Monday, July 7, 2008

Justice and a False Dichotomy

So here's a question posed by a Christian author who has some of the misunderstandings about justice issues that I mentioned in the last post...
Should the Gospel be defined as receiving Christ or should the Gospel be defined as meeting the needs of the world?
Of course, this represents a false dichotomy. There are certainly more than just these two options and, in fact, neither option is satisfactory. The Jewish men who penned the New Testament would never have defined the great redemptive work accomplished by the Messiah as narrowly as modern evangelicals have. Throughout the history of God's dealings with humanity, His focus was not just on individuals but also on families, tribes, nations, and the world. The same is true of that ultimate act of reconciliation that is the focal point of both human and cosmic history--the atoning death and subsequent resurrection of His sinless, eternal Son.

In defending his own answer (that the Gospel should be defined as receiving Christ), the author grants that we should care for our world and the needy. As part of this admission, he cites Jeremiah 29:7, which says,
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
But if one were more open to the idea that justice is at the heart of God's desire, one could cite a vast number of Scripture passages. One of the most succinct summaries of God's requirement of His people was originally written on stone tablets. This summary included ten commandments (see Exodus 20), five of which deal with man's relationship with God, and five of which deal with man's relationship with one another. Through the prophet Micah (6:8), God spelled out His requirements even more concisely:
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
Then Jesus Himself was asked what the greatest commandment was and what one must do to inherit eternal life. His response?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.
This prompted the question "And who is my neighbor?", to which Jesus explained (through the parable of the "good Samaritan") that anyone in need is our neighbor. If we want it condensed to just one sentence, how about (from Matthew 7:12)...
So, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.
In our day, this means that when we find a young girl who has been sold into sex slavery, we do what we can to free her and get her back to her home and a better life.

I cannot imagine how an honest reading of the Bible or of the Gospels could ever lead to reducing the Gospel to merely the future salvation of individual souls. It's as if the 'great commission' ("Go and make disciples") were the only thing Jesus meant for us to remember, and that it somehow annulled all of His other teachings and commands.

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