Evangelical leaders of previous generations are in the process of passing the torch to younger leaders, for whom there are at least 10 fresh challenges. We’ve considered the challenges of Navigating Newfound Authority, Waging a Bloodless Revolution, Overcoming Spiritual Superficiality, Creating Culture, Returning to Virtue and Bridging to Everyday Relevance ; now a seventh challenge:
Resisting the Seduction of a New Social Gospel
I have been in the vanguard of the evangelical effort to minister to the personal physical needs and societal injustices as part of our public ministry, and I remain convinced that ministries of compassion and justice are as clearly required by scripture as anything else we do. I have worked for and consulted with hundreds of organizations and Christian leaders over the last 30 years–some of whom wouldn’t pick up a shovel to plant crops for a hungry family if a gospel tract wasn’t handed out; many whom have demonstrated a refreshing, authentic blend of ministry to the whole person; and a few who have become so tied up in correcting systemic injustices that they’ve forgotten endemic spiritual depravity and the promise of redemption and transformation.
Today, I am impressed with the creative and heartfelt work of so many young evangelicals in ministries to feed the hungry, limit the impact of AIDS, provide clean water, make urban neighborhood better places to live, stop global warming, and stop human trafficking. And so much more. I must caution, however, that a grave danger for the rising generation is yielding to the seduction of compassion—ministering to the body, but neglecting the hard work of dealing with the soul. The failure by many in the mid-20th century to blend social and spiritual ministry is what created the rift between fundamentalists and purveyors of the “social gospel.” The rising generation of evangelicals must take care not to remake history’s mistakes by thinking that they cannot also stray from the gospel of spiritual regeneration and find themselves meeting only physical needs rather than also physical needs. Check yourself; evaluate your, and don’t’ think this can’t happen to you! It is already occurring in too many ministries that began fully involved in holistic ministry but today have little evidence of evangelistic fervor in their programming.
Meeting physical needs and correcting societal injustices are important and satisfying. As Christian outreach, it is simply incomplete and insufficient.