Reconciling the Personal and Social Dimensions of the Gospel -- By: Thomas O. Scarborough
Conspectus 13:1 (March 2012) p. 137
Reconciling the Personal and Social Dimensions of the Gospel
Historically, there has been considerable awkwardness and difficulty in harmonising the personal and social dimensions of the gospel. The purpose of this article is to develop an integrative motif through which it may be possible to set these dimensions on the same conceptual footing. In terms of this motif, our world is fundamentally relational. Further, it contains an infinity of relations. Within this infinity of relations, we employ thematic perspectives to trace finite microcosms of relations. However, thematic perspectives, both personal and social, are ontologically flawed, and drive us to despair. This is interpreted theologically in terms of sin and repentance.
The New Testament reveals the need for a counterbalance between the personal and social dimensions of the gospel—most famously in the epistle of James, where the believer is said to be justified by deeds, ‘and not by faith alone’ (Jas 2:24, NIV). Similarly, in the Old Testament, one
Conspectus 13:1 (March 2012) p. 138
finds the call both to personal piety and social conscience: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ (Hos 6:6).
Historically, however, there has been considerable awkwardness and difficulty in harmonising the personal and social dimensions of the gospel—which at their extremes have been described as ‘a purely religious salvation and a purely politico-social liberation’ (Schwarz 2000:156). Hans Kessler refers to a ‘dualistic split’ between the two (Schwarz 2000:156), while Madeleine Cousineau comments: ‘Christianity emphasizes eternal salvation, which results in a concern of the clergy for ministering to the spiritual needs of the laity. This individual pastoral outreach is not always easy to combine with a prophetic demand for justice’ (Cousineau 1998:476).
Jose Comblin poses the question which represents the core interest here: ‘How to connect eternal salvation to temporal liberation, and salvation in heaven to liberation on earth?’ (Comblin 1998:49).
With this in mind, this article seeks to explore a possible conceptual basis for the integration of the social and personal dimensions of the gospel. Specifically, it will suggest the theological integrative motif as a means by which this may be achieved. This is thought to hold the potential, further, of reconciling environmental interests with personal and social ones—which are frequently overlooked in the debate.
1. Theological Integrat...
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