taking the words of Jesus seriously

Many Christians are questioning whether evangelicals care enough about trying to change the political and economic institutions of our society so that they will provide equal justice for all of its citizens; protect other animals and the environment; and end poverty for those who have been shut out of the American Dream. On the other hand, there are those who primarily preach a social gospel but are wondering if they have neglected that more personal connection with God that is so much at the core of contemporary evangelicalism.

In both mainline and evangelical churches, congregations are coming to realize that if the whole gospel is to be lived out, it cannot be a matter of either-or. Instead, it must be both-and.

Unless those who are won to a personal relationship with Christ are incorporated into local congregations, churches will die; and unless these local congregations are also equipping their people to work for justice issues, especially on behalf of any who are poor and oppressed, they are failing to live out biblical mandates, and their religious lives could become narcissistic.

That much seems clear, but how can we establish an organic connection between these two essential parts of the mission of the church so that they are fully integrated? This book seeks to answer that question. We believe that the nexus between evangelism and justice is to be found in the kind of Christian mysticism we are advocating.

We contend that being “fully devoted followers of Christ, ” a phrase popular with many evangelical churches today, involves commitment to what Jesus was committed to—maintaining a deep, mystical connection to God that empowered him to be compassionately connected to others, particularly the outcasts of society. Jesus wanted all to know God personally and enjoy the benefits of the “full life” that God intends for all people.

Jesus’ times alone with God and the Holy Spirit resulted in his being “moved with compassion” toward others. Compassion always led to action. While in the wilderness for 40 days and nights Jesus resisted the devil by quoting scripture. This was not because he had just studied scripture; he had drawn strength and power by having those holy words absorbed into his spirit.

Jesus then “returned in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14); two of his initial acts involved preaching and advocating justice. In Matthew 4:17-19, we learn that Jesus began to preach and also called his disciples to follow him. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus declared his commitment to justice by proclaiming the year of jubilee—freedom for all, whether poor, oppressed, or captive. This theme of economic justice permeates the gospels, especially the gospel of Luke. As modeled by Jesus, mystical intimacy with God truly empowers our ability to carry out his mission of evangelism and justice.

From the earliest days of Christianity, when a mystical relationship with Jesus Christ was nurtured in accord with biblical guidelines, the result was the church zealously at work winning persons to a transforming relationship with Jesus and, at the same time, passionately pursuing justice. In the New Testament church, there was no disconnect between the two. Each naturally flowed into the other.

This post is an excerpt taken from The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling, pg. 15. Copyright(c) 2007 by Jossey Bass.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of The God of Intimacy and Action please click here.

About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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