Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Young Evangelical Declaration on Theological Purity and Cultural Engagement

Young evangelicals are anxious to engage secular culture. However, any attempt at engaging the culture must be one that seeks to change the culture with the strong and often offensive message of the gospel. Cultural engagement must be theologically sound and doctrinally pure before that engagement can be labeled “Christian.” It is our concern that many in evangelicalism have chosen relevancy over orthodoxy. It is perfectly acceptable to be cool as a Christian, but young evangelicals must assert themselves as Christian before they seek to be cool.

One young evangelical has recently chided Southern Baptists regarding their record on environmentalism by saying that our response may be seen by the world as “uncaring, reckless and ill-informed. We can do better.” Even if our position on global warming and environmentalism is not seen as “uncaring, reckless and ill-informed,” there is little doubt that a strong commitment to the sanctity of human life, exclusive salvation, and Christian Orthodoxy is viewed by many outside of the evangelical church as “uncaring, reckless, and ill-informed.” But, can we really “do better,” than to proclaim the unadulterated truth of the gospel?

The gospel is offensive by nature and evangelicals stand under the banner of the cross long before we stand under any other banner. Our engagement with secular culture is best envisioned as a militaristic engagement with sin and evil. We recognize that we stand as followers of Christ within our culture and not as outsiders looking in, but the god of this world is not the God whom we serve. Though HIV/AIDS, poverty, and environmentalism are all concerns worthy of our efforts, Christ has called us to engage culture at a deep level that brings about reform from the inside out.

Secular culture desires to see these issues engaged, but that same culture is unwilling to address the root causes of all of these evils. The church should be active in ending abortion, promoting peace, protecting our natural resources, working to end poverty, and working to see a cure for HIV/AIDS. Focusing merely on these issues, however, offers a social gospel that, with its failure to confront the ultimate issue of sin, is unbalanced and ultimately at odds with the evangelical message. The former are secondary issues, not primary issues. The primary issue for our culture and our world is sin that lies at the root of all other evil.

The church and its message is the one hope this world has for eternal healing. Evangelicals must engage secular culture, but let us not grow confused about the greatest need of that culture. It is true; when we preach Christ as the only way to salvation, we will be seen by the world as “uncaring, reckless and ill-informed,” but it is only through the preaching of this foolishness that men, women, boys and girls have any hope of salvation.

The social gospel that gained popularity at the turn of the twentieth century had high hopes for world peace and prosperity. However, those hopes were ill conceived and led to a loss of evangelical fervor as the goal of missions gradually changed from conversions to comfort. We call on young evangelicals to reject the humanistic social gospel being pushed by popular culture and to seek instead to engage the culture with the life-changing truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Though we champion the civil advancements encouraged by men and women committed to social reforms, and applaud successful attempts at creating a better temporal world, we must adamantly reject any view of salvation that holds social reform above individual response to the gospel. We value the commandment of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves, but affirm that the greatest love we can show is the presentation of the gospel. Thus even in humanitarian work, our ultimate goal must be to point the glory to Christ and to present opportunities for eternal salvation and not merely temporal comfort and security. We must often feed the stomach before we can feed the soul, but we must not neglect the soul in favor of the body. Man does not live by bread alone.

The Christian worldview is, by definition, in opposition to the worldview of secular culture. Consequently, we call on young evangelicals to accept their place as outcasts of popular culture just as did our Lord. When the worldview of the Bible clashes with the worldview of this culture, it is the responsibility of Christians to take their stand on the truths of God’s word.

Therefore, we call on young evangelicals to engage culture with an emphasis on changing it rather than adapting to it. Culture change can occur, but it will happen one person at a time. That one-by-one change can and must be wrought through emphasis on evangelism and conversions and trusting the Holy Spirit to change lives. We call on young evangelicals to encourage good works as it flows out of a love for God in evangelism. God’s kingdom is present on earth in all who call on his name, and the riches of God’s kingdom are open even to the least and most underprivileged among us. Let us work to see society changed, but facing the reality that poverty and injustice will always exist, let us focus on proclaiming the theologically pure gospel in culturally relevant ways that brings eternal salvation in spite of the sin-filled world we now occupy.

Please feel free to l eave your comments or criticisms.

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