Blending the Compassionate Words and Works of the Gospel in Your Local Context
Shortly after the Campus Ministry responded to the South Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, Cru leadership decided to become more intentional about weaving the compassionate words and works of the gospel into the USCM. Since that time, many Cru staff and students have blended good news and good deeds (or evangelism and social justice) together in various ways in their local context. But it’s not always easy.
Perhaps you can relate to these comments by Cru staff members:
“I think that justification and justice are joined at the hip and yet… in Christianity today, it seems like you are either passionate about evangelism or doing justice. I desire to be a part of both… I honestly get confused on how to build movements that incorporate both.”
“As a Cru student and now as a staff member, I have often felt stifled in my concern for justice, specifically caring for widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor. There is a tension between my heart for justice and my heart for our mission and vision of winning, building, and sending college students.”
“I think our justice components should compliment our calling to students and faculty. Sometimes that’s difficult because we tend to work with the most privileged.”
Comments like these reflect the challenge of holding things crucial to Biblical Christianity in proper tension. It’s difficult to do in our own lives and certainly in our local ministry efforts. Thus, we often opt for something simpler, which means we gravitate toward one side or the other of the following “tension-producing ” categories:
• Evangelism/discipleship versus social justice (or, more simply, justification versus justice)
• Personal salvation/individual growth versus transforming society and culture
• Reaching leaders and influencers versus caring for the widow, orphan, poor, and oppressed
• Organizational call versus personal passions for “the least of these”
How do we keep these things (that seem to conflict or compete with one another) in proper tension?
In many areas of life, holding things in proper tension is inherent in the way God made the world and crucial for following Christ. To understand Scripture and live the Christian life, we must wrestle, for example, with God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, God’s love and evil and suffering in the world, our own growth and the needs of others, etc. It’s a challenge to hold things in tension, but there’s 40,000 pounds of tension in a properly tuned piano - and it’s the tension that allows a well-trained pianist to produce beautiful music. So it is in life and ministry. When we learn to hold in proper tension…justice and justification, reaching leaders and the poor, organizational call and personal passion, and a host of other things, we can produce beautiful music in the Kingdom of Christ.
In the following, you’ll find some practical ways to face the tensions produced by these categories. Cru movements can weave evangelism and social justice together – and create a compelling blend of passionate proclamation and compassionate demonstration of the gospel – if we will:
• Sharpen Our Theology of Blending the Words and Works of the Gospel
• Cast a Biblical Vision for Blending the Words and Works of the Gospel
• Fan the Flame of Passion for the Words and the Works of the Gospel
• Develop Strategies and Methods for Blending the Words and Works of the Gospel
• Train and Equip for Blending the Words and Works of the Gospel
When it comes to blending passionate proclamation and compassionate demonstration of the gospel, there are a series of battles to face. For starters, Satan will oppose us because he hates bold and clear proclamation of gospel truth. He also hates sacrificial service and justice initiatives that free those under his cruel schemes of oppression. We’ll also face “compassion fatigue” whenever we wade into the complexities of helping those in deep brokenness, especially the widow, the orphan, the alien, and the poor.
Whatever the challenges of blending the words and works of the gospel, the Spirit of God uses a clear Biblical understanding of the issues and deep convictions shaped by God’s Word to keep us moving forward.
A biblical theology provides a foundation to fight all these battles. The Scriptures weave together the apparent tensions between passionate proclamation and compassionate demonstration, and help us creatively resolve those tensions. The Scriptures literally equip us for every good work (II Tim. 3:17).
In Appendix 1, we’ve listed key passages of Scripture, articles, messages, books, and Bible studies which we have found helpful. Use them to help sharpen your own theological understanding and convictions as well as ministry philosophy.
You will find that the Scriptures teach us to talk about the greatness of our God; to verbally proclaim the excellencies of His character (I Peter 2:9-10); to announce His saving power for all peoples (Psalm 67); and to rejoice in our firm hope that He will redeem the human race and restore everything that was lost in the Fall (Romans 8:18-25). The Scriptures also teach us that God is filled with compassion, is Himself “the father of the fatherless,” and holds his people to a unique accountability to care for the widow, orphan, alien, and poor (Isaiah 58; Matt. 25:31ff). When Jesus breaks into human history with incomprehensible grace and mercy, He redeems a people for Himself, and so captivates their hearts that they have to speak of His great love (Col. 1:28-29) - and they’re so overwhelmed with His mercy that they want to extend mercy to those most in need (Titus 2:11-14).
Growing numbers of Cru MTLs are finding ways to cast vision for blending the words and works of the gospel, helping staff, students, and faculty see how evangelism and social justice fit together.
THE E3 CHALLENGE
For example, Ryan Berg (Cincinnati Metro MTL) invites faculty and students to join in God’s story through “The E3 Challenge.” E3 reflects Cru’s rich history, vision, and mission while showing where the Biblical mandates to care for the widow, orphan, alien, and poor fit into making disciples among students and faculty. Built around three E’s, Ryan and his team invite faculty, students, and volunteers to:
Embrace the Gospel Personally (An honest recognition of personal sin and a genuine celebration of Christ’s grace to us in the midst of it. We never move beyond the Gospel, only into a more profound understanding.)
Experience the Gospel Together (Seeking to engage in authentic community without masks by moving forward together.)
Extend the Gospel to Others :
Appalachian State Cru uses this framework to give students a vision for “sharing the gospel in 3D” on their campus. During planning sessions with student leaders, the App State staff team is continually asking students, “How are we going to display, demonstrate, and declare the gospel at App State (or through a particular outreach)? With these tracks to run on, students then come up with a lot of creative ideas to “share the gospel in 3D,” and connections with the lost have deepened and multiplied over the past few years.
For more, read Joining In God’s Story
A Biblical vision for blending proclamation and demonstration of the gospel has led many Cru movements into natural ways of partnering with their university and other organizations to relieve suffering in the world, launch new movements, and increase impact. For example:
(see stories below)
Regardless of how we conceptualize our local movement, summer project, or whatever we’re leading—or what kind of language we use—weaving the words and works of the gospel starts with integrated thinking and vision, an ability to communicate that vision, and the willingness to forge partnerships. We’ve found it helpful to:
You’ll find resources for clarifying your vision in Appendix 2 .
A big vision to see everyone and everything brought under the loving reign of Jesus—and blending our God-given passions with Cru’s mission—are crucial to keeping personal passion aflame for a lifetime.
We’ve found that stories fuel passion. We’re including just a few of the many examples of Cru teams successfully blending personal passion for the widow, orphan, alien, and poor with their heart for reaching and discipling college students and professors.
The San Francisco Metro team partnered with the Christian Alliance for Orphans to create an Orphan Scholarship Fund (OSF), in order to raise funds to send three Honduran orphans to college. One objective of the OSF was to develop relationships with those student populations the movement did not currently have a connection with. As word got out on campus about the OSF, the student leader of an organization committed to an alternative lifestyle approached our staff with a desire to help raise the necessary funds. Through the care exhibited by Cru for the marginalized as well as for others in the San Francisco community, members of this student’s organization felt safe to express their desire to follow God. One member directly told a Cru staff member, “I’m desperately seeking God!” The leader of the student organization later confessed that from the start, his interest in the OSF “was driven by a desire to see what faith in Jesus could look like for him.” Also, the combined efforts of several diverse partners in San Francisco raised more than enough money for the three Honduran orphans to go to college. The Cru movement also saw a Honduran-born student gain such a heart for reaching other Latinos that she launched a Destino movement in San Francisco.
When Pat McLeod and the Boston Metro team began their partnership in South Africa , they found few students, and almost no black students, on their campus. After talking with the university president about this, they found that few students in the area - especially the black students from the township across the street - could pass the entrance exam. In response to the problem, Pat and his team set up a tutoring program for high school students from the township in the U.S. Embassy-sponsored library on campus, partnering with the university and with pastors from area churches. Hundreds of students have participated, and the program has taken on a life of its own. Even when Boston Metro teams are not there, the program goes on, run by students, university administrators, and pastors. An increasing number of students have matriculated into the university, some of them have come to Christ, and they lead the Cru movement on campus. MIT is helping fund students who go to South Africa, and the American ambassador has told Pat that if he can find a full-time coordinator for the tutoring program, the U.S. embassy will fund it. As Pat and his team have taken an approach of seeing Word and deed ministry equally necessary, mutually interdependent, and inseparable, they have seen the gospel transform individual lives, a community, and a university.
The Cru team at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo partnered with Feed My Starving Children to create a service opportunity for the entire campus. The primary purpose was to share the experience of sacrificial living with Greek students and give them a philanthropy opportunity. The vision was to pack thousands of meals for hungry children and cultivate a greater connection to the Greek system. Over the two-day event, 1558 volunteers packed 200,232 meals that will help feed 550 children for a year. In addition, the event opened doors of cooperation between Cru and Cal Poly Greek Life. Greek Life leaders actually asked Cru staff to lead Bible studies in the fraternities and sororities and to plan more events together for the future. MTL Jamie Pappas met with the Student Community Services director afterwards, who indicated he would like to partner in the future as well. According to Jamie, the event also “really changed the perception of Cru at Cal Poly which, for some, was negative and uninformed.” (Video at http://crupressgreen.com/videos/slo-meal-packing/ .)
The Cincinnati Metro ministry partners with India Cru to launch new movements on university campuses in Mumbai. Cinci Metro also partners with The Aruna Project , a small ministry caring for women and children who have been freed from prostitution and trafficking. Every year, Cinci Metro hosts an “Aruna 5K” race to raise money for the Aruna project. Emails from Ryan Berg, MTL in Cincinnati, demonstrate that Ryan and his wife have found a way to simultaneously live out their passion for trafficking victims and accelerate the ministry in Cincinnati.
After the first Aruna 5K in April 2009: “We were able to engage certain groups on campus that we would never have been able to before. We had a number of atheist and agnostic students join in the event that would never come to a Cru meeting. In total we had about 200-225 people involved (as a 2 1/2-year old movement, we only have about 70 students involved, so the turnout was awesome.) The greater joy: we were able to raise close to $9,000 which will go directly to the Aruna Project in Mumbai to help rescue women and children out of the sexual slave trade. Awesome stuff.”
After the April 2011 Aruna 5K: “Our Aruna 5K had close to 1200 people involved (online financial sponsors, participants, and volunteers). We saw about $27,000 raised. Some fun conversations as well. Good news, good deeds… Good stuff.” ( Aruna minidocumentary: http://crupressgreen.com/action/ .)
The Scriptures teach that God has uniquely and intentionally designed the DNA structure of every one of us (Psalm 139); has intentionally orchestrated our every circumstance to shape us according to His will (Rom. 8:28-30); has specifically gifted us according to His wisdom (Eph. 4:1-8); and has created a set of good works for us to walk in (Eph. 2:10). This all points to the thrilling prospect of sinful humans like us, having been redeemed by the blood of Christ, now able to participate with God in redeeming humanity and restoring all that is broken in the world.
If we apply these great truths to our Cru movements—as well as to our own lives, some great questions arise like:
• How has God intentionally designed and gifted our staff team and movements?
• What good works has God prepared for us – locally and globally – to walk in?
• What does God want us to help set right in Jesus’ Name?
• Where can we uniquely help bring Kingdom change to broken places and systems?
• And where are the connections to “win, build, send” ministry among students and faculty?
To answer these questions well, we need good theology, clear vision, enflamed passions, and we need strategies, training and materials. We’ve begun putting together a list of major Campus Ministry partners for evangelism and social justice; stories of Cru movements successfully blending evangelism and social justice; and also some methods, resources, and tools.
Visit http://crupressgreen.com/action/ to see these growing resources.
But this is only the beginning. God is continually writing the story of how He is using His people to expand the loving reign and rule of Jesus over people, families, communities, and even over broken places and systems in the world. Through His life, atoning death, and resurrection, Jesus began the redemption of humanity and the restoration of all creation. Through His people, Jesus is continuing to redeem and restore. And when He returns, Jesus will completely redeem ALL of His people and set ALL things right.
Even though high school football was a long time ago for me, I still have a vivid memory. I intercepted a pass and ran through the entire opposing team, all the way to the two-yard line. I got so excited about scoring that I fumbled the football into mid-air and missed my chance to score a touchdown. How embarrassing!
If we develop a good theology of movements that blend the words and works of the gospel, cast vision, fan into flame a passion for building such movements, and even identify the strategies, tools, and materials we need - but don’t train and equip others to use them - it’s like fumbling on the two-yard line. We miss great opportunities. We need tools, and we need to teach people to use them well.
You’ll find the following tools – and more - at crupressgreen.com/action . ( If you have resources to share, please send them to Neil.Downey@cru.org .)
“The Christian and Good Deeds” (Student Bible study)
“Misunderstood” (Sharing the gospel to explain good deeds)
“The Gospel – Key to Change” (Tim Keller article )
“The Cosmic Code” (Gospel conversation guide)
“Perspective” (a very relational way to engage people in gospel conversations)
ALL FOR THE GLORY OF GOD
Jesus alone satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart. He alone can rescue and save individuals, communities, and our broken world. There is salvation—in its fullest sense of the word—for individuals and for the entire human race, only in Jesus’ Name. By God’s great grace, let us build movements of professors and students who disciple leaders and influencers, gather orphans into loving arms, happily sacrifice time to tutor at-risk children, work tirelessly to help rescue minors trapped in the sex trade, and give their lives to loose the chains of injustice and bind up the broken-hearted in Jesus’ Name—all the while employing words to point to His supremacy, proclaim His excellencies, and explain the saving power of His character, atoning death, and resurrection life. Always, our hope is for the glory of God. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16)
Key Passages about Declaring and Demonstrating Gospel Truth
There’s a host of Old Testament passages that teach us to proclaim the excellencies of our great God and Savior, and to show compassion for—or seek justice on behalf of—the widow, orphan, alien, and poor. For instance, Old Testament writers, especially the Psalmists, repeatedly exhort us to “tell of the wondrous works of God” (e.g. Ps. 145) so that his ways “may be known on earth, [his] saving power among all nations” (Ps. 67:2). At the same time, Moses, the Prophets, and the Poets also repeatedly exhort us to show compassion for the poor and oppressed—to “loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house…” (Isaiah 58:6)—because God Himself “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Dt. 10:18).
Some key OT passages re: proclaiming God’s greatness: Deut. 32; Psalm 67; Isaiah 40:9
Some key OT passages re: showing God’s compassion for the widow, orphan, alien, and poor: Ex. 22:21-27; 23:1-9; Lev. 19:9-18; 25:35; Psalm 41:1; 68:5,6; Prov. 3:28; 14:31; 19:17; Isaiah 58:1-12; 61:1-6; 65:17-25; Jer. 22:16; 29:4-7; Ez. 16:49-50; Micah 6:8)
When we come to the New Testament and observe the life of Jesus, it’s obvious that He was continually proclaiming the Kingdom, teaching people the liberating truth and wisdom of God, and bringing help and healing to the hungry, paralyzed, leprous, lame, deaf, mute, blind, demon-possessed, and brokenhearted; and new life to those in the grip of death (Eg. Mt. 4:23 and 9:35). And, of course, the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ take up a major section of all four gospels—for it is the perfectly righteous life of Jesus, his death, resurrection, and ascension that form the foundation for the redemption of the human race and for the restoration of all creation. (Key passages re: the work of Christ to redeem humanity and restore all of creation: Acts 3:1-26; Romans 8:18-25; Eph. 1:3-10; Col. 1:15-20; Rev. 21:1-27.)
Following their Master, believers in the book of Acts prayed for boldness to speak the word of God, even in the face of opposition, and for power to heal—and God answered their prayers in a big way! Jesus had inaugurated a new Kingdom, and the signs (or “previews”) of that Kingdom began to show up in the midst of—and all around—the newly founded Church of Jesus Christ. Joyful worship, hunger for God’s Word, faith-filled prayer, meaningful fellowship, sacrificial sharing of material goods, explosive growth (Acts 2:42-47; 3:23-37); bold proclamation (Acts 2:14-41; 4:29-31); the lame “walking and leaping” (e.g. Acts 3:1-26; cf. Isa. 35:6); care for the vulnerable (Acts 6:1-7); the “nations” gathered in through gospel proclamation (Acts 8:26-40; 10 & 11); and sacrificial giving in the face of famine (Acts 11:27-30) all revealed new life in Christ, a new community of faith, and a new Kingdom where the King uses His people to begin His long-intended redemption of the human race and the restoration of a broken world.
The Apostle Paul is known for his zeal to preach the gospel (Acts 20:25; Rom. 15:20-21), and by his own testimony, was “eager” to care for the poor (Gal. 2:10). Paul also continually reminds his young protégés Timothy and Titus to teach sound doctrine (the gospel) and to cultivate zeal for good works in the people of God. For example, Paul wrote to Titus:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people , training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 (cf. 3:4-8)
Likewise, the Apostle Peter taught believers scattered all over the known world that the Christian gospel is:
Personal – The gospel saves individuals, causing them to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” and guaranteeing them an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1:3-5). But it is also…
Communal, Cultural, and Transformational – The gospel creates a new community with a new culture that is different from the prevailing culture and has a transforming effect on it through good deeds (2:1-12). This culture is characterized by personal purity; by sincere, earnest, and pure love toward believers; and by good deeds for the lost, even those who persecute us (1:13-25; 2:12; 2:15; 3:9, 13-17; 4:19). (N.b. Drawn from Tim Keller’s “Gospel Centered Ministry,” listed in following section of resources.)
In summary, the Scriptures teach us to proclaim the greatness of God, the excellencies of His character, His saving power for all peoples, and to rejoice in our firm hope that He will redeem the human race and restore everything in all creation that was lost in the Fall. The Scriptures also teach us that God is filled with compassion, is Himself “the father of the fatherless,” and holds His people to a unique accountability to care for the widow, orphan, alien, and poor. When Jesus breaks into human history, with incomprehensible grace and mercy, he redeems a people and so captivates their hearts that they have to speak of His great love, and they’re so overwhelmed with His mercy that they want to extend mercy to those most in need.
Resources for sharpening your theology of evangelism and social justice (all at crupressgreen/action unless otherwise listed):
“The Gospel – Key to Change” Tim Keller
“Why the Rising Social Awareness in the Church Should Encourage Us,” Justin Holcomb
“A Mighty River or a Slippery Slope?” Mark Labberton. Examining the cultural and theological forces behind the new interest in justice.
“Lausanne: Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical Commitment”
“Converted to the Kingdom: Social Action Among College Students Today “ by Evan Hunter
“Gospel Centered Ministry” by Tim Keller
Video or Audio Messages:
“The Both/And of the Gospel” (Tim Keller)
Bill Hybels’ interview with Bono (Willow Creek Leadership Summit)
Series on Mercy and Justice (Redeemer Presbyterian Church):
The Gospel and the Poor: A Case for Compassion (Tim Keller)
Poverty, Charity & Justice in the Early Church (John Dickson)
Gospel Centered Ministry (Tim Keller)
Generous Justice by Tim Keller
The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson
Unfashionable by Tullian Tchividijian
Good News About Injustice by Gary Haugen
Charity and Its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards
The Christian and Good Deeds (Bible study developed by Cru staff member Andy Swanson)
The Faith Effect: God’s love in the world
Micah Challenge: Who is our Neighbor? (Four studies)
IJM / Cru Social Justice Studies (Three studies)
(available at crupressgreen.com/action)
“Evangelism and Social Justice” – Ron Sanders
“Joining in God’s Story” – Ryan Berg
“Launching Justice Movements” – Libby Swenson
“Win, Build, Send in the Context of Love” – Chip Scivicque
“Why Justice Matters” – Libby Swenson
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