Total Church 06: judgement on the West?

Continuing discussion of Chester and Timmis Total Church: a radical reshaping around gospel and community

Chapter 4 is on Social Involvement

I think this is one of the best chapters in the book

It is interesting to comment on the old question of social action vs gospel as, yet again, the fundamentalist dualism raises its head – this example in America but by no means contained there.

The ‘Great Reversal’ of the 19th Century saw the divorce of evangelism and social action. Recent trends within (western) evangelicalism have been towards integrating the two again – indeed more than ‘integrating’ – as if there are two distinct and separable ‘things’ called gospel and social action. Viewing them this way inevitably leads to viewing the latter as a cinderella doctrine. Much recent evangelical theology has been about a holistic or integrated gospel.

Tim Chester is good on this stuff – he was advisor to Tearfund UK on social involvement and has written in this area. I am not doing justice to this chapter in a quick sketch.

Headline points: the authors sketch out a theology of a ‘welcome for the poor and marginalised’ – and then consider how this applies to our preaching of the gospel [‘a word to the poor and marginalised’] and the way we do community [‘a community for the poor and marginalised’].

Jesus ‘goes out of his way to welcome the poor, the marginalised and the needy’ and therefore so should we.

Now this is a simple pointbut a deeply radical one. The authors argue (rightly) that most evangelicalism is middle-class, professional and comfortable. I’m right in that description myself. What do you think of this following quote? Fair challenge?; guilt trip?; easy to say but harder to overcome?

When we invite people to our dinners and our churches, we invite our friends, our relatives and our rich neighbours. We do not invite the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. What is at stake is the grace of God

The grace of God reaches out to include the poor – they are sinners as much as any other person, but they are not excluded from the kingdom because of their lack of ‘importance’ or status or influence or wealth or education. “The sign that Jesus is the Messiah is that good news is preached to the poor”.

Three assertions need to be held together (they say):

1. Evangelism and social action are distinct activities: -the gospel is a message, social action an act of love

2. Proclamation is central:- social action without gospel is ‘a signpost pointing nowhere’

3. Evangelism and social action are inseparable:– there is no priority of one over the other. That is dualism. Genuine love for people does not think in such dualistic categories (my words here).

And so this has implications for a gospel community: – Jesus did not just DO nice things TO poor people. He broke down social barriers, he included them in the kingdom, he became friends with the excluded and isolated and the rejected.

People do not want to be projects. The poor need a welcome to replace their marginalization; they need inclusion to replace their exclusion; to replace their powerlessness they need a place where they matter.  The need community. They need the Christian community. The need the church.

So the authors suggest that ‘If our congregations are full of respectable people, then it may be that we have not truly grasped the radical grace of God’

And a final explosive grenade of a comment linking in to our discussion of world Christianity;

The church of 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. It seems that God’s response to the imperialism of global capitalism is to raise up a mighty church in the very places this new empire marginalizes and exploits. Let the Western church take note.

Wow – prophetic word or anti-capitalist rant?


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