what do you envision in that changed city? THAT, my friends, is still Social Gospel even if it is not the old-school "liberal" Social Gospel movement. The moment you expect proclaiming the message of Christ to transform people and society in a way that will make society better in your assessment is the moment you're talking about a Social Gospel. There are a lot of Christians out there who are sure they are not advocates of a Social Gospel because they aren't "liberal" but who are still using the Gospel as a method to engineer and advocate for the kind of society they want based on what they believe the Bible teaches. The temptation for Christians left and right is to use Jesus as a means toward a social or political end rather than recognize Him as king.

Having said that, I don't think it is fair or historically accurate to say that only bad came from the Social Gospel movement. Organizations like the Union Gospel Mission, Salvation Army, Vision Nationals are not necessarily evil organizations because they want the Gospel to have some positive influence on the society at large. As I blogged earlier, there is a balance in a mission that needs to be maintained. I wrote there of the necessity of balancing the promotion of the mission and the mission without sacrificing the mission itself (and one must not be so busy only doing the mission that no one knows you exist, there is some need to plan for a future). My observation is that the healthiest Christian organizations maintain a balance between the outreach to bless the community and the desire to share the good news of Christ.

The other balancing act is to be in the world and not of the world. This balance is difficult. Some people say they are not called to wait on tables but to preach the good news. Yet what did those apostles do? They appointed deacons to wait on the tables and deal with the pressing social issues within the local church of that time. A church that proclaims "we are not here to help the poor or the widow or the orphan or to pursue `social justice' issues" is missing the point of the Gospel just as much as a group that promotes civic action without grasping how the sacrificial love of Christ is the fire that guides such action. If we love him because he first loved us that is what enables us to love each other.

So, yes, I believe that Mars Hill and Driscoll particularly promote a Social Gospel. As I said earlier, when you look at how you want a society transformed by Jesus you are describing what KIND of Social Gospel you are pursuing by proclaiming the news of Christ the king, not declaring whether or not you even HAVE a Social Gospel.

For people who never attended Mars Hill, never participated on the discussion forums hosted by the church from 1999-2001 (public)or internal (2002-2007) you're not in a position to observe how Mars Hill has had at its heart (or one of the ventricles thereof) a kind of Social Gospel. I could agree with parts of it but ultimately not enough of it to keep a formal connection there. More and more I began to feel that it was a good news for young men, married men, and parents, than a good news for all. I still have very close friends and family there that I love. In fact one of my best friends is a pastor there and I love him and his wife a great deal. I believe Mars Hill will accomplish good for people ... I just also realized I don't have to be formally connected to it to see that happen. I had let family loyalty, inertia, and the desire to stay close to friends keep me somewhere just long enough to realize that it was time to be somewhere else.

Having said all that, I think that a lot of theologically and politically conservative churches have been pursuing a Social Gospel to compensate for the old liberal kind for decades. Frank Schaeffer's earlier works fit the bill. The more you deny that conservatives have a Social Gospel element to them the more you probably need to repent and realize that conservatives can use Jesus as a means to an end, too, rather than considering Him Lord. When He returns He will reveal the judgment that is coming to the whole cosmos, not just the parts you specifically want Him to judge.

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