“Because Christ died for us, those who trust in him may know that their guilt has been pardoned once and for all. What will we have to say before the bar of God’s judgment? Only one thing. Christ died in my place. That’s the gospel.”
I remember myself that salvation only made sense when the gospel was brought to me. It was not when I saw friends ‘go forward’ at youth camps. It was not when I felt emotional songs that stirred me at church. It was not when preachers would talk about hell (though that is a part of the gospel). When the news of Jesus dying in my place was brought to me, that is when I began to understand all of this other hoopla. I realized that we goto church because he has done that. We shout because of joy, not because of boredom. I finally was understanding why I was doing this whole “Christian thing”. Until then, I was religiously seeking to get right with a God who I knew was good. When I was told that I couldn’t get right with him (of my own work), then I had my ‘a ha’ moment. The light bulb was lit, the matrix was explained, the fog had cleared.
At that moment I understood that Jesus death was for me. He stood in my place, he took the cross designed for an awkward, 6 foot 2, white guy from Kentucky. That cross was specifically designed to carry my blood and flesh. He took it for me and when God the father looks at me, he sees not my life of hellish living, he sees the perfect life of Christ. When this all clicked, then I knew how to go forward. Until then, everything I had done was done in a sporadic attempt to appease a God that I knew deep down I was unable in pleasing just in my works(I am not saying we can’t please God, but that our attempts alone are not sufficient).
When I was 17 years old, I went with our senior class to New York City for a senior trip and a week of enjoying the Big Apple. I had a blast, but like any person that visits New York, I was saddened to see the depth of poverty that was in the city. You couldn’t ride a subway, walk a sidewalk or ride a bus without seeing it. It was all around. I had seen poverty in my life up to that point. I had volunteered at homeless shelters and grew up around different levels of american poverty though I had not grown up impoverished myself. While in NYC, God had made a clear calling in my life that I have not and will not forget, to remember the poor.
Since then, I have worked in Urban ministry around different levels of american poverty, worked in different impoverished countries and have been blessed to have met many many different people that are fighting against poverty, christians and non-christians.
Who are the Poor?
Now when talking about the poor and or poverty, it’s important that I define my terms. These are the poor that I am referencing. This is a quote from Tim Keller in an extremely helpful outline of The Gospel and the Poor.
“the weak, elderly, mentally and physically handicapped, refugees, new immigrants, working poor, natural disaster victims, unemployed, single parent families and orphans.”
So when i reference the poor or working with those in poverty, I find this to be a sustainable definition of who I am directly speaking of.
Who works with the poor?
Through my experiences in my short life of working with poor, I have made several observations and here are a couple. These aren’t absolute but they are things that I have generally noticed through my experience:
- Very few people who work with the poor continue working with the poor through their lives(High turnover rate).
- Many people who work with the poor have the poor “figured out” and have “absolute solutions” to the continual problems of poverty.
- Many people who work with the poor are spiritual.
- Very few people who stay committed to working with the poor are theologically conservative (very general statement that I expect disagreements about).
Through my spiritual journey, I have seen the importance in doctrine(expressed in previous post) and as well have seen the need for my own well-being to be merciful, gracious and generous towards the poor. When you come to understand the cross, you should understand working with the poor. What happens many times though is that people work with the poor to find spiritual enlightenment. This leads to many horrible doctrinal conclusions of people who are extremely generous with their time towards the poor but are not realizing that their good deeds will not be enough to appease God. This does not mean that non-Christians should not be working with the poor but more so that Christians NEED to be working with the poor.
Who we should help?
I read a post by a pastor that I highly respect, Kevin Deyoung in a series he was writing on social justice. The post was referring to the idea of Moral Proximity. In it, Mr. DeYoung notes that “the closer the moral proximity of the poor the greater the moral obligation to help.”
The idea is simple, you help out those inside before you help out those outside. Meaning, your
family, then your church, then those outside of the church(ie the world, your city). In this simple understanding of this concept, I whole-heartedly agree. How can I be a good Christian if I have a hungry daughter while I’m feeding poor children on the other side of town? In the same token, how can I donate $50 to Africa while a couple in my church is in dire need?
My problem with this concept is not what is being said, it’s what will come out of a post like this. Many people who are consistently negligent of the poor will read this and continue to ignore and avoid working with the poor. Many of us who are theologically conservative have a reputation for neglecting the poor.
I know that as I make such bold statements, there are always good examples of people who were theologically conservative, yet did many great things for the poor(i.e. Jonathon Edwards, George Muller, Tim Keller) But for the majority, there are always few who work with the poor and are biblically sound.
I would say that this is a both/and. Just like missions, we bring the gospel to those in our church and we also bring it to tribes in Africa. I would say that the calling is to helping all levels of poverty. But I also would compare it to the qualifications of pastors, you can’t be a pastor of a church if you’re not leading your home. Likewise, you need to help those in your church that are poor and those around your church. Like 1Timothy 3, it starts at home. The problem is that regarding the poor, very few are making it outside of their ‘home'(the church).
The God of Social Justice
SBTS professor, Dr. Peter Gentry gave a Faculty Address on Sept 29th 2010 correcting false definitions on the holiness of God. The last passage that Dr. Gentry explained was out of Isaiah 6. In it, he explained that “We have a clear definition of the divine holiness: God demonstrates His devotion in that He is completely devoted to social justice.” Dr. Gentry spends time explaining that social justice is apart of Gods holiness. His referencing of Social Justice is referring to the way of life for the people of Israel described in the scriptures.
The thought that God’s holiness is connected to his desire for social justice blows many people away. When saying Social Justice, I know I will have many different definitions and agree with Kevin DeYoung on using words loosely. Certain words/phrases cause some to celebrate and others to cringe while neither may know how you are using them,
When I say Social Justice I am referring to the just treatment of all members of society. This issue has been a hot button for a time and rightfully.
In 1907 Walter Rauschenbusch wrote a book titled ‘Christianity and the Social Crisis’. This book spearheaded a movement that would rattle the views of the church and the poor for years until today. The movement that came out is referred to as the social gospel movement. This movement applies Christian Ethics to Social problems. The results though have been difficult for many conservatives because this movement has been led by many that are theologically and biblically liberal. The difficulty in this movement is that terms like ‘Social Justice’ have become catalyst’ to move people away from orthodox teachings of scripture and into heretical understandings of hell, salvation and the cross.
This serves us as a warning to be cautious of how we use terms. But does that make Social Justice bad?
No. The truth is, social justice, like Dr. Gentry explained, is a part of God’s holiness. He cares for the struggles that man goes through daily. He cares for the pain that man feels. He doesn’t stand far and heady from his creation. He comes and meets with his creation and engages with his creation. He is not the distanced father. He is the interactive, caring and compassionate father.
And seeing his image-bearers feel the effects of their sin hurts.
Whats the point?
When the gospel of Jesus Christ is at work in my life, when I am understanding how naked and ashamed I should feel seeing who I actually am and who he is, I should be amazed to see the grace and love he shows me. When I see how poor, broken and in need I actually am before him, I should be amazed that he reaches me with love. And when I am amazed at these things(his grace, mercy and love), it should press me to seek to identify with and love on those that are broken, poor, naked, ashamed and in need.
In one short statement, when the gospel of Jesus has been at work in my life, I will be helping and loving the poor.
With the passion that God has given me for this area and the lack of time to rightly expound on this topic, I decided to leave you with a host of resources.
Here are some books that have really helped me on this issue:
- Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life-Bob Lupton
- Ministries of Mercy-Tim Keller
- Generous Justice-Tim Keller
- Let Justice Roll Down-John Perkins
- Same Kind of Different as me- Denver Moore, Ron Hall
- Christian Charity Jonathan Edwards
- Evangelical does not equal Republican… or Democrat-Lisa Sharon Harper
Here are some great articles and blogs that have helped me tremendously on this topic:
- The Gospel and the Poor-Tim Keller
- Seven Passage on Social Justice-Kevin DeYoung
- The Gospel and the Poor-Benjamin Edwards
- Sojourners, Jim Wallis and Friends
Some of these are from different sides of evangelicals but I have found all of these to have been helpful to me in some way.
And lastly, since many of my blog post have been filled with scripture quotes, I decided to leave a link for some scriptures regarding poverty and the poor instead of filling the post up with tons of scriptures.