by Rod Benson
In September the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance published “The Philadelphia Statement,” biblically grounded and theologically rich, with a strong emphasis on the kingdom of God, and collaboration with God in mission.
Surprisingly for a non-Catholic statement, it urges social and political consensus “with all who seek peace and the common good,” and calls individuals and groups “to participate in actions and programs which aim at overcoming social evil and which enhance the common good.” This is a huge task, but there will be disagreement on what constitutes “evil” and “good.”
The Statement also makes strong claims for the integration of evangelism and social justice:
(a) “Both evangelism and social action are essential dimensions of the gospel”;
(b) “[The church ought to] bear witness in life, word and action to the power of the gospel to transform lives and societies”;
(c) “The notion of a purely privatized faith in which the gospel only affects individual, personal or family life but has no wider implications for society must be rejected as inadequate”;
(d) “We must commit ourselves to the common life of faith and action which will lead to a transformation of the world in which we live.”
This is compelling, but why do so many peak evangelical gatherings feel the need to issue statements advocating integral mission?
First, evangelicals have often been unfaithful to the biblical witness, and to generations of pastors and theologians who have sought to apply the biblical teaching on social justice.
Second, evangelicals are often guilty of promoting radical individualism and pragmatism at the expense of communitarianism and a serious commitment to radical discipleship. Taken to extremes, these ideologies threaten the integrity and viability of ministry and mission.
Third, evangelicals have often failed to find effective ways of engaging the political process. Often the articulation of public policy options leads to conflict, degenerating into slanging matches, stony silences or standoffs.
Until we all address these issues, evangelicals will be criticised as socially irresponsible, and will need to be reminded by scholars of the radical and holistic nature of the gospel.
Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.