I just read a review of a book by Jim Wallis called On God’s Side. I couldn’t help myself. I just had to leave a comment in response.
Then I realized that, in the course of writing my comment, I had finally found an analogy for what I have been trying to say for some time now about the essence of the gospel. It is not necessary to read the review to understand what I’m saying here, so I’ll just copy my comment. Here it is:
I appreciate your even-handed review. I have not read the book, nor do I intend to, at this point. But I have paid some attention to Wallis over the past several years, including the ongoing war between him and Glenn Beck. Personally, I am not much of a fan of either one. In my mind, they represent two sides of the same misguided coin. One thinks God is a Republican; the other thinks He is a Democrat.
What I want to say here, though, is this: The problem is not that Wallis (and many others like him, e.g. Shane Claiborne or Brian McLaren) “conflates the implications of the gospel with the gospel itself.” The problem is that, having recovered a lost aspect of the gospel, he then jettisons the parts which have rightly been guarded by evangelical Christianity all along. The social justice stuff is not an additive or even an “implication” of the gospel. It is the REST of the gospel.
Insofar as evangelicals have dropped the ball on social justice, we have preached an incomplete gospel. We have four books in our Bible which we call “gospels,” but what we evangelicals call “THE gospel” is really only the last couple of chapters of each. Nevertheless, the gospel–the WHOLE gospel–is the whole story of the King, including the “social justice” stuff which leads up to the climax of the story where the powers kill Him, not just so He can atone for sin, but also so He can conquer them through His death and resurrection and give birth to a crucified and resurrected people who will live in and live out His kingdom.
Wallis’ (et al) mistake, then, is not a “conflation” but a trading of one key piece for another.
To have a hot cup of tea, you need both hot water and tea leaves. It is no good to have one without the other. They are both needed. But when they are both present, the result is not two things together, but one cup of tea. So it is with the gospel. We must have the hot water of redemption from sin AND the leaves of social justice; when we do, we’ll have the actual cup of tea that the gospel truly is.