At our regional staff conference today, Una presented a seminar on integrating evangelism and concern for social justice. She cited the division between liberal and fundamentalist Christians and the politics and overreactions that result as the primary reason many American Christians today are unable to integrate concern for both. Liberal Christians tend to care about social justice to the exclusion of evangelism and fundamentalists tend to care about evangelism to the exclusion of concern for justice. Christians can debate their relationship and prioritization but we clearly need both; much weight of Scripture points toward concern for justice and any Christian who is against evangelism is both anti-biblical and selfish.
I believe a significant presupposition behind both factions’ disagreements is their definition of sin. Fundamentalists see sin merely as that which causes guilt, condemnation, and damnation. Liberals see sin as personal, relational, and societal brokenness or that which causes it. This difference leads to different meanings of Christ’s atonement (his work on the cross). Fundamentalists see Christ’s saving work as acquitting while liberals see it as healing and empowering. The end goal for fundamentalists is eternal life and the end goal for liberals is harmony and justice. Both limited views are based on infantile and incomplete views of God’s Law. His Law is good and good for its followers; that’s why he gave it to us. It also condemns, but the purpose of condemnation from the Law is to point toward Christ, his perfection, and his mercy.
The tunnel vision of both factions should be obvious to anyone who has spent time among the very broken or oppressed. Sin leads to guilt, condemnation, damnation, and personal, relational, and societal brokenness. Poverty, promiscuity, unwanted pregnancies, crime, drug abuse, prostitution, alcoholism, violence, discrimination, disease, early death, oppression, and greed are all interrelated and mutually perpetuating; these are either forms of sin or its results. In the forms of conscience and Scripture, the Law is a tool to restrain all of these and remind us of how far we fall short of Christ’s perfection. The result of receiving Christ’s completed work is full acquittal of guilt and death as we receive and participate in healing from personal, relational, and societal brokenness. We also anticipate the eventual full completion of that healing. That’s good news worth sharing!