August 16, 2011

Dispensationalism, Keller, and the Poor

by Jesse Johnson

I am becoming increasingly convinced that dispensationalists understand why social justice is outside the realm of the church, and that others—especially and ironically those in the missional movement—are rapidly losing sight of what the church’s mission is. When Tim Keller says, “It’s biblical that we owe the poor as much of our money as we can possibly give away,” Robin Hood ethics gradually eclipse the Great Commission mandate. Others may squirm, but it takes a real dispensationalist to say, “The Bible simply never commands the church to give anything to the poor of the world, other than the gospel.”

When Jesus said, “The poor you always have with you, but you will not always have me” (Matt 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8), he raises a pressing question: What is the church’s role and responsibility when confronted with poverty? It is not debated that poverty has existed on earth since Cain’s banishment. What is debated is the reason for this, and then by implication the role the church has in ministering to the poor.

The Keller quote above came in an interview promoting his most recent book, Generous Justice, but it is not a new line for him. Way back in Ministries of Mercy, Keller said that the church has a mandate both personally and corporately to try and lower the poverty rates in our world, as well as a call to care for the homeless in our community (p. 21). He even defines mercy ministry as “meeting felt needs through deeds” and he describes sin as “producing alienation from God, self, others, and nature. This in turn produces theological, psychological, social, and physical needs, and the church must have as its goal the correcting of all of those needs.” (46-52). Even so, to say “It’s biblical that we owe the poor as much of our money as we can possibly give away” sort of ups the ante on this.

It probably goes without saying, but I radically disagree with Keller on this. I feel like a kid who says that the emperor has no clothes, but the fact of the matter is that nowhere does the Bible command the church to care for the poor of the world, to lower the poverty rates in society, or to care for the homeless in our community. There are zero verses that command this, and several that even argue against it.

While some amils or historic premils may agree with this, it usually takes a dispensationalist to bluntly say that the NT does not command the church to participate in social justice endeavors. This is why dispensationalists are accused of being so pessimistic that they are of no earthly good. Thirty year ago Ryrie wrote: “Dispensational premillennialism is regularly accused of such pessimism as to make it useless in the realm of personal and social ethics. In personal ethics it is commonly characterized as negative; in social ethics as impotent.”

I am fine with being labeled a pessimist, because I strongly believe that the NT does not command Christians to engage in what is mislabeled social justice. Even Keller himself tacitly grants that there are no NT commands to the church for these activities (apart from the story of the good Samaritan, which I discuss here). The fact is, the church should be using her resources to further her one mission in the world, and that mission is reaching the lost with the gospel.

There are substantial distinctions between dispensational and non-dispensational views concerning the church’s responsibility to the poor and the role of mercy ministry in the local church. The dispensationalist understands that the commands given to Israel concerning the poor do not apply to the church. The dispensationalist understands that the way God’s testimony was manifest to the earth through a theocracy is different than how the gospel goes forward through the church, and this change affects social ethics. The dispensationalist understands that there are eschatological implications in how the church pursues mercy ministry, and that eradicating poverty is not a means of kingdom advancement.

While certainly some amillennialists would agree with some of the preceeding paragraph, these are generally pretty easy statements for the dispensationalist. These observations, although obvious to me, are often overlooked by non-dispensationalists. John Feinberg explains that non-dispensationalists tend to focus on “the soteriological and spiritual elements” of the Old Covenant, leavingClick for image dispensationalists to emphasize the “social, economic, and political” structure of OT Israel. He went on to write that because the nature of the Torah’s commands concerning the poor are so different than what the NT commands, that to discuss them at all lends itself to seeing discontinuity between the two covenants, and thus dispensationalism. Ryrie agrees, adding that distinctions between the OT and NT concerning mercy ministry can only be understood in light of dispensations.

There is a very real danger that has been played out through history repeatedly, that when churches embrace a vision for combating poverty, evangelism is one of the first victims of this altered commission. In no way am I implying Keller has sacrificed evangelism, but I am making the observation that when money is going to soup kitchens, it is not going to missions. To guard against that, the church is never commanded to show compassion to the poor as a means for expanding the kingdom. Simply put, you owe the poor the gospel; Jesus died to purchase for them the privilege of hearing the testimony of his death and resurrection (1 Tim 2:6). That is both the most and the least you can give, and Robin Hood ethics do not overlap with the Great Commission.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA.
  • Richard

    I assume you are the Jesse who talked about this at the Shepherds Conference.
    http://media.shepherdsfellowship.org/2011/SC1128.mp3

    Compared to “missional madness” this felt incomplete. It felt more like responding and less like teaching. Saying you owe the poor the gospel and nothing else sounds selfish at heart without explanation. God calls us to love the way he loves. He didn’t owe us anything but gave anyway. I suspect you simply are saying it is wrong to say we “owe” people things we don’t owe them. Without a corresponding exhortation to love generously as Christ loved us just ends up sounding heartless. We should be careful to remember the weighty matters of the law.

    I really appreciated “missional madness” and want to say thanks for it, assuming of course that’s you. :)

    • Charlie Frederico

      Richard,
      Your comment on the weightier matters of the Law is an apt one (Mt. 23:23; Lk.11:42). We cannot throw out mercy and justice with the Atonement Sacrifice. However, in Christ, mercy and justice are more an attitude of a regenerate heart that leads to proclamation of the gospel. It may or may not lead to housing a neighbor when their house burns down. But to leap into a sweeping statement that we owe the poor as much of our money that we can possibly give away is a subtle social gospel in light of the impotence of a Covenant Theology. Reality is, we owe the fellowship of the saints as much of our money as we can possibly give away (Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-35; Romans 12:8). Without neglecting the needs of our neighbors, we should do good first to our brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:10). I would think that if more churches toned down their lesser-needed line-items in their budget and put more aside to help the widows, fatherless and needy in their midst, that would do more to display the grace, compassion, and provisions of Christ than anything else (John 13:35).

    • Anonymous

      Yep. Same Jesse. I looked at my notes from that session, and they were like 10,000 words. What is above is the introduction, and I cut it down to about 1,000 words. Expect me to do more to fill in the complete picture in coming posts. Thanks Richard.

  • BJS

    I would agree that all we owe anyone is the gospel and our jobs is to not cure poverty but I think that when we are helping the poor and disadvantaged while sharing the gospel than that is a good thing. Maybe I am missing the point here but if there is a struggling family in my neighborhood and I help them out with groceries (or whatever their need may be) I am showing them the gospel in action. Of course if I am not sharing the gospel with them as I am doing this then that is a problem.

    • Anonymous

      I agree. What you do as a person in your personal evangelism is up to your wisdom and discretion. The gospel in action is demonstrated best through forgiving others of wrongs, turning the other cheek, putting your hope in heaven, fighting sin in your life, etc. My point, which I am willing to confess I didn’t make crystal clear above, is that the NT does not command churches to perform this kind of ministry. Christians can evangelize how they are led by the Spirit.

      • Richard

        Something I remembered pretty clearly from missional madness was the distinction you made just now “that the NT does not command churches to perform…”

        I hope it is understood I was more aware of what was missing more so than what was wrong.

        Having not read Tim Keller’s books on the issue, is it his call that churches or individuals give (or poorly said “owe”)? Or perhaps he makes no distinction and that is a major part of your point? If you intended to answer these things with future posts, I look forward to reading them.

        • Anonymous

          He makes the point very clearly that the call is to both churches corporately and people individually, esp. on pages 40-55ish.

  • Stantilly

    Jesus demonstrates compassion to the hungry crowds – and we know they were not all believers in Him. Jesus never only presented the gospel to the unsaved that He came into contact with. He teaches us by His example to care for the whole man i.e. their temporal food requiremnts also. As followers of Jesus we are to be compassionate to all manner of men and tend to all their needs, irrespective of their spiritual standing:
    Mat 15:32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

    Also, Paul teaches us “if your enemy is hungry, feed him” (Rom 12:20). Now would it be bad hermeneutics to say that the Christian’s enemies could be unbelievers? And, would it be ok to say that, if they are hungry, then, just maybe, they could be poor? So, putting this all together – are we not taught here to be merciful and compassionate to all our enemies even those who are poor unbelievers?

    Surely if you lived long enough for the gospel to have reached you then wasn’t it because God Himself had demonstrated loving kindness and compassion toward you all those years before He saved you by keeping you alive with the food and water and the shelter that He provided you as a poor wretched sinner? Perhaps there’s no direct command in the NT for us to take care of the poor in our day and age because God wants/expects us to be like Him and if we are like God then the poor of this world will benefit from our presence.

    • Anonymous

      I agree that Jesus showed compassion to the masses. He is the perfect incarnation of God’s compassion, and I should have brought that out in my post above. I grant that what I posted is not the full picture.
      That said, there are few events (2 to be precise) where he fed the masses. One to Jews, and other to Gentiles. Neither of those were feeding the poor, but instead he was feeding people who came outside of the city to listen to him. I really wouldn’t consider that a model for the church (at least not the urban church).
      Rom 12:20 is an interesting verse. I don’t get from that the notion that NT teaches “You owe the poor as much money as you can give away.” I think it is too much of a jump.

      • Stantilly

        Thanks for the response Jesse. My post was not in defence of Keller’s statement: “You owe the poor as much money as you can give away” I am writing in response to your statement: “…the fact of the matter is that nowhere does the Bible command the church to care for the poor of the world…or to care for the homeless in our community.” and Rom 12:20 has an imperative in it when it comes to our response to the way this unbelieving world deals with us as the people of God i.e. the church, and that imperative tells us i.e. the church, to “feed” our enemies if they are poor and hungry. We (the church) are (commanded) to be salt and light and Christlike in our dealings with the poor and wretched of this world as we take the Gospel to them. I understand the point you are making and I am with you 100% in speaking out against the so called “Social Gospel” but I am equally concerned about throwing out the baby of compassion for the needy of this world with the bath water of the social gospel.

        • Anonymous

          I totally agree with you Stan. And I also agree that I should not have posted this before posting on God’s compassion, which I see as the pillar of his attributes. Clint already sent me a mildly scolding email saying the same, which I receive.
          That said, I still think that there is a distinction between what an individual Christian is called to do to his enemy, and the idea that it is the church’s mission to reduce the poverty rate or engage in social justice causes. I’ll spend some more time thinking about Romans 12 though, so thanks for bringing it to my attention.

          • Robert Sakovich

            Also, the poor and homeless are not the only enemies who are hungry. I think that Keller also mentioned something about God having a closer relationship or stronger love/affection for the poor and I really took issue with that thought. I think any time we try to focus on any one group of people too much, then we are being partial and even judgmental in a sense. And partiality in us is not what I would consider a godly attribute.

        • Anonymous

          So in Romans 12, the goal of giving your enemy food is not to lower the poverty rate, but to “heap burning coals on his head.” So that might not be the model verse to use in thinking about social justice.

      • Richard

        As I think about what you just said there, I’m struck by the fact that Jesus quite probably wiped out sickness in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, but never wiped out poverty. So much of the social justice is the idea that we will wipe out poverty if we just do it right.

    • Keith Brown

      Its a great thing when bright young theologians exercise their minds on pertinant issues!

      However may I encourage some caution and equal attention to behavioural, attitudinal “theology”. Why speak with some disdain (and possibly a touch of youthful cockiness) about an older man in the faith who is in the same camp as us in most important respects? And who surely deserves honour and respect for his many ministries which are clearly used of God. Paul instructed Timothy not to rebuke an older man. And the principle of respecting the hoary head stands whatever one’s eschatology! (Whitfield when older looked back on his youth and spoke of having “zeal without wisdom” and your own Jerry Wragg encourages compelling behavioural characteristics as a priority combined with a passion for truth for biblical leadership)

      So having shared that somewhat baby boomer (but hopefully biblical!) thought, what of the substance of Jesse’s sweeping “no command to give anything but the gospel to the poor”! I am with Stan in that surely all the commands relating to love and compassion are commands to give more than just the gospel? What of the great “Love your neighbour as yourself”? And the parable of the good Samaritan? Of course love him enough to preach the gospel but to hand a tract to a hungry, jobless, cold person is surely tantamount to saying “be warm and filled and yet give them nothing for the body” (James 2:16). Surely the same principle applies within the church to a “brother or sister” as outside the church to a needy “neighbour” made in the image of God? Visiting orphans and widows in their distress is surely giving more than just the gospel? Will we be knocking Spurgeon next for building orphanges and George Muller for caring for destitute children? And missionaries for building schools and hospitals?

      I agree it is not the church’s priority to alleviate poverty but please let’s not throw out the baby (a heart of love and compasion towards all men that goes beyond words but to actions encouraged in Matthew 5 like giving to those who beg, giving a tunic and your cloak… ) with the bath water (dispensational paranoia and preconceptions about amill and postmill social agendas!)

      There is a strong suggestion of caring for those in the church only (and in Israel only). God sends rain on the unrighteous and in that context Jesus says “if you love those who love you – even the tax collectors do the same”

      • Anonymous

        Keith,
        Thanks for your comment. I don’t want to rebuke Keller for exactly the reasons you point out, and this wasn’t intended as a rebuke. At the same time, Keller’s quote above is simply not true. In fact, the CT article that had this quote had this headline: “What we owe the poor.” I think the substance of his comment is wrong, and if followed is actually harmful to the mission of the church. But he makes it clear in his books that he thinks this kind of social action is part of the mission of the church. All I want to convey is that this disagreement is rooted in eschatology and ecclesiology. It is not new, and not confined to Keller and Johnson, but goes back to the difference between premils and postmils, with amils uncomfortable generally on both sides.

        I also want to point out that there is a difference between your personal ethics/loving your neighbor/feeding your enemy and saying that the church has as its corporate mission to lower the poverty rates in its community, which is what TK says. There is a personal/corporate distinction, but also a distinction between loving your enemy and homeless shelters. (I talked about the James 1:29 verse you mentioned elsewhere in this comment thread).

        So let me pose you a question Keith ( I know and respect your ministry, and I pray for you often, and I can honestly say I respect your opinion, so I’m not asking to be snarky–Clint’s fav word–but bc I really am curious what you would say): what do you think of the statement that the church has as its mission (and thus should use its resources for) lowering the poverty rates in the community? Do you agree with Tim Keller that you owe the poor as much as you can give away?

        • Keith Brown

          Thanks Jesse! I remember your visit to us with affection. My son still has the bible you gave him!! So we enjoy mutual respect in the Lord my brother! Thank you for your prayers! Always needed and appreciated!

          My note above had two purposes. 1) Warn against possible disrespectful attitudes towards evangelical and reformed men of some stature. Even if we have some differences, I think there are better targets than Driscoll and Keller!
          2) Question your sweeping assertion that there are no commands for the church to care for the poor by pointing to clear passages commanding acts of care, mercy, compassion on mankind in general and the poor in particular. The Priest and Levite were rebuked for ignoring the needs of a neighbour lying beaten on the side of the road. Needing a shirt and coat and begging (Matt 5) is clearly reference to the poor. Jesus told the rich young ruler that it would be a good thing to sell his goods and give to the poor. And surely the many references in Proverbs to caring for the poor are universal vs dispensational principles? Matthew 25:31-46 refers to caring for the poor and needy as the key differentiator between the saved and the damned.

          To answer your question – personally I think Keller goes too far in saying “we owe the poor as much as we can possibly give away”. Perhaps he is exaggerating for effect because the church in general (especially dispy’s! :>) ) is too insular? Perhaps he means after giving to gospel focused church projects give as much as possible to the poor? I was challenged and encouraged by his “Ministries of Mercy” book.

          Equally I humbly suggest you go too far in saying there is no command to the church to give anything but the gospel to the poor. I must confess I am struggling with your distinction between “personal” and “church” mission? I do not see this distinction? Individuals have neighbours and so do churches in communities? (As CR Tolbert says – “Christians are the church.”) And here in Africa neighbouring communities are often poor!

          However let me hasten to ask – is this really an issue worth all the time and debate on this blog? We all know that Tim Keller is NOT a “social gospel” dude proclaiming good works like an NGO charity with no gospel. He makes it clear in “Ministries of Mercy” on pg 25 that the ultimate purpose is to reach neighbours for the gospel. “We must give our faith active expression through deeds of compassion coupled with evangelism and discipleship”

          • Anonymous

            I receive what you say. I appreciate your balance, and think it is helpful. I will post in the future on individual vs. corporate distinction, and will only cite Keller favorably in that post, as I think he has a lot good to say on that topic. Thanks for the kind words and gentle correction Keith,

            Jesse

          • Keith Brown

            Thank you for this gracious response Jesse! May God continue to bless and use you!

  • CR Tolbert

    It’s not a command to lower the poverty level, but it is a command to take care of the poor. It is crystal clear in many texts of the NT that we are to be a people who show compassion toward the poor. If we do this but leave out the gospel, our efforts are in vain. Theology failed. But if we only preach the Gospel and fail to meet the physical needs of the poor we are saying”Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body. James says, “What good is that?”

    In short, the poor will always be among us, so until Jesus comes we will have the opportunity to glorify God by caring for them as we proclaim the gospel to them.

    • Anonymous

      I think the distinction between what christians are called to do and what the church is called to do, is helpful here. I agree christians, individually, are always looking for ways to help those in need, but I can’t think of one New Testament verse that calls for the church to provide for the poor outside the church. James is clearly talking about those in the church or those who enter the assembly. But I am not opposed to providing aid where possible, just trying to point out that I agree with Jesse that there is no biblical command for the church caring for the poor outside the church apart from bringing the gospel.

      • CR Tolbert

        Sorry, I thought that Christians are the Church.

        • Anonymous

          No problem. It is a distinction that many people don’t think of often, but it is a biblical distinction. I think that the loss of this distinction comes from downplaying the importance of the local church, and assuming that Christian=church=universal and invisible church. I am glad for the resurgance (am I allowed to use that word?) of focus on the local church recently though–esp. through CJ, Mohler, et. al–and I think that will help others realize there is a distinction.

          • Robert Sakovich

            As long as you don’t use an e, you can use that word without any issues haha.

        • Richard

          CRT, you said what so many feel with that statement. I think the concern is how many play off that and then conclude foolish things about what the meeting of the saints should look like. Jesse please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the point is to not project on to the meeting of the saints a false responsibility, at the same time not removing the clear teaching to love your neighbor as yourself. When we project onto the church a responsibility to give to the poor at the same level as giving them the gospel, we will inevitably corrupt the gospel.

          • Anonymous

            Amen.

    • Anonymous

      CRT,
      The James 2 passage makes abundantly clear that those people are poor INSIDE the church. THey are not the poor of the world. It is not an issue of giving them the gospel without bread–that couldn’t be further from James’ thinking. Instead, he is saying if you see a brother or sister (a believer) starving, and you say “See you Sunday” then you are a fool and your faith is a fraud. This has nothing to do with the poor of the world, and everything to do with how you love believers in your own body.

      • CR Tolbert

        You’re right, improper exegesis there. What about 1:27? Do these widows and orphans have to be believers? I’m not being snarky either. I’m trying to work through what you are saying. Thank you.

        • Anonymous

          I don’t take you as snarky at all, because your comments are always good. The widows we get help from 1 Tim 5: they have to be enrolled (members) reputation for good deeds/washing feet of saints, and too old to remarry. So those certainly are not the widows of the world.
          The widow/orphan line is lifted from the OT. James is making a statement that even in the OT, pure and undefiled (another levitical phrase) religion was caring for those people, and that has not changed. What has changed is seen in Jas 2: we care for those in the church, and that is a testimony to those outside the church.
          Who were those orphans? I have read every James Commentary written I think (slight hyperbole), and pretty much it is agreed that we don’t know. Some suggust children of martyrs. Others suggest orphans in the church. Other suggest orphans outside the church and in the world. I’m relatively ok wtih any of those, but I think Jas’ point is that if we refuse care for our bros and sisters in the faith, we make a mocker of our faith.

  • Noah

    So far, there appears to be a misunderstanding of Jesse’s point. There is only so much one can say in a blog post, but his point is that it is not the church’s job to care for the poor or do something about the poverty level, and that dispensationalists see this consistently because of the distinction between Israel and the church. We know this because no church is given the command explicitly to give to the poor. Churches are told to believe certain things, act in a manner that is in accord with those things that are to be believed, and relate to one another in the church in such a way that love is preeminent. When there is a command to take care of the poor, it’s always the poor within the church. So when James says what he says in 2:15-16, it’s the brother and sister that we see naked and hungry, not a person outside the church. There is also freedom for the church to minister to the poor of the world in such a way as giving or feeding or clothing. But there is no command to have such a ministry regularly.

    There is a level for an individual Christian to do good to those around him or her (Galatians 6:10). So if that means buying groceries for the neighbor who is struggling, then so be it. But this is not a command to do such a thing, it is left up to the individual to discern what the best course of action is. If the Christian decides not to do anything at all, ever, for church or neighbor, then that is an opportunity to teach and exhort. But to say that part of the church’s mandated role in the world is to take care of the poor outside of the church would be to put something on her that the Bible does not. Our first responsibility as individuals, though, is not to the world or even those around us, but to the church (again, Galatians 6:10). How is it that Jesus said that the world would know that the Father sent him? By his disciples being one as the Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:21). What Jesus gives as command for the church is found in Matthew 28:18-20 and parallel passages, and never is part of the command to take care of the local, state, or global poor.

    There is so much more, like the example of Jesus’ miracles and whether or not that is to be duplicated, but I leave that to others to address.

    Thanks for the post, Jesse!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Noah. And I will take the blame for the misunderstanding of my point. If the first 4 commenters all missed it, I am willing to say the fault is mine, and not everybody else.

  • Mary Elizabeth Tyler

    This statement is worth highlighting and should not go unnoticed. Jesse said: “The gospel in action is demonstrated best through forgiving others of wrongs, turning the other cheek, putting your hope in heaven, fighting sin in your life, etc.”

    How true this is, it is far easier to do good deeds of feeding the poor than it is to tend to our sin nature.

    I agree with Jesse’ post. God is just establishing first priorities. He came to seek and save the lost first and foremost, and The Great Commission is to go into all the world and make disciples. Nothing there about feeding the poor. It is simply a matter of first priorities.
    God puts doing the work of an Evangelist above that of a funding a soup kitchen.

    I also listened to your sermon/talk on this the other day, as I found it after Nate gave a link to Shepherd’s Fellowship. Very good!

    • Michael

      Mary, I could not agree with you more…while we cannot forget the virtue of physically helping the poor, their primary need is the gospel. It is much much easier to simply feed the poor than to be willing to get on their level, so to speak, and share the gospel with them in a personal conversation.

      • CR Tolbert

        I completely agree with you too, Michael. The gospel is primary and essential for it and it alone is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. I’m just so surprised to find that we (the church) are not commanded to help the poor; just preach to them. But once they accept the message, we have to help them. Of course, I was equally surprised when I first heard that it is God who chooses those He will save and those who will be damned (a doctrine I now know to be taught all throughout scripture and therefore I joyfully embrace). I’m going to have to study this one out. Thank you Jesse for giving me something tough to chew on. Iron sharpens iron! SDG

    • Anonymous

      After all, a poor with a full stomach but with a dead soul will end up in the same place as the unsaved rich. Ultimately the problem is not “money”, and the gospel of “social justice” sees money as the problem.

      As you say, Mary, it’s a matter of first priorities. And just to point out, no one is saying that we, as individuals, should not be helping those outside the church who are in need. We should, however, make a distinction between what the church’s priorities should be.

      It is true that a Dispensationalist has a clearer understanding of those distinction’s. =)

      • Mary Elizabeth Tyler

        Hi Elaine:

        I am so glad Jesse brought this subject up. Many, many years ago I would have disagreed with him, as with the Lord. OUCH! But God will always give us more light as we are able to handle it.

        Can you imagine the never-ending tasks of trying to deal with all the problems that we have in this world? We know that none of the evils in this world will come to an end until the return of our great God and Savior. There is but one task set before us, and that is evangelism, or we become sidetracked and ineffectual for His kingdom work, by being busy doing other things that do not focus on the main message, and distract from that message.

        We can equate this to being wives and mothers, can’t we? If we work outside the home our families suffer along with our husbands. Women are super at multi-tasking BUT something always has to give. We can only have so many priorities in life and so many loyalties; the fewer the better to accomplish God’s work.

        Now, let me add, we all do many good things for the unsaved and the poor, but let’s not get distracted, because it is so easy to do.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Curious. Have you ever met Christians who just did “mercy ministry” or “social justice” activities and who did not share the Gospel?

    If so, what if those Christians responded to the criticism that they did not spread the Gospel by saying that while they did not spread the Gospel verbally, they did it through their actions and behavior?

    And that their actions and behavior softened the ground for a later evangelist to share the Gospel verbally?

    Or have you ever met Christians who did “mercy ministry” or “social justice” activities who said that they didn’t spread the Gospel verbally because they don’t have the “gift” of evangelism, but that they had the gift of mercy or the gift of helps. And that you’re criticizing of them denigrates their gifts.

    Have you ever met folks like that? What do you to them? What did they say in return? How did it go in your exhortation of them to share the Gospel verbally?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Anonymous

      TUAD,
      I have met every category you have listed above…just last week! When I meet those people outside of my church, I generally ignore them or pray for them and their ministry. I don’t confront them or anything. I’m more concerned about those inside my church that think that way. I usually take those people through our church’s evangelism training.

    • Tim

      On your first option, a person who (while claiming to be a Christian) just did mercy ministry and did not share the gospel, there’s a rather famous nurse. She worked in India with the poorest of the poor. She felt strongly that she showed them Christ’s love through her works. She also felt just as strongly that she did not need to use words to tell them of their need for Jesus. Verbally proclaiming the gospel was – by design – noteably absent from her work.

      Cheers,
      Tim

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1264821981 Robyn Wallis

        PR for the RCC: Priceless!

        • Tim

          How clumsy of me (to quote Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music); I meant to accuse. A person who thinks their works are all the Gospel proclamation necessary does not understand the Gospel very well.

    • Truth Unites… and Divides

      Jesse: “When I meet those people outside of my church, I generally ignore them or pray for them and their ministry. I don’t confront them or anything.”

      Okay. It feels good knowing that since you don’t confront them…. I don’t have to confront them either!

      So, if you met Tim Keller in person, you’d pray for him and his ministry instead of confronting him!

      :-)

    • Truth Unites… and Divides

      Tim: “a person who (while claiming to be a Christian) just did mercy ministry and did not share the gospel, there’s a rather famous nurse. She worked in India with the poorest of the poor. She felt strongly that she showed them Christ’s love through her works. She also felt just as strongly that she did not need to use words to tell them of their need for Jesus. Verbally proclaiming the gospel was – by design – noteably absent from her work.”

      Your comment sparked a memory of another comment I have read elsewhere. It went something like this: “Our mission here on earth is not to make unsaved people more comfortable on their way to Hell.”

      • Tim

        Good point, TUaD. That quote about sums up what I was trying to say, and a lot better.

  • Doc B

    “Keller said that the church has a mandate both personally and corporately to try and lower the poverty rates in our world,…”

    If the mission of the church is to alleviate poverty, then we not only should not avoid political entanglements, we must pursue them. I’m guessing Keller is one who disapproves of the church becoming active in politics. But alleviating poverty is a purely political objective. And the best way to do it, historically, is to promote a free market, democratic society. In fact, giving money to the poor has been systematically shown to increase, not decrease poverty. Providing a stable expansionist economy will do more to decrease poverty than any welfare program.

    So if Keller is right, he needs to be forming the next branch of the Moral Majority (or whatever the reformed version of that might be called) and get active in national politics.

    • Anonymous

      For Keller, his eschatology comes into play here. His view on this is wrapped up tightly with pedobaptism, where even unbeliever are under care of the church, and an optimistic amil/post mil view that the church through these actions expands the kingdom of God. He makes that point in his MoM book linked above.

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  • Steve Meister

    Jesse,

    Thanks, man; good article. I wonder, however, if this issue is not necessarily one of “dispensationalism”? Might it be that Kellerian-types just do not read the OT carefully enough? (By the way, I typically assume that to be the case with anyone who discovers a foundational missiology or ecclesiology in Jer 29:7).

    So, notwithstanding the obvious oversights of the theocracy in the OT nor the eschatological mission of the NT church, but it seems that the actual nature of serving the poor in the OT is simply missed. For example, in all of the numerous exhortations to serve the poor in the OT, Israel was never commanded to take food to the Philistines or go “incarnational” with the Amalekites. They were to ensure that none among Israel was in need.

    Is that any different than the NT saying the love of God is not in us if we close our heart to our needy brother (1 John 3:17)? I find there to be far more continuity between the OT and NT on this issue – possibly more than the card-carrying dispensationalist – while still arriving at your conclusions.

    At least, I am jealous for the Gospel to triumph over potential derailments into “social justice” and would not want non-dispensationalists to trip over that issue. Can it be as simple as “read that again”?

    • Anonymous

      I agree, but hasten to point out that there is a distinction between OT and NT social ethics that both Ryrie and Feinburg were getting at in their contexts from which I grabbed their quotes screaming and kicking. In the OT, there was a geographical distinction, not a distinction based on creed. In the NT, the distinction shifts away from geography (Paul collecting funds for poor in Jerusalem for example) and to a creed based compassion (only the widows with a reputation for good deeds, for example).

  • Brad

    I found this article to be a helpful articulation of Tim Keller’s position: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/publications/33-3/the-gospel-and-the-poor

    I think it clarifies 1) his motivations for serving the poor and 2) his understanding of the relationship between serving the poor and evangelism. His arguments made sense to me and it seems to be based more on the gospel and the character of God than on eschatology or hermeneutics proper.

  • http://twitter.com/gottheology Trevor M.

    I’m taking a break from some dense CPA exam materials to hop in on the discussion here.

    2 questions (without snark, as a disclaimer):
    – If the NT doesn’t say to give to the poor outside the church, does that forbid us from doing so? I guess this is more a question of logic / hermeneutics…maybe?
    – I’m not a dispensationalist, yet I find myself strongly agreeing with this article. Can you clarify what dispensationalism (and the contra ideas) have exactly to do with this? Forgive my lack of education on the matter.

    • Anonymous

      Great ?s Trevor. First, no, the NT doesn’t forbid us from those actions. You are a steward of your time, gifts, and talents, and will be judged for how you use them. Invest your money in kingdom work, and store up treasure in heaven. It is up to you how you use your resources, and you will be rewarded with treasure in heaven when you use them well.
      Second, the dispensationalist is equipped to clearly say that the Mosaic Law was not given to the church. The Law does indeed command indiscriminate social justice to those inside of Israel. Thus most biblical cases on social transformation are drawn from the OT Law. So you don’t have to be a dispi to agree with my post. But being one gives you the hermenutical grid to do so more easily. That was my point, which I confess might not have been clear. Also, the quote from Feinburg above sort of explains why being a disp lends itself to this kind of thinking.

  • Jeri Tanner

    ” He went on to write that because the nature of the Torah’s commands concerning the poor are so different than what the NT commands, that to discuss them at all lends itself to seeing discontinuity between the two covenants, and thus dispensationalism.” Not necessarily… so far as I’ve studied, I understand God’s words through the prophets to Israel concerning the poor to mean the poor among themselves. Is there anything in the OT that speaks to Israel’s helping the poor among the Gentiles? They were, of course, to help anyone who was among them (Leviticus 19:10), but I don’t remember a command to go out to the pagan poor. They were, though, to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). I see a lot of continuity between Israel’s mandate and our own.

    • Anonymous

      Good point Jeri. I’ll come back with more verses tomorrow, but the gist is that the Levitical Law was based on geography, not creed. In other words, it afforded protection to the Moabite, if the Moabite sought refuge in Israel (cf. Ruth). Hence my comment about no food pack campaigns for the Assyrians.
      That changes in the NT where Paul takes a collection in Corinth for the Saints in Jerusalem. Now creed is what distinguishes, not geography.

      • Anonymous

        Duet 15:4 makes the case that if Israel keeps the Torah, there will be no poor in their midst. This is contrasted with the NT church, which is made up predominately of the poor (James 2:5). In the OT, a runaway slave, regardless of his religious beliefs, was afforded protection (Deut 23:15). Even a Moabite could come and winnow in Israel’s fields. This si substantially different than the NT, where a widow must meet certain qualifications to receive the church’s aide, and nowhere does Jesus say that if we follow his teachings that there will be no poor in the church. In fact, he says the opposite (Mat 26:11).

        • Jeri Tanner

          Hmmm! Deuteronomy 15:7-11: “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, [8] but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. [9] Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. [10] You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. [11] For there will never cease to be poor in the land…”

          In Matthew 26:11 it seems Jesus is referring to Deut. 15:11a. That’s continuity! I am in whole-hearted agreement with you about the mistakes of the social gospel. But I can’t agree that one must share Ryrie’s dispensational views to recognize those mistakes. Jim Elliff has spoken recently about the downside of getting our theology from various systems, rather than taking care to get it from the whole Bible. I hope that’s not happening with any of us. But I’m firmly with you that the church is called to share the gospel, not alleviate poverty in the world.

          By the way you are a gracious host! I appreciate your open welcome to guest commenters. :)

  • http://aborrowedlight.wordpress.com/ MarkO

    So are Dispensationalists proponents of an “unsocialable gospel”?

    My father and mother were medical missionaries in South America for a decade of my youth. They saw many people come to Christ who had first been cared for by “the doctor.” It was amazing how many of them were willing to listen to the Gospel from a man who came from such a long distance to meet their pressing physical needs.

    It’s true in my experience that Dispensationalists are indeed of a philosophical bent to minimize caring for those in need.

    Good thing the Sermon on the Mount was in the OT era cause mercy as you say referring Ryrie is a thing of a by gone era: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy.”

    • Anonymous

      I laughed at the unsociable gospel. Ha.

      I actually don’t think you will find any Christian who is against mercy. My point is simply that there is a distinction between personal and corporate ethics, and I grant I did not make that point abundantly clear above. Even Keller grants that distinction, but he just strives to put social justice into the corporate category as if it is one of the things God charged the church with. I disagree. It is also clear that even your father’s goal was evangelism, and that is noble and that is the mission of the church. I’m not even critiquing that. I am critiquing two things: The idea that you owe the poor as much as you can give, and the idea that the church is called to lower the poverty rates in the world. Instead, the church is called to go into the world and preach the gospel, and it seems that your parents excelled at that.

  • http://aborrowedlight.wordpress.com/ MarkO

    a question:
    Is James 1:29 for another Dispensation than the one we are in now?

    • AdamB

      Hard to find James 1:29…just saying.

      • Anonymous

        Fixed.

        • http://aborrowedlight.wordpress.com/ MarkO

          thanks

    • Anonymous

      Answer: Yes. I talked about that in a comment above to CRT. Search for “1 Tim 5″ and you will find it.

      Thanks Mark,

      Jesse

  • http://profiles.google.com/campinchina M P

    You did an excellent job of representing Dispensationalism. Unfortunately you did a horrible job representing Keller. You said about Keller, “Even Keller himself tacitly grants that there are no NT commands to the church for these activities (apart from the story of the good Samaritan, which I will save for a future post).” I’m not sure where you can cite this evidence but in his book this is clearly not the case. This is a misrepresentation because we do many things today despite the fact that there are no “NT Commands” simply because we know it to be true based on Jesus teaching. In his book Generous Justice Keller very carefully and methodically shows that based on Jesus actions and teaching the NT principle of Justice is as alive and well as the OT’s.

    Mathew11:4-5, Matt 9:13, Luke 7:11-16, Luke 7:36, John 4:27, Luke 10:26, Luke 4:25-27, Luke 18:15, Mark 1:41; Luke 5:13, Mark 12:42-43, Luke 1:53, Luke 14:12-13, Luke 14:26, Luke 6:32-36, 14:13-14, Matthew 6:1-4, Luke 18:1-8, Luke 10:25-37, Luke 12:33, Matthew 19:21, Luke 18:22,

    All of those passages and more speak about giving to the poor the oppressed and the cast down. Taking care of the widows and fatherless.

    I hope that you really read Generous Justice and didn’t just read a blog or listen to a lecture on it that attacks it. If you DID read it you would understand that at the very heart of Kellers argument is the Gospel. Giving the gospel is more than just throwing words at a people in a tract form. It is DEMONSTRATING God’s love for EVERYONE.

    Keller makes a very strong argument that the model that Jesus and the disciples set for us was ministering to the poor to help take care of their problems and give them the gospel. There is no disconnect with Keller.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for commenting MP. In Ministries of Mercy Keller (whose book is subtitled The Call of the Jericho Road) grants that there is no explicit command in the NT that tells Christians to be involved in mercy ministry. Rather, he writes:
      “Our paradigm is the Samaritan, who risked his safety, destroyed his schedule, and became dirty and bloody through personal involvement with a needy person of another race and social class. Are we as Christians obeying this command personally? Are we as a church obeying this command corporately?” This is why he. like Stott as well, draws much of their imperatives from the Torah. More later…

      • Tim

        Individual or corporate? Corporate mercy ministries are not my calling, so I really can’t say from personal experience. On the individual side, though, I like how C.S. Lewis put it in a couple places:

        The limit of giving is to be the limit of our ability to give. (English Literature in the Sixteenth Century)

        I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. … There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them. (Mere Christianity)

        It will not bother me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been “had for a sucker” by any number of imposters, but it would be a torment to know that one had refused even one person in need. (Letters to an American Lady)

        Sometimes I feel like I am keeping too much to myself, other times I find myself resenting that there is something I’d like to do and cannot because of “charitable expenditure”, and sometimes I have God’s peace in this area. I hope the experience of God’s peace increases over time while the other feelings go away.

        Cheers,
        Tim

        • Anonymous

          Thanks for that quote Tim. And I agree. I don’t want bigger barns. I want to store for myself treasure in heaven, and agree that giving away things is a great way to do that. But to whom and how? To the poor in the world? I think that is actually bad stewardship. To missions? Yes. To the poor in the church? Yes. To brothers and sisters in need? Absolutely. Give it away by sending it ahead to heaven, not be leaving it on the streets of the world.

          • Tim

            To the poor in the world?

            Perhaps. If I see a person who obviously can’t afford to eat decently and I have a sandwich in my bag, I think I can hand it over in a worshipful way whether that person is saved or not; it may or may not lead to sharing the gospel, and that’s OK. But all this is still in the area of individual giving, not an endorsement of giving as a church mandate.

            Cheers,
            Tim

          • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

            Good thoughts, Tim. I’m wondering, though, why we wouldn’t proclaim the Gospel to the person that we gave the sandwich to. I guess I’m not convinced that “it…may not lead to sharing the gospel, and that’s OK.” Wouldn’t that be doing no more than an nice unregenerate person could do?

            Maybe you could flesh out more about why you’ve come to that conclusion. (I’m genuinely interested, not trying to be rhetorical.)

          • Brad

            Hey Mike!

            I’ve had the same thought you expressed! Here is my conclusion: In certain circumstances, it is ok to be conduits of God’s common grace without proclaiming the gospel. I realized this from a passage in Matthew that says God gives rain and sun on the just and unjust. I also learned this truth from 1 Peter 2 where it says our lifestyle and behavior will cause others to glorify God.

            So, I think the Bible teaches that doing good and loving others glorifies God and brings a smile to His face even when we do not preach the Gospel. Of course, I am not saying that preaching the Gospel is unnecessary or less important.

            That’s my take and how I live my life at this moment. For example I have been bringing food to the neighbors, helping them move, teaching them how to use the computer, giving them money when they need it etc., basically serving them in whatever way I can but I haven’t shared the Gospel with them yet. I have only lived in my neighborhood for a few months but hopefully I will soon tell them the Gospel.

            I think this whole discussion would actually be unnecessary if we just saw ourselves as missionaries sent to minister God’s grace in Word and deed. When I began to see myself as a missionary and the Gospel as preeminent, most of these questions and distinctions simply didn’t matter anymore.

          • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

            Thanks Brad. I think the Matt 5 reference is helpful. Good call. Though I think the 1 Peter 2 reference is reaching, since the context is Christians being persecuted for their faith and not returning evil for evil. Thus, the people who were seeing them respond graciously knew that they were Christians and that they were doing so because of Christ. When you give a guy a sandwich on the sidewalk, he has no idea what motivates you to do such a thing. Do your neighbors know you’re serving them because you’re a Christian, or do they just think you’re a nice guy? If the latter, aren’t they kinda glorifying you, and not the God for whose sake you’re serving them?

            Also, I’m curious, why haven’t you yet proclaimed the Gospel to them?

          • Tim

            Good question, Mike. I should have been more complete in describing the sandwich scenario.

            The set-up: I see a person who obviously can’t afford to eat decently and I have a sandwich in my bag.

            Option 1: I ask if the person is a Christian. The person says yes. I say, “Here’s a sandwich.”

            Option 2: I ask if the person is a Christian. The person says no. I ask if the person will listen to me share the Gospel if I give them a sandwich. The person says yes. I say, “Here’s a sandwich.”

            Option 3: I ask if the person is a Christian. The person says no. I ask if the person will listen to me share the Gospel if I give them a sandwich. The person says no. I say, “Goodbye.”

            Seriously, though, I think I just hand over the sandwich hoping it will lead to an opportunity to share the gospel. Me – “You look hungry. Would you like a sandwich?” Them – “Yes” (Or no; the actual answer doesn’t matter.) Me – “God bless you. Jesus has blessed me and I am so glad to be able to share that with you.” More conversation may or may not ensue, but it’s all up to the Holy Spirit anyway.

            So I don’t think the validity of my stewardship of the resources God has given me actually requires that I go through any of the steps, 1, 2 or 3. In fact, the person can tell me to buzz off with or without accepting the sandwich and I think God is still glorified. That’s what I meant by “and that’s OK.”

            Cheers,
            Tim

          • Brad

            Good questions! I tend to think that most of my neighbors just think there is something different about me.

            I don’t really think that they are glorifying me if they think I am nice. I am a pretty practical guy, so I think you have to start somewhere with people. I kind of look at it like I have a couple of options: 1) I can go door to door preaching the Gospel to my neighbors everyday or 2) I can build relationships with them and live life with them everyday, hoping that God will use a combination of my lifestyle and my words to win them to Christ. I think #2 is generally the better way to go.

            I guess I am trying to take the long-term, relational approach to evangelism. By this, I mean live in a neighborhood for many years, serve and love my neighbors, pray for them and accept them, party with them, eat with them, speak about Jesus, and who knows maybe after a few years (or many!) I will see some conversions to Christ.

            I haven’t proclaimed the Gospel yet because I have just met most of them and the topic hasn’t come up yet. I am thinking I need to have them over for dinner so more personal conversation might come up.

          • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

            I really hate the embedded thread feature.

            I also really appreciate your guys’ comments. Tim, I think the statement, “God bless you. Jesus has blessed me and I am so glad to be able to share that with you,” is great. I also don’t think any of your options (1-3) would be necessary. I’d say that you offer the sandwich first, whether or not he’s a Christian, but then, perhaps in addition to the above statement, ask if you could tell him about what Jesus has done for you, and why you go around giving sandwiches to hungry folks. Also, bringing it back to Jesse’s post, it’s important (as you pointed out) that this is an instance individual, rather than corporate, giving.

            Brad, good point. I’m not saying that our first conversation with everyone has to be a Gospel presentation, but I think where we can go wrong is with the ideas of “pre-evangelism” or “lifestyle evangelism.” I think those are errors that are propagated indirectly by the philosophy that Jesse is speaking against in the original post. It’s important that we realize that we’re not evangelizing unless we’re speaking the message (Rom 10:17). My life is not the Good News (thanks be to God!). The Good News is the message of Jesus and forgiveness of sins in His name. My life will look different as a result of being a recipient of that grace, but my life is a result of the Gospel, not the Gospel.

            I think it’s important to emphasize, too, that I can live life with my neighbors and do all the things you mentioned while regularly preaching the Gospel to them, driving conversations back to the Gospel, etc. But many Christians I’ve talked to who espouse the kind of philosophy of evangelism you write about, seem to think that you have to do all these other things with unbelievers first, and then after serving them, eating with them, etc. you tell them about Jesus. I think that’s erroneous. Build relationships, yes. But build a Gospel-presence into those relationships; don’t make it the icing on the cake.

            Know what I’m sayin? 8^p

          • Tim

            Seriously Mike? You’re nitpicking the opening line for sharing the gospel that I put in the post? As I said, more conversation may or may not ensue. And as for an appropriate opening line, it all depends on the Holy Spirit’s leading in a given situation. I can tell you, it will likely never actually turn out to be the one I typed out above.

            Come on, stay with me here. My original point – and the point I have been trying to make since – is that if someone’s hungry and I have some food, an appropriate individual act of charity will be to hand it over without checking their spiritual condition first. That does not mean I abjure the gospel in the event, just that giving someone a bite to eat will not be contingent on it.

            Cheers,
            Tim

          • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

            Huh. I thought we were agreeing. I said the opening line was great. Then I just offered a suggestion about how one might move from an opening line to a presentation of the Gospel without saying, “I’ll give you this sandwich only if you listen to me.” No one said anything about checking someone’s spiritual condition. You give the sandwich no matter what, and then you ask if you can explain why you did it. Surely that’s better than giving the sandwich and saying nothing, no? If you’re going to serve this hungry guy out of Christian charity, why not do what you can to give him the Gospel along with the sandwich?

          • Brad

            Mike,

            I agree. I think the church I have been attending for the past few months really emphasizes “pre-evangelism” and “lifestyle” evangelism, but we are not really that great at preaching the gospel. Like you said, proclaiming the gospel is more like “icing on the cake” at my church.

            However, I don’t see this as entirely negative. At least it gets me to the point of KNOWING non-believers. When I went to a church that didn’t emphasize mission or “lifestyle” evangelism, I used to just come home after work to read books, watch television, surf the internet or go to a Bible study. I completely ignored my neighbors, not even knowing their names after living next door to them for years!

            So, I guess I see “lifestyle” evangelism as at least a step in the right direction. I may not be proclaiming the gospel to my neighbors but at least I am in the game, having neighbors I know and with whom I can potentially share the gospel.

            I think the next step is for me to grow in the gospel so it will flow out of me more spontaneously.

            One last question. I have heard some people say that people need to belong before they believe. That statement makes sense to me because it seems like God takes the initiative in loving and accepting us before we believe. How I see this playing out is that I would invite someone into my life and community to love and serve them without telling them that they must believe the gospel. Do you think that is ok?

          • Tim

            Mike, now we’re on the same page.

            The bane of blog commenting is the inability to ask for clarification before hitting the post button. My apologies for my contributions to the lack of clarity in this really long subthread!.

          • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

            At least it gets me to the point of KNOWING non-believers.

            That seems to me like a one step forward, two steps back kinda thing. The point of your knowing non-believers is to present the Gospel to them, and hopefully by God’s grace see them come to faith and repentance. Knowing unbelievers but failing to take the Gospel to them faithfully actually only makes you more accountable.

            When I went to a church that didn’t emphasize mission or “lifestyle” evangelism, I used to just come home after work to read books, watch television, surf the internet or go to a Bible study. I completely ignored my neighbors, not even knowing their names after living next door to them for years!

            I mean, that’s not good, but the way to remedy that isn’t to learn bad teaching about evangelism. Rather, it’s to put into practice the solid teaching you’ve been taught.

            So, I guess I see “lifestyle” evangelism as at least a step in the right direction.

            But “lifestyle evangelism” isn’t evangelism at all. That’s the point. It’s a step in the right direction to know your neighbors, certainly, but that’s not evangelism. Maintaining that distinction helps us from thinking we’re being obedient to the Great Commission when really we’re just being afraid of men (I speak from personal experience).

            I think the next step is for me to grow in the gospel so it will flow out of me more spontaneously.

            I don’t know if that’s what I’d aim for. Rather than a spontaneous flow, I’d shoot for an intentional proclamation. Go into the day with your unbelieving friends thinking that you’re going to preach the Gospel to them on purpose. Otherwise, if you’re like me at all, your flesh will always convince you that the time isn’t right.

            But we just have to call to mind the example of the Apostles. Paul showed up because he was preaching the Gospel. It wasn’t an add-on, it was his whole purpose for visiting a city. And it didn’t take him long before he was in the synagogues preaching his message, likely to people who had never seen him before. “Now” always seemed to be the right time for Paul (cf. 2Tim 4:2: in season and out).

            Regarding the “belonging before believing” thing, I actually disagree pretty strongly with that. Usually when people say that, they’re speaking about church. They need to belong to our community before we can expect them to believe. I think that’s terrible ecclesiology. The Church is the ekklesia, the called out ones. When we start telling unbelievers they belong in the community of redeemed, we confuse matters and fail to protect the purity of the Church.

            Further, we didn’t “belong” with God before we believed; we were His enemies. God did not accept us before we believed; He related to us only as Judge. And whenever we did “belong,” it was because of His sovereign regenerating grace and His setting us apart from the world. It’s not right, then, to tell people who have not experienced that grace and who are not set apart from the world, that they belong. MacArthur has said it over and over again: unbelievers should not feel comfortable in our church; church should be the most uncomfortable place in the world for unbelievers, because it highlights their guilt before a holy God (1Cor 14:24-25).

            Jesse has thought and written a lot about “belonging before believing” thing, so hopefully he’ll see this post and respond when he has time. Maybe he’ll even make it a subject of a future post.

            And hey, do me a favor. If you respond to this comment, just do it at the end of the thread. I’ll look for it there. I can’t stand these thin columns anymore! :-)

          • Truth Unites… and Divides

            Mike Riccardi: “I really hate the embedded thread feature.”

            Me too.

          • Tim

            Mike, you wrote:

            Tim, I think the statement, “God bless you. Jesus has blessed me and I am so glad to be able to share that with you,” is great. I also don’t think any of your options (1-3) would be necessary. I’d say that you offer the sandwich first, whether or not he’s a Christian, but then, perhaps in addition to the above statement, ask if you could tell him about what Jesus has done for you, and why you go around giving sandwiches to hungry folks.

            That’s exactly the point I tried to make in my comments (by way of More conversation may or may not ensue, but it’s all up to the Holy Spirit anyway.) but must have stated it poorly if it needed the amplification you wrote. Thanks for your efforts at clearing it up. I appreciate the dialog.

            Cheers,
            Tim

      • http://profiles.google.com/campinchina M P

        Ministries of Mercy and Justice Ministry are two different things and Keller points that out in Generous Justice. He also makes it very clear that beyond just the story of the good samaritan the NT and more specifically Jesus Ministry was primarily a ministry to the poor, downtrodden, outcast, fatherless and widows. Quoting a book that he wrote in 1997 versus one written in 2010 is a misrepresentation. I’m sure if you look back over your life you’ll notice that things you felt mildly convicted of 10 years ago are things you have developed and understand much better and your conviction has either Grown because of a better understanding of the Bible or it has diminished because of a better understanding of the Bible.

        In other words, you are quoting his weak view in 1997 while he was still developing and molding this understanding instead of his stronger stance today.

        • Anonymous

          I have not read the new book, but the quote I gave is from an interview this year where he said “It is biblical that we owe the poor as mush of our money as we can possibly give away.” That was not an older “weak” view, but what he said this year.

          I have read MoM, and he still sells that book on his website. But if you he now would share your view that that book presents a “weak” view of mercy ministry, I guess all thee of us agree!

      • Brad

        Hey Jesse!

        I am a bit confused. The quote above from Keller makes it sound like he is saying the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan is what we should follow and obey. This is from the New Testament, not the Torah, correct?

        Also, I was wondering if you could interact with Keller’s Gospel argument, possibly in a future post.

        • Anonymous

          The confusion probably comes from me. Keller grants that there are no NT commands mandating that kind of ministry. But he says that the model of the good Samaritan is what should inspire us to live like that. So he draws his imperatives from the Torah, and his example from the good Samaritan. BTW, this is the same approach Stott takes as well. There are others, like Conn for example, who do claim that there are NT commands for this. I am not convinced by their examples.

      • http://profiles.google.com/campinchina M P

        How do you handle this passage? Matthew 24:14-46. The people who didn’t help the poor and hungry and naked were sent to Hell. Individual or Corporate doesn’t seem to matter.

        Perhaps the biggest reason there is no EXPRESS COMMAND in the NT about doing compassion ministry and Social Justice is because it comes from a heart that truly loves God. It’s evident by the conversions in the NT that people had an almost immediate desire to give to the poor and that ministry to the poor, widows and fatherless was so much a part of Christianity that they didn’t NEED it to be expressly written. Why else did Zacheus want to give his money to the poor when he was saved? Why else did Jesus tell the Rich man to sell all that he has and give to the poor? Annanias and Sapphira? The church in Acts acting like a bunch of Communists? From each according to his ability to each according to his need.

        It’s not about an express command in Scripture because even if it was express you’d figure out a way to get around it. The NT church doesn’t follow all of the express commands that are given in the NT because they far outweigh the ones from the OT.

        Women are to wear a head covering in church, it’s expressly WRITTEN in 1 Corinthians 11:5. It’s a direct command. Does your wife cover her head when she prays? This is written to show you that even Direct Commands in the NT aren’t followed. You can play the whole semantics debate and explain that your wife’s head IS covered “spiritually” because you are her head and that’s really what Paul was saying but that doesn’t change the fact that Literal and Direct command is that your wife should wear a covering.

        The bottom line is that the NT demonstrated in it’s pages that a life that is surrendered to God is a life that want’s to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before God.” So the real question isn’t “is it an express command or simply implied?” (Tithing herbs and ignoring the poor?)

        The real questions are “Why don’t you want to see this happens worldwide with churches?” “Why is it a bad thing or ‘unbiblical’ for Churches to be known for Spreading the Gospel to the poor, fatherless and widows through ministries of mercy and Justice.”

        • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

          MP,

          I invite you to examine your attitude. Your comments come off as high-handed scrambles for authority from one who has recently realized the poverty of biblical evidence for his position. It’s fine to ask for clarification based on particular passages (like you do above about Matthew 24). But you should then wait for that clarification before you make accusations and draw conclusions. Jesse has repeated that this is the first of many posts on the subject, and specifically that he’ll address particular passages (e.g., Good Samaritan) later on.

          Perhaps the biggest reason there is no EXPRESS COMMAND in the NT about doing compassion ministry and Social Justice is because it comes from a heart that truly loves God.

          This is very poor argumentation. First, you mock the desire for an express NT command while at the same time acknowledging the validity of Jesse’s point: that there aren’t explicit NT-commands for social justice outside of the church. But then you try to steamroll your position onto the Christian’s conscience by insinuating that if we disagree with you, we must not love God. Even if you were right, which you aren’t, that’s no way to make your point — especially as a guest on a blog.

          But to answer some of the questions that came through your rant, Zaccheus gave his money to the poor because he had spent his pre-Christian life defrauding the poor of their money. These were his fruits in keeping with repentance (cf. Luke 3:8ff). Jesus told the rich man to sell all he had and give to the poor because He was exposing the idolatry of money and possessions in the man’s life. Ananias and Sapphira were not exactly models of NT service, but even their selling their land was to give money to the Apostles to meet the needs of the developing Church, not the poor of the world.

          It’s not about an express command in Scripture because even if it was express you’d figure out a way to get around it.

          That’s quite an accusation, and it would seem to require at least a cursory personal knowledge of Jesse to have any weight whatsoever. Which is to say: it doesn’t. Frankly, you need to check yourself.

          And, the head covering thing is a red herring wrapped in a non-sequitir if I ever saw one. Is that really where you want to go? Since we don’t obey some commands in the Bible, it’s OK to make up some others and bind the consciences of all believers? How exactly does that follow?

          Listen, we appreciate your interaction here, as well as your passion that the Church model Christ’s compassion to the world. But these kinds of comments are simply unhelpful and in many cases nasty. Somehow your concern for the poor has lessened your concern (and your respect) for your fellow-believers. Please address that before you comment further. And we do hope you’ll comment further.

          • Tim

            Regarding attitudinal self examination, blog commenting requires a greater amount of charity than is called for in face to face conversation where physical cues and ready clarification assist communication. I try (not always succesfully, I confess) to assume that the commenter meant things in a more gracious manner than might appear on first read, unless the words are unambiguous and subject to only one possible reasonable interpretation. After all, if one assumes the worst and responds in kind one might come across as patronizingly pedantic or needlessly nitpicky, rather than authoritatively assured. One would not want to do that, I’m sure.

            Cheers,
            Tim

          • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

            Tim, I’ll assume the best of your comment and not respond as if it was as extremely condescending as I first read it. Thanks.

        • Anonymous

          As for the Mat 24 verse, Jesus expressly says that they are brothers in the faith. So when Christians care for other Christians, they are serving Jesus himself. That says nothing about the poor of the world.

          By the way, the individual/corporate distinction comes form Tim Keller in Ministries of Mercy. I learned that from him, and I think it is a helpful one that does matter.

          • Keith Brown

            Ageed Jesse but then in this passage unbelievers are condemned for the same thing. (Not caring for the poor). Are you saying God is condemning them here for not caring for believers only?

          • Anonymous

            That is a good question. My read on Mat 25 (earlier I said 24..my bad), is that this is like a James 2 situation. There were believers who were in prison, hungry and naked. Jesus calls them “my brothers.” At the sheep/goats judgement, those who are sheep are told they cared for those people, and those who are goats are told that they did not care for them. The larger point is that by refusing to care for the body of Christ, you are refusing to care for Jesus himself. And the flip is also true: by caring for the body of Jesus, you are caring for Jesus himself.
            So those goats fall into the James 2 catagory. They may have had a profession of faith, but they refused to love the body of Christ and this manifested that their confession was false.
            Not just dispis see it this way, btw. Bloomberg in his NAC commentary on Matthew gives a really helpful survey of how that passage has been interpreted through history, and reasons why the historical interpretation is the correct one. I think his summary is extremely helpful, and he also brings out the James 2 connection really well.

    • Anonymous

      I can’t go through everyone one of these verses, but some of them argue actually against what you Keller said above. For example, Mat 11:4-5, Jesus doesn’t give the poor anything, but rather it says “the poor have the good news preached to them.” I hope you don’t think I am arguing otherwise. Other verses you site above are about Jesus raising people from the dead, but you say that verse speaks of “giving to the poor.” You cite Mark 12:42. Are you saying that Jesus gave that woman anything at all, other than a rebuke? The text certainly doesn’t say that. Heck, you even say that Jesus rebuke to the rich young ruler is a call to give to the poor. I hope you don’t really interpret that parable that way. So let’s just choose a random verse from above and carry on the conversation that way. Matt 11:4-5 (that was your first verse). How do you take that verse and reason that the church is supposed to lower the poverty rates in our community, or that we “owe the poor as much as we can give them”?

      Thanks MP,
      Jesse

    • Anonymous

      Finally, I have read most of what Keller has written. I have not read Generous Justice. But saying I’m getting my view from a blog or lecture is not really fair. I have even required seminary students at TMS to read Ministries of Mercy. I think I am fairly representing his view. But moreover, the quote above is HIS quote, in an interview he gave with CT. Which I would be willing to believe CT is misquoting him, but I haven’t heard anyone say that.

    • Anonymous

      I can’t go through everyone one of these verses, but some of them argue actually against what you Keller said above. For example, Mat 11:4-5, Jesus doesn’t give the poor anything, but rather it says “the poor have the good news preached to them.” I hope you don’t think I am arguing otherwise. Other verses you site above are about Jesus raising people from the dead, but you say that verse speaks of “giving to the poor.” You cite Mark 12:42. Are you saying that Jesus gave that woman anything at all, other than a rebuke? The text certainly doesn’t say that. Heck, you even say that Jesus rebuke to the rich young ruler is a call to give to the poor. I hope you don’t really interpret that parable that way. So let’s just choose a random verse from above and carry on the conversation that way. Matt 11:4-5 (that was your first verse). How do you take that verse and reason that the church is supposed to lower the poverty rates in our community, or that we “owe the poor as much as we can give them”?

      Thanks MP,
      Jesse

  • Anonymous

    Hey Jesse –

    When I read this yesterday I was a bit challenged. I hadn’t read something like it before. But then when I was reading devotionally in Mark 1 this morning, I noticed verses 32 – 39. Jesus does a bunch of healing (social work?), then the next day, rises early to be with the Lord (v.35). THe apostles say “Everyone is looking for you.” THe implication seems they were looking for Him to do more healing – more social work if I may – “But He said to them, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”

    It seems Jesus wanted to move on from that town because the people were becoming preoccupied with his social ministry but ignoring his preaching ministry, which was his priority and the reason He came. They would miss the message again later while they were distracted by all the free bread handouts (Mark 8:20-21). And from what I understand, many of the same folks who received his handouts along the lakeshore were crying for his blood at Calvary.

    Thanks for helping me think this one through. Also FYI, World magazine editors gave a similar critique of Keller’s book a few months ago. I was challenged by their evaluation as well….as I thought Keller might be onto something helpful here that the editors were overlooking. On the surface Keller’s thesis seemed good, but again, thanks for helping me “test all things.” (1 thes 5:21).

    • http://profiles.google.com/campinchina M P

      If you are looking to strengthen your position then it’s possible that’s what you want it to say but if you read it without trying to read into it at best you can say that Jesus healed the sick and demon-possessed and when he “went to an isolated place to pray” everyone who was healed and according to Vs. 38 preached to as well was looking for him. Jesus didn’t say anything about needing to get away because the people wanted healing more than the gospel he says, “We must go on to other towns AS WELL, and I will preach to them too. This is why I came.”

      You could read from the above, if you want to believe what Keller teaches, that Jesus is in fact teaching that preaching the gospel and healing the sick and lame go hand in hand.

      Sorry but you really seem to be reading into it and trying to draw out what you WANT to believe not what it actually says.

      So at best you are simply guilty of the same thing Keller is being accused of.

    • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

      I think that’s a good observation, John. A similar kind of observation hit me about Jesus telling beneficiaries’ of His healing ministry not to tell anyone about it (Luke 5:14; 8:56), or even not to tell people about the transfiguration (Matt 17:9) or that He was the Christ (Matt 16:20)! I’ve always thought that was like anti-evangelism!

      But what was the point? The miracles, the healings, the visions — these weren’t the message. They weren’t the Good News that the disciples were to take to the ends of the earth. The Gospel “He wanted His followers to spread was not that He was a healer or political liberator, but a Savior who died and rose from the dead” (MacArthur, Evangelism, 16; cf. 27). Social justice wasn’t the message; salvation from sins was. And so when He rises from the dead, then the restrictions are lifted, and the disciples are to tell everyone about this crucified and risen Messiah in whose Name is offered forgiveness of sins.

      • Anonymous

        [I was replying something to MP, but then there was an error, and now MPs post is gone??]

        Maybe so, but as I mentioned in my post, I noticed this during a devotional reading of the text. I didn’t go into it trying to draw out anything having to do with this thread. If anything, I went into it a bit skeptical of Jesse’s post and World’s editorial, although these weren’t even on my mind during my personal devotions. I had no plans to comment on this thread until that text jumped OUT at me as supporting Jesse’s position.

        But now that I’m in “forum” mode, I’ll try to defend my post. Throughout Mark Jesus is frustrated that the crowds just want the handouts and not the message. You feel the claustrophobia in Mark.

        4:12 While hearing they do not hear
        6:5 ….he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he wondered at their unbelief. [the social work wasn’t getting the point across] And He was going around the villages teaching.
        6:56 “whereever He entered villages or cities or countryside they were laying the sick…and imploring Him….that they might be healed”

        I don’t think it ever says the crowds were hungry for the truth, and crowding around Jesus to learn more truth! It seems most of them just liked his free food and healthcare programs, and gave lipservice to his teaching so they could enjoy the potluck after.

        I could be way off on that last paragraph….let me know.

    • Anonymous

      [here’s what MPs post that got deleted said]

      If you are looking to strengthen your position then it’s possible that’s what you want it to say but if you read it without trying to read into it at best you can say that Jesus healed the sick and demon-possessed and when he “went to an isolated place to pray” everyone who was healed and according to Vs. 38 preached to as well was looking for him. Jesus didn’t say anything about needing to get away because the people wanted healing more than the gospel he says, “We must go on to other towns AS WELL, and I will preach to them too. This is why I came.”

      You could read from the above, if you want to believe what Keller teaches, that Jesus is in fact teaching that preaching the gospel and healing the sick and lame go hand in hand.

      Sorry but you really seem to be reading into it and trying to draw out what you WANT to believe not what it actually says.

      So at best you are simply guilty of the same thing Keller is being accused of.

  • Anonymous

    While the scripture may not expressly tell the church to take care of the poor, it is certainly implied (I John 3:17), and even if it were not, shouldn’t this also be a mandate along with sharing Christ? Or would you rather that government provide entitlements to the poor to feed, house, and cloth them? It used to be the church took care of the needy, but that blessing has been removed from them by the government and turned us into a welfare state. And while missions is very important, I have seen far too many missionaries who only go into this field for the glamour of travelling to a foreign country, who remain in the field for years, and finally come home with no one saved. And frankly, right now the people who most need saving are right here at home. Our country has gone from being a godly one to one totally sold out to evil. But no one wants to do missions here; not nearly as exciting.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Cherry Ann,

      1 John 3:17 (like Matt 24 and James 2) pretty clearly command beleivers to take care of believers. This is the point modeled by the church in Acts 2 and 5, as well as in Paul’s collection for the saints in Jerusalem. It is an important distinction, not a slight one. We are called to make sure there are no needs in the church. This is different than saying that we are called to make sure there are no needs in the world.

      Thanks,

      Jesse

  • Ckolstad316

    Jesse I know future posts on this topic are yet to come. MacArthur has some good words on gospel centered-culture transforming ministry in his Colossians commentary pp 165-166.

    Grace, CK

  • Brad

    Hey Mike!

    This is my reply to your comments from yesterday. Thanks for your feedback, thoughts and ideas! I appreciate them! (Your comments are in quotes; my thoughts follow).

    1) “That seems to me like a one step forward, two steps back kinda thing. The point of your knowing non-believers is to present the Gospel to them, and hopefully by God’s grace see them come to faith and repentance. Knowing unbelievers but failing to take the Gospel to them faithfully actually only makes you more accountable.”

    I don’t believe that the only point or goal for knowing non-believers is to present the Gospel to them. And I also don’t think that God is going to heap punishment upon me if I don’t tell the Gospel to every unbeliever I know. My point was basically that you have to know people in order to share the Gospel.

    2) “But “lifestyle evangelism” isn’t evangelism at all.”

    I actually think it is. Here is my reasoning: We are to be salt and light, a counterculture to the world around us. Unbelievers should be asking questions about our lifestyle. At this point, we share the gospel with them, giving the reason for our hope and the way we live! In other words, we need to see a closer connection between our words and our deeds in evangelism. Both are important, neither should be neglected!

    3) “Rather than a spontaneous flow, I’d shoot for an intentional proclamation.”

    Excellent point! I like that!

    4) “God did not accept us before we believed”

    I actually think that the Bible teaches that we are accepted and chosen before the foundation of the world. Plus, just the fact that unbelievers still exist and have not been destroyed shows that God accepts them and gives them grace.

    5) “Unbelievers should not feel comfortable in our church”

    I think there is a kernel of truth in the above statement, but overall I think it is dangerous. Here are my reasons: 1) The church is not most fundamentally “our” church; it is Jesus’ church. Often times church is uncomfortable because it is a reflection of our culture, our tradition etc. 2) I think you are forgetting that the church is not most fundamentally a service or a building, but the people of God. I think you are saying that people should feel uncomfortable with the Sunday morning service. But if we view the church as the people of God sent on mission, the badge of a quality church will not be that unbelievers feel uncomfortable. Instead the church will go out into the world, serving unbelievers in love, forgiving them and accepting them as Christ has accepted us. Then the main emphasis of the church would not be that unbelievers feel uncomfortable with Christians. 3) Jesus is actually the clearest representation of God and He was very comfortable with unbelievers, and unbelievers were very comfortable with Him. In fact they flocked to Him. 4) I believe your use of 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 is not a faithful or true interpretation of Scripture. In fact I think it actually points to “lifestyle evangelism.” It seems to me that the unbeliever is actually convinced, convicted and converted precisely because of what was going on among the people of God. The hoped for result is not that the unbeliever would feel uncomfortable or unwelcome! The opposite is true – the hoped for result is that they would worship and experience the presence of God!!

    Have a good one!
    Brad

    • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

      Well Brad, we disagree on a lot, and I actually think you hold to some pretty dangerous and unbiblical ideas, particularly with regards to ecclesiology.

      1. If our mission, as given by Christ, is to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all nations, baptizing and teaching them to do all that He commanded, I can’t quite compute how you could say that the ultimate point of our knowing unbelievers is not to preach the gospel to them. And God will hold the messenger accountable for failing to speak the message. We see this in Ezekiel, where God says that if he fails to preach he will require the blood of those people from Ezekiel, but if he does preach their blood will be on their own head (Ezek 3:17-19). Paul continues this idea in Acts by declaring himself innocent of the blood of all men because he’s preached the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27; cf. Acts 18:6). This clearly implies that if he hadn’t preached the whole counsel of God, he’d be held accountable. Note: I’m not saying I’m not guilty of failing to witness to all the unbelievers in my life. But that doesn’t change that it is a failure on my part.

      2. Nobody denies the importance of a good testimony. Our life should back up our message. It should adorn the Gospel (Tit 2:10). But make no mistake: our life is not the message. Lots of people — Christian or not — can “look different.” Only one message brings life. So lifestyle evangelism is not evangelism. It’s not evangelism till you preach the message. Because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the message about Christ (Rom 10:17). And on the basis of that conclusion Paul calls for a preacher (Rom 10:14-15), not for missional living. God has been pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of the message preached (1Cor 1:21). People are born again by the word of truth (1Pet 1:23-25; Jas 1:18), not by observing our actions. We can be salt and light, but we’ll look foolish until God quickens the dead heart and opens blind eyes. Thus, mistaking “looking different” for preaching the Gospel is a grave error.

      3. Thanks.

      4. You make some category errors here. Being “chosen” does not mean we are “accepted” yet. There’s a difference between something being definite and it being actual. There’s no question that I was elect from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). Yet there’s equally no question that before God regenerated me I was his enemy (Rom 5:10), hostile to Him (Rom 8:7-8), and under the threat of divine wrath which was abiding on me (John 3:36). My acceptance was not actual until I was born again and believed. And even though sinners enjoy common grace, that is not “acceptance” akin to “belonging before believing.” Enemies must be made friends before they belong.

      5.1. The church is not most fundamentally “our” church; it is Jesus’ church. Often times church is uncomfortable because it is a reflection of our culture, our tradition etc.

      I never said it was “our” church. Neither did I say the discomfort should come from cultural distinctions. You sound like you’re regurgitating some A29 propaganda, but the shoe doesn’t fit what I’ve written. In fact, I explicitly said that the reason for the discomfort was that the body’s reverence for the holiness of God highlights the sinner’s guilt before Him. It has nothing to do with cultural differences.

      5.2. I think you are forgetting that the church is not most fundamentally a service or a building, but the people of God.

      And yet the New Testament knows of a category of being “in Church” (1Cor 14:19, 28, 35). Paul is viewing the church as the gathering of the assembly for worship (1Cor 14:23), not simply a decentralized universal church. So the distinction you’re trying to apply is an overgeneralization. The Church is both an organism and an institution.

      But if we view the church as the people of God sent on mission, the badge of a quality church will not be that unbelievers feel uncomfortable.

      Another category error. This is some of the poor ecclesiology that I’ve heard Driscoll and other A29 guys support. The church scatters for its mission. It is sent out to minister to the world by preaching the Gospel to all nations. But the church gathers (again, cf. 1Cor 14:23) to worship God as the body of Christ and edify each other via the gifts of the Spirit. That’s a fundamental distinction. If you fail to make it, you fall short of a biblical ecclesiology.

      Then the main emphasis of the church would not be that unbelievers feel uncomfortable with Christians.

      This is one of the reasons that one criticism of the “New Calvinism” is that it is fundamentally Arminian in methodology. Unbelievers will not feel comfortable with faithful Christians, because they are hostile to God, can’t submit to the Law of God (Rom 8:7-8), and do not accept the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness to them (1Cor 2:14). Your statements don’t do justice to those passages, and others like them, that teach that all men are totally depraved before God’s work of regenerating grace.

      5.3. Jesus is actually the clearest representation of God and He was very comfortable with unbelievers, and unbelievers were very comfortable with Him. In fact they flocked to Him.

      Really? So what do you do with passages like John 6:65-66? The “tax collectors and sinners” that Jesus was a “friend of” were those tax collectors and sinners who repented and believed.

      5.4. I believe your use of 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 is not a faithful or true interpretation of Scripture. In fact I think it actually points to “lifestyle evangelism.”

      Then you should take a second look: “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.”

      The unbeliever was not “convinced, convicted, and converted” because of “what was going on.” He was convinced, convicted, and converted because they were prophesying (i.e., speaking the word of God) and because they all called him to account. It was what they spoke, not what they did that made the difference.

      And I don’t know of a single person who would describe “the disclosing of the secrets of his heart” as a comfortable experience. The point is that he is a sinner, under the wrath of God. The gathered assembly (i.e., the church) called him to account for his sin, and he repented at the preaching of the word of God. No lifestyle evangelism there.

      I’ve been frank with you, Brad, but I assure you it’s for no other reason than that I genuinely care for you as my brother, and think it worth my time to carefully parse these things out, even while speaking plainly. I hope you’ll consider the frankness with which I present these matters as an indication of how serious I believe they are. I sincerely write in Christian love.

      • Brad

        Thanks for your comments and love Mike! Often times I feel like we are talking past each other, and we really don’t believe things that differently. It seems like you have your set of verses and ideas that you emphasize and I have the ones I emphasize. I am realizing that I should just make sure that I believe and live out your points and Scriptures as much as I believe and live out my points and Scriptures! In reality, my church and I do believe in the priority of preaching the gospel; I just think that we try to think through the “How” questions a little more. Anyway, I think if you were to spend a couple of months in our community you would enjoy how gospel-centered and intent on glorifying God we really are!

  • Tim

    “I thought you were all pastors now and no longer seminary students engaged in clever debates!”

    Nice line, Keith. While clever debating may still have a place in pastoral care, it should be carefully considered.

  • http://aborrowedlight.wordpress.com/ MarkO

    I have learned once I was released from my Dispensational chains that salvation is not an end in itself, but “salvation is a means to an end” (quote – Tim Keller)
    you gotta see this vid (it’s excellent):
    http://vimeo.com/8917129
    MarkO

  • Pmheaviside

    This is an interesting post and I would disagree, but just for fun I would like to pose a question.

    Jesse you say that Keller said that there were no clear cut verses that called for Social Justice in the NT(paraphrase). While that may be true(I would beg to differ), there also is no mention of the word Trinity in the NT, or for that matter the entire Bible. We can however observe from the Scriptures themselves that the Trinity indeed exists and is how God is.

    Indeed care for the poor is all over the NT and while we will have the poor with us always, it doesn’t excuse us from the mandate to love/care for them as image bearers of God Himself any more than the fact that not all people will come to faith, so we should ignore preaching the Gospel to them.

    It is not and either-or dichotomy, it is both. That is why when you look at places like Galatians 2, Paul talks about the Jerusalem Council and their verdict concerning his ministry to the Gentiles and says the following, “when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” v. 9,10

    We all know that Paul preached the Gospel as well as caring for the poor. He also talks about how the believers in Macedonia giving beyond their means for the poor in Jerusalem. It would be safe to say that not all those involved with the church in Jerusalem were actually believers thus showing that the Church in Jerusalem cared for them too.

    The First Century Church did this so much that even Caesar Julian said the following, “Why do we not observe that it is their [the Christians’] benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [unbelief of the pagan gods]? For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.

    For them it was both Gospel and deeds of mercy, but not one at the exclusion of the other.

  • http://aborrowedlight.wordpress.com/ MarkO

    Tim Keller is very helpful on this topic:
    love this lecture by him
    http://vimeo.com/5911393
    What he says has made a lot more sense to me since I “left behind” my Dispensationalism.

  • Pingback: The Gospel and Social Justice « One Mind Striving()

  • Nightfox90

    I honestly have never read a blog that makes me more frustrated and disappointed at the same time. Do you even hear yourself? The church has no responsibility to meet the needs of the poor? Try preaching the love of Jesus to people that are starving to death. Your argument is despicable. You remind me of what James talk about (paraphrase): the man who says to the starving people, “be warmed and filled” while you give them not the things they need.

    Your post is most likely in response to the “social gospel.” And while I agree that we must preaching the Gospel, I submit to you that it is not an “either or” (either we meet their physical needs or we meet their spiritual needs). We should meet the physical AND spiritual needs — kinda like Jesus did (remember Him?). No obligation to the poor? Repent, read your Bible, do as Jesus did, and I might start reading your blog again. :p

    • Anonymous

      Hi Nightfox,
      I’m pointing out that the NT does not command the church to engage in social transformation projects or lower the poverty rate. I’ve simply challenged people to give me verses that command the church to do that. So far, Keith gave me Romans 12, which I’m thinking through, and Mark O gave me a Tim Keller video. Do you have a suggestion?
      I’ve talked at length about James 2. Just search for “Jas 2″ and read that comment.
      Do you agree with Kellers comment that we owe the poor as much as we can give them, or that the church is called to lower the poverty rate in its community?

      • Stantilly

        Hi Jesse, watch your facts brother – check who asked you to consider Romans 12 – I look forward to your feedback ;-)
        Stan.

  • http://aborrowedlight.wordpress.com/ MarkO

    there’s an echo in this room (I think?). did Piper hear this conversation?
    http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/put-strong-pillars-under-your-case-for-the-unbelieving-poor

    and another thing I stumble onto:
    http://www.wordmp3.com/details.aspx?id=11855&utm_source=Listrak&utm_medium=Email&utm_term=http%3a%2f%2fwww.wordmp3.com%2fdetails.aspx%3fid%3d11855&utm_campaign=Music+Mondays!+St+Patrick's+Breastplate
    that mp3 file looks scary – cause it so huge – don’t I’ll listen this collection, but just reading the list of speakers makes feel like it must have been a carnival.

    btw – one thing that helped my reasoning processes when I left Dispensationalism was that I stopped (or at least cut way back) on the urge to compartmentalize nearly everything. So…

    when the Bible speaks – esp. in the NT – to the saints, believers, those who follow Christ I hear it speaking to the Church. I see James 1:27 as speaking to the Church which is made up of saints and to the saints who make up the Church.

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