Dan Kimball - If We Care About Social Justice, We Must Care About Evangelism

Dan Kimball is a pastor, author, and professor of missional leadership at Portland Seminary and spoke at chapel at George Fox University on March 19, 2014. This video and transcript are of his talk "If we care about social justice, we must care about evangelism."


Jamie Johnson: Tonight we get to hear from Dan Kimball. Dan is pastor at Vintage Faith in Santa Cruz, California, speaks at many conferences around the country and even internationally, has written a couple of books – two? Three? Four? Eleven? I don’t know - so many. How many of you were in class today with Dan? Dan teaches some at George Fox as well. Let’s give a big George Fox welcome to Dan Kimball.

Dan Kimball: OK, you get to go to wonderful spring break starting next week. Tonight, I’m just going to give hopefully a fun sort of message, and I'm calling this “If we care about social justice, we must care about evangelism.” I personally don’t think that we be should separating them, and I'm going to explain it because people battle about this stuff all the time. So I’m kind of going to get into that, just have a little fun with the whole topic actually. But it’s pretty serious, what's going on in our culture and that’s why I have chosen to speak on this.

But before we do, I want to ask you a couple of questions and talk about something that has grown very near and dear to my heart lately. Who knows what this is? All right, who doesn’t know what this is? Put your hand up, let me see. All right, who does know what this is? OK, a lot of you. It’s probably the only carpet in America that can get a little rousing yell. It’s the Portland airport carpet. It is your carpet. You probably never would have expected it to be on the screen in chapel. A carpet.

But let me explain something. About two or three years ago, I came up to Portland quite a bit. I’m up sitting in the airport, and I’m just waiting for a plane. I’ve walked over this carpet so many times before, and then I’m just sitting there one day, and I’m looking down at it and I’m like, “What an unusual carpet.” I’m looking at it, and it sort of is like 80s video game colors but DNA strands in them. Like, what a bizarre carpet! And I never noticed it before even though I’ve been over that carpet so many times. And so I just took a photo of it, and I put it up on Facebook.

I put it on Facebook, and while I’m sitting there, all of a sudden people are liking it, very quickly a lot of “likes”. And then I hear comments all of a sudden, and I’m like, “What the heck is that?” And there’s all of this interaction all about this carpet. Then somebody sends me a little link and posts to it, like “Did you know there’s a screensaver that you can get with that carpet?” And I’m like “No!” And then someone else says, “Did you know there is actually a Facebook page with that carpet?” I’m like “No! Somebody started a Facebook page?”

So I go on there, and there are, I think, like three other people that had joined this Facebook page at that time - I'm like “Oh my gosh.” What a goofy thing. And one time I took a photo of my shoes, just like that. Those are my Converse. And I’m just like, “That’s funny, they look kind of cool together,” and then I just left. And I posted that on Facebook. And then it started getting more likes, and then all of a sudden someone brings to my attention that someone took my photo and made it into an iPhone case. And this is it. The reason I knew it was my photo was because on their website they actually put my photo of my shoes. I’m like, “That’s my shoes, and they put it on an iPhone.” And I’m just looking at this, and I’m just like, “This is getting very, very bizarre.” And I emailed them, and I’m like, “Hey, those are my shoes!” And they’re like “We're sorry, we’re inspired by them. We’ll send you a case.” They sent me this, so I have this case.

Then out of this, this whole weird buzz about the carpet in the airport starts to keep going. Then if you’ve been following the news, someone made socks with the pattern of the carpet on it. Then the t-shirt came out with the carpet pattern on it. Now I live in northern California, in Santa Cruz, California, and I’m not by this carpet too much. But when I am, I always take a picture. And then I did a joke on Facebook. I put my hand out, and I took a photo. I wrote like, “Farewell, carpet. I’ll miss you,” or something like that, then posted it on Facebook. All of a sudden I find out that in The Oregonian, your major paper here in Portland, there was a photo of my hand on the carpet in your newspaper. So I’m like, “Something strange is going on here.”

What somebody did is they created a Twitter called pdxcarpet, and they put my hand on the photo of their Twitter. And I’m just like, “This is the strangest thing.” And then they took that photo and used it in The Oregonian. So in your newspaper there’s my hand on the carpet and thousands of people in Portland are looking at this thing. And I’m like, “This carpet thing is bizzaro!” And then it started spreading, and now there are over eight thousand people who like the carpet in the Portland airport on Facebook. And now there is an Instagram of people posting things up. Like if you put your feed on and you tag #pdxcarpet, the PDX carpet has its own Instagram, and it’ll talk back to you.

Someone set this up. Yesterday in the airport, they now have this display set up. There’s a window display in the airport with things that you can buy. They make water bottles with the carpet insignia on them, there are pillows that you now can buy for sleeping, there are scarves, a tie for Sunday preaching. They took “Keep PDX Weird”, and they put the carpet in there. There are shirts that say 'Home is where the carpet is.” There’s a sweatshirt out that is like this as well, “ Welcome to Portland.” This one was just about a week ago, I saw this one. Someone chose to do fingernails. And then this one, I think, is the hardcore dedication. Someone took it and made an actual tattoo of the carpet.

It’s just fascinating, bizzaro. And somehow I got pulled into this, to be used on the iPhone case and Twitter and the major newspaper with my hand on it - nobody knows it’s my hand but me. But it was amazing to see how something spread. Somebody had shared it with other people and they had a passion with it – a goofy thing like the carpet. And it just started spreading. People are like “Did you see the PDX carpet?” and then I have an idea, I’m going to make an iPhone case, I’m going to make a scarf, I’m going to make a shirt. And it just kind of snowballed into this fascinating thing. It was on your local news as well. It was in the LA Times about two weeks ago - people's obsession with this carpet. It’s the most beautiful, bizzaro thing that Portland has, one more thing of why I like Portland.

The fascinating part was it was something that people get excited about. Like, “The carpet!” and you tell somebody else about it. And then it spread and many people heard about it. Now it’s an amazing thing, not just a carpet, to see the news of Jesus that is spread. Now it was people spreading the news of the carpet. With Jesus, it was people who spread the news of who he is. And it’s actually fun and exciting to see when people start hearing this news, when they learn about who Jesus is and put faith in him, and people have a passion. That's generally the reason why you want to share - it shouldn't be out of guilt, it should be out of sharing.

I wasn't raised in a church home - I was raised in a wonderful family, but they weren’t Christians, and I didn’t have a Christian upbringing. And it was later in life when I started finding out, like, “What does the Bible say about Jesus?” And I'd read these passages, “ The thief only comes in to steal, kill, and destroy, and I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” And I’m like, “You mean that I’m forgiven for all of these things that I have done and that life has this meaning?” and I started understanding things more. And it was just the most mind-blowing, crazy thing. Like, oh God, I can’t believe this is real, and Jesus is real, and my life has never been the same since. And I had nobody ever telling me that growing up. It was kind of a discovery that I ended up making – God brought me to him by his Spirit while I was in college and the years after.

Let me just ask you a quick question here: How many people here in this room have parents or a family member who introduced you to Jesus? Can you just put up your hands? All right, here’s another one: How many of you had the pastor of a church, a youth pastor or someone, and that was the person who was major in introducing you to Jesus? Can you put your hands up too? OK, not too many. How about a friend was the person? OK, so it was like the vast majority, maybe 95% of you, were parents or a family member who told you about Jesus. Now I’m going to come back to that in a few minutes.

Now I’m older, and most of you are younger, but in the 80s and 90s when you talked about Jesus and you talked about putting faith in him, it was all about heaven and hell. It was this sense of you’ve got to believe in Jesus because he’ll get you a ticket to heaven, there’s these analogies that were done. So the motivation for following Jesus often was, “He gets you to heaven.” Now that’s true, absolutely, and eternity is a very, very long time. And I believe in a hell, and I believe, boy, that is a horrible, horrible thing, whatever it’s going to be like. And so I hope in Jesus, putting faith in him, and by his blood and what he did for us on the cross and the resurrection that we will spend eternity in heaven. But you see, that was the big thing for a long time in the evangelical church. It was all about evangelism. It was like, “Get people to heaven, get people to heaven, get people to heaven.” And heaven’s like, “When you die, when you die, that’s where it’s going to be.” But then something happened.

What happened was that in 2002, some of you were like six years old, Bono toured the United States, and he spoke at churches and Christian colleges. And his goal was to awaken the sleeping giant of the church to engage in fighting poverty and AIDS. And kind of the theme you started hearing - I think it really started then - it started a massive sweep of excitement and spreading the news. Not about a  carpet, but about what it means to follow Jesus. It was that the gospel is about more than just saying a prayer to get to heaven when you die, but we have this responsibility to be used by God to bring heaven to earth in this life. And that was a major shift for most evangelical churches. It’s not like we didn’t believe in that, but the focus of what we did with our energy and time was so much about evangelism - get people to heaven, have them say the prayers so they get to heaven. We were doing some things, of course, with justice and compassion, but it wasn’t the major thing that we were talking about and thinking about and training youth in college about.

And all of a sudden there was a rediscovery of these Bible verses: “ The righteous care about justice for the poor and the wicked have no such concern” or “ Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” These things were amazing, and it was just like rapid fire spreading because of all of this great news. Like, “Did you know this?” And then you start telling somebody when you’re excited about something. Like, “We have a job to do here on earth!”

And then the beautiful thing that’s happened the past twelve years, God has done amazing, amazing, amazing things with justice and compassion as Christians have responded. And I’ve been in ministry long enough to have seen this major change that has happened in the church. It’s just exciting to see, and it was sin when we did not participate and be thinking of justice and compassion like that before. How amazing it is to see something spread and shared by others by those who have passion with it. And Bono, I believe, was used to get the evangelical church back on track with this. For some of you, this has been the focus of your youth ministry and church upbringing since 2002. So for some of you, this is all you’ve known. You didn't know it was any different - but it used to be different.

However, what has happened over time is that we now have a new generation rising up who hasn't heard the full message of Jesus. They have a confusing understanding of who Jesus is and what church and Christianity are. And I’m not saying this to be sensationalistic, but it is, I think, more confusing than any other time in American history. And that’s why you look on the news and you hear it all the time, like “Young people leaving the church!” There are all these statistics: “Millennials are leaving the church,” “1 in 4 identify with ‘unaffiliated.’” And the reason is that you and especially those outside the church have no idea who Jesus is apart from those who follow him and are usually judgmental.

Now, the rough poll I just did in this room, 90% of you grew up in a Christian home, you may not understand the ramifications and seriousness of this. There are so many who don’t, who are thinking Christians are judgmental and all these negative things. You type in Google, this is what comes up when you do a little search: crazy, ignorant, hypocrites, delusional - all these things. I joke about this often - generally when I poll a lot of college-age people who are outside of the church, not in a Christian university, we’re known as finger-pointers. When you do an image search, these are the things that come up. Christians are generally known as being angry grandpas pointing a finger, like, “Read your Bible, grandson.” I’ve gone through this, and you can kind of trace where this finger-pointing came from. But these are real things.

I was in a coffee house in Santa Cruz, California, and I’m hearing this animated discussion going on at a table next to me of these two young girls. They’re just like, “Oh, those poor kids with those Christian parents,” talking about neighbors, “I feel so sorry for them. They’re so nice, but I wish we could take them so they won’t grow up to be so judgmental.” And I remember the one girl was just so animated, saying, “Those angry Christians, they’ve got to stop doing that to their kids. They’re brainwashing their children and they’re going to come up mean and angry people, and it has to stop.” And about two weeks later, I saw the same girl in a supermarket. And I so badly wanted to walk up to her, and just go like, “Excuse me, the Lord is speaking. Don’t be angry at your neighbor,” and then just walk away and totally freak her out. And I wish I would have done that, but I didn’t - but I think about it.

When you start polling people outside of our Christian friends and circles, you’ll find out that what’s going on is that there is a sense – and I believe a lot of it is actually true - that Christians don’t know what’s in their Bibles and the wicked God that they worship in the Bible. There’s something that passed around a lot that says, “ To most Christians, the Bible is like a software license. Nobody actually reads it. They just scroll to the bottom, and click ‘I agree.’” There are things coming out like, “Awkward Moments Children's Bible.” And there’s Noah and there are all of these bodies floating! Growing up in the church, we get these toys for Noah - he kind of looks like a nice Santa Claus. But in a few weeks when the Noah movie comes out – it’s raised, but we don’t talk about all the drowning people, and how did that work with God? And then there’s nice Noah, but then, you know, it talks about how he was a man of the soil after the ark landed, and he drank some wine and became drunk, and he lay naked in his tent. And I’m like, boy, I think we need to change that little diagram and make a little thing in his hand. But the other part is like, the Bible verses about like, “Silence, ladies!” So it’s like, do we muzzle women coming out of church?

Now these are the things that are being discussed. If you’re not hearing them, all I can say is it’s true. It’s out there all the time. I spend most of my waking moments thinking and listening and trying to get in conversations to see if this is true or not outside of the Christian circles. And this is what I’m hearing over and over and over again. And seeing it now over and over and over again with examples like I’m showing you - books that are being put out and everything. There are cycles - in the book of Judges it says: “ After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who neither knew the Lord nor what he had done.” And that just happens, you know, it just happens.

There was someone who came up to me, a young guy, a California university student, and he’s been coming to our church for a little bit, and he’s like, “I need to ask you this: was Jesus a zombie?” And I’m like, “What a bizarre question.” And he’s like, “I’m really serious. I’m not joking.” He had never heard of the resurrection before. So he’s hearing about this resurrection of Jesus, about a dead man who is killed, and then comes back to life a few days later, and his whole screening system is The Walking Dead and other things. We live in a zombie culture, and all of a sudden, he was very seriously asking, “Was Jesus a zombie?” We forget because we talk about “He rose again! He rose again! Praise God! It's Easter! He rose again!” But when you're talking to somebody from the outside, they're going to naturally take that in and say “zombie” - that's how they would define it. Now for this guy – “No, let’s talk about it” - it was new, and this guy eventually put his faith in Jesus. He’s now following him, understanding that Jesus was not a zombie, but he was a Savior. But what I’m saying is that these are opportunities that are just bubbling all over.

There’s been a needed shift to focus first on this whole sense of justice issues because the church was goofed up, but we’re now seeing less focus on the proclamation of salvation though Jesus. That’s just what I’m observing all over, not just in isolated places. A well-known theologian said this in a meeting that I was at, and it really stuck in my head. I don’t know if these are exact words, but it was close. He said, “The world applauds taking care of the poor, but you don’t receive that when you proclaim Jesus is Savior and Lord.” That really stuck in my head. Well, Brad and Angelina, if you take care of the poor, and you're trying to stop sex trafficking, they’ll be clapping and saying, “Yes! Do it!” So as a Christian, it’s not even that uncomfortable to do that. But you start talking about Jesus as Lord and salvation through him alone, that’s not applauded.

So I think what has happened is - even though justice and evangelism are not mutually exclusive, they’re together a proclamation of the gospel - but I think what’s happened is that we have had for the past twelve years or so, a shift to say, “Let's focus on what we weren't doing,” but now we have to realize what’s going on is we’re seeing so many people who are growing up who don’t understand the resurrection, these are all new stories. And I just am starting to think maybe we just need to start thinking about these other things too. See, and the beauty is, it’s not an either/or with justice and evangelism. The word “righteousness” just means community with all relationships: God, others, self, rest of creation, well-ordered as God designed. And if you’re doing justice, you’re going to be bringing all four of these together, so it’s all of this together.

But here's my thing, I want to kind of wrap this up - If we care about social justice, which we should, we then must care about evangelism. Because if we’re not making new disciples, eventually there won’t be as many Christians to care for the poor, needy and marginalized in the name of Jesus. Just by looking around this room, for those that are Christian in this room, about 90% of you said that it was your parents or a family member who brought you to faith. You are fortunate that you had parents. If you start looking around, most parents aren’t doing what they did for you, so therefore you're having more and more who are being born who are not in the fortunate position of hearing about Jesus. And if you start playing this out over decades - 10 years, 20 years, 30 years … If you care about justice, what you'll see is, say there’s an amount of Christians today and that here’s the amount of acts of love, compassion and justice that we can participate in, which we need to be. But then you play this out - if we’re not making new disciples, if there are not new people learning about Jesus the Savior, putting faith in him and following him, then what’ll happen is that there’ll be fewer acts of compassion and justice that we can participate in to help people. And you play that out even a little bit further, say in the year 2040, if we are not making new disciples of Jesus, then what’s going to happen is there will be fewer acts of love, compassion and justice that we can participate in. Play this out even further, and then we won’t be able to help as many people in the name of Jesus because there won’t be as many of us anymore. And I can say right now, that is exactly the trend that is going on in our country.

And that’s why I wanted to be a little bold and raise this up, because I’m like, “Yikes!” It should be hand-in-hand, a beautiful mix. But that’s why I’m saying, if we care about social justice, we have to care about evangelism. It’s not easy to get involved in evangelism. But you have to even say, “What does that mean? Evangelism.” Sometimes if I type it in on Google, images like this come up. Like, you’ve got a message or really scary fiery things that you’re going to see, Gollum falling in after the ring into something like that. Or it’s like you’ve got to have these uncomfortable, weird conversations – knock on doors or give out mints to people. Nothing like that. There’s like, we’ve got to be soldiers, and bless this guy’s heart. He equates evangelism with soldiering, and then you give out albums to people. But if I got an album like this – “Here’s an evangelistic tool, listen to it” – I’d look at this thing - now if you look at it though a Christian lens, you might know, but if you’re looking at it through a non-Christian lens I’d be like, “Hey, buddy, there’s a giant bird about to swoop down and take away your wife with this lava coming out of like – you don’t know. Or you might think evangelism is you have to do, you have to dress – I won’t even go into that.

All I’m saying is, this is the easy part. The scriptures just say, you revere Christ as Lord, live out your faith - there should be even a motive of that, not perfect - always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks – but you have to be in relationship for someone to ask. It’s not like walking up to strangers. And it’s really pretty simple to respond, to change this. Evangelism shouldn’t be a scary word. Evangelism to me is, next week, I just arranged last night with somebody who’s not a Christian, we’re going to go play pool. We’re going to go play pool, and I’m probably not going to bring up Jesus unless he does. That’s evangelism. Because what I’m doing is I’m intentionally spending time with someone playing pool, and so he’s like, “Well, not all Christians are crazy. They’re not all weird fundamentalists.”

Here in Portland, I was here a couple years ago, and I’m in the mall. And I’m at another table in the food court, and they’re really going after Christians. It was a student at a university, and I could hear her say something like, “I’m an English lit major.” And I’m like, “English lit? What do I  do? They’re having such a bad understanding of who Christians are.” And I was with my brother, and he’s not someone of faith either. And so I’m just like, “I’ll be right back,” and I got up and ran down the mall, and I knew there was a bookstore, and I ran into the bookstore, and I went and got a copy of Mere Christianity, and I come running back. And I’m totally out of breath. And I’m like, “Hey, I hear that you’re talking about Christians, and did you know C.S. Lewis was a Christian?” And she was like, “No!” And I was like, “Please, read this. Take this, it’s a gift.” And then my brother’s like, “Do you always give out books like that?” And I’m just like, “No!” Because it only takes one Christian living out the faith to redefine the understandable confusion of what it is. For me it was one guy, I had an eighty-three-year-old elderly man - I thank God that he taught me about Christ as Savior and Lord. And so if we care about it, we must think about both social justice and evangelism. And I hope that we have Christians are this, and we’re going to change it to we are loving, kind, intelligent – and I hope that one day it changes.

All right, I’m now going to pray because when you pray, then the band comes up to then go into the next part of singing. So the band can now come up while I’m going to pray for the transition that has to happen at this time of the message – the prayer for the band to come up. So I just want to say, if you care about social justice, which we should, just remember the importance of evangelism and that sense of new people coming to faith too. Because there are some crazy, weird Christians. Most of us aren’t, but people have to know we’re not. That means we have to go out playing pool and doing things with people so they start sensing that and God will do the rest.

Lord, I just thank you for the fact that, Jesus, you change us. I thank you for all of the families who passed on faith to those in this room. I pray for those in Portland and all around that don’t have those families who are passing on faith. How are they going to hear, how are they going to know that Jesus is so great? How are they going to know about salvation and forgiveness? How are they going to learn about kingdom here on this earth, not just through all eternity? God, help us know what to do. But if we care about justice, God, put it in us, if it’s missing, to know the importance of those who don’t know Jesus yet. All right, amen. Have a great spring break coming up, and we’re now going to sing.