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Strangers & pilgrims

"Strangers & pilgrims" Continued...

Issue: "Terri Schiavo: In memoriam," April 9, 2005

WORLD: You argue that Christians should stop reacting possessively to the crumbling of America's Christian heritage and start working to make "evangelical Christian" a synonym for "good people who do good things to make our suffering world a better place to live." Did Social Gospel leaders a century ago have a similar goal in regard to the word "Christian"? How do we avoid repeating the mistakes they made?

PARKINSON: Yes, I suspect they did have similar goals, but those goals were not their problem. Their problem involved dismissing biblical authority. Social Gospel leaders tried to spread truth into all of life, but they lost hold of what the truth is.

A worse problem, however, arose from the fundamentalist/modernist controversy. That was the tacit decision of fundamentalists to defend biblical truth by protecting it within the enclave of Christian religion only, leaving education, entertainment, law, science, literature, art, diplomacy, journalism, and just about everything else to the Social Gospel movement. A truly biblical worldview does not force us to ignore our culture; we should be in the business of enriching it.

WORLD: You criticize "tokenizing our religion," and after describing the courage of Daniel in the Bible you write that his example "does not encourage us to make a big deal out of wearing religious jewelry, or putting a religious plaque on the wall at work." You note that he accepted a Babylonian name and worked alongside astrologers and sorcerers: "Daniel is just as instructive for the issues he wasn't willing to go to the wall for, as much as for the ones he was." Which ones today do you think Daniel would consider crucial, and which not?

PARKINSON: The point is that as we do good, we will be recognized as Christian largely by practicing our religion publicly, without embarrassment or apology. Tokenism practices religion publicly just to be seen doing it. I'm talking instead about personal scruples, matters of individual conscience that illustrate that our behavior has spiritual roots. (Daniel risked his life to pray three times a day toward Jerusalem-a scruple of conscience, not a biblical command.)

Publicly expressed scruples come from thoughtfully integrating our religion with daily life. We might honor the Sabbath by ruling out school sports, or engage in quiet prayer before beginning dangerous work, or refuse to celebrate Halloween. Such behaviors flag that our actions have a spiritual root.

WORLD: You state that "a chief reason that the church has lost its moral influence in America" is that "part of the church preaches forgiveness without repentance" and "another part preaches repentance without forgiveness." Please expand on that.

PARKINSON: We proclaim the gospel for God's glory and human redemption. But when the biblical gospel message leads to the conversion of many, society naturally prospers. Therefore, we also have a social reason to keep the gospel clear and balanced.

The mainline church has lost its general moral influence by ignoring repentance when reaching out to neighbors pursuing unbiblical lifestyles. But evangelicals have lost influence just as badly by ignoring redemptive grace in our public discourse, calling for repentance in the public arena without simultaneously lifting up the grace of Christ. The fact is, people simply cannot change without grace. To change society, we must always proclaim the balanced gospel message of human repentance and divine grace.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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