Nothing sparks false guilt like a zealous social justice fanatic. Many Christians become obsessed with their niche to save the world and make everyone feel guilty for not joining their club. Kevin DeYoung, in his book What is the Mission of the Church? puts our focus back onto our central mission, the Great Commission. And yet he does this without undermining the priority of serving the poor. He sets forth Biblical tensions that will help us as we consider social justice and mercy ministry. I will deal with two of these.
Navigating the Tensions:
#1 Guilt and Responsibility
One way that Kevin DeYoung clears the path for us is by notably highlighting what he calls “Moral Proximity.” This is obvious, but often overlooked Biblical concept that says, “the closer the need, the greater the moral obligation to help.” He goes on to remind us that “this doesn’t mean we can be uncaring to everyone but our friends, close relatives, and people next door, but it means that what we ought to do in one situation is what we may do in another.” The point is that the Bible gives warrant to serving as we have the opportunity (Gal 6:10) and grants a prioritization of our giving (1 Tim 5:8). Uptown’s Philosophy of Mercy makes the same prioritization beginning with first serving “Members of Uptown,” “fellow Christians not members of Uptown” and “non-Christians.” While moral proximity does not solve all our discernment problems it can help us avoid to easily “putting ‘helping the poor’ in the disobedience column and start thinking about football.” We are not responsible to everyone, and ironically knowing this will enable us to be more effective where we are and less guilt ridden over every problem we hear about around the globe.
#2 Abundance vs Asceticism
Another topic DeYoung tackles is the need to seek after a balanced perspective on money, possessions and wealth. The Bible is not particularly clear on how exactly we should use our money (beyond the Tithe). He quotes one author putting the Biblical tension this way:
“Trust is the Christian way of life. In order to trust, renunciation is necessary, lest we immerse ourselves entirely in the things we possess, trying to grasp and keep what we need to be secure. In order to trust, enjoyment is necessary, lest renunciation become a principled rejection of the creation through which God draws our hearts to himself.”
DeYoung then summarizes with an outstanding quote saying, “To be a Christian, then, is to receive God’s good gifts and enjoy them the most, need them the least, and give them away most freely.” The people of God were graciously granted feasts which were commanded by God. At the same time they were charged to not neglect their family in the faith or to treat others unjustly. Therefore we are called to celebrate what God has given us while at the same time called to keep an open hand towards our brother in need.
The Bottom Line:
God has given us responsibilities to show mercy and justice. However many opportunities around the world are more in the category of opportunity rather than obligation. Some need to be more mindful of the needs near to us and some need to feel less guilty for things they are not obligated toward. But at the end of the day social justice must not take the front seat in the church’s mission but rather the call to care for and disciple souls. We should take the call to care for those physically in need seriously without making it the central task of the church.
This book will leave you with a clearer understanding of social justice and mercy ministry but this is far from the sole focus. The book gives outstanding Biblical insight on numerous topics like the Kingdom of God, the Church, and our purpose in the World. I hope you will consider adding it to your reading list for 2015.