So begins Jordan Ballor and Robert Joustra’s introduction to a new collection of essays, The Church’s Social Responsibility: Reflections on Evangelicalism and Social Justice, which ponders the role of the church and the shape of its social witness.
“Organized religion, long the object of derision by authenticity-addicted millennials and prophets of the new atheism alike, is losing its boogeyman status among younger generations,” they continue. “Thus has begun a minor renaissance in thinking about the church, less as a gathering of hierarchy-allergic spiritualists and more as a brick and mortar institution — something with tradition and weight and history.”
But what does such a renaissance imply for the church’s social responsibility? Historically, the church has started schools and hospitals and charities. It has taken up and transformed a range of areas and institutions. It has spoken out on injustice, launched political movements, and influenced public policy.
But why is the institutional church so powerful? How should it go about these matters in the current cultural and civilizational landscape? Who ought to speak on its behalf and how?
These questions are at the center of the exploration, including contributing voices such as Carl F.H. Henry, Richard J. Mouw, Vincent Bacote, Jessica Driesenga, David T. Koyzis, Stephanie Summers, and more. Together, they provide a rich portrait to inform and invigorate the social imagination of the church.
As editors Ballor and Joustra explain in their introduction:
Abraham Kuyper introduced the distinction between the church as organism and institution at a time of upheaval and transition from Christendom to a post-Christendom social order. Today we face similar changes as we live in not only post-Christendom but also in many ways increasingly post-Christian societies.10 The same temptations that Kuyper identified in his own day in the midst of such uncertainties are seemingly valid options today: withdrawal from the broader world into ecclesially defined and delimited institutions or rejection of such institutions as outmoded and obsolete.
From its beginning, evangelicalism has implicitly recognized the dangers of these alternatives, and the Reformed tradition’s reflections on the nature of the church and its role in society are worth revisiting and reconsidering in light of contemporary challenges. The church, both in its institutional and its organic expressions, has social responsibility. Our challenge today remains the perennial challenge of the Christian faith: to discern what it means to faithfully follow Jesus Christ in the context of our individual and institutional realities. We hope that this volume may be an aid to that end.