I grew up in an era of evangelicalism suspicious of ‘the social gospel.’ We somehow felt this was not a real part of Jesus’ gig. Of course, personal conversion and allegiance to Jesus as Lord was what we were about. But how did we think ‘Jesus is Lord’ (which is what they said about Caesar!), could ever be limited to a private, individual sphere? What a truncated version of Lordship!
I was walking through a yardsale this summer and saw a stack of serious theology books. One was On Being a Christian by the magisterial Roman Catholic theologian Hans Kung. Kung stands among the most respected theologians of the 20th century (well, except for Christians who don’t consider Catholics to be Christians).
Randomly opening the 700+ pager, my eyes landed on this:
‘All theological talk, all Christian programs, about a “new man,” a “new creation,” have no effect on society and in fact are often calculated only to perpetuate inhuman social conditions, as long as Christians today fail to struggle against unjust structures and so to make convincingly clear to the world what is this “new man,” this “new creation.” ‘ He then quotes D. Solle at length:
There are living quarters which systematically destroy the mother-child relationship; there are ways of organizing labor which define the relations between the strong and the weak in Darwinistic terms and thus leave… as useless for production… helpfulness, sympathy or fairness – to atrophy. (Solle goes on to argue that living conditions should be made fit for human beings and co-operative forms of organization established, so that conditions match the offer of a different life – rather than an ‘offer’ with no change to the social conditions immediately affecting people).
Christians today must, Kung insists, ‘take seriously the political implications of the Christian message. ….Under no circumstances can it disregard society and the world.’ Christian theology and Christian ethics must be re-united, he says. ‘Christian faith and Christian action cannot be separated either in the individual or in the social sphere.’ The vocal part of evangelicalism would translate this into outlawing abortion and gay marriage and enforcing Christian morality by law, while allowing the world’s economic and military empires and systems to grind on un-critiqued. Kung reflects the robust, broader scope of social action historic Roman Catholicism believes the Gospel calls us to.