Michael Gerson on the New Social Gospel

George W. Bush & Michael GersonMichael Gerson, former speech writer and policy adviser to President Bush, has written an important essay for Newsweek titled “A New Social Gospel.” The topic of the article is summed up nicely in the subtitle, “Many evangelicals are chafing at the narrowness of the religious right. A new faith-based agenda.”

Gerson argues that the latest generation of evangelicals is more holistic in its political activism. Gone are the days of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and the rallying of evangelical troops against abortion, gay marriage, and prayerless schoolhouses with the Ten Commandments stripped from their walls.

The concerns of the new evangelical movement are closer to those of Bono than of Bauer. In other words, the new generation is just as likely to spend time and energy fighting AIDS in Africa, war in Darfur, and poverty in the Third World, as they are confronting abortion in the United States.

I think that Gerson is probably right on target with his description of the evangelical landscape with respect to its political advocacy. But I am also a little concerned with a descriptions such as his that focus exclusively on evangelicals as a political constituency.

Far too many pols (and I’m afraid too many evangelicals) define evangelicalism in terms of what political causes it supports/opposes. This kind of description is a symptom of the larger identity crisis that American evangelicals are having today. Evangelicalism has become so doctrinally and theologically amorphous that descriptions of it have less to do with the Gospel that it supposedly confesses and more to do with the politics it espouses.

No doubt, there are some evangelicals who broaden their activism because they wish to broaden their appeal to the culture. For example, the emerging church is a case in point of those who are leaving behind the traditional issues associated with evangelical activism. In as much as the culture castigates opponents of abortion and homosexual “marriage,” emerging evangelicals are all too eager to replace the old issues with the cause du jour of the celebrity class.

Evangelical Christians would do well to listen to how they are portrayed in the popular media. Sometimes hearing such descriptions can be like looking at oneself in a broken mirror that distorts just as much as it reflects. But sometimes, even broken mirrors reveal some blemishes. In this case, the blemish is the vacuity that bedevils so much of evangelicalism.

May God grant evangelicals to recover their faithful proclamation of the evangel for which they are named. And may the world take note of us not because of our solidarity with Bono, but because of our proclamation of and submission to the crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

5 Responses to Michael Gerson on the New Social Gospel

  1. Paul November 7, 2006 at 4:46 pm #

    Denny,

    an interesting quote from you:

    “No doubt, there are some evangelicals who broaden their activism because they wish to broaden their appeal to the culture. For example, the emerging church is a case in point of those who are leaving behind the traditional issues associated with evangelical activism. In as much as the culture castigates opponents of abortion and homosexual “marriage,” emerging evangelicals are all too eager to replace the old issues with the cause du jour of the celebrity class.”

    I think you miss the point here. As I understand it (and as I try to live it) the point comes down to this: the great commission dictates that we all become evangelists. The thing is, what’s the best way to be an evangelist? To tell people about God, and then do your best to vote the right way? Or is it better to SHOW people the great commission through love and understanding? To talk about Jesus is to talk a good game, but to try to live like Jesus is to walk a good walk. Which is better is up to you. If that means solidarity with Jesus Christ and Bono, then so be it.

  2. Mr. Teko November 8, 2006 at 1:10 am #

    Dr. Burk,

    Social concerns have dominated evangelical identity in the United States for at least the last 150 years. That’s why attempts at finding some common theological denominator beyond inerrancy between evangelicals always fail, because theology has never been at the heart of evangelicalism as have such issues as Prohibition, abortion, etc. When you get a chance sometime, pick up D.G. Hart’s “Decontructing Evangelicalism” or his other works on the evangelicalism to get a conservative Reformed perspective on this.

    Regards,
    Mr. Teko

  3. debbie November 17, 2006 at 4:48 pm #

    Newsweek has a new blog called on faith.
    Richard Land. Albert Mohler & Brian McClaren debate on moral truth among other people of other faiths

    http://www.newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/

  4. debbie November 17, 2006 at 4:49 pm #

    Newsweek has a new blog called on faith.
    Richard Land. Albert Mohler & Brian McClaren debate on moral truth among other people of other faiths

    newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/

  5. debbie November 17, 2006 at 4:50 pm #

    please erase my first message, invalid url

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