Salvationist Dynamics : Part 1

by Colonel Richard Munn

Good energy, even dynamism, is often produced between two differing viewpoints. This is a rule of physics, academia, oratory, politics, and more. Together the differing perspectives create vibrant tension. Pleasant tension, we might say.

Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis captures this insightfully when he says: “In a strange twist, the way that profound things almost always happen, a thing and the opposite of that thing are matched together.”

This 10-part Salvationist Dynamics series explores tried and trusted “pleasant tensions” matched together in The Salvation Army. Far from being feared or avoided, they give us dynamism.

Salvationist dynamics. 

Part 1: Spiritual and Social

Bright, solitary, flaming evangelistic light burned in the heart of William Booth as he stood preaching on the sidewalk outside the Blind Beggar pub on Whitechapel Road on July 2, 1865. Days later, it began to catch fire in the temporary revival tent of Mile End Waste—and three months later to galvanize and move indoors for the first time, to the rented dance hall of New Street. It’s the stuff of legend: fiery evangelistic focus.

Thirteen years later, in 1878, the pure evangelism of the Christian Mission evolved into the more nuanced, wider-ranging, self-understanding mission and outreach of the newly named Salvation Army. Serving humanity through a multitude of socially pragmatic expressions now joined forces with the gospel call to salvation.

Those two juggernauts—service and salvation—have remained intertwined in our raison d’etre ever since.

The tension is real. From local corps councils to international boards, and every decision-making body in between, Salvationist leaders wrestle vigorously between the most effective deployment of personnel, funds, property space, and time, often counterbalancing spiritual formation and social outreach.

Of course, the matter is not as two-dimensional as pitting one concept against the other, or even holding the two in balance. Missionally and theologically, the dynamics are inseparable and integrated.

And there is the energy, the genius.

A mother experiences the love of God as she picks up toys for her children at Christmastime and subsequently brings the family to the Watch Night service. A despondent alcoholic receives loving hospitality and then hears the good news of the gospel as he joins the Adult Rehabilitation Center community. A scruffy kid from a violent home comes to a summer camp and feels safe for the first time and so raises his hand for a paperback New Testament.

Talk about energy! Talk about dynamics!