In my previous blog, I suggested that the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) presented a challenge and an opportunity for the church. But what do they mean for mission?
In his new book ‘The Day the Revolution Began: Rethinking the meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion’, NT Wright challenges many popular evangelical understandings of the Cross of Christ:
Most Western Christians have been taught that Jesus died so that they could escape the results of sin and go to heaven after they die. The New Testament, however, regularly speaks of Jesus’ death as the defeat of the powers of evil that have kept the world in captivity, with the implication that the world is actually going to change as a result—through the life and work and witness of those who believe this good news…”
“…Think of Revelation 5:9–10. Humans are rescued from their sin so that they can be “a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.” That began at Easter and, in the power of the Spirit, has continued ever since. Of course, the “reign” of Jesus’ people, like that of Jesus himself, is the reign of suffering love . . . but that’s a whole other story. Suffice it to say that the vocation of God’s people today is to continue to implement that revolution.
In other words, there has been a tendency to see mission as simply about saving souls from hell rather than fulfilling our royal priestly calling to live out the revolutionary reality of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.
However, as Martin Lee and Eddie Arthur have also challenged us, we can be so caught up in the business of confronting evil and injustice that we never proclaim the cross and the forgiveness of sins. These are tensions with which most mission organisations are all too familiar.
So, faced with an agenda in the SDGs that looks to confront many of the evils faced by our world, how do we engage with this laudable set of goals without compromising the mission of God’s people to live out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to all corners of Creation?
The real danger is that those who hold our purse strings set our agenda. We may be successful in getting funding from multilateral donors to develop HIV prevention programmes, dig wells or tackle gender issues, but this will almost always come with the string attached that we should not proselytise. Likewise, we may get financial support from churches to share the gospel and plant churches, but with limited interest in tackling climate change or providing health care.
Our theology and missiology is easily set by the flow of money that is in turn dictated by what is currently in vogue in the development or church worlds. The SDGs will be the current vogue for years to come – so do we bend our programmes, missiology and theology to fit in with them, or do we avoid getting caught up in the goals at all?
I guess the answer will vary from one agency to the next and where you get your main funding. To be fair, a growing number of churches are becoming aware of the SDGs, and it may become a rallying point for concerns about justice and the environment that many Christians fell very strongly. So I don’t think it will be possible to ignore the SDGs, wherever you agency focuses its work or receives its funding.
But we can ask some questions,
1: Which areas of the sustainable goals resonate or coincide with the mission and aims of my organisation/church?
2: Which aspects of these goals conflict with our values and beliefs as a Christian mission, and which sit comfortably within our values?
3: How comfortable are we with fitting our programmes and projects into the framework provided by the goals?
4: How will fitting our social action, environmental, social justice or healthcare programmes into the SDG affect our proclamation of the gospel?
5: How will this affect where and how we find funding for our work from the church and from secular sources?
Some agencies will be well ahead in working through these issues – but many will only just be engaging with them. It would be great to hear how you are addressing the SDGs in your work.