Social Concern and Conservative Christianity

Last week, I attended a two-day conference at Birmingham University in honour of the philosopher John Hick.  If you are not familiar with the man, he considers himself a liberal Christian and claims that “the different religions, with all their manifest differences and undeniable incompatibilities of belief, can be on an equal level as different complexes of belief and practice within which their adherents can find salvation.”[1]  In other words, Jesus is not the only way — people can reach salvation through other means.  On the first day of the conference, scholars from around the world discussed the philosophy of this man, most in great admiration.  To begin the second and last day, Hick himself began a session by asking the delegates to discuss the question of social concern.  In the 1970s, when he first came to Birmingham, he was an activist who brought together people of all faiths to resolve the prevalent racial tensions of his day.  It is perhaps in this context that the man’s personal theology moved from an “evangelical” conviction to where he is now.

Now, throughout that session, several delegates discussed this question and repeatedly there was the critique against “conservative Christians” or “evangelicals” who have not cared about society.  On the one hand, as an evangelical myself, I was a bit offended by the attacks levied by those in attendance.  On the other hand, I must confess that conservative Christianity has not been on the forefront of the social problems this world faces.  Historically speaking, conservatives have shunned away from social reconstruction and emphasised an individualised, spiritual reconstruction.  This world is fleeting and not of our concern — we must simply save souls.  What I find additionally interesting is that, while I cannot agree with Hick’s thinking, I have to say that his theology has given him the philosophical impetus to engage the society and work towards remedying the groans of the cosmos (Romans 8:22).

Then yesterday at church, the preacher Barry spoke about the problem where Christians can be too “academic.”  In saying that, he was not attacking education or theology, by any means.  What he was saying was that we often are too interested in aimless discussions and heresy wars.  We therefore forget that we are Christians who are to be a city on a hill — shining God’s light upon this world and society.  Again, rightly so, the same critique is levied against conservative Christians.  Yet I would say (and I think Barry agrees with me here) that the “academic” aspect of Christianity in and of itself is not bad as long as that is not the entire preoccupation of the faith.

Such academia is meant to spill out in practice (much like with Hick).  We know that God is a loving God hence we too must be a loving people, loving those who are unloved.  We know that God is a just God hence we too must be advocates of justice when our local communities are not interested in justice.  We know that God offers hope in the midst of desperation and dire situations and hence we too are to bring that hope to those who have no hope at all.  If anything, conservative Christians should be even more on the forefront of leading the charge for concern in this world.

While money is never the end solution for the world’s problems, Christians are called to use whatever we have to participate in God’s work, as a means of worship.  On the morning of the last day of the conference, just before we academically discussed the question of social advocacy, an 8.9 earthquake hit Japan followed by waves of devastation and despair upon that island.  One organisation to consider supporting is Asian Access who, through their network of workers in Japan (a friend of mine included), are trying to help in the relief efforts at this crucial time. If you are able, put some moneys to the work in Japan, whether it be Asian Access or another.

Update 15 March 2011 @ 19:25 GMT: Just got word that my employer will match dollar-for-dollar up to $10K for Japan relief, through World Vision.

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  1. Barry’s avatar

    I can safely say the “academic” aspect of Christianity is vitally important to the church and society at large. The church, in the widest sense, becomes stronger for the academic input of theological scholars, and paramount to having a clearer understanding regarding God and the role of the church within this world. I agree wholeheartedly with Alex that such acedemia only becomes pointless when not turned into loving action once recognised.

    I apologise if any misunderstanding was taken from my message in regards to my thoughts concerning education and academia and trust this makes my intentions clear.

    Reply

  2. alex’s avatar

    Hey Barry,

    No need to apologise. We know you didn’t mean it was bad to have any academia, but that it alone would forsake the mission of the church. I really appreciated your sermon Barry! Thanks.

    Alex

    Reply

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