Reinterpreting the Church’s Mission

Donald Bloesch points out that the rise of new theologies has brought about a drastic reinterpretation of the church’s mission:

Whereas traditional theology envisions the church’s mission as the proclamation of the good news of redemption through the cross and resurrection of Christ, the new theology views it in terms of humanization and social liberation.[1]

Bloesch lists four areas in which this reinterpretation has taken place.

1. Ministry

Instead of expounding scriptural truth, ministers now devote their energies to breaking down barriers that impede humanity’s progress toward peace and justice.[2]

Such endeavors, which is really little more than the old liberal social gospel of a hundred years ago, have noble intentions (and certainly evangelicals could do more in these areas than is often done), but abandoning the proclamation of scriptural truth bypasses the real problem which is the condition of the human heart.

Jesus works from the inside out so one cannot eradicate racism by passing a law making racism illegal. Changing someone’s heart by preaching the Good News of the One who breaks down racial barriers and makes all races One in himself will.

2. Preaching

The minister ceases to be the proclaimer of a definite message and now becomes a ‘nurturer of ecumenical and world openness.’[3]

Too much preaching today is therapeutic and motivational and focuses on what I must do to have the best life now. Preaching is supposed to be about what God has done through Jesus Christ to make me acceptable to God so that I have a place in the new heavens and new earth which Christ will usher in upon his return.

3. Apologetics

In the perspective of the new spirituality apologetics is no longer demonstrating the superiority of the Christian religion or the validity of Christian truth claims but arguing for the validity of a new religious vision that fulfills rather than negates the religious aspirations of the whole of humanity. […] Apologetics in the traditional sense is supplanted by dialogue in the quest for a more comprehensive religious vision. [4]

Apologetics is supposed to be about demonstrating the reasonableness of the Christian faith and the truthfulness of Christianity’s claims. Many times, however, we end up trying to make people more spiritual, as if that alone will cause people to believe the truth-claims of Christianity.

I understand that this shift has come about because of the claim that postmoderns are less concerned about truth than about meaning (a claim of which I am not entirely convinced) but in the end, even postmoderns will have to admit that historical truth is vital to the claims of Christianity. Sadly, by the time such postmodern nonsense is abandoned by the culture at large, many evangelicals will be too far behind to realize it.

4. Mission

[T]he church’s mission is privatized or spiritualized. The kingdom of God is …the transformation of religious consciousness…a call to turn inward and find peace through union with the all-encompassing spiritual presence. The church becomes a society of seekers for enlightenment as opposed to the company of the committed with a mission and message for the world.[5]

This is one of the biggest problems with evangelicalism in 21st century North America: We’ve made the Gospel all about us so that every sermon preached and every text interpreted is about me and how to have a better life. That’s why churches are now more concerned about teaching, preaching, evangelism, etc. and instead build huge monuments to self-gratification in the form of multi-million dollar facilities with foosball tables, basketball courts, coffee shops, etc. And if they can get someone else to begin coming to these Christian consumerist and entertainment centers, they consider that person evangelized and the Great Commission to have been completed as far as that person is concerned.

In the New Testament, however, it was about living the life of the Kingdom while still in the world, not living like the world while laying claim to the Kingdom.

What do we do?

What we need, however, is a drastic reevaluation of these four areas, not in light of culture but in light of the ministry of Jesus and the apostles as recorded in Scripture. Such a re-evaluation will reveal the weakness and lukewarmness of what passes for Christianity today.

As I noted on this blog before in a different but related context:

If you preach a Gospel that won’t get you arrested or killed somewhere in the world, you’re not preaching the same Gospel Jesus and his apostles preached.

Sadly, the kid of Christianity described above won’t even get you a sideways glance anymore, much less a beating or a cross.

 


[1] Donald Bloesch, The Church (InterVarsity Press: 2002) 32.

[2] Bloesch 33.

[3] Bloesch 33. The quote is from Peter Hodgson’s Revisioning the Church: Ecclesial Freedom in the New Paradigm, 101

[4] Bloesch 33.

[5] Bloesch 33-34.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
This entry was posted in Pastoral Ministry and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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