Big Problems? Big Solution

Justin Taylor posted a link to a YouTube video in which Pete Du Pont gave a brief lecture on how we should tackle the “world’s biggest problems”. He said that rather than prioritizing the problems, we should be prioritizing solutions, according to how cost-effective they were. This meant that projects preventing AIDS and malnutrition should be prioritized above reducing global warming as they allow us to make a much bigger difference, for a comparatively small financial cost.

His approach seems to be common sense enough, although no doubt there will be plenty of counter-arguments from those who don’t like his suggested priority order. What interested me is that the world’s biggest problem and greatest solution were (unsurprisingly for a political / economical talk) not mentioned at all.

I am of course referring to sin and the gospel. Sin is not only our biggest problem, it also is our only problem, since it is the root of all other problems. Of course I am not saying all suffering is a direct consequence of someone’s sin (or even someone else’s). But from a Christian worldview, we can and should assert that sin is, whether implicitly or explicitly, behind all suffering and evil in the world. Because of “the Fall”, everything is broken.

But if sin is our biggest problem, then throwing money at the problems of our world isn’t going to fix anything. Thankfully we have a better solution. In economic terms, this is the most cost-effective solution imaginable! In the gospel we genuinely have good news that touches on all the problems in our world. Problems that didn’t even get a mention in the lecture such as loneliness, greed, selfishness, hatred are directly addressed by the gospel as lives are transformed and people placed in community. Even the most severe consequence of sin, our impending judgement by a righteous God, is dealt with by the gospel as we are forgiven, made righteous and given the gift of eternal and abundant life.

But does the gospel address any of the problems that were discussed in the lecture? HIV, malnutrition, poverty, global warming, all may be alleviated in some way through political and economic solutions, and this is good. But if the gospel really does address the root of all human problems, then we should expect to see it making a difference even in these areas. The church should therefore be at the forefront of addressing these issues. In part, that will be through simply giving and serving those who are needy, and encouraging governments to make wise and effective policy decisions. It is this kind of social engagement that many in the emerging church are rightly calling evangelicals back to.

But it must go further, because the gospel is only really good news if lives are transformed. We all know that even if we could somehow make everyone healthy and wealthy, we would still have the problem of sin spoiling things for us. We also know that it is ultimately futile to try to persuade people to behave like Christians, without the Holy Spirit’s empowering.

What does this mean for the church? It means that if we really care about the problems of our world, we will want to give people the gospel, because it is the gospel that addresses not only their spiritual but physical and emotional needs. It is when lives are transformed by the gospel that we will see progress on issues such as AIDS, poverty, and even the environment.

This means that the church cannot content itself with merely lobbying politicians to do the right thing. We must freely give what we have been freely given. Even so, we must be careful. There are three ways we can short-change people with the gospel.

First we keep the gospel to ourselves, enjoying the worship, fellowship and fun of our churches. This is all too common a failing of churches and Christians of all varieties, no matter how good a talk we talk. It is not enough to expect the needy to come to us. We must go to them.

Second we reduce the gospel into a set of propositional truths, which, if believed, will indemnify us against hell, and secure our entrance into heaven. This is the over-simplified gospel that the emerging church has rightly critiqued the evangelical church for.

Third, in reaction against the purely eschatological gospel, we turn the gospel into simply being nice to people, as though it were of little relevance whether or not they come to be born again. In effect it turns the gospel into another political / economic solution. This is where I fear some in the emerging church are heading.

Jason Clark has been asking whether the emerging church is a passing fad or a paradigm shift. There are many things about it that I hope are fads that will quickly pass. But we do need a paradigm shift about the gospel. It offers more than new beliefs – it offers new life. It is not about religion but a restored relationship with God himself. This is a gospel that is worth sharing and will make a genuine difference in our world.

If we really do have the greatest solution to mankind’s greatest problem, it is time for us to unleash it on the world, proclaiming the gospel in word and deed.

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