c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: The Social Gospel vs. Christian Compassion

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Social Gospel vs. Christian Compassion

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 14:17 ESV)

There is a vast difference between the Social Gospel and Christian compassion.  The first is carnal and the second is spiritual.

The Social Gospel is a Marxist economic analysis and agenda dressed up wrongly in kingdom of God language.  It depends on cobbling together a coalition of aggrieved classes of people to create either a revolutionary army, a cadre of political agitators, or a voting block that functions to re-distribute wealth according to non-traditional criteria.  Usually wealth is gained by work, craftsmanship, service, worthiness, inventiveness, managerial ability, artistry, excellence, productivity, or inheritance.  But the Social Gospel says people have the right to an abstract “fair share” (Peter Singer) for the simple fact of breathing.  It is collectivist, statist, coercive, and does not work, does not achieve the stated goal.  But it does empower and enrich those that promise stuff to one person by using another person’s money.

The Social Gospel fails because it is naïve.  It expects selfish people to have compassion on a grand scale.  But common sense tells us that the circle of compassion is best expressed and experienced in the smaller social circles of family, friends, and local community.  Even on the smaller scale we find that true compassion requires re-birth in the Spirit, a circumcision and softening of the heart by the love of Christ.

Christian compassion as Jesus taught does not think in geo-political or macro-economic terms.  There is no passage of Scripture where Jesus tells government to act with compassion.  He once stood right in front of Pilate, Herod, and then Pilate again … and never said a word about the poor.  When the people wanted to make him king by force Jesus refused and chided them for only wanting bread (see John 6:15 and 25-7).  The New Testament simply does not have a materialistic supposition about human happiness.

Now, some are confused about this.  Nearly all the liberal mainline seminaries teach the Social Gospel and like to quote one passage in the Bible.  The Parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25:3-46 says that “nations” will be judged by what they do to “the least of these my brothers,” speaking of needy folk.  But “nations” has been a bad translation of the Greek word ETHNOS.  It does not mean nation-states but merely non-Jewish people.  Elsewhere ETHNOS is translated “Gentiles.”  Notice, further, that the analogy says the Judge will “separate people one from another,” referring to individuals.  It’s obvious from these observations that we each will be judged individually for the compassion we show or fail to show toward our neighbors.

A lawyer once asked Jesus who was his neighbor.  Jesus told about the Good Samaritan.  This is found in Luke 10:25-37.  Jesus used a method of spiritualization to re-define for the lawyer who is a “neighbor.”  It is not one that lives next door or down the street.  It is anyone we encounter that has a need that we can meet.  The priest and Levite that walked by the needy man may have rationalized that this man was not their neighbor in the traditional sense.  But the Samaritan had compassion.  Jesus and the lawyer concluded together that if we see a need we are the neighbor!

That is the spiritual Gospel of Christian compassion.  It is roll up your sleeves and help compassion.  It is human compassion not some structural, theoretic, and institutional compassion that requires only that we write a check, carry a sign, or vote our conscience away, though I would never tell anyone how to vote or what to do with their time or money.  My point is that true Christian compassion thinks ultimately in terms of God’s specific calling upon our lives to be aware of the needs of those around us, those that we personally and directly encounter in real time and space.  It is the compassion where human beings see tears in each other’s eyes.


Anonymous said...

But what if/when Christian compassion doesn't work? There was a time with Methodists and others build hospitals and had massive arrangements for social welfare. They are gone. The nation is increasingly secularized. If the church chooses not to care about the needs of "the least of these," it seems crass for Christians to balk at efforts to mollify suffering through government means. I don't think that the government does such things best...but if the church is not doing it then let someone! Also, picking a fight with the social gospel seems about 80 years too late.

Charlie van Becelaere said...

Perhaps I'm not quite understanding pastormack's objection.
To me, this comment read that it's OK to steal from stingy people, because they shouldn't be stingy.

That just doesn't work for me.

Thanks for the post, Michael.