(A sober response)

By Calvin Culver

As I read through the Old Testament, I see God's purpose for

Israel to be the establishing of a society governed by the absolutes

of justice, mercy and compassion. The Law is replete with commands of

the Lord to look after the orphan and the widow, and goes to great

length to establish mechanisms for doing so, because God knew that

left to itself society would rather exploit them than care for them.

Of God's purpose for Israel, Samuel and Sugden say in

'Evangelicals and Development' (Ron Sider, ed., p.55) "He called a

community to be the sign of the kingdom by demonstrating God's action

of Law and promise in their life. The community was to exhibit in her

economic, social and political life the operation of God's Law and

promise, breaking down and building up, putting to death and

renewing.... The purpose of his Law in the Old Testament was to

prevent structures from exploiting the poor and to provide protection

and relief for the poor and vulnerable.... [The Law] did not preserve

the status quo, but sought to change it and open it up for the

ultimate acceptance of God's promise."

Walter Bruggeman, in 'The Prophetic Imagination', speaks of the

"alternative community of Moses", whose role was to act as a prophetic

voice to the nations, and presents the thesis that "The task of

prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness

and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the

dominant culture around us." (p. 13) He then goes on to argue that

this same purpose energized Christ's ministry, that Christ came to

establish the kingdom of God - in the hearts of men, to be sure, but

equally within the socio-political and economic structures of this


It is my conviction that Christ's redemption was intended to

encompass not only man's vertical relationships (man-to-God, God-to-

man) but just as importantly his horizontal as well (my relationship

to my fellow man - my "neighbor"). Here, I humbly take exception to

those who say, "Christ always first cared for people's immediate

predicament whether pain, hunger, fear, whatever before going on to

teach them about the Kingdom." If you mean by this that needs such as

hunger, homelessness, health, and the like are certainly important and

to be addressed out of Christian compassion (what is often called

meeting "felt needs"), but they are really only important insofar as

they prevent men from seeing their true need - a relationship to God

through Jesus; it is this latter - the winning of men back to God -

that is the church's true vocation. This is where, to my mind,

Western Christians have dichotomized the spiritual (vertical) and

physical (horizontal), declaring that redemption consists only of the

former. Salvation means the establishing of a proper relationship to

God; man's relationship to man will correct itself once the vertical

relationships are restored.

And this is precisely where I disagree. I am convinced that true

redemption encompasses both the vertical and the horizontal, and in

(more or less) equal measure. Any schema which stresses the one

component at the expense of the other is unbalanced and distorted.

Thus, the liberal social gospel of the early 20th century, which

stressed social action and justice but ignored God, was fundamentally

in error. But equally in error is any theology which declares that

redemption consists only in the vertical, and this is precisely what I

perceive most modern evangelical/fundamentalist theology to be doing.

Now, all this would remain a purely academic debate were it not

for the fact that it is precisely this sort of theology which is

responsible for a lack of true commitment (and indeed a sort of

blindness) toward the fundamental issues of justice, compassion and

the human rights of our neighbors. I look out upon the cries of a

hurting humanity and grieve that the church of our Lord is failing to

"do unto" its neighbor as Christ intended. Largely, perhaps, this is

the result of a reaction against the excesses of the early 20th

century social gospel, a sort of gun-shyness vis-a-vis any sort of

activity which might smack even remotely of liberal theology. But I

think it is also a consequence of the wealth (and I mean not just

financial, but material, political and sociological as well) of the

West which has allowed Christians the leisure to do abstract theology.

Theology, you see, was never meant to be done in isolation from

the issues of life. Paul, for example, was a "task theologian" who

did theology not as abstract reflection but in reaction to and in

dialogue with the life-situations he encountered. We, in our

leisured, abstract, philosophizing, have so sterilized and formalized

our theology that we have divorced it entirely from the human

situation; we have become anesthetized to the very pain and anguish

which God intended to inform and shape our theology. We have ceased

to grieve as we were meant to grieve.

What would I call upon you to do, then? Look with me upon the

griefs, the aches, the anguished cries of the world in which we live.

Look out, and grieve. Look out, and ache. Look out, and feel its

pains. But most of all, understand that Christ, our Lord, lived and

died and rose again, not only that we might be redeemed to God but

that we might be redeemed to one another as well, and that we might

come to live out that redemption by building a community of justice

and peace.

Computers for Christ - Chicago

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