We live in a world of either/or. Ours is a world that demands choices.
Pepsi or Coke?
Democrat or Republican?
Catholic or Protestant?
Baseball or Football?
Apple or Microsoft?
SEC or Any other Conference?
Fox News or MSNBC?
Colbert or Fallon?
It's no different when it comes to the gospel?
Social Gospel or Personal Gospel?
We like to think that our reading of Scripture determines our view of the gospel. But more often than not, our worldview determines our understanding of the gospel.
What do I mean? (Here's where I venture into dangerous territory and ask you for grace with my generationalizations.)
In the political realm, Democrats and Republicans have different perspectives on issues such as military spending, size of the government, rights of mothers and newborns, health care, etc.
But underneath these issues we tend to focus on during election season, liberals and conservatives hold underlying worldviews that silently inform their views. And we rarely talk about the deeper differences.
At the risk of oversimplification and generalization, Democrats and Republicans differ in their perspective on human ability. Democrats tend to have a pessimistic view of human ability. Republicans tend to have an optimistic view of human ability.
For example, why do Republicans tend to desire smaller government and Democrats desire a larger government? Well, if you have a positive view of human ability, you tend to think people have the ability to improve their lives without an institution calling the shots for them. If you have a more pessimistic view of human ability, then there's little hope that people will take care of one another without the aid of a government working to ensure care for the underesourced who cannot provide for their families.
Take whatever issue that divides liberals and conservatives and you can see how one's view of human ability impacts one's policies.
In the same way, liberal and conservative Christians hold very different views on what the gospel is.
Conservative churches have focused on a gospel of personal salvation and transformation. The good news is that Jesus came to pay the debt that individuals owe to God as a result of our sins. The good news is framed as the forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life with God.
This is the gospel I've grown up with. I knew the gospel changed my life, but I wasn't sure what to do after salvation. Once I was saved, I knew I was supposed to share this good news with other people so that they could experience the same salvation I had known. But other than the calling of evangelism, I wasn't sure what else my salvation had to do with life on this earth. My eternity was sure, but as a 13 year old with a lifetime ahead of me, it seemed like earth was a holding cell until death called me home.
Liberal churches have focused on the social gospel. The social gospel emerged in the early 20th century as a response to the pietistic Fundamentalist gospel of conservative churches. Leaders like Walter Rauschenbusch believed that the gospel is not just good news for individuals. It should be good news for the world. This movement has sought to live out the prayer of Jesus in Matthew 6:10: "May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
And so, liberal churches sought to make a difference by bringing social justice to the world. Liberal Christians focused their efforts on issues such as economic justice, poverty, child labor, and warfare.
It's easy to find what's wrong with the "other" church. But often our beliefs about wrong and right are defined by our worldview. What is the nature of human ability? Your answer to that will often undergird your gospel.
And so liberals and conservatives have divided into separate churches that support our worldview. And we share our gospel (personal or social) without any comprehension about why anyone else would hold onto a different gospel.
But I believe each of these gospels are incomplete.
A personal gospel is not the entire gospel.
Personal Gospel - Social Gospel = Religious Country Club
A social gospel is not the entire gospel.
Social Gospel - Personal Gospel = Politics
Our gospel is both good news for individuals and good news for the world.
Personal Gospel + Social Gospel = The Kingdom of God
It's time for us to stop holing up in conservative and liberal churches with "our" half of the gospel and start hearing the gospel again as Jesus shared it.
The gospel is good news for every person and all of creation.
Let us move from an either/or gospel to a both/and gospel. There's no need to choose because both personal salvation and societal transformation are included in what God has promised.