I’ve been studying for an essay on the relationship between mission and evangelism. It’s been particularly interesting getting stuck into some of this as Lausanne III has been going on down in Cape Town. A lot of ink has been spilt this century on the debate between mission and evangelism and I certainly don’t expect to solve it with my essay! A few observations:
1 – Almost all of the books and positions I have read so far have agreed that Christians should be involved in what Jonathan Edwards would call charity, or what Keller would call meaningful service to the poor.
2 – A lot of the opinions I have come across have stressed the primacy of evangelism in relation to social action, primarily because of the eternal perspective.
3 – A lot of people criticise other people’s opinions, despite them both agreeing on the 2 points above!
This leads me to think that there may be a problem with the way in which we discuss the issue in the first place. In trying to answer how the two relate to each other, writers and theologians seem to talk past each other, tying themselves in knots as they try to define whether one is subordinate to the other, or a means to the other, or the fruit of the other, or independent of each other. Each express this slightly differently and are therefore led into criticism of each other.
I think it may be more productive to see the relation between social action and evangelism as originating in the Christian themselves. So rather than dealing with the two as independent aspects of Christianity (and therefore first getting into [unnecessary?] questions of primacy and centrality), the starting place should instead be the Christian as new creation, their identity in Christ, the obligations on them as a disciple of Jesus and the fruit of the Spirit that should flow from their faith union with Jesus.
The question could then be, what should followers of Jesus do, rather than how do these two aspects relate to each other? Or if the latter is the question, then we could start by relating them both to the Christian, rather than each other.
Anyway, that’s my starting place for my essay I think. Let me know if you have any thoughts.