Monday, March 22, 2010

Total Church: Social Involvement

A Welcome for the poor and marginalized

Chester and Timmis see that many of the divisions within evangelicalism are as much about social class as theological differences. In one direction people are seen as vulgar; in the other direction people are seen as snobbish. Why does this matter? It matters because they feel that we are failing to reach the working class with the gospel. Evangelicalism has become a largely middle-class, professional phenomenon (74). (I would add that it depends on how you define evangelicalism. There are many pentecostal and fundamentalist groups that do reach certain segments of the working class)

A word for the poor and marginalized

In recent decades evangelism and social involvement have come to be viewed as alternatives or, if not exactly as alternatives, then as separate activities which need to be held in balance.

Chester and Timmis want to make three assertions about the relationship between evangelism and social action:

  1. Evangelism and social action are distinct activities – good social action is about harnessing the insights and resources of the poor, but the gospel is a message from outside that is addressed to us in spiritual helplessness and powerlessness.
  2. Proclamation is central – social action without proclamation is like a signpost pointing nowhere.
  3. Evangelism and social action are inseparable

They compare this balance to their desires for their own children. They do desire from their children might be reconciled to God through the gospel. This desire does not mean they are unconcerned about their temporal needs. But they do not simply teach them the Bible. They try to create a loving home in which they can experience life as a blessing. But still the greatest concern is to teach and model the gospel of salvation. It is the same with the poor and marginalized. (76)

A community for the poor marginalized

Poor people want to be included and not just judged and “rescued” at times of crisis.” The poor are, for the most part, those who are powerless and marginal.

Rescuing the poor: if it never moves beyond this, it reinforces the dependency and helplessness at the heart of poverty. The poor remain passive. It does not produce lasting or sustainable change. (77).

It is all about working with the poor to identify their problems, to develop solutions, to monitor progress, to evaluate outcomes. The poor want more than projects; they want to participate in community. “…I want…someone to be my friend.” (78)

The best thing we can do for the poor is offer them a place of welcome and community. Our first priority in social involvement is to be the church, a community of welcome to, and inclusion of, the marginalized.

But what about the rich? Are they also needy? Yes. Should we also evangelize them? Yes. The rich have many social needs. We need to pay attention to Luke’s pitch to Theophilus and Jesus’ call to the rich within the Gospel. It is not a domesticated, individualistic offer of salvation divorced from the day-to-day realities of life in a fallen world. Luke’s call is for Theophilus to side with the marginalized just as Jesus did. (79-80).

People sometimes claim it is a question of calling. They do not dispute the validity of ministry to the poor, but feel their calling is to the rich. That is not Luke’s pitch to Theophilus. And it does not explain why God apparently calls far more people to prosperous areas than he does to the poorer areas of the nation. (80).

The church today is growing among the shanty towns of Africa, and the favelas and barrios of Latin America. When we look at church throughout the world, God is choosing the weak and lowly to shame the power and wealth of the West. (81).

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