Many members of the Millennial generation advocate for social justice and believe evangelism is vital to that cause, a Barna Group survey revealed. Does this mean more Christians need to balance how we apply the gospel?
You refer to a survey described in an article “Is Evangelism Going Out of Style?” In that article, George Barna notes the Millennial generation—Americans 18 to 33—and others who identify with the “progressive” view of Christianity are gaining a reputation as active promoters of the perspective that social justice reflects the nature of their faith. They hold a strong conviction that salvation is more than an experience producing eternal life after death.
Salvation also means a conversion of life practices to those reflecting the life practices of Jesus and adhering to his teachings and commands concerning “the least of these.” 1 John 2:6 commands that anyone who claims to be a Christian must walk or act as Jesus did.
Do the right thing
The Millennials often criticize the established church, charging the church has neglected the active ministry of the gospel. They claim the modern church has become a model of the church in Ephesus of Revelation 2—she has lost her first love.
As a result, progressives, like the Millennials, emphasize a model of church focusing on orthopraxy, or doing the right things. They insist such right works are not necessary for salvation, but they are a necessary result of salvation, and therefore the church cannot neglect them.
Evangelism thus becomes more than simply declaring the gospel and asking for a response. Evangelism also includes actively ministering to people in the name of Jesus. The gospel is more than a proclamation of future glory. It also is an answer to the immediate needs of people whom society often casts aside. Progressives give emphasis to the idea of “giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name.”
Taking the whole gospel seriously
The strength of this approach is it takes seriously the entirety of the gospel. The public ministry of Jesus as well as the priority of the books of James and 1 John carry as much weight as do more theological books, like Romans. This approach also insists people receive the evangelistic message more readily when the presenter has shown real compassion by investigating and meeting physical needs. Progressives are not the first to discover this approach. Most notably, Walter Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel movement flourished in the early 20th century.
The key to the success of this approach is the “balance” mentioned in the question. Evangelism must contain both “the cup of cold water” and “Jesus’ name.” A solid, balanced approach is necessary and effective because it most clearly reflects the full life of Jesus.
Jesus saw the importance of both proclamation and practice, never neglecting one for the other.
Van Christian, pastor
First Baptist Church
If you have a comment about this column or wish to ask a question for a future column, contact Bill Tillman, consulting ethicist for “Right or Wrong?” at email@example.com.