Personal and Social Gospel

We live in an individualistic society. We are taught to believe in a rugged individualism in which each individual is responsible for his or her own welfare, success, and failure. We like to believe that the American Dream means that all individuals here have the same access to opportunity, education, and the needed resources to make something special of themselves simply with enough hard work. There are other societies in which the social structure is given much more importance than what we tend to access as normative.

When it comes to the gospel, we have the same issues and concerns. As a society, we tend to just take for granted that the gospel is an individual and personal issue between one person and God with little or no bearing on any social aspects to that same gospel message. The problem is that Jesus did not teach such a gospel. He spoke of a social commitment to the welfare of others as intrinsic to a life pleasing to God. The United Methodist Church has addressed this most notably in the Book of Discipline.

The gospel is not simply an individual or social gospel. It is both. “We proclaim no personal gospel that fails to express itself in relevant social concerns; we proclaim no social gospel that does not include the personal transformation of sinners” (Book of Discipline, ∏102). It is due to this duality of the gospel as personal and social that the church has embarked on ministries to address both individual faith concerns as well as social ills and reforms.

It is because the gospel impacts our relationships that we open our gym doors to give shelter to those in need. It is because the gospel impacts our personal lives with God that we pray and share one another's concerns. We feed, we evangelize, we preach, we worship, and we seek to impact the community around us in acts of mercy, compassion, and justice.

God's message for us is about personal reconciliation, but it is also about social and societal transformation. It requires that we seek to do justice on more than a personal scale. It requires that we seek mercy in the actions and policies of our institutions. It requires that we follow after humility before God in both our private and our public lives. It is by doing so that we impact the world around us. It is in so doing that we become the body of Christ Jesus as we were called to be.

©Copyright 2018, Christopher B. Harbin 


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