The social transformation of the world - alleviating poverty and disease, restoring human rights and religious freedom, bringing peace overcoming prejudice - can only come through spiritual revival, progressive evangelical Jim Wallis told some 500 participants at the National Presbyterian Evangelism Conference in Nashville, USA.
Wallis - president and executive director of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, declared "there are very few things as important as evangelism in the churches today," reports Jerry Van Marter of the Presbyterian Church (USA) News Service.
The churches' evangelistic message is hampered by confusion, Wallis said. After his appearance on Jon Stewart's television program, he said he received an email from a young man who said, "I lost my faith because of TV preachers, bad fund-raising, pedophile priests and White House theology - I didn't know you could be a Christian and care about the environment or the Iraq War."
A whole new generation wants to hear a whole new message from the Christian church, Wallis insisted. "I believe something is happening in this country, something new and fresh and is going on," he said. "Spiritual power is being harnessed to address the great social challenges of our time."
But spiritual activity doesn't mean genuine revival until it changes something in society, Wallis said. "Everyone knows politics is broken, is failing to address the moral issues of our time," he said. "And history shows that when that happens, social movements rise up to change politics, and the best social movements have spiritual foundations."
In his own life as a baby-boomer, Wallis said, he joined the movements of his generation - civil rights, anti-Vietnam war - "but there wasn't anything deep enough to be a foundation for my life, so I began to read the New Testament again. When I read in John 3:16 'for God so loved the world...' I got very excited," he said.
"Preaching the gospel for the sake of the world was far more radical than any of the politics I and my friends were reading," Wallis said.
"But spiritual activity doesn't mean revival until it changes something in society. Conversely, we won't get to social justice in America and the world unless and until we have a revival of faith," he continued.
Wallis recounted a conversation with an inmate who had converted to Christianity while doing time at infamous Sing Sing prison in New York. "Almost all of us come from four or five neighborhoods in NYC - it's like a train that starts in our neighborhood and winds up here," the inmate told him. "But when I get out I'm going back and stopping that train."
Faith is for "the really big stuff," Wallis said, "when the odds are overwhelming and everything is against us." Recounting Jesus' parable of faith like a mustard seed that cn move mountains, Wallis said, "We have mountains to move, my friends, but we're not going to move the mountains without a revival of faith."
To those in politics and culture who say the United States is the hope and light of the world, Wallis concluded, "I say 'NO!' Jesus Christ is the hope and light of the world. It's time for America not to be defined by its sociology but by our theology."