In his introduction to the Evangelical Tradition, Richard Foster writes that “the work of social justice is most complete when it is intricately connected to authentic evangelical witness. These two Traditions – the Social Justice Tradition and the Evangelical Tradition – are at their best when they function together,” (Foster, Streams of Living Water, 187). This mutual benefit exists because justice and healing are intricate parts of the very gospel – good news – which evangelism proclaims.
Evangelism is deeply concerned with healing humanity’s relationship with God so that all of creation can once again flourish. Elaine Heath shares that in many of her discussions with suburban congregations, she is told that “the church in the suburbs is a building with lots of programming to meet the needs of the members. Evangelism is mostly about strategies to keep newcomers from leaving for another church,” (Heath, The Mystic Way of Evangelism, 114-115). This is a corruption of evangelism that comes after justice and healing are divorced from our understanding of evangelism. Justice and healing have a universal concern for all of creation; evangelism must have this same universal concern. Why? Because all three flow from God’s love, and God’s love is universal.
Evangelism is deeply concerned with healing humanity’s relationship with God so that all of creation can once again flourish.Tweet
“God wills the ultimate healing of all spiritual, psychological and physical sickness…we receive this final, comprehensive healing at our resurrection from the dead. So too, as a sign and seal of this promise, God often sends healing today,” (Blue, Authority to Heal, 69). Healing is a sign and foretaste of the new creation that evangelists proclaim. Justice and healing in present creation proclaim the flourishing and health of new creation.
In the gospel of John, Jesus speaks to some of the Jews who were doubting his claim to be from God. He says to them, “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father,” (John 10:37-38). And what does the Father do?
The Psalmist declared, “You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph,” (Ps 77:14-15). God’s mighty works are done for the purpose of redemption. Jesus brought redemption in his ministry through mighty works to show that he is from God. The Holy Spirit continues to empower redemption in the world today. When we partner with God in justice and healing work, we participate in God’s mission of redemption and show the world that we are from God.
Jesus’ mighty works “reveal something essential about the character of the Father, in particular, his consistent and unambiguous hostility towards sickness and his desire to heal it,” (Blue, Authority to Heal, 73). God’s works through Jesus evangelize to us about God and God’s desires for the world. Quoting from Isaiah, Jesus proclaimed at the beginning of his ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:16-21
Justice and healing were central to Jesus’ ministry and they were a major mode of evangelism for Jesus. For Jesus, justice work and healing work proclaimed God to the world because Yahweh is a God of justice and healing. This is why, when the disciples of John the Baptist ask if Jesus is the one who was to come, Jesus replies, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor,” (Luke 7:22).
Or as the writer of Hebrews says, “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will,” (Heb 2:3b-4). God’s work of justice and healing in the world now testifies to the ultimate healing and continuation of justice and health in new creation.
“Christian healing can be distinguished from other forms of religious healing in its appeal to Christ as the transcendent source of healing and prime symbol of personal and social integration,” (Porterfield, Healing in the History of Christianity, 9). When we bring healing of any kind in the name and mission of Jesus, we are evangelizing (witnessing Jesus).
Heath states, “Evangelism is intrinsically relational, the outcome of love of neighbor, for to love our neighbor is to share the love of God holistically,” (Heath, The Mystic Way of Evangelism, 3). As does justice and healing, evangelism flows out of compassionate love of our neighbor. Evangelism should be motivated by our desire to share God, the one who heals you (cf. Exod 15:26), with the world. When we allow our evangelism to become saturated with justice work and healing work, we will begin to witness God to others as Jesus did.
Evangelism should be motivated by our desire to share God, the one who heals you (cf. Exod 15:26), with the world. When we allow our evangelism to become saturated with justice work and healing work, we will begin to witness God to others as Jesus did.Tweet
Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!
Books in this post:
- Blue, Ken. “Authority to Heal: Answers for Everyone Who Has Prayed for a Sick Friend.” Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987.
- Foster, Richard. “Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith.” San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.
- Heath, Elaine. “The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach.” 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerAcademic, 2017.
- Porterfield, Amanda. “Healing in the History of Christianity.” New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005.