Jim Wallis, Atonement, and Social Justice

I am a reader. I just purchased Jim Wallis’ new book, “On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good.” I am two chapters into the book and find it intriguing. I am also very interesting in Wallis’ definition of the Atonement-only gospel. “Atonement-only Theology and its Churches are in most serious jeopardy of missing the vision of justice at the heart of the kingdom of God. The Atonement-only gospel is simply too small, to narrow, too bifurcated, and ultimately too private.” This is a very interesting comment; one that makes me shudder with fear, but also one that challenges me.

The reason this comment causes me to shudder involves my understanding of Salvation. Salvation comes through the Atonement of Christ on the Cross, which is a finished work. The work Jesus did on the Cross is done, complete, nothing can be added to His work.  There is nothing small about this.

However, Wallis’ comment also challenges me. As I look at the Sermon on the Mount I see social justice. I see mercy, purity, peace, and reward. If the Church is the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World, then it means we should be caring for the poor and marginalized of the world. If we paid more attention to social justice maybe the reputation of the Church would be a bit more positive? Wallis also states, “A gospel message that doesn’t even try to change the world, concentrating only on individuals, only works for those who don’t need the world to be changed. Therefore, it ends up being too white, to privileged, too male, and too American.” As a white, male, American I have thought long and hard about this comment and will continue to ponder this idea.

Wallis states “Religion does much better when it leads – when it actually cares about the needs of everybody, not just it own community, and when it makes the best inspirational and commonsense case, in a pluralistic democracy, for public policies that express the core values of faith in regard to how we should treat our neighbors.”

I am about the bottom-line. What does this mean? I find myself in the middle again. I will not minimize the atonement, it is central to the work of the Church in this age. Jesus commissions the Church in Matthew 28:19 and 20, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Telling people about the atonement is our work.

But, I am not going to minimize social justice either. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works lest any one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” If we are His workmanship, then we need to be about His business, which includes a social justice gospel.

I don’t care about being on the right or the left concerning this matter. I care about being on God’s side. Abraham Lincoln stated this eloquently, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

I know my blog is about leadership, business decisions, and managerial effectiveness. But, I felt compelled to write about this subject.

And that is my thought for the day!




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