The Gospel We Preach and Christians in Society
The spiritual message of the gospel has social, political, material, and personal implications. These implications push and pull on decisions made in the present. The impact of the gospel in the present is easy to understand, but the intended impact of the gospel through time is harder to understand, and responding to the gospel’s historical progress is hard to do.
A movement known as Christian Reconstructionism (CR) has held my attention for the past few weeks. As I write, I am addressing issues that have emerged as I have examined it, but I am trying to do so in a manner that applies more broadly to evangelical Christianity in America. From what I can understand, CR is a sharper version of what a lot of American evangelicals believe. As I address it, I hope to address broader issues in American Christianity. As for CR itself, its proponents adhere to a view of history that assumes the progressive Christianization of the world until the return of Christ. This Christianization includes domains such as government, community, education, and family coming under the authority of God. Progressive Christianization of the world, if it is to occur, will necessarily occur through the past and future history of the world, so what happens to the gospel through time is relevant in deciding what to do with CR. (I am using materials written by the Chalcedon Foundation to represent the positions of CR. Those materials are found here.)
The gospel spreads as Christians preach, teach, and converse. Some people accept it and others do not, but classes of individuals emerge as it spreads:
- Those who hear it and accept it
- Those who hear it and do nothing–they may be undecided or even disagree, but do not actively oppose it
- Those who hear it, do not accept it, and oppose it
- Those who have not heard it and thereby neither agree nor disagree–they may feel a spiritual need, but they have not heard the gospel
As time goes on, the first group of people systematize their beliefs. The second group move into the first or third groups or stay where they are; if they stay in the second group, they know about the gospel. The third group continues or ceases their opposition; those who continue their opposition systematize their opposition to the gospel. The fourth group learn of the gospel or they do not; if they learn of it, they pass into the first, second, or third group. The past gives context to present interactions between these groups, the present is when they interact, and the future contains the fulfillment or disappointment of their hopes and expectations.
In future posts, I will examine Acts 1 and Peter’s speech to Jews after the Holy Spirit comes on Pentecost, Acts 7 and Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin when he is on trial, Acts 10 and the interaction between Peter and Cornelius, Acts 14 when Paul and Barnabas go to Lystra, and Acts 17 and Paul’s speech at the Areopagus in Athens. In intend to establish that it is most important to focus on saving the individual rather than reforming institutions as a function of the kingdom of God, as far as CR is concerned with bringing public spheres under the authority of God. The proclamation of the gospel happens through history and should result in progressively larger numbers of Christians all over the world, but it should not result in Christians abandoning ministry in the present for the sake of the future Christianization of human civil and social institutions.