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Why Should We Redeem Society?

July 15, 2011
S. Michael Craven
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It seems necessary to address why and even if Christians should be involved in redeeming society and culture. There are many who deride such activity as being a diversion from the “real” work of the church, which in their minds is nothing more than articulating the personal plan of salvation (or “gospel,” very narrowly understood).

However, I would counter by saying that such a distinction is more accurately rooted in pagan dualism than scripture. Platonism divides reality into two spheres: the material and the nonmaterial—with the nonmaterial, or spiritual, being superior.

This classical Greek view offers a completely unbiblical understanding of reality. Its practical acceptance by many in the church has only served to further the irrelevance of Christianity in the modern West.

The Bible offers no such separation of spiritual and physical and, in fact, regards mankind as being unique from every other in creation precisely because of our combined natures. God’s ultimate act of atonement for the sins of men was to become flesh—a real man living in the real world dying a real death and being physically resurrected. Secondly, God is very much interested in his physical creation, as it remains an object of redemption, which will be completed in the new heaven and earth.

To reduce the gospel to nothing more than the personal plan of salvation (a strictly spiritual good) is to minimize God’s ongoing relationship to the world and Christ’s authority over same. The “good news” established at the appearance of Christ is that our God reigns! Both the alienation of mankind from God and the groaning of creation find their remedy or redemption in the work of Christ. Men and women are set free from eternal bondage to sin and enlisted in the service of the King as the body of Christ to “do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV).

These good works naturally include acts of mercy, charity, and service to individuals but also those efforts that seek to remedy the effects of the fall upon the whole society. In other words, redeeming the institutions of culture and the conditions of society that affect people by bringing them into conformity to biblical principles as a sign and foretaste of God’s rule and reign. 

Our neglect in this area of redeeming culture only communicates that we—and worse, God—are not interested in the real world or the actual conditions that adversely affect human beings. This sentiment prompted Dorothy Sayers, a friend and peer of C. S. Lewis, to say, “Why would anyone remain interested in a religion that seems to have no interest in nine-tenths of his life?”

By not embracing the full scope of the gospel of the kingdom—that certainly includes saving grace but is not limited to it—we end up communicating that the only real gain of the gospel occurs after you’re dead, when you get to go to heaven! Such reductionism only fortifies Platonic dualism within the church and this reinforces the world’s impression that Christianity is nothing more than a privatized religious belief and not a public truth that applies to all of life.

By resuming a redemptive approach to the whole world—in which we take on real social problems, addressing not only the person but also the forces affecting him—the church can, once again, assume a viable role in society and the plausibility of Christian truth claims will rise. When I say “redemptive approach,” I am referring to a conscious effort aimed at bringing the institutions of culture under the guidance of a biblical worldview and working to remedy societal ills and human suffering through systemic changes to the conditions producing these ill effects.

Historic examples of this would include the actions and efforts of countless Christians, including William Wilberforce, to bring about the abolition of slavery. It was Christians who fought for and succeeded in bringing about much-needed reforms to the nineteenth-century penal system and child labor laws. It was Christians like as George Mueller who tackled the problem of orphans by building orphanages and caring for tens of thousands of previously indigent children. Despite her dubious soteriology, Clara Barton was nonetheless motivated by Christian faith to provide humane care for soldiers, prisoners of war, and veterans, and thus organized the American Red Cross; she was also instrumental in the United States’ ratification of the rules of the Geneva Conventions.

These were real conditions affecting real human lives and it was Christians, motivated by the love of Christ, who provided real solutions thereby bearing witness to the redemptive love and power of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, if we understood our redemptive role in the world as being inclusive of both people and the societies in which they live, I contend that the culture would find it far more difficult to marginalize Christianity and the church. This demonstration of the gospel would then provide conditions far more favorable to the proclamation and reception of the gospel.

Let us abandon this Platonic dualism that so infects us and apply the good news of the kingdom to the whole of life—personally, culturally, and socially. What are the problems in your community that the Lord desires you to change? I would encourage you to ponder this question and seek God’s heart on the matter. Imagine this nation in which every professing follower of Christ sought the Lord’s will in this area and acted upon the desire to glorify Christ by becoming a redemptive influence in his or her community. It might just restore the church’s public witness and draw people into the kingdom—and glorify the King!

© 2011 by S. Michael Craven

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Response from : Ronald A. Newcomb  

July 18, 2011 11:43 AM

Well written, and rightly points out only part of the complex problems arising from syncretism of the Bible with Western thought. Today, it is eastern thought that is affecting our understandings and practices.
We protestants rejected a different type of syncretism, that of the Roman Church with previous western religions, but then accepted another, as well as bringing some of the Greek thinking into the protestant faiths even after the reformation. We literally swapped part of Plato for part of Aristotle.
The single best thing to come of those Reformation events was the phrase sola scriptura and it would do all Christian well to check out every sentence used in any service or writing with the Bible to see if it is true or false. This presumes that you first know the Bible, not what some teacher has told you about it, but personal knowledge of it by direct experience, i.e. reading it. It isnt difficult reading and the translations are good.
Michael has well pointed out in the past problems with proof texting, i.e. taking one verse out of context to prove a point. Here he points out the problem of taking scripture out of the world context and isolating it to the personal context and excluding the way it and we Christians ought to affect, and effect, and even infect our world with the love of God.
I fail to see how this can be done without the entire Bible, without understanding what is says, what it means, and its message to the world independent of our individual denominations. The Bible was written as separate books. Later, chapters and verses were added for convenience, it was never divided into denominations. What then, is the purpose of a denomination but to hold and propagate individualized doctrines about teachings of the Bible.
Just as JW and, say, Baptists cant both be right, neither can Lutherans and Baptists and Methodists, and so forth. So there must be a set of true things the Bible really claims, when stripped from the denominational filters. What are those? Where do we find them? Sola Scriptura.

Response from : fred  

July 19, 2011 8:27 AM

This reinforces our church bread ministry to the street people in toronto as our way to redeem the whole man rather that just the spiritual aspect of our being. Great article Michael!

Response from : Monisola Elliott  

July 20, 2011 10:53 AM

I enjoyed your article and the statement.. Why would anyone be interested in a religion that ignored 9/10th's of his life.. Really struck a chord in me. We are in this world but not of thus world yes.. But we are IN this world and must do all we can through Christ for his glory. Thank you for your article.

Response from : Phil Hilliard  

July 20, 2011 12:29 PM

Thanks for a good article on an often ignored or overlooked subject. We evangelicals must take this to heart.

Response from : Larry Higley  

July 23, 2011 12:54 AM

Your point is well taken. While it is quite evident that Jesus came to set those who will believe His message free from sin He also came to give them power through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. Through the power of the Holy Spirit God gives His servants the power to carry out His will in the world that surrounds them. We can either be conformed to the world or be transformed by the renewing of our minds that we might know what the good, acceptable and perfect will of God is. As Christians we should be the light to the world for His light dwells within our heart.

While the building of His church is God's highest priority what happens after God adds to His church such as should be saved is also a result of the work the Holy Spirit promises to complete within the heart of every born again child of God. While the work of sanctification goes on in the life of a Christian it is that process that brings the Christian to maturity in Christ as we learn to walk in the Spirit so the Spirit has liberty to do what the Spirit leads us to do. Standing up for what is right in the sight of God is what we are commanded to do when God says to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Working to see His righteous being done in our own lives should include seeing His righteousness applied within the culture around us. We are either effected by our culture or we can effect the culture. To effect the culture will require perserverance to stand for what is right in the sight of God whether the world thinks it is appropriate or not. It may cost us our lives but when you know you have eternal life then what have we to fear what man will do to us? Our life in this world is but for a moment in comparison to eterity. If we suffer in this world for doing good we can rejoice. 1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. Let us not forget how we were taught to pray, Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Let us be busy about our Father's business and see that His will is done on earth by doing all His Spirit leads us to do in making things right in His sight, AMEN?

Response from : Dr. Lee Jagers  

July 25, 2011 8:42 AM

Thanks for your thoughtful post. I get irritated when I hear Christians responding to "social justice" negatively as though it's some substitute for the Gospel. I agree with Tim Keller that it's a mandate of the Gospel. I wrote a blog post on this which combines Keller's book with Platt's book


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