I am typically dissatisfied with the quality of articles that I find in the Perspectives mailer I get once a month. I took the Perspectives mission class a couple of years ago at The Bethlehem Institute and was challenged as several viewpoints were presented – of which I was supposed to choose (or remain agnostic!). Ralph Winter is the mastermind behind the Perspectives course.
This morning I was pleasantly surprised as I worked through Winter’s article tracing the history of evangelicalism and its relationship to social change. He divided the history into four ‘influences.’ The first was the First and Second Great Awakening. During this time there was a sense of coupling the gospel with social action due to a post-millenial view of the last days. That is, biblical interpreters believed the world would get better and better before Jesus returned to reign on earth. Christians would usher in the millennium through social change.
The second influence was spawned by DL Moody’s ministry and dispensationalism. Due to the view of the last days, Christians believed that Christ’s return was immanent and that the world would progressively get worse. Since there was an emphasis on the unkown time when Christ would come, there was a fervency in decision-like evangelism. That is, people were pressed to make a decision before the end of the world came.
The third influence is related to the resurgence of Kingdom of God language by such men as John Stott and Arthur Glassner. This phase in evangelical mission gives a holistic understanding of Gospel proclamation. The Kingdom of God is intended to spread to all corners of the earth. This includes teaching and healing. ((By the way, an excellent ministry that is doing this in a God-honoring way is a ministry I have supported in the past. I knew the, then, president (he was my landlord). Mission: Moving Mountains. )) Winter calls this the “Recovering of the First Influence.” He lables it (rather interestingly) the 4th Great Awakening. While this may seem a little over the top, is it?
After all, there are large movements of people converting to Christ in Africa. Much of this movement is related to humanitarian effort coupled with Good News. This will lead to the Fourth Influence. Winter writes:
I yearn to see Evangelical missions be able to give
more direct, credible credit to Jesus Christ for the impetus
behind the social transformation that they have
been doing, are doing and should be doing. Practically
none of the major religions, by comparison, has any
similar contribution to good works, small or large.
In order for this renewed resurgence, and perhaps Great Awakening, we must see social change linked to Gospel teaching. May God’s Kingdom come through Christians spreading light through giving cups of cold water and their tunic.
!! If you would like a copy of this article, let me know and I will send one to you.