Poverty in my Theology?

I recently spoke on the issue of global poverty at Beulah Alliance Church the weekend of November 29-30, 2008.  You can listen to the message at http://www.beulah.ca/321604.ihtml once it is uploaded.

I described three reasons why I would avoid helping with the problem of global poverty.  One of the reasons was that my theology didn’t include poverty reduction as an important part of God’s work in the world.  I said I didn’t have time to address why that was so, but that I would refer to in in my blog.  So here goes…

The reason it hasn’t been part of my theology is because of the environment I find myself in.  As an evangelical pastor, trained in evangelical bible colleges and seminaries, I have received little training or exposure to the issue of global poverty.  I am a product of my environment – not completely, but at least partially.

Here is why.  The evangelical movement finds its beginnings in christian fundamentalism .  Near the beginning of the twentieth century, this fundamentalism was largely a response to liberal theology.  I won’t take the time to explain the differences between the two theological movements, but it is enough to say that fundamentalism (including evangelicalism) tended to focus on evangelism, while liberalism focused on the more social aspects of the gospel.  The problem was that these two movements were so polarized that to do evangelism automatically placed you in the fundamentalist camp, and to do social work placed you in the liberal camp.  There was no real middle ground.  That is why today you often see mainline churches (where liberalism was most pervasive) focusing on social issues and evangelical churches focusing on missions and evangelism.  At the height of the controversy, even though you held fundamental beliefs, if you ministered to social needs, there was a good possibility that you would be branded a liberal – and vice versa.  What this led to was an historical trend within evangelicalism toward global mission.

I realize the above is a very simplified explanation of the polarization between liberalism and fundamentalism.  But I hope it can shed some light on the historical stigma we face in evangelicalism against global compassion.  Slowly there has been a shift taking place within evangelicalism toward addressing these global compassion issues.  We have moved away from the tyranny of the either/or mindset and have begun to embrace the genius of the both/and.  It is possible to maintain historically orthodox beliefs while practicing both global mission and global compassion.

As I said in my message, I would argue that of the two, global mission is the primary responsibility of the church but that global compassion should not be demoted to a level of obscurity.  Each of us can make a difference in the world today to help eliminate global poverty.

For more information on Christian fundamentalism, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalism

For more information on Christian liberalism, go to:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_Christianity

 

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