An Old/New Way of Ancient/Future Thinking

rader1a.jpgPostmodernism/emergentism loves paradoxical/slash thinking/reading so I thought I’d take a shot/stab at it.

Not really. Too many slashes would be annoying/unkind to you, my merciful/forgiving reader/visitor. Really. I’ll stop. I’m done. Seriously.

Can I say that I’m alarmed by some trends in the church today? Mostly in terms of theology. The alarming trend bouncing in my brain this morning is the changing view of the church’s and Christian’s mission.

To illustrate this change, let me quote from Paul Rader. Paul Rader was the Billy Graham of the early 1900’s. World-famous as an evangelist. Leaders he trained launched numerous worldwide ministries including HCJB radio of Quito Ecuador; New Tribes Bible Institute and Missions; Pacific Garden Mission and Unshackled Radio; Awana Youth Association. I could go on. Leaders under his influence sallied forth and changed their world.

simpsonpaulrader.jpgI’m also partial to Rader because he was a Chicagoan. He was the pastor of the Moody Church for a short time. But his main influence was felt as pastor of the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle. Rader came to Chicago for a six week evangelistic crusade.

It lasted eleven years. Six nights a week. At Clark & Barry in Chicago, walking distance from Wrigley Field.

Paul Rader is my ecclesiastical great-great-grandfather. His pianist and children’s minister was Lance Latham, who later founded Awana. I started full-time ministry in Latham’s church. He was semi-retired at that time, but a mentor to me. He and his wife first suggested that I plant a church, “So many fewer problems that way.”

Rader laid hands on Latham and ordained him to ministry. Latham laid hands on Dick Sisson, another of my mentors, and ordained him to ministry. Sisson laid hands on me when I was ordained to ministry.

That lineage occupies a warm place in my heart.

Sorry for the detour.

Paul Rader was the second president of my denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He succeeded our founder, A.B. Simpson.

In the 1912-13 President’s Report, this is what Rader said. I’m not saying I agree with all of it (I don’t–I think it’s exaggerated). I do want you to NOTICE the SHIFT IN ATTITUDES toward world mission. Notice the change. I also want you to notice the prophetic insight; Rader’s prediction (at the beginning and end of the quote) is coming true before our eyes.

At every open door in the mission field soon will be found great so-called Christian powers and programs of education and reformation to substitute for evangelization and salvation.

The enemy [the devil and his allies] will advance and is advancing their civilization propaganda to laugh out of the trenches the truth of salvation.

Hospitals, splendid as they are and benevolent as are their open doors of human kindly service, will be used by the enemy as a substitute for holiness. This camouflage hospital ship, loaded with needed salve, will be anchored in great mission center harbors as a forerunner of salvation along with school buildings.  Then like a tape worm these two enterprises will take all the time, strength and money of the missionaries and mission boards.

The enemy slips salvation on a side seat, softly saying, “Sit still, sweet Gospel Story, we’re opening the way so you can sing your song very soon.”

The “preparation” for the Gospel propaganda is being very successfully used by the enemy everywhere even now. It is high time we recognized this deviating of our men and money by the enemy and believe afresh that the Gospel preached in any tongue, under any circumstance, to any people has within itself
its own dynamite to open its own way.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not have to play second fiddle
to any hospital, school or civilizing scheme. The Gospel is God’s great pioneer. It opens the path, it plows the furrows, it plants the seed. Then the hospitals, schools and civilizing, uplifting schemes come on behind.

horse-cart.jpgLook what the enemy has done. He has taken this perfectly good, four-wheeled wagon of hospitals, schools, civilization, science, and fastened them successfully before the great gospel horse. He stands and laughs while the Christian Church beats the horse and yells, “Git ep.”

He is gaining his fight, for the Christian Church, seeing that things were not moving, have turned out the gospel horse and
gotten into the shaves themselves, crying “Hurrah for us.” The emphasis is and will from now on increasingly be on “us” until the great Ego, the great boasting Anti-Christ “I” shall put his boasting false prophet into the leadership of this great self-movement of our day.

Yes, it is the cart before the horse and then get rid of the horse.

Anybody who’d preach that today would be considered a relic. That’s my point. There’s been a dramatic change in a theology of mission.

Rader articulated a theology in which the gospel message of salvation by grace through faith came first. We are first and foremost communicators of a divine truth; a divine message.

Only afterwards, Rader argues, should we get involved in social aspects of ministry: hospitals, schools, and so on. He sees the money and effort spent on social ministries as being taken away from the task of proclaiming the gospel.

scaryevangelist.jpegAnd he predicts that the social elements will one day crowd out the proclamational elements altogether. “Sit still, sweet Gospel Story, we’re opening the way so you can sing your song very soon.” And then it’s all preparation and no evangelization because the preparation is never enough.

I tell my classes to remember this line, because it so clearly captures the core of our disagreements with so many others. Here it is:

I agree with what you affirm; but I disagree with what you deny.

Remember that line; it’ll come in handy.

Rader affirms a shifting emphasis from proclamation to social service detracts from the mission of the church. I agree. The gospel must be foremost. The gospel opens its own doors and has its own dynamite.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Romans 1:16, NKJV.

There’s a time to pull the trigger on the gospel gun, and to let the inherent power of the message of Jesus — his shed blood and all-sufficient, atoning sacrifice — do what none of our arguments and ministrations can do: penetrate hard hearts with the love of God.

camobible.jpegEvangelicals battled in the middle-1900’s over the “social gospel.” Liberals headed one way; conservatives the other. Rader saw it coming. To the point where liberal theologies no longer saw Jesus Christ as the only way to God. They saw the gospel as the good news of food to eat and medicine to cure. They saw the task of the church as uplifting society. And they saw salvation available through many means; all roads lead to God. That’s old-fashioned liberalism.

That’s why one minister told me that “preaching the gospel meant hugging a child.” I probed him on this, and he really meant it. He had evangelized children in his community when they felt loved. Nothing about Jesus and his call to spiritual redemption needed. Just hug ’em. That’s where theological liberalism invariably leads. It’s old-fashioned liberalism.

It’s also new-fangled emergent theology. Same stuff, new name, new faces.

You have to agree that countless Christian institutions have lost their missionary zeal to their social agenda. Think Harvard, Princeton, Yale, founded to train leaders for the expansion of Christianity. Founded to raise up a generation of pastors and missionaries. Now what? Think hospitals: Adventist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic… their original mission to save souls has been buried under the work (valid as it is) of saving bodies.

I agree with the dangers Rader affirms.

But I disagree with what he denies. He denies that the social elements of the gospel can be effective preparation for the proclamation of the gospel. William Booth, the founder of the Salvation army, taught, “Empty bellies have no ears.” He was right. Our social ministries gain us an audience. They give us credibility. The soften people to us as messengers of the gospel.

davethompson.jpegMissionary hospitals have unlocked entire regions to the message of Jesus Christ. I love the balance expressed by Dr. David Thompson, pioneer missionary surgeon, and founder of a large hospital in the jungles of west Africa. His hospital now trains surgeons to fan out throughout Africa to heal bodies AS THEY PROCLAIM THE SAVING MESSAGE OF CHRIST. The Bongolo Hospital is at the forefront of treating AIDS in Africa. They do our church (and our denomination) proud.

Thompson calls the healing of bodies “mercy.” He calls the proclamation of the gospel “the truest mercy.”

What God has joined together let no emergent-liberal and let no arch-conservative separate.

At the same time, let us never forget that OUR PRIORITY IS PROCLAMATION. We must never let our doing good crowd out our speaking forth the gospel. There is no substitute.

Doing good does not save souls. Only the message of the saving Grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ — through whose name the world MUST be saved — can do that. We urge people to be reconciled to God. That is our mission. And to whatever extent the healing of bodies and the loving of spirits enables our mission, then count me in. It’s a means to an end.

I know that makes my emergent friends shake their heads. I can’t help myself. I HAVE AN AGENDA, to get people saved.

I endured one very confusing, very theologically liberal year of graduate education. Urban ministry education. Great schooling; theology all over the map. Liberation theology. Feminist theology, etc.

One of the most respected pastors in Chicago, Jim Queen, who was renowned for his social ministries (homeless shelters, feeding, clothing, healing, working with the mentally ill)… Jim Queen taught our mainly theologically liberal class and said these unforgettable words: “I don’t care how many people you feed, or how many homeless people you shelter: if you ain’t getting people saved, you ain’t Christian.”

I think that’s good/great.



7 thoughts on “An Old/New Way of Ancient/Future Thinking

  1. I’m SO with you on this… it’s been (part of) my response to McLaren, Wallace – (Sojourners), Miller, and conversations with close friends who lean much further to that side of things than I. And, as you have said, they shake their heads. This message sounds so distasteful, arrogant and (at best) disillusioned to those (who I love!) with this perspective.

    In your opinion, is there any way we can tailor this perspective to emphasize the ‘I agree with what you affirm’ instead of disagreeing with the denial – without compromising what’s true? I’ve spent a lot of time being passionately verbal about the dangers of some of this stuff (concerned that solid things are shifting beneath us), yet passionate disagreement seems only to hurt and cause rifts – even in attempts to be loving in it. Just curious if, in your conversations with those who disagree with you, you’ve glimpsed any productive and loving path to unity on this issue. This emerging thing is big. Widespread. And it’s become what ‘today’ sounds, looks and feels like – seems too late to push it down or override it, (I think). Is there another solution?

  2. instead of a means to an end, instead of doing the good deeds things as a wedge in which to get a gospel message in….how about doing those things because they are inherently good?! who would want to be or know, that they are part of a calculation?

    “Doing good does not save souls. Only the message of the saving Grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ — through whose name the world MUST be saved — can do that. We urge people to be reconciled to God. That is our mission. And to whatever extent the healing of bodies and the loving of spirits enables our mission, then count me in. It’s a means to an end.”

    uh, the message saves souls? am i off here in that this sounds rather egotistical? and, are you saying that ‘proclaiming/preaching the gospel is only using the vehicle of a specific set of verbally expressed bible passages?’

    if you want a good read, one that can inform you on why the straight ‘gospel’ message has in many instances lost credibility (not because of it’s message but because of how it’s been done, the attendant factors), then i highly suggest “thy will be done:the conquest of the amazon:nelson rockefeller and evangelism in the age of oil” by colby and dennett.

  3. One tiny example of how the “good deeds” have far outweighed the “message” comes from my African, dear friends who are ministering there. Their first-hand observation has been that a HUGE humanitarian “Christian” organization has succeeded tremendously in saving the lives of thousands of children but now doesn’t even bother to share the “message.” It was shocking news to me.

    Rick: The message is that faith in Christ alone, by the grace of God, is the ONLY way to eternal life and salvation. Why save the body when the soul is lost forever? The only egotism is from God Himself. If the Bible verses bring these “FACTS” to light, then so be it. The Word has the Power and the Truth to change lives eternally. Much better recommendation than just “good deeds.”

    I think it was perfectly clear with the horse and cart illustration how our ministering today has been reversed.

  4. jean, i did not mean or mean to imply that ‘good deeds’ are the end all, what i am saying is that the ‘message’ (and what i mean by that, is the speaking of gospel, not the gospel itself), alone is not where it should end….and that if we think that, then i strongly suspect it is in the realm of ego. to me it would be shocking if we reversed it and said that ‘thousands perished, but, praise god, we saved one soul!’…..please think about the implications of that before i’m criticized.
    to see where the telling of the naked gospel (without the attendant respectful social aspects and caring) has had it’s affects in many areas of the world and in bed with various political systems, please check out the recommended book. it would be wonderful if the polyanna idea of ‘preaching the gospel’ was or had been simple and clean but to not understand the history of ‘missionary’ effects on cultures and politics and business and ecology, then you might be quite surprised at some reactions you might get in the target areas.

  5. new-fangled emergent theology.

    cite your sources please

    otherwise how do we know if the people you call emergent are really saying what you say they are

  6. What concerns me about this discussion is the tendency for polarization. A few years ago I read a bulletin insert describing a group of Sheiks welcoming Alliance work in the Middle East singing “Jesus Loves Me”–a song they had learned during childhood in an Alliance school. For about half a century, though, the Alliance didn’t build schools–too “liberal”–see the Rader article.

    So your friend who hugs a child and says that is preaching the gospel needs to be encouraged by someone like you who will come alongside him and preach the gospel. No use telling him he’s wrong; that will only make him defend himself and tell you that you’re wrong. And a lot of energy will be wasted neither preaching the gospel nor hugging the kids.

  7. If you’re interested, I did a video documentary on Paul Rader in 2003. It’s just been released on and is available for $9.95. Keep up the interesting blog.

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