I just finished Randy Pausch's inspiring little book called The Last Lecture. Pausch is a university professor dying of pancreatic cancer who writes the book, which grew out of his farewell address to his students, as a memoir/treasure chest to his kids. I highly recommend it.
I find myself focusing on a couple of interesting nuggets from the book. He quotes his first football coach for the line "you've got to get the fundamentals down, otherwise the fancy stuff won't work." Late in the book, he notes the futility of "treating the symptoms instead of the disease." For the latter, he uses a great illustration of a friend who is barely unable to make ends meet. She is so stressed out about finances that she spends her Tuesday nights going to a yoga class (which of course costs money). With his help, she figures out that she can stop paying for yoga and instead take a temporary part-time job on Tuesday nights, and she will eliminate the financial problem and thus the stress.
The UN has some so-called Millennium Development Goals that many churches are adopting as their own. They deal with worthy things like fighting malaria and educating children and empowering the downtrodden. I am in favor of all of them -- in fact I serve on the Board of Directors of a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting with sustainable development in a third world country. The Development Goals are of course examples of the kinds of things Christ calls us to do. But...
On June 28 (three blogs ago), I wrote about fundamentals and how some of us may be avoiding them. I am pulled back to that topic today after reading the book and then hearing this morning's sermon. You see, I think that the Millennium Goals are what the football coach would call "the fancy stuff". They are worthy, but they only work if we have the basics down. If we are not grounded in the love of Christ and motivated by having been saved from our own multiple errors and vices, we will not last long trying to generate the energy and the emotion and the perseverance it takes to minister with any real meaning. You can't be the hands of Christ if you don't know Christ. That is why the world has forever cried out "Peace, Peace", but there is no peace.
Reaching out to the poverty-stricken and educating children, without introducing them to Jesus, are just fancy ways of treating symptoms.
The disease is not poverty or ignorance or discrimination. The disease is not even AIDS. The disease is the lack of a relationship with God, a relationship made possible through Christ. That is the fundamental.
I suspect most fundamentalists are against churches' adopting the Millennium Goals because these Goals are not pure evangelism, and for most fundamentalists I know, it is folly to state any goal other than evangelism. (It is ok, apparently, for fundamentalists to have other goals - ranging from electing favored candidates to shunning undesireable folks from the church - just so long as they don't publicly admit that these are goals.) And therein lies one of my primary departures from the Christian fundamentalists - evangelism is an important thing that Jesus taught us, but it is not the only thing. It is not the Great Commandment.
Again, I am all for the Millennium Goals, just so long as they do not become THE goals of Christianity. Ministry to the poor is an important thing Jesus taught us, but it is not the only thing. It is not the Great Commission.
When a church or a convention seems - and I believe it is simply how it seems, not how it is - to generate more excitement for the Millennium Goals than for spreading the gospel, we are treating the symptoms. We are trying the fancy stuff without getting the fundamentals down.
There is no doubt that Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick, but I believe He did those things as a part of a larger, more directed aim-driven ministry. He was all about the Kingdom. That was the fundamental. He was treating the disease.
My college debate coach had a five-point mantra that he would recite to me before every round. "Be clear. Sound like you're winning. Keep your options open. Tie things up in the last rebuttal. And don't put the round on a trick!" That last point was telling me not to try to win a round with the fancy stuff. We won or lost with the fundamentals.
So too, the world will be won or lost with the fundamentals, no matter how non-progressive it sounds. The social gospel is marvelous right up until it supercedes the gospel. Never let the good get in the way of the best. Adopt the Millennium Goals and minister to the needy, but do so in the context of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Fight the disease.
And by all means, read The Last Lecture.