>”That’s it, I finally get it, I surrender.”
It seems that for several years God has been moving me to this point in my life, a point in which I can recognize a truth that He has been wanting me to grasp for so long. The lesson really began early in my high school years (in my memory, it likely stretches further back in time) when I ordered my second book from K.P. Yohannan, the founder of Gospel for Asia. I had already read his first book, Revolution in World Missions, which I found offered for free online. This book had introduced me to the awesome power of native missionary movements and I wanted desperately to read something, anything else written by this godly leader. This led me to Road to Reality, which was life-changing for me in ways that I had not foreseen. The book made a compelling case, without inducing feelings of guilt or despair, that Western Christians have far more wealth than we need so that we might give it to our brothers and sisters in need around the world. Yohannan has a gift for bringing conviction of sin without condemnation; diagnosing spiritual disease without coming across as hypocritical; and warning of churches veering away from the heart of the Gospel without a hint of judgmentalism. As his focus narrowed from megachurches spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Christmas decorations instead of helping the hungry to individual Christians spending needlessly on hundreds of little things, I became increasingly convicted. Yohannan’s point was not so much that we should feel guilty over every purchase, but instead that we have been given the great gift of wealth so that we might share it with those in need.
Moving forward a couple of years, I enrolled at Azusa Pacific Univerity (APU). Any APU student would laugh in agreement when I say that social justice is a big deal on campus. I had, of course, always learned from my parents, my church, and the Bible itself that as a Christian I have the responsibility of helping the poor and feeding the hungry. Still, I had not expected such a constant cry for social justice within our three-times-a-week chapel services. Although it has not been the topic every day, it is fairly safe to assume that at least one chapel a week will address the needs of the billions of poor around the world, their hunger for just enough food to survive, their thirst for clean water, their need for some sort of sanitary shelter, their lack of access to even the most inexpensive and basic forms of health care, and their cry for a break from systems of injustice and oppression. My hat is off to my university for forcing several thousand wealthy (at very least by global standards) young Christian students to remember that genuine suffering exists in this world and that we are responsible to help alleviate it. With that said, however, such a constant harping unintentionally drives many of us into a mixture of despair and guilt.
Could I ever even fulfill my responsibility to the poor if I tried? It’s not my fault I was born into a wealthy nation. With so many problems in the world, could I even make a difference at all?
I do not blame this response on the chapel speakers, as they are simply seeking to do their part in mobilizing future Christian leaders for the sake of the suffering, but the response does occur. With this large of an emphasis on social justice from chapel, it was not surprising to find that it was similarly a common topic of discussion and conversation among my friends. My friend Adam, in particular, and I would debate from time to time concerning whether or not social justice was just as integral to Jesus’ work as evangelism. My role has always been that which argues that evangelism is the key component to the Gospel and that seeking to help those who suffer is extremely important but far inferior to the message of salvation. After all, if you have the choice between helping with someone’s eternal life or making their short earthly life better, don’t you have to choose their eternity?
This brings me to the present, having just finished Art Beals’s Beyond Hunger: A Biblical Mandate for Social Responsibility. This work chronicles the author’s development in which he went from at one point thinking that the term “justice” was inextricably tied to theological liberalism (which I can tell you as a conservative evangelical is generally seen as a warning sign, whether or not it deserves it) to seeing it as a necessary concern for any follower of Christ. Although the book does not offer much in the way of systems which, implemented, could help the world’s poor, it is better for it. What the book does do is convince the reader that any follower of Christ must be not only concerned but active in seeking to help the world’s poor, that despair is foolish and crippling to the Kingdom of God which must remain hopeful, and that individual believers coming together in dedication to serving Christ can and do bring the Kingdom of God to those who suffer.
This brings me to my surrender. I must finally accept the truth. The Gospel is not a choice of evangelism or mercy and justice. The good news of Jesus Christ, the work of the Kingdom of God is a work of both evangelism and mercy and justice. Being a redeemed person, a member of the Church, a saint entails introducing people to God Incarnate. We must introduce others to Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers them. We must exemplify Christ’s love as His Spirit indwells us, using us as His body in order to demonstrate love in the flesh. We are bearers of the good news, which touches all of life. To borrow a metaphor from Beals, we as Christians are concerned neither with ghosts nor corpses, neither souls alone nor bodies alone, but with human beings, just as Christ is concerned with the people made in His very image. It has been a long time coming, but yes, I surrender.