Another portion of my introduction to my forthcoming book Wasted Evangelism:
The Wasted Evangelism thesis—social action can be evangelism
Chapters one through five of Wasted Evangelism were originally presented as papers at annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society between 2006 and 2012. At a very personal level I was attempting to formulate a biblical rationale for my own vocation and work in social action—and I wanted to do so publically and before my own evangelical community. The exercise was a journey through Mark’s Gospel that led me to conclude that social action can, indeed, be evangelism.
Many within the Christian community from all political stripes and church traditions advocate for ministry to the poor. This is nothing new. However there are basically two views on the matter: for some, a social concern is “a fruit of spiritual conversion” and used as a “means of evangelism” or pre-evangelism. For others, such as Ron Sider, who is one of the chief spokesmen for evangelical social action, “Evangelism and social concern are equally important but distinct aspects of the total mission of the church.” The studies in this series on Mark’s Gospel suggest that social action is not a separate, distinct responsibility for the church, but that that is evangelism ought to be intentional demonstrations of God’s kingdom in this world, thus social action can, indeed, be evangelism.
For many, the definition for evangelism is self-evident. Evangelism is the activity of proclaiming the evangel, that is, the “good news.” It is as simple as that. Everyone knows what the “good news” is—Jesus died and rose again for your salvation and mine, the forgiveness of our sins, so we may have entrance into heaven after death. This aspect of the gospel is true and important to proclaim; it is, nonetheless, a selective reading of the NT. For when one turns to the Gospel accounts, the “good news” is dynamically related to the kingdom of God that has arrived in the appearance of Jesus Christ. Any discussion on the topic of biblical evangelism must take into consideration how the “good news” relates to the “the kingdom of God.” The reign of God should be foundational in any discussion on the subject and will offer insights for both definition and potential outcomes for evangelism. As William Abraham points out, “Evangelism is at the very least a continuation of vital elements in the work of the early apostles, prophets, and martyrs who found themselves dramatically caught up in the reign of God in the world.” The following studies provide a model that takes seriously the role of the kingdom and, as well, the Gospel narrative for defining biblical evangelism in order determine what constitutes a legitimate range of evangelistic activities and what outcomes are relevant to measure biblical evangelism.
Four of the chapters were presented as papers for the Other Voices in Biblical Interpretation section of the Evangelical Theological Society and have also been graciously published by the Africanus Journal
: “‘Wasted Evangelism’ (Mark 4): The Task of Evangelism and Social Action Outcomes,” Africanus Journal
, Vol. 1, No. 2 (November 2009): 39–58; “Idolatry and Poverty: Social Action as Christian Apologetics, Africanus Journal
, Vol 2, No. 2 (November 2010): 24–43; “‘You Will Appear as Fishers’ (Mark 1:17): Disciples as Agents of Judgment,” Africanus Journal
, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring 2013): 21–36; A Prelude to Judgment: The Beelzebul Episode (Mk 3:22–28) and Its Significance for Evangelistic Social Action, Africanus Journal
, Vol 6, No. 2 (forthcoming November 2013).
Whenever someone attempts to define or redefine terms like “gospel” or “evangelism,” one must tread carefully for sacred ground is being disturbed and sacred pillars are being removed. I am fully aware that I have entered a debate on the subject of evangelism and social action that has had a history of polarizing positions, where relationships can become strained or, all too often, severed. I recognize that I have made conclusions in the following chapters that will make many within my conservative and evangelical Christian family uncomfortable. My hope, nonetheless, is that I will cause many to dig deeper into the text, specifically the Gospel of Mark, to hear what the Bible says about the relationship between the gospel, evangelism, and social action.
This book is not the typical review of Bible proof texts about the poor, poverty, and justice; nor, is it an argument from my experience in community action or for a political position regarding social concern for poor. The six studies contained in this volume are intensely exegetical in nature, seeking to hear Mark’s presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:1)—and, as well, how those of us on this side of the Gospel should listen more effectively to the text. The studies do not so much promote a definition of evangelism as they are an attempt to be confronted by the depth of Mark’s understanding of the appearance of God’s Messiah-king and the in-breaking of his kingdom. After digging deeply and attempting to listen more attentively to Mark’s Gospel, it is inescapable to me that God’s concern for the poor and issues of justice are actually embedded with the definition and content of the gospel of God. As Christians, we must deal with this despite our own political leanings, our treasured church traditions, or our home address; and, then, obey accordingly.
In The Hole in Our Gospel, Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, reproves the believing community:
One of the disturbing things about Church history is the Church’s appalling track record of being on the wrong side of the great social issues of the day. If the Church is indeed a revolutionary kind of institution called to foment a social revolution by promoting justice, lifting up the sanctity of human life, fighting for the underdog, and challenging the prevailing value systems in our world, then it seems we should be out in front on social justice issues rather than bringing up the rear.
In almost the same breath, Stearns sustains the rebuke by turning to Martin Luther King, Jr., who, from a Birmingham jail, wrote to the sleepy, indifferent church of his day:
The contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.
The church community, Stearns admonishes, loses its relevance in the world when it loses its voice for justice. One cannot walk away from a study of Mark’s Gospel narrative without hearing that the Good News of Jesus Christ is also an alarm set to awaken a church to its responsibilities as advocates on behalf of those who live with the effects of poverty.
The Gospel of Mark is not so much about re-ordering the world as it is about reorienting the Christian community toward the significance of what it actual means to believe and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Mark wrote to a church that was losing its place in society and was being blamed for many of the ills of the empire, today the church in America, particularly the evangelical community, is losing its own place and power as a voice in political and cultural affairs. The Markan call is not to advocate for self-preservation, but to be truly with Jesus (3:14b) as he breaks his kingdom into a society whose people and structures have rebelled against God. The relevance needed is not for our sustainability as church communities, but a relevance that reflects becoming faithful agents of God’s kingdom that has been inaugurated with the appearance of Jesus, his Messiah-king.
A narrow, proclamation-centered definition of evangelism, based exclusively on word-studies and isolated proof-texts, does not match the narrative meaning of the gospel, particularly as Mark presents the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1). These studies demonstrate that a mere verbal and cognitive-based definition for evangelism solely related to the etymology of the word “evangelize” is too narrow and is void of the rich biblical content that Mark gives his Gospel narrative. The following six chapters are a long, in-depth, exegetically-based argument that seeks to demonstrate that Mark’s programmatic content of the gospel links together the gospel, evangelism, and social action.
The following is a part of my introduction to my forthcoming book, Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism. This portion seeks to define what I mean by “Social Action.”
A working definition of biblical social action
The basic dictionary definition for social action is “individual or group behavior that involves interaction with other individuals or groups, especially organized action toward social reform.” Within sociology the concept is associated with the work of Max Weber, who understood social action as the relationships people have between social structures and the individuals whose actions create them. Weber forms more of a sociology of knowledge definition, asserting that social action is the “the rational consideration of alternative means to the end, of the relations of the end to secondary consequences and finally of the relative importance of different possible end states.” Peter Hovath underscores the importance of seeking and implementing necessary change on behalf of others who do not have access to power for needed change and, thus, defines social action as “participation in social issues to influence their outcome for the benefit of people and the community. Social action can, under favorable circumstances, produce actual empowerment, impact, or social change.” Within the welfare arena social action is often used to simply mean efforts to improve social conditions, or to address the needs of a particular group within a social setting or societal structure. Social action, therefore, can be understood as attempts to improve human welfare and develop commitment to each other, advocating for and/or making changes in social structures (whether it is at the individual, community, or legislative levels) for the betterment of community life for all.
Social action, therefore, is principally the means (i.e., an action) by which one group offers alterative means to a different end for another group, the formation of action and/or policy for dealing with social issues and community life. Within the context of poverty, social action, therefore, is not simply charity, alms-giving, or the transfer of wealth. The Bible speaks of what we call “social action” in terms of carrying out justice and caring for the needs of the weak. Social action is, then, associated with actions taken by individuals or groups on behalf of others, and, in particular, advocating on behalf of the marginalized or powerless individuals or groups whose access to the systems of power are prohibitive or unavailable.
What, then, is evangelistic social action? Throughout these studies I reference Mark’s programmatic use of OT contexts regarding the economically vulnerable and the land (e.g., Exod 21–23; Mal 3:1–5; Amos 4:1–2; etc.), which, for Mark, informs his understanding of the gospel (cf. Mark 1:1-3) and which supports the importance of considering the poor in relationship to the Christian community’s social context. I point out that the Exodus land-laws were operating behind Mark’s programmatic gospel theme. The land-laws were given to ensure that the economically vulnerable (i.e., the land-less) were full participants in the benefits of living in the land. In light of Mark’s association of the kingdom with the gospel and the gospel’s programmatic association with the Exodus land-laws biblical social action is a means to ensure that the blessings and benefits of living in society reach to the poor. Mae Cannon, in her book Social Justice Handbook, affirms a similar understanding for the biblical concept of social justice:
“The resources that God provides were made available to his people from the very beginning. Justice is expressed when God’s resources are made available to all humans, which is what God intended. Biblical justice is the scriptural mandate to manifest the kingdom of God on earth by making God’s blessings available to all.”
In order for social action evangelistic activity to be relevant and legitimate, as the following studies demonstrate, biblical social action ought to promote outcomes that indicate the presence of God’s rule and reign over creation, particularly on behalf of the economically vulnerable and those who are living with the effects of poverty.
Significance: Determine Authoritative and Analogous Obedience
The narrative and programmatic significance of “preaching” indicates that the content of the to preach (v. 14c) component of the Mark 3 commission is, indeed, the authority to cast out demons (v. 15).This is grammatically and syntactically allowable and is also demonstrated by how Mark crafted the narrative. Reading the commission in this way challenges a narrowly defined, verbal and cognitive-based understanding of evangelistic activities. Thus, as fisher-followers, the church’s paradigm for evangelism should include activities that confront Satan’s dominion over the realms of humankind and reorient those realms to reflect the inaugural presence of God’s kingdom. The task of “casting” corresponds to any analogous obedience (i.e., application) that demonstrates how God’s rule affects the realms of humankind.
In order to appropriately move from text to application, there should be a strong correspondence between the meaning of the text, the significance of the text to the readers/listeners, and the action taken that indicates obedience to the text. For those of us on this side of the text, the significance of the Mark 3 commission is our alignment with and commitment to the mission of Jesus (1:14–15) and to exercise Jesus’ authority through action that demonstrates, concretely and evidently, God’s rule and reign has enter time and space. Certainly, as the whole of the NT indicates, evangelism includes simple proclamation (i.e., cognitive-based activities of communication to present information), announcing and explaining that the kingdom is near. Yet, such proclamation is not the end of evangelism, a simple a set of words, for, as Mark’s Gospel narrative as a whole and the Mark 3 commission indicate, there is a resultant consequence of the announcement, another viable mode of language, namely deed-parables. As parables revealed the mysteries of the kingdom of God, deed-parables demonstrate visibly and tangibly the ruin of the reign of Satan’s power over the affairs of humankind (cf. Mark 3:27) and, as a result, reorients the world back toward God’s rightful dominion (an underlying significance of the Mark 4 parable of the mustard seed, vv. 30-32).
The Mark 3 commission, as I have demonstrated in chapter three (“You Will Appear as Fishers”) is the inaugural fulfillment and premiere “application” of the fisher-promise made in Mark 1:17. The fisher role is related to God’s judgment on people and structures that distort God’s creation from his design and reign, which includes the realm of social action that seeks to advocate for those affected by the issues of poverty and injustice. Therefore, it is “appropriate for applications, activities, and outcomes of social action and justice” to be within the realm of evangelism, which is thefisher-follower’s task. This implies that the Mark 3 commission (3:14–15), at least to some extent, should be associated with social action, which is legitimate obedience for following Jesus Christ and for being faithful to the gospel.
Evangelism is the spread of the gospel, the seed being sown, the word to be increased (Mark 4), which according to Mark’s narrative is dynamically linked to the end of Satan’s dominion and the inauguration of God’s rule and reign. This is what church evangelism looks like: As Jesus’ “casting” action demonstrated the end of the strongman-Satan’s kingdom and the arrival of God’s kingdom—visible, tangible, and evidential acts that indicate the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand (1:15a; cf. 3:27)—thus, for the church in front of the text, the significance of the “casting” of the Mark 3 commission is the continuation of Jesus’ mission to confront the powers that oppose God’s dominion, which, as indicated by the fisher-promise link to OT contexts and illustrated by the poor widow vs. the duplicitous scribes episode (12:38–44; cf. 13:1–3), includes advocating for those affected by the causes of poverty. As fisher-followers, the church is obedient to the Mark 3 commission when it demonstrates the end of Satan’s reign and indicates the presence the Stronger Man’s kingdom through evangelistic activities that include and promote social action outcomes. This also makes redemptive-historical sense of the authority to cast out demons as a display of the arrival of God’s kingdom: God in Jesus Christ has reconciled all things to Himself (Col 1:20) and with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth (Eph 1:10).
The obedience (or application) and the desired outcomes analogous to the purpose and indent of commission to have authority to cast are those which demonstrate God’s reign and rule. This allows evangelism, that is, the spread of the gospel/word, to also include the realm of social action, which demonstrates God’s rule and dominion in over the realms of society and people who impact the poor and economically vulnerable. This is supported by antecedent OT material related to the economically vulnerable associated with the OT judgment role of fisher-followers. Walter Pink reminds us that as a community of believers we “are not commissioned to create a new society; indeed, we are scarcely competent to do so. What the church can do best, though it does so all too seldom, is to delegitimate an unjust system and to create a spiritual counterculture.”
This is the evangelistic task of fisher-followers.
Think Deeply About Application, Attention on Significance and Authority
Authority for application: narrative intention and antecedent authority
The focus on moving from exegesis to application is characteristically discussed within the context of sermon preparation or homiletics. Typically there is a detailed discussion regarding the need to discover the “significance of a text,” that is the time (age, era) and cultural gaps between the Bible’s historical and cultural settings and the now. This process is labeled under various titles: “contextualization” (Osborne), “transferring the message” (Greidanus), “fusion of horizons” (Gadamer; Thiselton), and “principlization” (Kaiser; Virkler). This part of the process, however, is not only about seeking the universal truth behind the life situation of the text, or attempting to link the ancient cultural value or historical situation to something similar in the contemporary, but is to decipher the relationship of the text’s meaning to those in front of the text. Mark, in his Gospel, offers a paradigm for deciphering that relationship between the text and us, the modern reader/listener, and provides a realm of authority for making application.
Also, just attaching application to a text (or even a text to application) is not enough; application must find some basis in reasonable authority. Application must produce relevant obedience to the demands being placed upon those on this side of the text. Obedience ought to correspond in-kind to Mark’s narrative. In other words, there needs to be a reasonable association between Mark’s understanding of the gospel and faithful compliance. When application is “separate” and “dissimilar” from Mark’s narrative and programmatic meaning, then there is no authority for that application. Application on the contemporary side of the text finds support by analogous applications made by the original writer of the Biblical text. Mark’s commission text (3:13–15) has a “consequent” (resulting) sense based on its literal (i.e., grammatical-syntactical-historical) sense that provides a framework for both significance to the reader/listener in front of the text, as well as a range of potential application. In this sense, when application is based on the consequence or result of the text, both the meaning and its application carry the weight of divine authority, which leads to faithful obedience.
Abraham Kuruvilla offers a helpful set of principles that provide a paradigm for developing such significance and range of application. Kuruvilla proposed what he calls “the two rules” for developing the world “in front of the text” that helps establish the significance of the text to the readers/listeners, that is their relationship to the text, and then culminates in relevant application: 1) the Rule of Plot that “prepares the interpreter of biblical narrative to attend to the structured sequence of events emplotted in the text, in order to apprehend the world projected by that text” and 2) the Rule of Interaction that “directs the interpreter of biblical narrative to attend to the interpersonal transactions of the characters as represented therein, in order to apprehend the world projected by the text.”
Mark draws his authority to define and give content (meaning) to the gospel from the Old Testament (1:2–3). Each of the studies in the previous chapters has endeavored to form a definition and understanding of the gospel that reflects Mark’s own methodology and use of the OT. Mark’s own Gospel is helpful in providing a framework for moving from meaning to significance, and then to application. The previous five chapters have been a slow, sometime tedious, argument for my premise that social action outcomes should be a component of a church’s evangelistic activities. Mark’s narrative and his use of the OT provides a programmatic framework for defining the gospel of Jesus Christ, thus offering content and meaning of this gospel that we are to believe (1:15), that is a whole gospel that is to form the church and inform Christian discipleship and church evangelism. Now, we turn toward developing a framework for deciphering the significance of Mark’s Gospel for determining, planning, and implementing obedience to the gospel.
Think Deeply About Application, Attention on Significance and Authority
Obedience to the biblical text is essential to the Christian life and is defining for church life. This is the goal of the mindful Christian and what faithful leadership intentionally seeks for its church community (cf. Mark 3:35). This is why developing appropriate application is important. However, if we move too quickly to application, it is quite possible to miss the obedience the text and, in view of this volume, the gospel demands. Before examining the Mark 3 commission (3:13–15) and the mission summary (1:14–15), it is worth considering the problem of application and the need for authority in developing appropriate application.
The problem of application
“Exegesis is never an end in itself.” Walter Kaiser rightly points out in Toward an Exegetical Theology that the ultimate purpose of exegesis is “never fully realized until it begins to take into account the problems of transferring what has been learned from the text over to the waiting Church.” Yet, applying the Bible can offer its own set of problems and difficulties.
In their book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart point out that many Christians start with “the here and now” and “read into texts meanings that were not originally there.” They rightly affirm that Christians do “want to know what the Bible means for us” (their emphasis) and “legitimately so.” However, we cannot make the Bible or the gospel or any text for that matter “mean anything that pleases us and then give the Holy Spirit ‘credit’ for it.” Fee and Stuart are spot-on when it comes to the problem of interpretation: the step of good study and exegesis to decipher the original author’s intention is too often skipped over, jumping straight-away to “the here and now.” This actually confuses interpretation with application.
Although Fee and Stuart’s point concerns interpretation (i.e., the biblical original author’s meaning), reading the “here and now” into the text is also an underlying problem for Bible application. Similarly, we cannot make any application we want from any text and give the Holy Spirit credit and call it obedience. Christians tend to read application into a text, again, confusing interpretation with application. A praxis-centered approach, that is, a fixation on the practical, does not necessarily lead to obedience to the biblical text and, in view of this present study, does not necessarily indicate faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This can be a problem with application—application is not always obedience.
Moving from meaning to significance, and then application
Understanding what the original Bible author (in this case, Mark) meant is certainly the first step necessary for seeking faithful obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). The previous five chapters have sought to do just that. Yet, bridging the gap from the then to the now demands specific, mindful attention. In order to think more deeply and thoroughly about application three basic steps are always necessary: 1) seek the author’s meaning; 2) decipher the significance of that meaning for those standing on this side of the text; and then 3) determine the action (i.e., application) that reflects obedience to the meaning and significance of the text.
1) Meaning—what the text means
2) Significance—what the text’s meaning connotes or signifies to the reader/listener
3) Obedience (i.e., application)—what we do to be obedient to the text
Meaning is that which is represented by the text, what the author intended by his words, syntactical and contextual relationships, and use of antecedent biblical material and contexts. Significance establishes the relationship between the original meaning and the person, persons, place, or situation (or “anything imaginable”) on this side of the text. The meaning of the text does not change, but its significance to those on this side of the text does change and can be relevant in different ways. Application is, on the other hand, the least fixed of the three ingredients for determining faithfulness to the gospel and can be multiple to reflect obedience. But still, application needs flow from the significance to appropriate action that reflects the obedience the text demands.
For example, the meaning of the Mark 3 commission is determined by exegesis and an analysis of the text and surrounding narrative. The significance of that meaning is deciphered by the text’s relationship and implication to those in front of the text. In other words, what is the significance of the Mark 3 commission to me, to you, to your church? Application is the relevant and appropriate actions, behaviors, and/or mindset/attitudes determined to produce or indicate faithful obedience to the text (to the gospel). If Mark intents his readers/listeners to understand that those who follow after him will be created fishers of men, that is, those created to have a role in inaugurating the kingdom that has arrived in the appearance of Jesus, God’s Messiah-King (1:14–15, 17), then it is important to discern the significance of the commission components “to preach” and “to cast out demons” (3:13–15) for today’s readers/listeners—to the Christian and to believing communities. Application, then, is determining what actions correspond to that significance.
The previous five chapters have been a long argument demonstrating that Mark’s programmatic content of the gospel indicates there is a biblical link between the gospel, evangelism, and social action—that is, God’s concern for the poor and for those living with the effects of poverty are embedded in the gospel, thus part of the realm of evangelism. I endeavored to show that a narrow, proclamation-centered definition of evangelism, based solely on word-studies and isolated proof-texts, does not match the narrative meaning of the gospel, particularly as Mark presents the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1). It is clear that merely a verbal and cognitive-based definition for evangelism simply related to the etymology of the word “evangelize” (euaggelizō) is too narrow, void of the biblical content that Mark’s Gospel narrative presents.
Mark relies on OT backgrounds and contexts to fill the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:1) with defining content. Typically it is accepted that the gospel incorporates various OT biblical motifs and concepts such as God’s dominion, the exodus, exile, redemption, and even sacrificial propitiation and forgiveness. The previous chapters have shown that the same OT contexts Mark harnesses to give programmatic definition to the gospel (e.g., 1:2–3) also contain obvious correspondences and direct references regarding socio-economic relationships and community responsibilities toward the poor and economically vulnerable. Each of the previous five studies demonstrate that the gospel is programmatically embedded with OT references that include—actually, demand that—social action outcomes be a component of a church’s task of evangelism.
Therefore, social action, indeed, can be evangelism.
In chapter 4, “You Will Appear as Fishers,” an examination of Mark 1:17, I concluded that the promise to become “fishers of men” finds its inaugural fulfillment and premiere “application” in the Mark 3 commission; namely, “fishers are those who are with Jesus and who, then, will be sent out to preach and to have authority to cast out demons.” Through the Markan context and antecedent OT background, I showed that the “fisher metaphor is appropriate for applications, activities, and outcomes of social action and justice.” This implies that the Mark 3 commission “to preach” and “to have authority to cast out demons” (3:14–15) is, at least in part, associated with social action, which is legitimate obedience for following Jesus Christ and for being faithful to the gospel.
After five rather intense and in-depth studies on the relationship of the gospel to social action, now in the final two chapters the aim is to move, in a general since, toward application. I certainly do not intend to offer specific how tos or even examples, but to set some direction for applying my conclusion that “social action can be evangelism.” This chapter seeks to draw out the significance of the programmatic content of the gospel implied by the Mark 3 commission and the final chapter provides a framework for developing outcomes that reflect obedience and faithfulness to the whole content of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1).
Close examinations of Mark’s programmatic understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:1–3), the fisher’s text (1:17), the Mark 3 Beelzebul episode (3:20–35), the Mark 4 parable of the Sower who Sows, and the Mark 12 widow vs. duplicitous scribes episode have shown that that the gospel itself is defined broad (and deep) enough to include God’s concern for the poor. With the previous chapters as a foundation, this chapter presents the significance of the Mark 3 commission for the church’s task of evangelism. As part of the application process (that is, thinking deeply and thoroughly about application), I seek to show that the significance of “preaching” and “casting” (3:15) provides a basis for building social action outcomes into a church’s evangelistic activities.
Significance Before Application: Proclaiming, Casting, and Evangelistic Social Action Outcomes
“It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required” ~Winston Churchill
“You need to be more practical.”
These are the dreaded words no preacher or Bible teacher wants to hear, particularly if he or she wants to be considered effective and well-liked in modern, contemporary church circles. I am among the unfortunate who have been admonished, and, even, scolded with these words more often than I’d like to admit. Yet, I am not ready to yield to the tyranny of the practical.
As modern Christians, particularly evangelicals, we often measure biblical information (teaching, preaching, etc.) by its immediate practical value. The up-side—it seems evangelical Christians want to be obedient and “do something” with the biblical information that they receive. This is a good thing. The down-side—such preoccupation with the “practical” can too often dissuade and provide a barrier to thinking deeply about the significance of the text and developing well-thought through application based on good, solid study of biblical information (whether it comes from sermons, bible studies, Christian literature, or personal study). The path to application is too often too quick and frequently unconnected to the original intention of the biblical authors.
This volume has not been “practical.” However, I have worked hard at seeking the meaning of the Markan texts under consideration in the last five chapters and, in each, I have concluded with the significance of those texts for the church, for church communities, for church leaders, and for those who call themselves Christian. Each study unfolded more fully the nature and content of the gospel we are to believe (Mark 1:14–15). Each study sought to answer How should my church, my faith, our discipleship, our evangelism be informed and formed by the story of Mark’s Gospel?
As I mentioned early in this book, chapters one–five were originally papers presented at meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society between 2006 and 2012. I concluded my paper on the Mark 1:17 “fishers of men” text (chapter four in this volume) by stating:
The fisher metaphor is appropriate, not just narrowly for individual, private salvation, but more broadly for applications, activities, and outcomes of social action and justice, as well.
I made this deduction based on the relationship the concept of fisher has in the OT and on the study’s conclusion that the Mark 3 commission (vv. 13–15) was an inaugural fulfillment of the Mark 1:17 promise that Jesus would create his followers to be “fishers of men.” After I finished presenting the paper, during the Q&A, a very nice gentleman, a pastor I believe, asked a reasonable follow-up question to my paper’s conclusion: “Does that mean the ‘casting out of demons’ equals social action?” Without hesitation I responded, “Yes, it does.” As a result of my impromptu, off-the-cuff answer, I began crafting a longer answer. This chapter, in part, is that longer answer: what is the significance the gospel and the Mark 3 commission for church communities and Christians on this side of the text today? How should we think about application; specifically what is applying “preaching” and “casting out of demons” (3:14–15)? Can the components of the commission, “to preach” and “to cast,” be associated with social action activities and outcomes?
Despite my aversion for being too hastily “practical,” for those who have patiently made their way through the tedious exegesis, biblical theology, and arguments of the previous five chapters it is appropriate to think about the implications. This and the following chapter are a far cry from any “how to” regarding specific, practical application. The final two chapters are more process than application. This chapter seeks to connect the significance of the gospel (Mark 1:1; 1:14–15) and the Mark 3 commission to outcomes that legitimately reflect obedience and faithfulness to the gospel. The final chapter presents a process for “applying” the social action emphasis embedded in the gospel through the development of community and church assessments, strategic and core value planning, high, medium, and low impact goals, and kingdom-centered logic models. The concluding chapter is less concerned with theory and focuses more on developing outcomes related to social action that address relevant issues of poverty that surround a local church. This will be as practical as I get!
This begins chapter 6, or the sixth paper on Wasted Evangelism. This chapter heads the reader in the direction of “applying” the significance of the gospel, particularly the Mark 3 commision of “proclaiming” and “casting.” The following posts will come as I get the draft of this chapter completed.
Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism is an exegetical exploration, based on the Gospel of Mark, regarding the subject of evangelism and social action. Most studies presenting the debate whether evangelism can be or is social action are topical in nature, surveying relevant Old and New Testament material. An exegetical approach that begins to build a biblical theology of evangelism and social action needs to be added to the discussion. Is evangelism solely the proclamation and oral witness that Jesus died for our sins with the hopeful outcome that souls will be saved? Or, can social action be, not just “pre-evangelism,” but a valid, biblical means of evangelism itself with outcomes of changed lives, changed communities, changed social structures with and without personal decisions for Christ? The scope of the chapters is to answer this set of questions through examining how the Gospel of Mark embeds Old Testament texts and concepts into the very definition and presentation of the nature and content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The chapters focus on relevant texts that Mark uses to programmatically define the Gospel that defines the nature of the Christian faith, the church community, and potential evangelistic outcomes. The volume also reflects the journey the author has taken in pursuing the subject: Can social action be evangelistic? The outline (i.e., chapter) order reflects the journey and questions raised and answered throughout the exploration (rather than a sequential study of chapters in the Gospel of Mark). Before each chapter there is a short (+/- 900 word) backstory essay reflecting the author’s personal story behind the specific study (i.e., chapter) being undertaken. This juxtaposition between the author’s personal experience and the exegetical/biblical studies reflects the questions and thoughts raised on a personal level that sought biblical answers, a process to be considered by Christians as they reflect on evangelism and social action.
Church leaders cannot escape the narrative fact that the Beelzebul episode, the conflict thread (2:1–3:6), and the Sower parable (4:1–12) seem specifically directed at them. For church leaders a posture of shame reminds them of the illusive nature of status, the dangerous allure of power, and the recurring failure of faulty structures to guard the gospel and the church from the destructive influences and seductive cultural patterns that oppose God’s reign over all spheres of humankind. It should not surprise us that the shaming of the Beelzebul episode connects church leaders to the church’s responsibility (and neglect) for the economically vulnerable. Caring, protecting, and advocating for the poor gives away power and public association with those living with the effects of poverty risks lowering one’s church community status. However, maintaining power and its enabling structures so that one’s social standing and status remain in place (even among, and more particularly, the Christian community) at the expense of the weakest and most vulnerable among us is synonymous with blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—breaking covenant, risking outside status and, thus, the condition of being eternally never forgiven.
The biography of Jesus vs. Jewish leaders is linked to the biography of the disciples, who like the ones beside Jesus (i.e., his associates and extended family, 3:21; cf. 6:1-6) and like Jesus’ earthly family (3:31–32), are at risk of being outside (6:51–53; 8:16–21; 8:34–38; cf. 9:33–34; 11:31; 16:14), if they, too, are not doers of God’s will (3:33–35). This is particularly relevant to church leaders, as they stand before the Mark 3 Outsider-Insider sandwich, for the Beelzebul episode ought to shame them in those areas that are too closely identified with that which opposes God’s rule and kingdom (cf. Mark 1:15; 3:25). Mark’s Beelzebul episode functions similar to OT penitential prayers, allowing the reader/listener to enter a life narrative that reflects an appropriate shame for allowing those destructive forces and influences to distract from obedience to God’s word and work in the world. And like OT penitential prayers, a disposition of shame humbles the reader/listener before their “disobedience to the Mosaic ideals” that often reflects “mistreatment of the poor and the weak,” and gives them a way home that maps a spiritual disposition for restoring a fractured obedience to God.
Interestingly after confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter is soon rebuked as a surrogate of Satan’s interests: “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mark 8:33). Significant to the reader/listener is the immediate juxtaposition of the Peter-Satan rebuke and Jesus’ admonishment that true followers must deny themselves (the opposite of power, an emptying of power) and take up their cross (v. 34). Church leaders who intentionally incorporate social action in a church’s evangelistic activities fulfill the obedience implications of the Beelzebul episode and, thus, raise Jesus’ honor rating in the public sphere. Without such a public disposition, church leaders are further warned that “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
This final essay is the conclusion of my ETS paper and chapter 5 of my forthcoming book on Evangelism and Social Action. For the Mark 3 paper thread . . . click here
As a prelude to judgment (i.e., continued exile) implied by the Isaiah 6 idolatry-taunt (Mark 4:12), obedient outcomes for the Mark 3 sandwich should correspond to the nature and reason for the judgment being applied. The Isaiah 6 judgment is a consequence “of the nation’s covenantal disobedience.” The original idolatry-taunt (Isa 6:9–10) relies on Isaiah 1–5 for its own rationale for the judgment of exile. Amid a call to restore justice and righteousness (Isa 1:17, 21, 26, 27; 3:10; 5:7, 16), there are charges related to the economically vulnerable: Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow (1:17); They do not defend the orphan, Nor does the widow’s plea come before them (1:23); The plunder of the poor is in your houses . . . And grinding the face of the poor (3:14–15). The mention of the orphan and the widow is an obvious reflection on Exodus covenant stipulations (Exod 21-23). Additionally, the Isaiah 6 judgment is associated with Israelite leadership’s sin of idolatry (Isa 1:29–31; 2:6–9; 2:12–13; 2:18, 20), also an element of the prelude to judgment in the Mark 3 sandwich.
Later, the prophet Zechariah links social action outcomes to God’s covenant restoration from the judgment of exile (7:8–14), binding together listening to the word of the Lord, the role of the Spirit, idolatry, and exodus land- stipulations. Zechariah declares the word of the LORD (7:4) to the exiles: there is no attempt to show contrition because they had not linked their idolatrous hard hearts to their misplaced social relationships. The exiled are called to Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother and not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor (7:9–10). Yet, like the Jewish leaders who confronted Jesus and make accusation in the Beelzebul episode, their hearts are hard (their hearts like flint, 7:12a) and had turned a deaf ear to God’s law and words provided by His Spirit through the former prophets (7:13). The Zechariah 7 pronouncements regarding judgment and restoration find analogous reiteration and realization in the Mark 3 sandwich.
As these OT backgrounds and referents indicate, there is a link between the Beelzebul episode and disobedience to the land-stipulations that were in place on behalf of the economically vulnerable. It should not surprise Mark’s readers/listeners that just prior to the pronouncement of ultimate judgment on the temple (i.e., its destruction, Mark 13:1–2) there is a contrast between duplicitous scribes and a poor widow (12:38–44). It is reasonable to include social action outcomes—the protection, the care, and the advocacy for the economically vulnerable—as components of a church’s evangelistic activities. As “no forgiveness” is the outcome of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, social action outcomes should be the results of doing God’s will (Mark 3:35); thus, church leaders should ensure that social action is included in a church’s evangelistic activities.
The Mark 3 sandwich provides a penultimate warning as a result of the public conflict between Jesus and Jewish leadership, which gave rise to the Beelzebul episode’s place as a prelude to the Isaiah 6 judgment used in the parable rationale (4:10–12); outsiders continue under the judgment of exile and are, thus, not forgiven (3:28–29; 4:12). This meaning, nonetheless, must now be translated into significance for those who stand before the <.i>Outsider-Insider—strongman vs. Stronger Man—Outsider-Insider sandwich. Belief in Jesus as God’s Messiah-King is the needed remedy for this outsider-exiled-no forgiveness condition; however, repentance (1:15a) and doing God’s will (3:35) are also necessary elements of being truly insider-family (3:34–35). In the absence of a fully developed theory of application, some reasonable guide is needed to move us from meaning to significance and application. More specifically, in light of this paper’s goal, how does the significance of the Mark 3 sandwich encourage the church to consider social action as a component of its evangelistic activities?
In view of the Mark 3 strongman vs. Stronger Man parables (3:23–27), the warning against blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the gospel (3:28–29), admonishing, first, the Jewish leaders, and, then, whoever hears these words to repent and believe in the inauguration of the kingdom (1:15), to move from exile to remnant/restoration/kingdom—from outside to inside. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an affirmation of one’s hard heart, that is, the reality of being under the judicial sentence implied by the Isaiah 6 idolatry-taunt, thus, remaining in exile, the biblical state of outside. For the disciples, as the fuller narrative indicates, the significance is that they, too, needed to guard against having their own hard heart, a dangerous indicator reflective of disbelief and behavior contrary to the sphere of God’s kingdom. Additionally, the outer slices (A1, A2) of the sandwich push this warning beyond the obvious Jewish leaders with whom Jesus had conflict to all who appear on the inside, for they, too, must do the will of God in order to be truly inside, that is Jesus’ new family (3:34–35). The outcome of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is “no forgiveness.” Doing God’s will (3:35) is indicative of repentance and believing in the gospel of the kingdom (1:14–15); however, we are
Range of obedience include social action
An obedient response to the Mark 3 sandwich is to do the will of God (v. 35); but, what is genuinely the will of God within the range and referents underlying the Outsider-Insider—Stronger Man sandwich? The activities of doing the will of God need to correspond in-kind to the text. In other words, there needs to be a reasonable association between the meaning of the text and its compliance. This correspondence is found in the OT foundation for the gospel (Mark 1:2–3) and the Isaiah 6 context that lay behind the Beelzebul episode.
First, the warning in Exodus 23:20, an element of Mark’s OT foundation, is to obey the voice of the Angel, pointing back to the land-stipulations that introduce the vulnerable trio, the widow, orphan, and alien/stranger, and their relationship to the fabric of society. The covenant-keeping community was commanded You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him (21:21a) and You shall not afflict any widow or orphan (v. 22). There were statutes regarding how credit and money-lending related to the poor (If you lend money . . . to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him . . . If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, vv. 25–26). They were not to pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute (23:6) or oppress a stranger (23:9). Also, the basis for the seventh year Sabbath rest of farm-fields was so the needy of your people may eat (23:11).
The relationship between the covenant community and its disobedience to Exodus land-stipulations were clearly an underlying basis for the judgment of exile. This can be seen in the Malachi 3:1 component of Mark’s programmatic OT reference for the gospel (1:2–3). The unprepared leadership (Mal 3:1–2) were judged for ignoring the Exodus land-stipulations regarding the economically vulnerable (I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness . . . against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me . . . ” (Mal 3:5). The remedy for the exiled condition (i.e., the biblical state of being outside) is to restore Yahweh’s statutes, that is, the land-stipulations (3:7) that directly link the covenant community to the economically vulnerable (3:5).
The Beelzebul episode is prelude to the parable rationale (Mark 4:10–12)
The Beelzebul episode (3:22–29) is the narrative transition and the basis for the pending Sower parable (Mark 4:1ff.), and as well, offers a reason for what some consider a “problematic use of Isaiah 6” in Jesus’ parable rationale (4:12). The meaning for Isa 6:9–10 in the parable rationale is “virtually identical to the original meaning in Isaiah.” Israel’s current leadership, who have hard hearts (3:5), have rejected God’s word and the inauguration of the Kingdom (i.e., the promised new Exodus)—to their own ruin and destruction (cf. Mark 4:11–12; cf. 7:6; 10:5; 12:10–12; 13:24–32; 14:62). The Jewish leadership is in jeopardy of remaining in exile, ultimately away from God’s Kingdom, therefore they receive parables of judgment.
As an explanation of the conflict Jesus has had with Jewish leadership, the parable of the Sower draws from the Mark 3 sandwich that depicts their rejection of the Kingdom that has come near (1:15) with the appearance of Messiah Jesus (1:1) and of their ultimate ruin (as outsiders). The warning against blaspheming the Holy Spirit has already been shown (above) to be analogous to the conditions and threat contained in Jesus’ parable rationale (4:10–12) in that the promise-threat of the Isaiah 6 idolatry-taunt is directed at those who are outside (i.e., their continued condition of exile) and, thus, cannot be forgiven (as it was for the leadership in Isaiah’s time). In a very real sense, the Beelzebul episode, with the full Mark 3 sandwich, is a prelude to judgment for those rejecting the authority of Jesus, the Messiah-King (1:1) and rebelling against the implications of the inaugurated Kingdom (1:15)—the new Exodus (cf. Isa 63:9–11)—which is the word (i.e., his teaching and deeds) sown by the Sower.
Although the whole nation falls under judgment, in Isaiah 1–5 it is specifically the leaders whom God holds accountable for provoking rebellion (Isa 1:10, 23), despising the word of the Holy One (Isa 5:24; cf. 1:4), and abandoning social responsibilities toward the poor (Isa 1:17, 23; 3:14–15). This is analogous to the incessant confrontations Jesus had with the Jerusalem temple-leadership throughout Mark’s narrative. Following on the heels of the Beelzubul confrontation (Mark 3:22ff), the judgment reflected in the parable and implied by the Isaiah 6 referent is appropriate for Israel’s unprepared leadership. As with the leaders addressed by Isaiah, there will be no forgiveness for the temple-leadership who reject Jesus and his Kingdom-word (do not forgive them, Isa 2:9; cf. Mark 3:29; 4:12). The allusion to the leadership’s culpability in the sad state of affairs in Isaiah’s day is strengthened in that Jerusalem had stumbled and rebelled against God’s presence (Isa 3:8) and had called evil good, and good evil, substituting darkness for light and light for darkness (5:20)—analogous to the Beelzebul accusations (Mark 3:22). An OT hermeneutic is at play in the Mark 3 sandwich, indicating the continued judgment of exile (being outside the kingdom) for the rebellious leaders who shame rather than honor Jesus, God’s Messiah-King.
For those “waiting” here’s the next instalment of the Mark 3 Beelzebul-blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” thread. The previous post of this particular section was a while ago; this link will lead back to 1 of 3. To return to the first of the threads on this series, click here.
The reason often given for why the Angel cannot pardon is tautological—the Exodus Angel/the Spirit will not pardon
their rebellious disobedience because the Angel cannot pardon transgressions, only God can forgive. This seems to be dividing hairs and nuances, for if it did not matter that the Angel could not forgive their sins, why even tell them? The warning and threat must, out of necessity, carry some divine weight. Previously the newly delivered people of Israel were given a similar warning, but presented as a positive promise:
Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine (Exod 19:5; cf. Mark 3:35).
Another parallel can be heard in Deuteronomy 30, which seems to make less of a distinction between Yahweh and his Angel.
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them” (30:15–20).
The calls to life and death, blessing and curse parallel the Exodus 23:20 context of choosing obedience and as a result, receiving the blessing of God’s presence and God’s promise to be an enemy to their enemies; whereas, disobedience results in the opposite. In Deuteronomy “obeying his Voice” is directly related to loving the Lord their God (30:20), which carries the intent of obedience (and could include a nuance of “loving one’s neighbor” as well).
Later Joshua will recall the same Exodus 23 and Deut 30 covenant promise and warning, particularly the same warning to obey the Lord’s voice and threat of no forgiveness:
Then Joshua said to the people, “You will not be able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you.” The people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD.” Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the LORD, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” “Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God and we will obey His voice” (Joshua 24:19–24).
The first Exodus association with the Spirit and Israel’s rebellion against God is picked up by Isaiah in 63:9–11 as his preaching prepares a future remnant for the new Exodus. There is a clear Exodus motif in Isaiah 63, connecting the first exodus, the Exodus Angel, the Spirit, and the rebellion against his voice (cf. Exod 23:21–22).
In all their affliction He was afflicted,
And the angel of His presence saved them;
In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them,
And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.
But they rebelled
And grieved His Holy Spirit;
Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy,
He fought against them.
Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses
Where is He who brought them up out of the sea
with the shepherds of His flock?
Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the
midst of them (vv 9–11).
In Mark’s programmatic foundation of the Gospel (1:2–3), particularly in the referent from Exodus 23:20, there is a narrative rationale for the Holy Spirit to be the object of unforgivable blasphemy. The Isaiah reference supports this understanding of the original covenant warning and threat. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is tantamount to rejecting God’s present Exodus, the inauguration of God’s Kingdom, and the rebelling against doing the will of God.