Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Monday, October 30, 2006
It was helpful/interesting to read the history of dispensationalism and its disengagement from social involvement.
Burggraff also provides some observations toward a theology of social responsibility.
Here's what I appreciate about dispensational thinking in this area of justice: I basically agree that the kingdom of God is future (though Christians are now citizens of the kingdom and live in the power of the kingdom). Thus, the ultimate solution to this world’s injustices will only come with the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:4).
But a future kingdom does not preclude our involvement in present justice issues. An analogy: My body will never be free of illness, tiredness, pain (when I get older), etc. until the resurrection. But I'm still supposed :-) to take care of my body by eating right, exercising, etc. - we talk about "stewardship of the body." Likewise, I believe we are to address issues of justice in the present world.
The paper makes some important points in this regard. Note, for example:
If you are not moved toward others, you must question your own state.
Ultimately note that God cares for the poor and He is for His children who are poor—and so should we.
Nevertheless, I did have concerns with some points that were made:
1. "Jesus did not feed everyone who was hungry." That's true. And neither will we feed everyone. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be deeply concerned about global hunger. Jesus saw the needs of people and had compassion on them. I believe that is prescriptive, even when our resources are meager, but more so given our immense resources.
2. "Matthew 25:31-46 indicates that during the Tribulation, the Lord will look upon those individual acts of love for Jewish people." Many do not agree with the dispensational interpretation of Matthew 25. But even if it is about acts of love for the Jewish people in the Tribulation period, why are we to think that God does not have the same standard for how we live out the gospel any other time? In other words, we cannot so easily dismiss the teaching of this passage anymore than we would dismiss the parable of the talent which immediately precedes the "judgment of the sheep and goats."
3. "The right response should be related to the real cause." If this means, enter into a relationship with the needy person to get to know them, and minister to root needs ... I agree. I'm just afraid it will be heard as withholding help until you figure out what the real need is.
4. "Much of our social responsibility is performed as individual Christians and not as a corporate body." I'm not sure what this means. I will give the benefit of the doubt that it does not mean the church should not care for the poor or minister to HIV/AIDS orphans and only individual Christians should.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
The following story, recounted by Becky Pippert in her book Hope Has Its Reasons, shows the power of forgiveness in one woman’s life. It’s worth quoting at length:
“Several years ago after I had finished speaking at a conference, a lovely woman came to the platform. She obviously wanted to speak to me and the moment I turned to her, tears welled up in her eyes. We made our way to a room where we could talk privately. It was clear from looking at her that she was sensitive but tortured. She sobbed as she told me the following story.
“Years before, she and her fiance (to whom she was now married) had been the youth workers at a large conservative church. They were a well-known couple and had an extraordinary impact on the young people. Everyone looked up to them and admired them tremendously. A few months before they were to be married they began having sexual relations. That left them burdened enough with a sense of guilt and hypocrisy. But then she discovered she was pregnant. ‘You can’t imagine what the implications would have been of admitting this to our church,’ she said. ‘To confess that we were preaching one thing and living another would have been intolerable. The congregation was so conservative and had never been touched by any scandal. We felt they wouldn’t be able to handle knowing about our situation. Nor could we bear the humiliation.
‘So we made the most excruciating decision I have ever made. I had an abortion. My wedding day was the worst day of my entire life. Everyone in the church was smiling at me, thinking me a bride beaming in innocence. But do you know what was going through my head as I walked down the aisle? All I could think to myself was, ‘You’re a murderer. You were so proud that you couldn’t bear the shame and humiliation of being exposed for what you are. But I know what you are and so does God. You have murdered an innocent baby.’
“She was sobbing so deeply that she could not speak. As I put my arms around her a thought came to me very strongly. But I was afraid to say it. I knew if it was not from God that it could be very destructive. So I prayed silently for the wisdom to help her.
“She continued. ‘I just can’t believe that I could do something so horrible. How could I have murdered an innocent life? How is it possible I could do such a thing? I love my husband, we have four beautiful children. I know the Bible says that God forgives all of our sins. But I can’t forgive myself! I’ve confessed this sin a thousand times and I still feel such shame and sorrow. The thought that haunts me the most is how could I murder an innocent life?’
“I took a deep breath and said what I had been thinking. ‘I don’t know why you are so surprised. This isn’t the first time your sin has led to death, it’s the second.’ She looked at me in utter amazement. ‘My dear friend,’ I continued, ‘when you look at the Cross, all of us show up as crucifiers. Religious or nonreligious, good or bad, aborters or nonaborters—all of us are responsible for the death of the only innocent who ever lived. Jesus died for all of our sins—past, present, and future. Do you think there are any sins of yours that Jesus didn’t have to die for? The very sin of pride that caused you to destroy your child is what killed Christ as well. It does not matter that you weren’t there two thousand years ago. We all sent him there. Luther said that we carry his very nails in our pockets. So if you have done it before, then why couldn’t you do it again?’
“She stopped crying. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘You’re absolutely right. I have done something even worse than killing my baby. My sin is what drove Jesus to the Cross. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t there pounding in the nails, I’m still responsible for his death. Do you realize the significance of what you are telling me, Becky? I came to you saying I had done the worst thing imaginable. And you tell me I have done something even worse than that.’
“I grimaced because I knew this was true. (I am not sure that my approach would qualify as one of the great counseling techniques!) Then she said, ‘But, Becky, if the Cross shows me that I am far worse than I had ever imagined, it also shows me that my evil has been absorbed and forgiven. If the worst thing any human can do is to kill God’s son, and that can be forgiven, then how can anything else—even my abortion—not be forgiven?’
“I will never forget the look in her eyes as she sat back in awe and quietly said, ‘Talk about amazing grace.’ This time she wept not out of sorrow but from relief and gratitude. I saw a woman literally transformed by a proper understanding of the Cross.”
Thursday, October 26, 2006
The article's final two paragraphs:
I’m not trying to make you feel guilty the next time you walk into Starbucks, but I do want to rattle your cage a bit if you’ve allowed the love of Starbucks and Xboxes and iPods to lull you to sleep. The wealth God has given us – if sown out generously and with discernment toward the poor – can magnify his mercy in some very profound ways, even if our excess only amounts to $4.37.
Living in suburbia is not a sin, but it sure can be a temptation. As we all work to develop compassion permanence for the world’s poor, taking action on their behalf and giving generously for their benefit, we will fulfill a vital aspect of our calling as Christians. If we do this, I believe we will hear “well done” from the Lord when he evaluates what we did with the abundant riches he gave us to steward in this life.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
So here's my (non) contribution to the debate: I do not have a strong opinion about trick-or-treating on Halloween. If you want to participate, go ahead. If you don't, don't. I have a strong opinion about witchcraft. I have a strong opinion about Satan. I have a strong opinion about spiritism. But I don't have a strong opinion about trick-or-treating. You may think I am totally illogical or inconsistent or uninformed. Over the years, I've read most of the arguments on both sides of the debate ("Yes, you should because it's a witness in your neighborhood" versus "No, you shouldn't because it's a pagan holiday"). Nothing yet has convinced me that I should have a strong opinion about trick-or-treating.
Anyway, for what's it's worth that's my strong opinion that I don't have about "Halloween."
BTW here's what has happened over the years on Halloween at our home: Our kids get dressed up and go trick-or-treating. We just have one rule for them: no dressing up as the devil, witch, ghost or such creature. And we hand out candy, not because we are so evangelistically-minded but because children come knocking on our door. They knock, we open.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Earlier this month Al Hsu posted on Chinese buffets, human smuggling and undocumented workers.
Also David Wayne shared A few thoughts on globalization from Os Guinness, and one of the issues Guinness highlighted was human trafficking:
In the 1990's alone, 30 million women were trafficked from one continent. There are 200 million in bonded slavery. There are more slaves today than when Wilberforce abolished it.
There is a pitiful human river of supply.
As a result of those two prompts, I've been doing a little bit of research on human smuggling and trafficking. According to a report from The Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center (pdf):
According to U.S. Government estimates, 800,000 to 900,000 victims are trafficked globally each year and 17,500 to 18,500 are trafficked into the United States. Women and children comprise the largest group of victims. Trafficking victims are often physically and emotionally abused....
Here is another report from the Canadian government on Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling.
While 'smuggling' refers to facilitating the illegal entry of a person into a State, ‘trafficking’ includes an element of exploitation. The trafficker retains control over the migrant -- through force, fraud or coercion -- typically in the sex industry, through forced labour or through other practices similar to slavery. Trafficking violates basic human rights, and the unfortunate reality is that an overwhelming majority of those trafficked are women and children. These victims are commodities in a multi-billion dollar global industry.
Russell Smith has written about modern-day slavery, and plans on "spending time over the next few weeks learning from International Justice Mission and Voice of the Martyrs to see how I can personally help in some small way."
Glenn Penner writes about the kidnapping of Christian girls in Egypt, and recommends some actions on their behalf.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Dan Edelen has posted a three-part review of David Fitch's book The Great Giveaway. Included in part 3 is a review of chapter 6, which deals with "Our Understanding of Justice."
Fitch starts this chapter with a bang: what would happen in a church if a woman stood up during Sunday service and announced that she just found out she has breast cancer? The kicker: she says she has no health insurance.
Evangelicals talk a great deal about helping others, but our execution is profoundly flawed. We tend to think of benevolence and justice as something a Christian individual does on his or her own. Fitch notes that justice begins inside the Body of Christ and extends outward. We serve our own as a community and our community serves those outside the community. We owe as much benevolence to the brethren as we do to the poor and hurting outside the church doors, But, too often, we fail to see how we ignore people within our own congregations as if the only brownie points we get from God are for helping strangers.
My post is not to interact with Fitch's book (since I haven't read it). But the issue of health insurance is a theme I've seen a couple of times in this discussion of social justice. Adam Omelianchuk also wrote about it in this post. He concludes:
I know that I may incur charges of leftism, but I think that the state should be responsible for helping premature children and their parents with health care costs. If we are ready and willing to help drug addicts get their lives back together, teeth, feet, blood pressure, and all, we should be able to help the helpless who we advocate for even before birth. This, I believe, is part and parcel to what it means to be pro-life.
But for now we will have to wait for such legislation to pass. In the meantime what can we as Kingdom people do for those who are in this situation? How can we serve their marriage? What can we do to help?
Here in Canada we have "universal healthcare." While there are problems with the system, I think the benefits far outweigh the problems. What are your thoughts? Is healthcare something that should be legislated? (Here in Canada, universal healthcare is usually attributed to the vision of Tommy Douglas). How does the church help the sick and act for justice in this area?
Friday, October 20, 2006
The needs are immense and the solutions are complex. The requests for help are many. We can be discouraged to the point of inaction. We can be cajoled to act by guilt. We can just talk about the problems and yet not really do anything. We can frantically spin plates trying to do everything. We can hand out dollars to assuage our conscience.
But I'm grateful for people who see the needs, have compassion, and seek to do what they can in Jesus' name (remembering that biblical justice has its roots in the gospel), according to how God has equipped them. I'm thinking of people like Andy and Janet Wildsmith in Kenya. Janet has helped to develop an AIDS Education program in Kijabe. Our "denominational" ministry FAIR is helping to raise funds for the project:
In 2000, a three year program, funded in part by CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) and Africa Inland Mission was launched to provide quality AIDS/HIV education in communities and public schools.
Funding for this program ended in late 2003 and although the Kijabe AIDS Education Program has continued its focus on AIDS education in local schools, it has had to significantly scale back the scope of its ministry due to financial restraints.
While the AIDS/HIV crisis throughout Africa is bleak, a tremendous opportunity is currently at hand. The Moffat AIDS Education Program is poised and ready to broaden their focus to bring hope and a future to the children and people of Kenya. Through the ministry of Janet Wildsmith, FAIR made an initial donation of $7,000 to assist in launching the expanded program in January 2006. We are committed to providing additional funds each month to meet the ongoing cost of the program.
This doesn't address every issue everywhere. As individuals or even as churches we can't do that. But it does address one issue in one place. Thanks Janet for your ministry!
Thursday, October 19, 2006
The nation that practices capitalism best, the United States, not only boasts untold wealth, but even our poverty is unique from poverty anywhere at any time in human history. Our poverty is the richest poverty the world has ever known. You don’t go to inner city L.A. to see the worst to be seen in the world. For absolute destitution you have to go to Smoky Mountain in Manila or a South African shantytown.
I don't know much about economic theory, so I'm not here to address the pros and cons of capitalism and poverty. I just want to stress that caring for the poor has a global dimension to it. See also the Miniature Earth movie.
I confess that I don't adequately comprehend the immensity of the need, nor all it will take to address it. Furthermore, I know that international aid has its problems (HT: Think Christian). But none of that should scare us into passivity and inaction.
Here's one link I've come across recently that offers a tangible way of doing something. It's called Blood:Water Mission. You can go there directly, but I would like to suggest you link via Frank "Centuri0n" Turk, who is trying to raise $3000 for one well in Africa.
This is something you and I can do right now. Others may have bigger influence, and may be able to work on long-term political and economic solutions. Yet some Nobel Prize winning solutions start with just a few dollars and a simple idea.
Update: Chez Kneel highlights another opportunity to give through Partners International.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15-16, emphasis added).
I've already linked to a couple of messages by Tim Keller on doing justice. Here is one more of his messages: Blessed Are the Poor. The basic theme of the message is this: The gospel is an agent in knowing (understanding) the poor, becoming the poor and loving the poor.
Monday, October 16, 2006
(1) We must see the whole of humanity as originating from God.
(2) We must view humanity through the eyes of God’s image.
(3) We must view the whole of humanity as proceeding from one primary human progenitor.
(4) We must learn from the example of one our prominent forebears who demonstrated the relative unimportance of race in the contraction of human relations such as marriage.
(5) We must also note that Christ exemplified in his life what our attitude should be toward others regardless of their racial makeup.
He ends with these exhortations:
If you are guilty of racism, whatever form it takes, remember that there is an answer. Christ came to take away sin, including the sin of racism. He came to set it at naught so that it would not master us, and accumulated for us an eternal weight of punishment. He can free you from it now, if you will repent and call upon his name.
Remember also to cleanse your mind of all the prejudice and error that you may have grown up with and clothe yourself with the truth of the Bible. Only a true biblical theology can deliver you from racial pride and prejudice. And when study your Bible correctly, you will find that because God is a God of Creation you can’t but affirm the unity of the human race. Because God is a God of History you can’t but affirm the diversity of ethnic cultures. Because he is the God of Revelation, you can’t but affirm the finality of Jesus Christ. And because He is the God of Redemption, you can’t but affirm the glory of the Christian church in which all men regardless of their language, clan, nation or race are indwelled by one Spirit and are under one head – the Lord Jesus Christ.
A few other links on race relations:
- Anthony Bradley on The Divided Church.
- David Fitch on What Kind of Diversity? Seeking a Diversity that Matters Around the Table.
- John Piper's sermons on Racial Harmony.
- Think Christian on The Church, Racism, and Historical Injustice.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Here are also a couple of excerpts from the letter. First, explaining why "direct action" was necessary:
I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
You deplore the demonstrations taking place In Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
A second excerpt on his disappointment with the church of the day:
In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.
There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide, and gladiatorial contests.
Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.
Friday, October 13, 2006
The past few days we've been up near Waterloo for a mini-vacation (here's Maureen all bundled up - it was cold!). We had such a great time.
More story here and pictures here.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Let me put the issue plainly. If the unborn is not a human person, no justification for abortion is necessary. However, if the unborn is a human person, no justification for abortion is adequate.
I believe there are biblical, theological (pdf), logical, philosophical, scientific and even technological(?) arguments to support the position that the unborn is a human person (please excuse me if the category I put each article under doesn't fit perfectly).
Here are some additional resources for thinking through and communicating a pro-life viewpoint:
Monday, October 09, 2006
Abortion is a justice issue where the church needs to stand up and be counted. A friend of mine, Aaron Rock has a post in which he writes:
At the heart of the Gospel is the message that God values human life and has set out to redeem Adam’s children. Jesus’ love for people is not contingent upon a person’s ability to breathe air or cry, or run. He loves the unborn as well, whether composed of only a few cells or 50 trillion. We may have lost the battle for the unborn in the public square, but God forbid if the church itself succumbs to the Enemies wishes and fails to take a stand for the unborn within our own ranks.
To identify abortion as a justice issue comes down to the unborn being a human person. Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason states it as clearly as anybody:
Let me put the issue plainly. If the unborn is not a human person, no justification for abortion is necessary. However, if the unborn is a human person, no justification for abortion is adequate.
If the unborn is a human person (more on this in the next post), then the unborn is the most vulnerable of humans, and therefore the most in need of protecting. Gary Shavey quotes Mary Meehan, who writes for the Progressive, as stating:
It is out of character for the left to neglect the weak and helpless. The traditional mark of the left has been its protection of the underdog, the weak and the poor. The unborn child is the most helpless form of humanity, even more in need of protection than the poor tenant farmer or the mental patient. The basic instinct of the left is to aid those who cannot aid themselves. And that instinct is absolutely sound. It's what keeps the human proposition going.
Every year John Piper preaches a message on abortion. In his most recent sermon, he calls for the church to Love Your Unborn Neighbor:
God says to us in America in the 21st century stained with the blood of millions of unborn babies, these words from Proverbs 24:11-12, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?”
What work? The work of mercy, the work of justice, the work of caring for the oppressed and defending the unborn. The good work of loving the unborn. Why after all did Jesus Christ come to redeem us from our sin and guilt? Paul tells us in Titus 2:14, “He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Among which is the glorious work of laboring and defending our unborn neighbor.
The church needs to be a voice for the most voiceless in our society. Having said that, I have to admit with George Verwer that "I feel that I have failed and I hope this will become a much bigger issue for [me] in the future."
One other thought: In this talk of "justice" it's important that the gospel message of forgiveness and hope in Jesus Christ be sounded for those who have had or sanctioned abortions. "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39).
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Anyway, Scott just did a four part series on social justice. In the first post of the series he expresses his attraction by this renewed focus.
In social justice we find an ideal that forces us to go beyond giving money as our sole expression of care for the poor to a fuller understanding of loving our neighbor that identifies their problems as our own and works to comprehensively apply mercy and grace to all of their needs.
I think the phrase "loving our neighbor that identifies their problems as our own" is something that Rodolpho Carrasco would identify as Habits of Highly Effective Justice Workers.
When did you last spend time with a poor person, an at-risk individual, or someone in need? When was the last time you were close to them for an extended period? I ask, because that's what Jesus did. He was close to the poor who needed justice. The Messiah was sent to preach Good News to the poor, to proclaim freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, release for the oppressed, and the arrival of the Jubilee year (Luke 4:18-19). He did this first by becoming incarnate, one of us. He did not commute from heaven in a fiery chariot. "The Word became flesh," says John, "and made his dwelling among us."
In urban ministry circles, we call this relocation. Many urban ministers intentionally live in the neighborhoods they seek to serve. Proximity builds trust with neighbors, especially if a racial divide must be crossed. Relocation also helps urban ministers discern the roots of need. A man may ask me every day for money. He's down and out, he says. But if I live in that community, I'll be able to discern if he is down and out because of systemic injustice or because he does not want to work. Then I'll be able to share with him what he truly needs.
People in need of justice are not just in the inner city. Individuals and families are struggling in suburban and rural settings as well. In many cases, you do not need to relocate in order to meet a need. But when working for justice, it is crucial to have personal proximity to injustice.
Up close, the protest-oriented injustice-fighter may discover that some matters are best settled by a personal intervention, not a new law. The personal-responsibility injustice-fighter may discover that impersonal systems often devastate the lives of the poor, and that these systems must indeed be protested.
In either case, the best way to get closer to doing justice for the poor is, quite simply, to get closer.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
According to a study conducted for Facts & Trends magazine (publication of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention), "Mainline churches are more likely than their evangelical counterparts to be very involved in social justice issues (23 percent to 10 percent), and to be either very or somewhat involved in environmental issues (37 percent to 14 percent)."
Yet according to Stephen V. Monsma's study, there is a fallacy "that mainline Protestants are more active in social service programs than evangelicals - and that evangelicals merely serve their own congregations and are more concerned with evangelism than with social welfare programs." In an interview with Christianity Today, Monsma says, "I found the opposite to be true: Of the welfare-to-work programs in the four cities that I studied, there were more evangelical programs than mainline Protestant programs."
It may be that there are different definitions of social justice in play here (Monsma is narrowly focused on welfare-to-work programs). Other than that, I don't know how to explain the discrepancy. Anyway, here are a few general observations:
1. Justice is not an evangelical vs. mainline competition. Our motivation for doing justice should be obedience to the command of Christ.
2. According to the SBC study, a relatively low percentage "- 15 percent - are very involved in social justice issues such as poverty, homelessness, racism, or immigration." That is a concern.
3. This is Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. Even if it wasn't, it would be right to express thankfulness for those churches and believers that are engaged in justice issues - including abortion, poverty, racism, etc.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
1. In their book The Externally Focused Church, Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson use an illustration by Jack Jezreel of JustFaith (p. 136):
Suppose one morning I wake up, look out my window, and in the stream that runs behind my house I see a man who is unconscious, wet, and bleeding? Of course I'd rush to his aid and give him medical attention and get him to the hospital. What if next day I find another man in the stream in the same condition? Well, I'd also take care of him. But if on the third day I found another person, after getting that person to the hospital, I'd better walk upriver and find out how and why these bodies are getting into the stream.
Rusaw and Swanson point out that "to take care of the wounded is charity. To walk up the river to see why the person is wounded is to begin the search for justice."
They go on to quote Harvie Conn: "Charity is episodic, justice is ongoing. One brings consolation, the other correction. One aims at symptoms, the other at causes. One changes individuals, the other societies."
Mike Todd shares a similar story. He also points out here that: "When we talk about mercy, we refer to incidents; with justice, its about actions. When we talk about mercy, we see victims; with justice, its about systems.
2. Michael Williams sees the difference between justice and mercy like this:
Charity is an act of mercy, not justice. Mercy is giving people something good that they haven't earned. It is sometimes better to be merciful than just, but not always, and both mercy and justice have their place.
Justice is only concerned with enforcing fairness and following the rules, regardless of anyone's evaluation of the consequences. Following the rules is justice, and justice is good. Sometimes following the rules has bad results, and the one in authority would do well to suspend his just claim to fairness in favor of bringing about a better result. But, under justice, the decision to show mercy belongs to the one in authority.
3. John Paul Lederach in Preparing for Peace: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (p. 20) says justice involves
the pursuit of restoration, of rectifying wrongs, of creating right relationships based on equity and fairness. Pursuing justice involves advocacy for those harmed, for open acknowledgement of the wrongs committed, and for making things right. Mercy, on the other hand, involves compassion, forgiveness, and a new start. Mercy is oriented toward supporting persons who have committed injustices, encouraging them to change and move on.
My brief thoughts:
- We can pursue justice for individuals and with single incidents. It isn't only at the systemic/societal level.
- Mercy is not only for those who have committed injustices, but more so for those who have been wronged.
- Because God's law is merciful, acts of justice will sometimes (maybe regularly) be acts of mercy, and vice versa.
- Nonetheless, justice and mercy are distinct. Justice emphasizes doing what is right. Mercy emphasizes doing what is compassionate.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
What do you want more than anything else? If your honest answer relates to the area of self (e.g., power, wealth, fame), it will be impossible for you to be a person who strives for justice. In its fullest sense, the quest for true justice is a by-product of the pursuit of God over all other things. The oft-neglected Old Testament prophet Zechariah gives us a portrait of how true justice is expressed. The Jews who had returned to Israel after their exile in Babylon for 70 years wanted to know whether they should continue their practice of fasting and mourning during the fifth and seventh months.
The answer God sent through Zechariah was not at all what they might have expected. Their fasting (or feasting), he said, was not really for the Lord but for themselves, and their religious activity had no spiritual value because they were not accompanied by a concern for the needs of others. The prophetic oracle went on to say that it was for this very reason that their fathers had been carried into captivity:
And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’
“But they stubbornly refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.
“‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land was left so desolate behind them that no one could come or go. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’” (Zechariah 7:8-14)
In other words, God was saying that religious observances are of little value if the community has no concern for social justice. Before the exile the prophet Isaiah had dealt with the same issue of fasting and justice. Speaking to the covenant community of Judah, Isaiah had argued that true fasting should not merely be a matter of personal denial but also of social concern: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6).
When true justice is administered, it is expressed in acts of mercy and compassion, particularly for those who are destitute (widows, orphans, aliens and the poor). Real justice, then, involves the application of power and influence to other-centered concerns.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Plus there is a study guide.
And a vision paper on The Fullness of Ministry, which includes this declaration that churches must be committed to justice in the city:
Churches must minister in both word and deed. We’ve said elsewhere that the purpose of God’s redemption is to restore creation. God created both soul and body and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both the spiritual and the material. Therefore God is not just concerned for the salvation of souls but also for the removal of poverty, hunger, and injustice. In the Old Testament, the ‘righteous’ man is the man who uses his wealth for the good of the whole community; the wicked man is the man who uses his wealth for himself. The ‘wicked’ man who does not radically give away his own hard-earned wealth is not merely lacking in compassion, but is unrighteous and unjust. In the New Testament, the cross proclaims a complete reversal of the values of the world--power, recognition, status, wealth. The gospel is for the poor, both the economically poor and the poor in spirit, those who give up their pride and know their need. (Luke 4:18- He has anointed me…to preach the gospel to the poor." Cf. also Luke 7:22).
Preaching the gospel and healing people's bodies are closely associated (Luke 9:6). Jesus didn’t save us just with words, but mainly through his deeds and his work. The gospel demands that every recipient of God’s grace surrender the illusion of self-sufficiency. We cannot look at the poor and call them to pull themselves out of their own difficulty. Jesus did not treat us that way! The gospel removes all superiority toward the poor. It empowers us to meet individual needs in the city and also to work for justice for the powerless. Christian churches must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service, even as they call individuals to conversion and the new birth. We must work for the common good and show our neighbors we love them sacrificially whether they believe as we do or not. Indifference to the poor and disadvantaged means there has not been a true grasp of one’s salvation by sheer grace.
Monday, October 02, 2006
Is the church's mission to save souls or to bring about progress in the world? Both are good. But are both good for the church as the church to do? Both are good, and Christians should and must be involved in both. But is one paramount and the other secondary for the church? Are these purposes of equal importance for the church? Is there any way that the church is NOT supposed to help the city, the state, the wider culture? What is the vision of the New Testament for the church?
I think Tim Keller would say yes. I think he would say we are to do evangelism and justice. At least that's what I hear in his message on Doing Justice.
I jotted down a few points from the message. First, his plea to churches:
It's very rare to see a church that is as good at theologically rich and deep preaching of the gospel and evangelistically effective preaching of the gospel , and at the same time is just so absolutely, deeply involved in justice issues and work with the poor in their community. It's very rare to see that together and I'm begging you to try.
Keller goes on to do a study of justice from Proverbs :
- What is justice?
- What is doing justice?
- Who should do justice?
- How you can be one of the people who does justice?
What is justice? Proverbs 3:17-20
Justice is when those of us who have power - we have money, we have influence, we have status, we have connection - when we are interweaving that in the community, when we are pushing it out instead of holding on to it, when we're threading it all over the place … there is an inter-wovenness. See, people are all being held up by the fabric.
What is doing justice? Proverbs 3:27-28
Who should do justice? Proverbs 11:10
The righteous are those who are willing to disadvantage themselves for the advantage of the community.
How should we do justice? Proverbs 19:17
Addendum: Next Generation Leadership Community's Notes on Keller's message.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
To start off, here's a timely article by Dan Kimball writing at Out of Ur on Pop Justice: Is social action the latest church trend? Kimball writes:
I keep wondering if all the attention the church at large is now rightfully and biblically giving to social justice could fade through time. Will we still see Christian bands showing videos of themselves in Africa five years from now? Will conferences spend time promoting compassion ministries and AIDS awareness five or ten years in the future? Will all the pastors and church leaders who today are such strong voices [for] justice to the people in their churches still maintain that voice in the years ahead?
But as Geoff Baggett points out in a comment, many churches seek to do justice without the fanfare:
Perhaps Pastor Dan and I just live in different worlds, but where I come from, our churches have been and remain engaged in ministry to the poor and the outcasts of our communities. It is a part of our church life … always has been. But we don’t feel the need, nor do we have the opportunity to go in the “airwaves” and talk about it.... When we are made aware of needs, we do our dead-level best to help meet those needs. Obviously, we do not operate on the grandiose scale of a Saddleback Church, or even a pop-star like Bono. But, then again, that’s okay. We know that we cannot make a difference for every single person who is suffering. But we can make a difference for a few … one person and one family at a time.
Justice is not just a big societal issue. It is often a "one-person-at-a-time" issue.