September 27, 2011

Mercy ministry is not kingdom work

by Jesse Johnson

This may seem surprising, but I think that the debate about mercy ministry has as much to do with eschatology as it does with actual care for the poor. The debate is this: is the church called to care for the needs of the poor in the world? I have put up several posts recently that argue that the answer to that question is “no,” and even if that were the case, the commands to show mercy and love to one’s neighbor are given to individual Christians, and are not fulfilled by the church in a corporate sense.

But I am not convinced that this is really a debate about the nature of mercy ministry or even what exactly is entailed by generous justice. The main theological principle involved is eschatology, and particularly the nature of the kingdom. That is why I actually am not bothered when an amillennialist or postmillennialist argues that the church has a mandate to reform the culture and to combat poverty, because their reasoning usually leads to that conclusion. It is when the premillenialist thinks that way that I see the theological disconnect.

For example, Keller reasons that there will be no hunger or poverty in the kingdom of God, and it is the church’s job to bring about kingdom-like conditions. Thus he can write:

“To spread the Kingdom of God is more than simply winning people to Christ. It is also working for the healing of persons, families, relationships, and nations; it is doing deeds of mercy and seeking justice. It is ordering lives and relationships and institutions and communities according to God’s authority to bring in the blessedness of the kingdom” (Ministries of Mercy, 54).

The logic is unassailable. If you think the church is called to usher in the kingdom, and you grant that there is no starvation or begging in the kingdom, then “doing deeds of mercy” is a form of kingdom ministry. Obviously, if the kingdom is seen as future, then giving a non-Christian a jacket and food does nothing for him in kingdom terms. But if the kingdom is now and if the church has an obligation to meet the felt needs of non-Christians, then mercy ministry becomes a component of kingdom work.

This is classic postmillennialism, or more modernly known as optimistic amillenialism. Michael Horton spells out this debate over at 9Marks, and describes the modern calls for the church to transform society through mercy ministry as coming from the “triumphalistic postmillennialism.” He highlights that the issue is one of eschatology, and this is not unique to Keller. Calvin himself was a proponent of this kind of kingdom ministry. He taught that those in Geneva were all under the church’s care, and that any homeless or poor person—regardless of their creed or life—were to be cared for by the pious. Calvin understood the commands for mercy ministry to be individual (as opposed to corporate), but he made giving to the poor a requirement to receive communion. For Calvin, Geneva was a form of the kingdom.

I often hear people say that mercy ministry is not connected to kingdom work, but it is simply a partner to evangelism. One could conceivably argue that meeting physical needs of non-believers is a valid task for the church, as long as it is a means to a gospel conversation. But this is markedly different from Keller’s and Calvin’s view, as they demand that mercy ministry not be a means to an end. Keller is clear that mercy ministry should not be done merely to open up the door for the gospel, because it cheapens the importance of that form of kingdom work. He agrees that, “it is unthinkable that we could truly love an individual and not want both to share the gospel as well as meet the person’s basic human needs.” But he adds that one is not more important than the other and “one is not a means to the other” because both are valid forms of kingdom work.

Consider this description of the same concept from NT Wright, commenting on 1 Cor 15:58, which is Paul’s command for believers to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord”:

“By this he means that what you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into the future. These activities are … part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

On the other hand, for the dispensationalist mercy ministry to those outside the church could be a legitimate expression of God’s love to others, as well a tool to open the door for a hearing of the gospel. But in isolation those deeds have nothing to do with kingdom advancement. For those who see the kingdom as entirely future, kingdom work is made up solely of the verbal proclamation of the gospel. This view of kingdom work is not unique to dispensationalists, but is shared by amillenialists who see mercy ministry as an individual mandate (such as Horton), and also  those who are skeptical about the church’s attempts to right social wrongs in the culture. For example, Mark Galli (an editor over at CT) writes, “The goal of transforming our city, our culture, or our world can lead to little good.” He asks, what do “the crusades, the Inquisition, murderously Reformed Geneva, and the Salem witch trials all have in common? They were motivated by a desire to transform the culture, if not the world, into a Kingdom of God.”

While it certainly goes too far to compare churches that think their goal is cultural transformation with the Salem witch trials, Galli does make a good point. God’s kingdom is established by Jesus Christ when he returns to earth. One of its distinguishing features is that it is brought about by God, not by people. The kingdom is advanced through conversion (another work of God) only in the sense that more citizens are added to it. But it is not the church’s job to bring about kingdom-like conditions. To call your ministry incarnational cheapens the incarnation of Jesus, and to call your mercy ministry kingdom work shows a radical underestimation of the true nature of the kingdom.

_______________________________________

For more on Calvin’s view on poverty, check out: Bonnie Pattison, Poverty in the Theology of John Calvin. By the way, Calvin saw mercy ministry as an individual’s responsibility, and also saw the recipients of it being only those inside the church. However, becasue of infant baptism, everyone in Geneva was “part of the church” even if they were outside of the faith.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
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  • Blake

    This is hugely insightful. Thank you for writing this!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Blake. I’m trying to be more helpful than redundant, but I think I’m getting pretty close that line.

  • Brad

    Hi Jesse,

    I hear a lot of people talking about the “already/not yet” tension in the New Testament. I was wondering what you think about that theology. I might be misunderstanding, but it seems like you are saying that everything is “not yet” and there is no “already” in the New Testament theology.

    Brad

    • Anonymous

      Did you like the graphic of Now and Laters?

      Inside of dispensationalism (and premillenialism and even amillenialism) there is disagreement on this. Without going into the details on all the positions, this is mine: the kingdom itself is entirely future. But the already part exists as people live kingdom ethics, and expands as people are added to the kingdom through conversions. In other words, the citizenry expands, the ethics are practiced, but the kingdom itself has not arrived yet. Jesus has been innagurated as king (he went to a far away land to receive his kingdom), but he has not come back to claim it yet. Does that help?

      • Brad

        I didn’t catch the graphic of Now and Laters, but I like it!

        It sounds like this is a pretty complicated issue. It sounds like you are saying that in this age we experience the people of the kingdom and the lifestyle of the kingdom and the growth of the kingdom but not the kingdom itself.

        I’m just having a hard time separating the two (the experience of the kingdom verses the kingdom itself) in my mind!

        Thanks again for writing back!

        Brad

        • pablito

          This might be a stretch but it’s kind of like living as a native american in a native american reservation in the USA. Just because you live as a native american with other native americans sharing native american experience and culture and having native american children doesn’t mean that the USA is native america…

        • Anonymous

          I think your summary is right on. I try to keep it simple by just saying that the kingdom is future (and there are plenty of Bible verses that describe it that way). But I think it is helpful to also see that some elements of kingdom living are present here too. Hence the already/not yet. And even some amils would agree with the already/not yet tension. It just sort of becomes an exercise in “which things are in the already column, and which things are in the not yet column?” But it is most clear (and biblical) to see the literal kingdom as future, I think.

        • Anonymous

          And I’d also add that resonable people disagree with my premil views. I am fine with that too. The point of this post was simply to show how that disagreement affects mercy ministry. Thanks Brad,
          Jesse

        • The experience of the Gospel of the kingdom + of the lordship of the King in my life + of the people of the kingdom + of the lifestyle of the kingdom + of the growth of the kingdom + Jesus is King = (drum roll please) no Kingdom now

          I can see why you’re having a hard time separating “the two.” (of course, that’s what Dispensationalists do well). If you experience true divine salvation, but conclude that you don’t really have salvation itself would that be confusion too? If you experience the Kingdom of God as portrayed in Scripture I would suggest you are in the midst of witnessing the Kingdom in motion right now.

          what say you?

          • Anonymous

            MarkO,

            Thanks for your paitence with this series, and for sticking with it to the end. See my comment to Kole below, because I have the same question for you: are you saying the kingdom is now? My understanding of the postmil and premil views is that the kingdom is future, and my understanding of the amil view is that there is no literal kingdom on earth, but the prophecies of the kingdom are fulfilled/expanded in the church. So all three views would say there is no kingdom now. Even Keller uses the phrase “kingdom like conditions” which is why he is usually regarded as an “optomistic amillenialist.” Are you saying that you think the kingdom is now? Which view is that? Are there others (authors/pastors I might be familiar with) that hold that view?

            Feel free to answer at the bottom of the thread with Kole, so that this embedded thread thing doesn’t go crazy.

            Thanks Mark,

            J

        • The experience of the Gospel of the kingdom + of the lordship of the King in my life + of the people of the kingdom + of the lifestyle of the kingdom + of the growth of the kingdom + Jesus is King = (drum roll please) no Kingdom now

          I can see why you’re having a hard time separating “the two.” (of course, that’s what Dispensationalists do well). If you experience true divine salvation, but conclude that you don’t really have salvation itself would that be confusion too? If you experience the Kingdom of God as portrayed in Scripture I would suggest you are in the midst of witnessing the Kingdom in motion right now.

          what say you?

  • Michael

    I remember listening you talking about this some time ago. was it at the Shepherd Conference?

    Looking forward to reading this new blog. Exciting.

    • Anonymous

      I have talked on this topic a few times, but most clearly probably at this past Shep Con. You can get the audio from gracechurch.org or the shepherdsfellowship website.

  • bmh

    “He agrees that, “’It is unthinkable that we could truly love an individual and not want both to share the gospel as well as meet the person’s basic human needs.’”

    It is unthinkable, but we are vulerable to doing one or the other give our persuasions.
    I’m struck by passages such as Galatians 2:10 and Acts 24:17 which seem to support corporate forms of giving to the poor – albeit these examples speak of giving between beliving chruches – but even here we rarely hear of churches that financially support not just missionaries abroad, but entire churches.

    • Anonymous

      Brad,

      Good call with those cross references. I think that there is too much of missions work is wasted on ineffective strategies, and that the most effective form of missions work is church planting/strengthening. I’d love to write about that some day. Thanks for the comment.

      • bmh

        Hi Jesse, didn’t mean to step on your central point and I do agree that a good deal of missions work is ineffective – particularly, with emergent folks who have neglected the preaching of the Gospel for the sake of social justice causes.

  • I don’t have much to add in the way of substance, but I did want to throw in some “vocal” support for your writing on this topic. I think it’s super helpful to sound this note by looking at all the different angles of the issue. If nothing else, this particular post teaches us that our view of eschatology is not just some 18th-level doctrine that doesn’t really matter and has no implications on the rest of our theology and practice. What one believes about the future of the church and the world impacts the present state of the church and the world.

    So, thanks Jesse.

  • Paul Stewart

    I personally like mercy ministry because it makes me feel good about myself and numbs the pain of my conscience. If they don’t want Jesus give them America.

    The question must be asked, which is worse, suffering in Africa without Starbucks or suffering in Hell without Christ?

    Well done Jesse.

  • Michael

    funny how I found this article from Greece in which the official church is saying : we will take care of every poor people , will feed all of them it’s our responsibility ( paraphrasing ).

    Before I listen to your arguments, I believed the same thing, coming from an arminian background and a communist country. churches were taking care of their members and often times of the unbelievers and that was a great way of evangelizing. but just because it “worked” doesn’t mean it was biblical.

    maybe this doesn’t have to do so much with the topic, but it was providential that I landed on this article.

    Michael.

    PS here is the link http://www.inews.gr/152/olo-to-keimeno-tou-fylladiou-pros-to-lao-tis-ieras-synodou-tis-ekklisias-tis-ellados.htm (in greek of course)

    • Anonymous

      That’s not the Greek I know…

    • maybe it “worked” because it is biblical. The Gospel is mercy and when we show mercy people are seeing a key implication of The Gospel.

  • Kole

    It is hard to understand how people could be added presently to a future kingdom. Christ is king now, but with no kingdom. It sounds like the Church should live like there IS a kingdom with certain regulations and a sovereign King, but not call it the kingdom because theology says that it is really all in the future.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Kole,
      Thanks for commenting and I appreciate your question. I’m not trying to be condescending, but I can’t really understand your comment. There are pretty much three views concerning the kingdom. Both Premiellinialists and Postmillenialists believe there is a literal kingdom on earth in the future. Amillenialists believe there is not one in the future, and language describing one is in some way fulfilled now (but I don’t know anyone personally who would say this is the kingdom). So all three views would say that people are being added to the kingdom in some sense now, even though the kingdom is not here. Are you saying that this is the kingdom?

      BTW, this is outside the scope of this post, but I don’t think either postmils or premils would say that “theology says” the kingdom is in the future. We would say that the Bible teaches us that it is in the future explicitly. Does that help?

      Thanks for commenting, and please continue the conversation if you want,

      Jesse

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  • Josh Meares

    A) Where do you find the difference between communal and individual action in the New Testament?
    B) In what sense is an inaugurated kingdom witnessed to by a God-filled church not called to act as God has/will act in the future?
    C) Where do you find a bifurcated gospel? In other words, in what sense especially in Luke/Acts, is salvation only spiritual? What is the Good News that Jesus is sent to proclaim?
    D) What is the gospel to you? Is it only words? Only proclamation? Or is it words and deeds? And if it is words and deeds, then whose words and deeds? And if it is the church as a whole’s words and deeds, then in what sense can we afford to make “loving our neighbor” a personal, we-care-for-Christians-only response?

    As a DTS grad, I can say that I’m almost certain that this is not a dispensational issue, it is a modernist, individualistic worldview issue.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Josh,

      Thanks for commenting here. I appreciate your questions. I’ll just answer them briefly.
      A. I explain the difference between corporate/individual commands here: http://thecripplegate.com/are-all-biblical-commands-corporate/
      And I talk about how that applies to this issue here:
      http://thecripplegate.com/my-church-loves-the-poor-so-i-dont-have-to/
      As a side note, that is a distinction that even Keller embraces, and it is in most systematic theologies as well.

      B. Is a good question, that I guess comes down to this: There are elements of the future kingdom that only God can bring about. We are not working toward the kingdom. In other words, the deeds of the church do not bring it about (contra Keller’s view). That is exactly why this is an eschatology issue.

      C. The good news that Jesus sent us to proclaim is that God made a way for salvation. I know I keep sending you other articles I wrote, but I sort of give an overview of my view on this here: http://thecripplegate.com/biblical-pillars-for-mercy-ministry/ From that page are links to the places where I fill out my argument.

      D. Yeah, the gospel is good NEWS about what Jesus has DONE to make a way for sinners to be reconciled to God. That is why it is PROCLAIMED. There are effects of it, and those effects are seen in the lives of believers, but that gets to the difference between a root and fruit.

      Thanks Josh, and let me know if you want me to expand more on one of those in particular.

      Jesse

    • Anonymous

      I just read your last paragraph, so here is one more link in case you are curious. Here is where I briefly explain the connection to dispensationalism:
      http://thecripplegate.com/dispensationalism-kellerand-the-poor/

      But I do grant that non-dispis also agree with me on this, such as Horton, but he is probably the exception.

      Thanks Josh,

      Jesse

  • Josh Meares

    Seems like Jesus defined the good news pretty clearly here ” “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
    to set the oppressed free,
    19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[f]

    20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.””

    Is that good news to the poor that this life doesn’t matter as long as they have Jesus? A comforting “Be warm and filled” … you have Jesus in your spirit. Or is it that we are supposed to live out kingdom ethics today as we hope for Jesus to return and fulfill those ethics (as He has already fulfilled the law) in the future? Isn’t the gospel a reconciliation of God with man so that men may then practice God’s love with one another? Right relationship with God produces right relationship with one another. That is the point of Luke 10 as well as Gal 5:14 for gosh sake. “The whole law is summed up in this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” That is neighbor (i.e., fellow human) not “brother” (i.e. fellow Christian). The whole law! What it means to be a christ follower is caring for your fellow humans because if you are caring for your fellow humans it shows that you love the Father and have his compassion. God is constantly pictured in the Old and New Testaments as loving and caring for the poor, how can we say that we follow God and not do the same. Isn’t the flip side of Gal 5:4, if you, Christian, are not loving your neighbor as yourself, you do not love God? And if you are embedded in sinful systems (which all systems are), then how can you avoid taking responsibility for the corporate action of those systems and working for change in those systems? Christians still vote.

    Also, we see Paul in an non-Christian context in Gal 2:10 talking about remembering the poor/supporting the poor as a part of the gospel of Christ that the whole church was engaged in. It is also helpful to map the ministry and miracles of Jesus. Where did He spend His time? With the poor and powerless. And whose physical needs did he always attend to by healing or feeding when proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. You cannot disconnect physical from word. Words are meaningless when disconnected from deeds. Cf. James 2 And deeds are mute without words. IN other words, why should anyone believe that Christ died and rose again? Isn’t it supposed to be our love? And what is love? A feeling? I really love you brother .. so accept Jesus … sorry though, I only have limited funds … so I can’t really help you with that HIV medicine. Good news though, once you die, you’ll be with Jesus, which is better by far. Or does love require action? And … to be really honest, where is your church spending money that is so expensive that your members have given themselves into near poverty and yet can’t seem to help anybody’s needs? We are the richest country and the richest church in history, and yet we are worried about giving to the poor? You buying lots of gospel tracts or something?

    Or coming at the problem from a different angle and taking your side as totally true in the sense that we should only care for Christian poor; there are still 300,000,000 Christians in Sub-Saharan Africa, the vast majority of whom are living in desperate need. Not to mention the millions of deathly poor in Latin America and Asia. How are we to realize that Pauline injunction (which is undoubtedly corporate – AND based in OLD TESTAMENT THEOLOGY) “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”” You can’t feed 300 million with gifts. You have to attack sinful systems of economic and political relations. Or maybe because sinful systems are corporate .. they don’t matter? After all, some commands are only for individual Christians.

    I’m not a church history expert, by any stretch of the imagination. But I’m pretty sure that ministries of compassion were a part of the church in every age and place until the great Liberal v. Fundamental split of the late 19th/early 20th century. That leaves an awful lot of Christians with a dissenting view. Take that seriously. And read Paul Hiebert and Lesslie Newbigin.

    • Anonymous

      Josh,

      Thanks for commenting here. I appreciate it. The Luke 4 passage is important, and I think you should look at it closely. Nowhere in there does Jesus take on a social agenda for the church, or even his own ministry. In fact, when it comes to the poor, he expressly says that “the poor have the good news preached to them.” Later, in Luke 7, we get a picture of how Jesus saw himself fulfilling that passage, as he cites it again.

      As for Luke 10, this is what I wrote on that a few days ago: http://thecripplegate.com/only-god-is-good-including-samaritans/

      With Gal 5:14, I think you are mistaken when you say that passage does not talk about “brothers” as the passage uses that word, along with “one another” at least three times in the immediate context, as well as an allustion to those those who are filled with the Spirit. In Gal, I think a better verse to use is Gal 6:10, which underscores that distinction one more time, and also serves to illustrate the individualistic nature of the command (vs. corporate).

      The Gal 2 passage you quote is a reference to Paul’s instructions which received in Acts, telling him to act like Peter and the Jerusalem church. Well, in Acts we see how they acted: they sold all they had and met each other’s needs. There were no poor in the church. At the same time, they did not give anything to those outside of the church (compare Acts 2:45 and 3:6, for example). In fact, in 1 Tim 5 Paul illustrates how he applied the command in Gal 2: widows had to be church members, with a good reputation, otherwise they were not to receive aid.

      Your comment about 300 million poor I am totally in agreement with. The goal though is not to feed them through gifts, but nor is it to acheive social change through politial action. Having lived in Africa, let me assure you how completely ineffectual those attempts are. Rather, the goal is church planting and church strengthening. So goes the pulpit, so goes the people.

      As for the comment about church history: I do take that seriously, and I am grateful for the admonition. Christians should be known as those who are active in mercy, and my post this week (Tuesday) will give some examples of how that happens. I will say this: in church history, the sort of international interventions common today are novel inventions (perhaps owing to increased communication/technology). Through the middle ages and reformation, in the context of infant baptism, everyone in the community was considered part of the church, even if they were not actually followers of the Lord. Willbeforce and Newton is the example of what I am going for: individuals acting according to their conscience as they live their Christian life.

      I have read Newbigin, by the way.

      Thanks Josh, and feel free to reply if there are parts of my answer that you have other questions about.

  • Josh Meares

    Thanks for the interaction. Let’s start off totally clean. Is it the ethos and character of an ambassador of God to love God and to love his neighbor … or not? Is it in the ethos and character of the church which is God’s body and representation on earth to love God and to love their neighbor or not? If God’s love involves physical, relational, and spiritual regeneration and restoration, and that work has already begun, then how can the church or its members remove some of those elements? If God is obviously and numerously imputed to care for the physical welfare of the poor (and for all people for that matter) how can we not be? If the picture (or even the test) of a man with God’s heart in the Old Testament (esp. the Prophets) is one who had compassion on the poor, how has God’s heart changed? God wasn’t pretending to love the poor so that the nations would love Israel. He really loves people and He wanted Israel to show the nations what God’s character is really like. God cares about people.

    Now to interact with your specific comments. Let’s start with Luke 4 … Jesus says the poor have the good news preached to them … and then especially in Luke, he does go on to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of the poor. This is one of the ongoing themes of the Lukan narrative, which you should know if you read Bock (who was my mentor, btw). The gospel is HOLISTIC. God doesn’t save souls … He saves people.

    In Luke 10, you not only use part of Bock to confront His own decision (which is generally a bad idea), you also miss the point of the passage. Just because you and I can’t be justified by loving our neighbor, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love our neighbor. That’s like saying that because we can’t be justified before God by avoiding murder, so we should just go ahead and murder people. Nothing justifies but Jesus, but it doesn’t follow that nothing is good but Jesus, or else there would be no moral injunctions in the New Testament except “believe”.

    The point with Gal 5 is not that Paul isn’t APPLYING the passages to speak of the church, which of course he is. Brothers are obviously a subset of neighbors. It is that he still, regardless of the dispensation, believes that this passage is TRUE. It would have been easy enough for him to quote himself, or to quote Jesus on loving fellow Christians, yet he chose to use a saying with a much broader context.

    As for acts 3, Peter doesn’t give silver or gold because HE DOESN’T HAVE ANY. He does NOT say, “Gold and silver I choose not to give you because they are physical things that you don’t need and moreover, you are not a believer.” And, even though the man does not believe, he still chooses to help the man in a PHYSICAL way. He doesn’t simply invite the man to believe. The physical miracle (which is healing in this case, but surely compassionate giving is also miraculous) LED to (in an important sense) spiritual regeneration. Why miracles else? To validate the message. Why compassion? To validate the message. The picture of the church in Acts is poor and marginalized. We are to care for our own first. But, like Jesus’ injunction to the Pharisees, we should do the former without neglecting the latter.

    Attempting to avoid politics or economics is to ask Christians to split their lives into a Christian and a non-Christian segment. That is the essence of Newbigin’s arguments. Namely, that since the Reformation, the spiritual and the physical have been disconnected and the only rational alternative is to remove all religious influences from politics and economics. Which does what? Any discerning non-Western thinker will immediately reply, “Makes politics functionally atheist.” That is not exactly how I consider an ambassador for the kingdom would live. Again, every system is made up of individuals, but God is not just redeeming individuals, he is redeeming systems. Not fully, obviously, until He returns, just as He is not fully sanctifying individuals.

    And to be fair, Wilberforce was incredibly politically active because he was a Christian, not in spite of it. Following your ethic, could you stand up against slavery? They are non-Christians, and it is a systemic failure, not an individual one. Why should the church spend its resources on that issue? In fact, the church is not spending its resources on that issue, which is one reason why there are more slaves today than at any point in history. Should the church stand against any systemic injustice: abortion, crime, etc.? Why?

    Interested to hear your thoughts. Hope you change your mind.

    • Anonymous

      Josh,

      Thanks for your interaction here. It is obvious you have put serious thought into your comments. I’m trying to keep my answer brief to make this easier to ready, so forgive me if I skip something.

      It is the “ethos and character” of a Christian to love his neighbor. What is most effective expression of love to those outside of Christ is the evangelism. You recommended to me Newbigin (whom I have read). Let me recommend to you Marvin Olasky’s Tragedy of American Compassion. It makes a compelling case that what passes as American love is often the opposite of the way God loves us. I found it convincing.

      I agree that Jesus expresses compassion to people by healing them. This is not just to the poor, but to the centurion as well. It is probably his supreme manifestation of compassion, apart from his teaching. I also think this is exactly where the model of incarnational ministry breaks down. That is one area where we are can not be like Jesus, and trying to diminishes the uniqueness of the incarnation. This is Horton’s point in his article I linked above.

      As for the Good Samaritan: have you read Bock on that? It was amazing to me how strongly and convincingly he argued against his own view. It won me out of it. He almost grants in his commentary that he is wrong. I at first thought that was because nobody else held the view he was really arguing for, but then I found others who did (cited in my post), and that sealed the deal for me. I grant that there is still a moral imperitive illustrated in the story: love your neighbor. I reject that the illustration becomes one for Christian social ethics toward poverty.

      In Acts 3, Peter and John did have money (at least they did at the end of Acts 2). The point is that they didn’t have money for that man. What they did have though was the ability to heal him. And if he joined the church, his needs were met a few chapters later in Acts 4, when again there were no needs in the body. That kind of language doesn’t mean that there were no poor in Jerusalem, but simply that they all had thier needs met if they were in the church.

      My point with the Wilberforce example is that he acted as an individual. This was more effective than a church led campaign. Newton’s pastoral council and wisdom on this issue is what I was drawing out. I can take a stand against abortion and gay marriage and any other social issue I want. The church does not. This is sort of Baptist polity 101, which is one of the reasons why Keller, Newbigin, Calvin, et al. would disagree.

      Thanks for your confidence in me being teachable Josh! I appreciate you comments, as they are very thoughtful.

      Jesse

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