The ‘Jesus vs. Sandwich’ Debate

By Paul Raushenbush
“Anyone can give a hungry person a sandwich. We have to give them Jesus.” This statement by a conservative evangelical got me thinking of this online conversation with Rev. Hybels as the “Jesus vs. Sandwich” debate. I shouldn’t speak for Rev. Hybels, but my guess is that this simple dichotomy won’t work for either of us. That said, framing the debate as “Jesus vs. Sandwich” does raise the question of the primary message of Christianity. Was Jesus’ mission on earth to save individual souls for a future eternal life in heaven or to redeem and transform human lives here and now? To put this in practical terms, if it’s 9 am on Saturday and you have three free hours before lunch to be a good Christian, how should you best spend your time: Talking to people about salvation through Jesus in response to John 3:16, or helping to change society in response to Luke 4:18?
My great-grandfather, Walter Rauschenbusch, is something of a lightning rod for this debate. He was the most famous proponent of a school of Christian thought often called the “social gospel,” whose mission was to use the power of the church to reform society to meet the needs of the poor. Because I was raised and have served in mainline churches that essentially welcomed Rauschenbusch’s social gospel ideas one hundred years ago, I have largely received admiring comments from pastors or theologians who recognize the Rauschenbusch name (although it was later shortened to lose the ‘c’s, apparently in an effort to make the name more American). They often tell me how important my great-grandfather’s work was for them in their own faith journey. We hear echoes of this in a new edition of his 1907 book, now titled Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century. In an essay accompanying the reissued book, Jim Wallis (founder of Sojourners) writes: “As a young evangelical, I was hungry for a Christian social ethic that focused on the poor, on social and racial equality, and on peace. Walter Rauschenbusch was a breath of fresh air.”
What I did not hear growing up were the equally passionate denunciations of Rauschenbusch. I later learned, however, that many Christians feel my great-grandfather’s teachings corrupted the Gospel by focusing on improving society rather than saving souls. Christian author Brian McLaren recently wrote to me, “Like a lot of people from evangelical backgrounds, in my childhood and youth I was taught that the ‘social gospel’ was nothing but evil. I heard it a thousand times in sermons.”


Clearly there is a lot at stake here. Those of us who call ourselves Christian want to make sure that we are living out God’s claim on our lives. When we pronounce Jesus as Lord, we are accepting his dominion in everything we do. How well we act out our faith has consequences for our societies as well as for the eternal wellbeing of our souls.
Rauschenbusch in his time, and I today, feel that actions taken to carry out Jesus’ commandments in this life are equally important as faith statements accepting Jesus. That is, we should try to realize the promise of the kingdom of God in this world as much as we proclaim Jesus as our personal savior for the forgiveness of our individual sins. It is through concrete action in this life that we most clearly experience the salvation that Jesus offers both right now and eternally.
While each of us experience God’s call personally, the way we most fully act out that call is socially. Jesus has invited us to live in the kingdom of God right now, and to transform our society to better reflect God’s will on earth. We pray this with Jesus when we pray “Our Father in Heaven – Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As Rauschenbusch writes: “There is no request here that we be saved from earthliness and go to heaven, rather we pray here that heaven may be duplicated on earth through the moral and spiritual transformation of humanity, both in its personal and corporate life.” Our central prayer in Christian life implores that God’s kingdom be established in this world. That means that the Gospel is both personal and social, spiritual and material.
The sandwich is Jesus, and Jesus is the sandwich.

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Bill Baltrus

posted September 12, 2007 at 9:25 am

Matthew 6:10 is the prayer Jesus taught us. Bringing the Kingdom of God to earth involves getting are hands dirty.
There is only one Gospel. Complete both a personal salvation and fighting for the poor and disadvantaged. Paul taught us to be transformed on earth not to wait until we get to heaven.
The Old Testament is full of the stories of how God tries to transform the people to care about the poor. I do not think God wants us to discount the Old Testament for our own me reasons.

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posted September 13, 2007 at 7:21 am

I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis. It is rather hard to imagine an idle faith with no action! Salvation is clearly a priceless gift of God that requires no payment plan; therefore we may have to re-clarify that it could never be earned through any amount of good works. On the other hand, the true measure of a genuine faith would seem its expression and manifestation of Godly work that was exemplified in Christ our Lord.

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posted September 16, 2007 at 11:35 am

Me thinks it’s a circular thing. It’s not “either-or,” it’s both. The gospel, when truly internalized, transforms me so that I (in my “Jesus-ness) need to / have to / can’t not give the “sandwich” away, in the hopes that the other will be then transformed.

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posted September 17, 2007 at 8:06 pm

i think you should give it to a person because that is giving it to jesus

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posted September 17, 2007 at 9:07 pm

“That said, framing the debate as “Jesus vs. Sandwich” does raise the question of the primary message of Christianity. Was Jesus’ mission on earth to save individual souls for a future eternal life in heaven or to redeem and transform human lives here and now?”
Jesus seemed to preach that it was something to look forward to this idea He was preaching. His preaching transformed lives by offering people a “future” in heaven. In fact He said that “the world” would hate His followers the way it hated Him first. So much for “heaven on earth.”
“My kingdom is not of this world.”
Jesus to His secular/pagan interogator Pilate.
Jesus fed thousands of people in a stunning show of a miracle (though the picnickers propably were unaware of it) and was left with just a few followers at the Cross.
How many well fed high school and college students (public schools) are becoming followers of Christ Jesus? Only the unmarried and pregnant ones probably.
Many are becoming secular-humanist, socialist-hedonists.
Jesus preached “the Gospel.” The Good News that the kingdom of God was at hand. Obviously He didn’t mean that all of the streets in Palestine were going to turn into gold and precious jewels. Heaven is something that awaits the faithful.
The “Social Gospel” preached by liberals, is just another way of selling Marxist communism. And we all know how far from Christ that is. And not to mention . . . the Social Gospel of actually preaching and teaching about Jesus “in society” is opposed by every leftist progressive liberal with life still in their bodies and those that have died.
Time to wake up people (Christian people).

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posted September 17, 2007 at 9:15 pm

Didn’t Jesus also say to His disciples that “the poor” you (they/we) will have always but that He wouldn’t be around on earth for long? He preached Himself as if that was even more important. Did he not?
Didn’t He also say that He was going to prepare a place for us in heaven?
“Come and go with me to my Father’s house, come and go with me to my Father’s house. It’s a big, big house, with lots and lots of rooms, with a big, big table, with lots and lots of food, a big, big house . . . it’s my Father’s house.”
But Yes, YES and YES . . . we should feed and clothe and care for the poor in the world today. Jesus said He’s one of them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jesus said a lot.

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posted September 18, 2007 at 12:06 am

Ii amm reminded of something I read recently. It was from a student of a spiritual study who said the teacher left his students with one final word: “Don’t be so spiritually minded that you’re of no earthly good.”

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posted September 18, 2007 at 9:27 am

I think that by praying, when you have the opportunity to help someone in the present day- in life, you are allowing the homeless person to suffer when you could be helping him/her

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posted September 18, 2007 at 10:24 am

Why can’t the sandwich symbolize Jesus?
It is much easier to reach someone’s soul when you lead by example and acting in the example of Jesus says a lot.

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posted September 18, 2007 at 11:06 am

False dichotomy. Preaching Jesus will have the effect of changing society. Doing the first is accomplishing the second. You can man the soup kitchen and preach the gospel at the same time.

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posted September 18, 2007 at 11:54 am

It is unlikely Jesus said any of the tings recorded in the Gospels and more likely that they convey generally some of his idea that he obviously learned from older Hebrew scriptures. Accepting Chirst has zero to do with personal salvation. Living Compasionaltely is the key to life. Anyone who is honest with themselves can see that. Those dead set on holding to the ‘right’ beliefs about god cannot.

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posted September 18, 2007 at 12:29 pm

What would Jesus do? He would just do it and not sit around and debate the issue. When it’s time to preach, preach; when it’s time to feed the hungry, feed the hungry.
By feeding the hungry you are preaching; by preaching, you are feeding the hungry.

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posted September 18, 2007 at 1:27 pm

“False dichotomy. Preaching Jesus will have the effect of changing society. Doing the first is accomplishing the second. You can man the soup kitchen and preach the gospel at the same time.”
Would that what you say were true. There are of course a number of those who do indeed “…man the soup kitchen and preach the gospel at the same time,” (e.g. Jesus People USA, Salvation Army, Sojourners, to name only a few) but they have been, until relatively recently, on the margins of the evangelical community. I was brought up in one of those churches that preached against the “social Gospel”, and it took me a long time–and I’m still working on it–to grasp in my heart and not just my brain the fact that it is indeed, as you say, a “false dicotomy”. In other words, I agree with your opening statement, but the sad fact is that many evangelicals are only just now catching on to that fact, and some still fight it–hard.

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posted September 18, 2007 at 2:45 pm

The job of those who work in soup kitchens is to help the homeless. If they starve for a sandwich, give them a sandwich. If they starve for Jesus, give them Jesus. If they starve for Allah, give them Allah. If they starve for Buddha, give them Buddha. If you want to help the homeless, help the homeless. If you can’t respect their needs, then you might not have any business being there.

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posted September 18, 2007 at 2:55 pm

I agree with Art. I think that if you are helping someone, by feeding them when they are hungry and desperate, then you are giving a witness to them by your deeds. Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

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posted September 18, 2007 at 3:35 pm

There is a Buddhist saying: When I speak the Buddha people hate me. When I am the Buddha people love me.
preach all you want. It’s what we DO that affects people.

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posted September 18, 2007 at 5:11 pm

I must confess as a young Christian I can see both sides to the argument. Jesus did say that he “came to seek that which is lost” and the very first message he preached was “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand”. On the other hand the ministry of Jesus for the most part seems, according to the Gospels to center around healings and helping those in need. The question it seems is what was Jesus’ motivation? This isn’t just a matter of opinion, this is of extreme importance. I will tell you where I stand and why. I believe that good works flow from the Gospel of salvation. Those who truly have been saved will want to do good so ultimately God will be glorified. That is the ultimate goal of the Church: NOT TO SAVE SOULS OR HELP PEOPLE, BUT TO SEE GOD MOST GLORIFIED! So the next question is how is He glorified the best? I suggest looking at the scripture (sola scriptura) to find the answer. When I did this my conclusion is this:
-The main purpose of the church and all christians is to “seek and save the lost”, to “preach the gospel to every creature”, and to “make disciples”. However once a person is saved, the Pauline Epistles come into play (they are essentially the instructions to the churches how to behave and what is the truth). And there we find the new testament commandments of helping the poor, feeding the widdows, ect… Remember in Acts the Apostles saw the need to help the widdows and orphans, so they elected deacons to do that. But notice THEY DID NOT do that themselves, that was not their calling. I do believe it is proper hermeuntics to look at the principle and say that the its the role of the church to help the poor AS LONG AS the preaching of the Gospel is not compromised.

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posted September 18, 2007 at 5:36 pm

I live in St. Louis, MO and this last weekend we had our yearly hot air balloon race in Forest Park. It is one of the largest. Anyway, Friday night was the balloon glow & a few members of my church and I went to the street corners where the traffic was backed up to kingdom come and handed out two items, bottles of cold, refreshing water and tracts which offered the living water. We gave some information on our church also, to provide a place for worship and growth. Would I have gone to give water without the tracts–absolutely not. But I would have gone to give the tracts without the water.
We are to be Ambassadors for Christ, ministers of reconciliation. That is the job we have been given by our risen Lord. Providing physical needs can be helpful and loving. However, if a person starves to death but has Christ, He has life everlasting. If we feed him well here but he dies without Christ, what good have we done for him?

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Nick Siewert

posted September 18, 2007 at 7:22 pm

True, “anyone can give a person a sandwich,” but hardly anyone does. The purpose of Christ’s teachings is to show us the necessity of that act. Similarly, Jesus “gave us” Jesus, or perhaps more properly God gave us Jesus. There are far too many talkers out there trying to give us their own versions of Jesus while losing sight of the purpose of Jesus’ life as an example. You want to convince a man of your own inherent goodness and the righteousness of your way, feed him first, then talk with him. But don’t sermonize first. And if you have water and not tracts, Valerie, for God’s sake, give out the water.

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mustard seed

posted September 19, 2007 at 12:44 am

If they’ve got one hour to live, preach. If you’ve got one hour to live, feed them. Yes, Jesus said that they would always have the poor but he would only remain with them for a short time. But how did he spend that time? By becomeing their servant (washing their feet) and, of course, there was that whole supper thing.

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posted September 19, 2007 at 8:53 am

Words are often a poor witness: alienating, argumentative, unhelpful (I’ve experienced the words of many so-called “witnesses” who only made me want to run away and make them shut up). Actions–like giving a sandwich–accomplish way more in the attempt to witness to the love of God for all of us. To me, this is a false dichotomy. Actions and silence and an attentive presence by the one offering the food can be very powerful statements of love and caring to anyone in need of food and kindness.

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posted September 19, 2007 at 10:50 pm

“The sandwich is Jesus, and Jesus is the sandwich.”
No thanks. I’ll just have the salad….

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Oscar Overton

posted September 20, 2007 at 8:35 pm

This is not an either or position, it is a both.
Although it is easy to proof text virtually any point you wish to make, I do not feel that the following passages do this.
Matthew 28 says:
19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
1 Peter 3:15-16
But scripture also addresses the Social Gospel.
35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37″Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40″The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:35-40
And all of it is combined in 1 Corinthians 13.
1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-7,13
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
1 John 3:16
I don’t know the source but I’ve also read the quote:
“They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
As I stated in the beginning, this is not an either or position, it is a both.
St. Francis is suppose to have said: “Preach the gospel ceaselessly. Use words, if necessary.” It is always a decision of what our actions should be first, not our words.

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Papa Bear

posted September 20, 2007 at 9:53 pm

Jesus said…when I was hungry you fed me, when I was thirst you gave me drink, when I was sick or in prison you visited me, when I was naked you clothed me…welcome into the joy of my Father. Try as I will I can’t remember him saying when I was hungry you preached to me, when I was thirsty you called me to repent, when I was sick or in prison you lectured me, when I was naked you haranged me.

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posted September 21, 2007 at 2:59 pm

Well I would say just do what God created you to do in that one hour. Do what you are good at, what feels natural to you. Feeding the poor and preaching to them are both good things. You almost never know what somebody would prefer.

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posted September 24, 2007 at 10:38 pm

i want to share with the readers about a Christian i knew that taught me more than any other, at any time. i had done mission trips, i had served at church as a Sunday School Teacher, i had accepted Christ as my Savior at a young age. i pray every day, i talk with the Lord, i Walk with Him, i try so hard to set an example of Christianity to all who don’t know and would ask. i truly believe the best way to show it is to live it.
One day i was helping out “this” Christian, who came down with brain cancer, with her appointments at the hospital. She was a Christian from the age of around 4th grade. She made no bones about it, and even told people that they were welcome to come to “her room in heaven” when we are all there.
She had a gap in between a blood draw, and an MRI, and we decided to go to McDonald’s to get away from hospital food. Two other girlfriends met with us, and joined us for dinner. We were in the downtown area of a large city, and the McDondald’s actually had a couch and plush chairs to hang around on.
As we sat there, a vagrant woman came into the restaraunt. She walked up to us all first, as we were the closest to the doors. She said, “ya got anything ta eat! i’m starving. ya got money, anything?”
i got very uncomfortable and started to say no, or go away, and all of a sudden my before mentioned friend (the Christian) said, “yeah, i am done, you can have this,” and handed the vagrant woman who was filthy and missing teeth, her hamburger and fries. She took one more sip of her soda and gave her that too. We (the other 3 of us) looked at each other, and realizing we weren’t that hungry, gave her our food too. Then my friend that had joined us, gave her money so she could buy a little more.
i will never forget that woman, but especially my Christian friend, that showed she didn’t care where someone came from or how they approached.
The vagrant never even thanked my wonderful friend. Even though she was bald, and had a huge scar on her head where the Drs. tried to save her. She passed away sadly on April 25th of this year. She was a Christian though and had the faith of a child, believing in not judging, but doing her best to help others. Even with herself in so much need.
Her name? Kathryn Marie Morris. She was my daughter. She died 6 days after her 13th birthday.
Katie was the example of a Christian. She always cared about how others were doing with her diagnosis other than herself. She was always worried about how her father and sister and i were going to do with all that was going on.
She made a huge difference in this world. She changed alot of people and their awareness of how precious a gift we are given by God. She never was worried about where she was going to be after she died. She just said she would be in her room and waiting.
As her mother, i look forward to the day that i am reunited with her in heaven. i know i will know her and she me, and we will embrace and be together. i look forward to her showing me around.

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John Lekander

posted September 26, 2007 at 11:50 am

Jesus is the BREAD OF LIFE which has both “salvation” and “social ministry” understandings. I have read that BREAD FOR THE WORLD(hunger advocacy organization) was started by a pastor, whose presiding at the Sunday after Sunday celebration of Holy Communion, had implications for him about those who were hungering for food. In the best expressions of followers of Jesus Christ, there has been an emphasis on both the eternal and the temporary needs of people.

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posted October 13, 2007 at 5:50 pm

I can’t believe anybody would even ASK a question like this!! Give someone food, or let them starve to death whilst administering religious propaganda? If that’s not “evil” then I don’t know what is. And what kind of God would first let someone starve to death, and then send them to hell forever (which, I’m assuming, is what the “don’t feed them” camp imagines will happen) simply because they had the “wrong” cultural beliefs? It’s these kinds of barbaric and hateful characterizations of God that drive me, and thinking people everywhere, away from organized Christianity and towards more humane, humanist organizations.

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posted October 23, 2007 at 12:57 pm

We are slowly learning the effect that charity has on a culture when we examine the exact opposite – invading Iraq on our Crusade to ‘save the heathens’ (aka Islamofascists…).
Much, if not all, of the fight we’re now fighting is against those people who were angered by our destructive ‘shock and awe’ barrage. Certainly its main effect was to defeat the forces of Saddam Hussein, but it had the adverse effect of destroying the basic infrastructure – roads, schools, electricity, water…. In spite of the billions we’ve spent on the war, so very little has been accomplished – and there are many more poor, sick, unfed people than before the conflict started.
It is ironic that Moses told us in Leviticus 26 that our enemies will bow to us if we treat them properly. Christ reiterated those words when he said the greatest Commandments included “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
There is a hymn ‘And we’ll show we are Christians by our love’. Charity has its benefit in salvation – bringing the ‘enemy’ to our side.

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rocker switch

posted November 30, 2013 at 10:49 pm

I love to disseminate information that I’ve accrued through the season to assist enhance group functionality.

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