The Post Modern Evangelical Dilemma
There's a good article here, pointed to me by a friend, which addresses the church's historical tendencies to hold evangelism (defined here as calling people to repentance and faith in Christ in order to gain salvation from judgment) and social action (being the presence of Jesus by feeding the poor, clothing the naked etc.) in tension. The author expresses how the church has tended to correct itself from imbalances towards one or the other, usually by becoming imbalanced through an overemphasis of that which had previously been neglected. Thus has the church gone from being about social action, to evangelism, to social action to.... ?
Social Action and Justice issues are presently in the forefront which is, for many of us, a breath of fresh air compared to the embarrassing "Bibles before bread" priorities at the height of evangelical fervor. If we're not able to simply bless the world in Jesus name, with no strings attached, no commitments required of the recipients of the blessing, then we're a long way from the heart of Christ.
And yet.... I'm concerned that for some, the motive for elevating the compassion of Christ to its rightful place has come about because of post-modern uncertainty regarding the claims of Christ. It's as if the church is saying: "Gee whiz! We really don't have a clue whether or not Jesus is the only way to know God. All that stuff is too confusing for us. But one thing we do know: people are hungry, abused, mistreated. Let's invest in what we KNOW (feeding and sheltering people) rather than in what we DON'T KNOW (the true nature of salvation and the role Christ plays in that). And that line of thinking, I would argue, will lead us all out onto the thin ice of epistemological nihilism, where we'll fall through and drown in a sea of meaningless activity (read Ecclesiastes if you don't believe me).
I'd argue it's better to say: We BELIEVE that all who will know life to fullest will know it as such to the extent that they know, believe and are yielded to Christ, who died for them and rose to live in them. We don't claim to know how each person's use of language, or there own presuppositions that are determined by culture, interplay with the reality of that faith act. In other words, it's possible (probable... in fact, I'd bet my house on it) that people will be in heaven who didn't use the 'right language', who didn't appear in the club. And yet this reality shouldn't preclude our continual commitment to call people to 'the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ', for it is our from Him that real healing, hope, and life will come to all.
For those wrestling with the interplay of 'presence' and 'proclamation', and who are trying to figure where Jesus fits into all of it, I might recommend NT Wright's, "The Challenge of Jesus". A great read for our times. I'm of the conviction that, where the church gets it right, it does so because it's avoiding the temptation to make course corrections (which are invariable reactionary), and is instead, saturating herself in the Scriptures and Prayer and simply step out in obedience to the voice of Christ, who seems to have the balance thing down pretty well!