The Great Gospel 'Divorce' and Restoring Gospel Faithfulness (Part 1)

Are you as tired of petty partisanship as I am? Are you "fed up" with attempts to divide people?

What's truly tragic in an ironic way is that many of our divisions make no sense at all! For example, are you an American passionate about the health and safety of all babies being nurtured in the womb? If so, you are most likely against abortion-on-demand, and you are drawn to supporting the Republicans. However, are you passionate about the healthy environment of all people once they are born? If so, you are now likely drawn to supporting the Democrats and their programs for protecting and improving the environment.

Moreover, if you work to build common ground on these "two" crucial pro-life positions, many Democrats and Republicans – perhaps even your own friends and family – will keep their distance! Why cannot everyone endorse pro-life and a healthy-environment attitude that covers before and after birth? Partisanship has blinded people to this obvious, deeper, Biblical life-affirming commitment. The time has come for Gospel-oriented people to move way past this destructive divisiveness and reject petty partisanship.

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Deeper than this destructive political division is the senseless "tragic divorce" between the grace of the saving Gospel and the grace of community improvement. This bad "divorce" never ever made sense. The Gospel is unified, like a precious two-sided coin:

  • On the one side, there is no "new birth" if there is no "new behavior." How could we ever receive saving grace without our behavior and beliefs measurably changing? Could divine grace have no effect? Jesus said, "By their fruit you will know them." That is still true.
  • On the other side, making external improvements are good, but they ultimately fail if there is not internal transformation brought about by the indwelling Holy Spirit. So, how can we work effectively for grace-filled community improvement unless we allow God's grace to transform us personally, too? And also to transform the people we are helping? Jesus said, "It is most important to clean the inside of the cup and of the dish." That is also still true.

Because Jesus Christ is Lord of all, true "saving Gospel" and the transforming Biblical "social Gospel" cannot be divorced. This divinely vibrant "marriage" was understood and celebrated in all of the great Gospel revivals of the past. It was also once embodied in Christian magazines such as Christian Herald (no longer published) and in important periods of Christianity Today magazine. In recounting its history, the famed New York Bowery Mission (which was saved and supported by the Christian Herald magazine) on its website recounts that "the Christian Herald magazine always strived to achieve a balance between preaching the need for personal salvation and translating faith into action via the social Gospel." This balance is precisely what we now need restored in every sphere of life.

Christian social agencies that were once birthed out of this Gospel "marriage" are now very often so deeply dependent on government funds and secular foundations to maintain their good programs that the saving Gospel is mostly kept in their closets! Thankfully, the is a fresh voice helping to draw the Gospel "marriage" back together. May this renewal of the full Gospel "marriage" transform our behavior and beliefs, so that even in this election year, petty partisan politics will be completely displaced. We all need and long for this new Gospel awakening to affect every part of our lives. An urgent step is now to call off the deeply flawed Gospel "divorce" and to work to fulfill the vibrant vision of the earth "filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea."

It is time faithfully to restore the vibrant Gospel "marriage." But what will that look like?

Ten years ago, in 2004, a number of Christian leaders and I were privileged to help the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) express this Gospel "marriage" in a splendid 12-page document "For the Health of the Nation" ( Sadly, that outstanding accomplishment of the NAE has been mostly ignored by everyone. Allow me briefly to summarize the seven key principles of that document, along with one more on reconciliation to make the Eight Biblical Principles of Gospel Faithfulness. These eight principles can help us heal from the divorce and rise above the present petty partisanship. Please ponder each of these eight Biblical principles, and prayerfully consider faithfully making them all your own, too.

1. Defend religious freedom and the liberty of conscience for all. God has ordained co-existing institutions of church and state as distinct and independent of each other, with each having its own areas of responsibility. The historic principles of religious freedom and liberty of conscience are established in the Bible. In liberty of conscience, we followers of Jesus reach out to all others (a) to affirm personal respect, (b) to seek mutual understanding, and (c) to collaborate on points of common purpose, especially when these joint purposes help support one or more of these Eight Biblical Principles of Gospel Faithfulness. We also support the rights of any conscientious objector not to participate in a war, an abortion, a redefined wedding, or other actions that violate their sincerely held principles.

2. Care for God's creation. What God created is good, and he gave the care of his Earth and its many species and resources to our first parents. We are not the owners of creation, but its stewards, guided by the Creator to "improve and protect" it. Our uses of the creation must be designed to conserve and renew the natural environment, rather than to deplete or pollute it. We show our love for the Creator by caring for his good creation. Even pollutants can be seen as resources out of place. The systems God built into creation are intensely complex, and our human actions often have unexpected side effects-so that our stewardship of creation requires our teachability, caution, and behavioral revisions based upon informed observation and objective feedback. Individuals and organizations should devote themselves to creation-friendly behavior, including (a) conserving resources in collaboration with others, (b) practicing effective recycling, (c) reducing pollution, and (d) experiencing the divine joys made possible within the splendors God's creation.

These two principles of religious freedom and creation care are basic Biblical teachings – as are the remaining six principles that we will introduce and describe tomorrow in the next installment of this article. While each of us may have areas of special interest, the whole complete framework of the Eight Biblical Principles of Gospel Faithfulness could help to deliver us from destructive divisions and the present petty partisanship.

Tomorrow we will delve into the other six biblical principles in the redemptive, restorative framework of Gospel faithfulness. Let the full fruit of the Gospel "marriage" thrive!

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. Since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.

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