The Scope of the Gospel: Balancing the Spiritual and the Social


Wedding at Cana, Paolo VeroneseI have written numerous times about the tendency within human nature to embrace the Love of Man rather than pursue the Love of God. Even in our striving for compassion and through our attempts to help the needy, we tend to execute a Godly imperative according to our own debased ways.

As Russell Moore explains it in a recent piece, the tension often plays out as being between evangelism and “public justice” — spiritual transformation vs. social reconciliation. Yet this tension, Moore argues, need not be a conflict, and in turn, cannot be resolved through an “either-or” solution.

As Moore explains:

[The mission of the church] is summed up in the gospel as a message of reconciliation that is both vertical and horizontal, establishing peace with both God and neighbor. The Scripture tells us to love neighbor “as yourself” (Lk. 10:27-28).

Sound familiar?

Indeed, the call of the church is not to be founded on some gnostic, dualistic divorce of the spiritual and material – whether or not one prefers one or the other. Jesus didn’t spend all of his time praying on the hillside for soul-winning, yet he also didn’t perform physical miracles and wonders without transcendent, spiritual demands and implications.

This is not simply a “spiritual” ministry, as the example Jesus gives us is of a holistic caring for physical and economic needs of a wounded person, not to mention the transcending of steep ethnic hostilities. As theologian Carl F.H. Henry reminded evangelicals a generation ago, one does not love oneself simply in “spiritual ways” but holistically.

Of course, Jesus’ ministry would be about such things. After all, the Bible shows us, from the beginning, that the scope of the curse is holistic in its destruction—personal, cosmic, social, vocational (Gen. 3-11) and that the gospel is holistic in its restoration—personal, cosmic, social, vocational (Rev. 21-22). (emphasis added)

Moore then points to a similar(/interrelated) tension in the church as an example of how we might resolve such efforts:

So how does the church “balance” a concern for evangelism with a concern for justice? A church does so in the same way it “balances” the gospel with personal morality. Sure, there have been churches that have emphasized public justice without the call to personal conversion. Such churches have abandoned the gospel.

But there are also churches that have emphasized personal righteousness (sexual morality, for instance) without a clear emphasis on the gospel. And there are churches that have taught personal morality as a means of earning favor with God. Such also contradicts the gospel.

The solution?

We do not, though, counteract legalism in the realm of personal morality with an antinomianism. And we do not react to the persistent “social gospels” (of both Left and Right) by pretending that Jesus does not call his churches to act on behalf of the poor, the sojourner, the fatherless, the vulnerable, the hungry, the sex-trafficked, the unborn. We act in the framework of the gospel, never apart from it, either in verbal proclamation or in active demonstration. (emphasis added)

The short answer to how churches should “balance” such things is simple: follow Jesus. We are Christians. This means that as we grow in Christlikeness, we are concerned about the things that concern him. Jesus is the king of his kingdom, and he loves whole persons, bodies as well as souls.

For issues pertaining to this blog, the question then becomes: What kind of earthly system maximizes our ability to ride the nexus of the vertical and horizontal? What kind of earthly system allows us to, most simply, follow Jesus?

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  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/118361234264436736 Remnant Culture

    The scope of the curse is holistic & so should our response to it be. How do we balance the spiritual & the social? http://t.co/ET8X7RM0

  • http://twitter.com/valuesandcap/status/118362614509207554 Values & Capitalism

    The scope of the curse is holistic & so should our response to it be. How do we balance the spiritual & the social? http://t.co/ET8X7RM0

  • http://twitter.com/briniloo/status/118372257876815872 Brittany Loose

    The scope of the curse is holistic & so should our response to it be. How do we balance the spiritual & the social? http://t.co/ET8X7RM0

  • Doug

    “the question then becomes: what kind of earthly system maximizes our ability to ride the nexus of the vertical and horizontal?” Our American system allows us to ride the nexus of the vertical and horizontal.  What we need are more Americans to choose to “follow Jesus”.  Thanks for speaking out!

  • http://twitter.com/josephsunde/status/118514106859921409 Joseph Sunde

    The scope of the curse is holistic in its destruction & the gospel is holistic in its restoration. New post: http://t.co/oOrR1G90

  • http://twitter.com/rjmoeller/status/118514316789026816 RJ Moeller

    The scope of the curse is holistic in its destruction & the gospel is holistic in its restoration. New post: http://t.co/oOrR1G90

  • http://twitter.com/josephsunde/status/118750610190372864 Joseph Sunde

    The Gospel demands a life that is both vertical and horizontal in orientation. How do we ride the nexus? http://t.co/oOrR1G90

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/121606554125484033 Remnant Culture

    How does the church balance a concern for evangelism with a concern for justice? http://t.co/vF0wYJY5

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/121606554125484033 Remnant Culture

    How does the church balance a concern for evangelism with a concern for justice? http://t.co/vF0wYJY5

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/121606849458999296 Remnant Culture

    How does the church balance a concern for evangelism with a concern for justice? http://t.co/S8z2zz5U

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/121606849458999296 Remnant Culture

    How does the church balance a concern for evangelism with a concern for justice? http://t.co/S8z2zz5U

  • http://twitter.com/valuesandcap/status/121613572961869824 Values & Capitalism

    How does the church balance a concern for evangelism with a concern for justice? http://t.co/vF0wYJY5

  • http://twitter.com/crichton18/status/121617812807630848 Jeff Crichton

    How does the church balance a concern for evangelism with a concern for justice? http://t.co/vF0wYJY5

  • http://twitter.com/supertx/status/121945388818239489 Michelle

    The Scope of the Gospel: Balancing the Spiritual and the Social « Remnant Culture http://t.co/odWlLirV via @addthis