Transforming the World? The Gospel and Social Responsibility (1)

When I get a chance (on a train mostly) I’m reading this book.

Transforming the World?: the Gospel and Social Responsibility, edited by Dewi Hughes and Jamie Grant.

Hughes is theological advisor to Tearfund and member of the Lausanne Movement’s Theology Working Group. Grant is lecturer in Biblical Studies in The Highland Theological College in Scotland.

It has an impressive list of contributors, mostly but not exclusively within the UK.

I’m trying to prepare a series of 10 guest posts or so for Jesus Creed in June.

Rather than replicate what will come there (discussion of 9-10 chapters or so), I thought I’d post a few quotable quotes to give a flavour of a thought-provoking series of essays in what is a very good and important book.

 What do you think of this pretty bold statement opening line?

Evangelical Christianity has long been plagued by a dichotomy. In the last century liberals reduced the mission of God to social action and in response evangelicals reduced it to making individual converts by proclaiming the ‘gospel’. This was a case, common in the history of theology, of a bad argument being countered by an equally bad one.

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3 thoughts on “Transforming the World? The Gospel and Social Responsibility (1)

  1. Thanks for posting this Patrick. It sounds like a fascinating book.

    I think the first scentence of the quote is true. There is a dichotomy and it is exhibited with how difficult many evangelicals find the definition of integral mission.
    I have heard on numerous occasions evangelicals say “oh yes we need to do both evangelism and social action,” in a way that is far removed from an understanding that “Integral mission is the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.” (as per the Cape Town Commitment which quotes the original definition of integral mission).

    However I think the rest of the quote is somewhat simplistic. The movement between a liberal emphasis on social responsibility and an evangelical emphasis on evangelism was more complex than simply the latter being a reaction to the former. For one (Neo)Evangelicalism was also responding to fundamentalism rooted in the 1920s and 30s. Also the liberal expression of social responsibility took time to develop until the likes of the WCC Assembly in Uppsala in 1968. In fact two years earlier at a pre-Lausanne gathering in Berlin, Michael Cassidy was calling evangelicals to challenge apartheid in South Africa (although it should be added he was called a communist for doing so and many wanted his words removed from the official records!). For some it was not until the end of the century that the likes of Konrad Raiser’s proposals truly abandoned salvation history and made evangelism seen unnecessary. It was at this point that evangelicals such as Lesslie Newbiggin stood in strong disagreement with much of the liberal position while having been willing to live with various tensions throughout most of the century.

    Of course the statement also gives the impression that evangelicals eschewed social action in the twentieth century. This view would seem to come from a very Western perspective. I know little of the impact of evangelicals in Latin America in the first half of the century but from the 1960s they certainly seemed equipped to overcome the aforementioned dichotomy.
    The big difficulty (and this continues to the present) is that many evangelicals do social action but they do it badly. This may be, again, because of the dichotomy which gives a certain privileged place to evangelism and therefore sees social action as a means to an evangelism end. We saw this with devastating effect in the Bethany Home story where mission was certainly not reduced to evangelism and (don’t get me wrong on this) one almost wishes it had been. This difficulty may also be because of poor understandings of community developement which still hinder the mission of God but it is not (as the quote suggests) simply due to a lack of social action. The answer isn’t just more social action, it is better social action.

  2. Transfarmer, didn’t Douglas Adams say the answer was 42? 😉

    Thanks Richard for the insights – which raise the question at the end of what good social action looks like? In one chapter Anna Robbins argues that it will flows from a theology of the cross.

    I’ve read most of the book and written up a series of posts and think it is essential reading around this whole topic. There are some tensions within the authors’ views, one being the issue you raise of the place of evangelism within overall mission. Think I’ll stick up a quote on that next…

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