It’s been a long time coming, but here finally is the last of seven common “social justice” passages.

Here are the other six posts: Micah 6:8; Amos 5; Matthew 25:31-46; Jeremiah 22; Isaiah 58; Isaiah 1.

And here are some earlier posts on the same theme: Moral Proximity; Leviticus 19; Leviticus 25; the term social justice.

Now on to Luke 4:16-21.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

No doubt, this text is one of the clearest statements of Jesus’ mission and the goals of his ministry. It is also one of the most misunderstood. In popular explanations, Luke 4 underscores that Jesus’ mission focused on the materially destitute and the downtrodden. In this interpretation, Jesus is Messiah and social liberator. He came to bring the year of jubilee to the oppressed. He came to transform social structures and bring God’s creation back to shalom. Therefore, our mission, in keeping with Christ’s mission, is, to quote one well-respected book “to extend the kingdom by infiltrating all segments of society, with preference given to the poor, and allowing no dichotomy between evangelism and social transformation (Luke 4:18-19).” Above all else, Luke 4, it is argued, shows that Jesus’ mission was to serve the poor. Shouldn’t that be our mission too?

This common approach to Luke 4 is not entirely off base, but it misses two critical observations.

First, it overlooks the actual verbs Jesus’ read from the Isaiah scroll. The Spirit of the Lord, resting upon Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, would anoint him to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. With the exception of “to set at liberty the oppressed” (which we’ll come back to in a moment), these are all speaking words. While it’s certainly true that Jesus healed the sick and gave sight to the blind (as pointers to his deity and as signs of the kingdom’s in-breaking), the messianic mission statement in Luke 4 highlights the announcement of good news. If Luke 4 sets the tone for the mission of the church, then our mission ought to focus mainly on the preaching of the gospel.

Second, the “missions as social transformation” reading of Luke 4 assumes too much of a strictly economic understanding of “the poor” (ptochos). While ptochos in verse 18 is probably not without some reference to material poverty, there are several reasons to think the word signifies much more than this.

(1) The quotation is from Isaiah 61:1 where the poor are lumped in with the “broken-hearted” and “all who mourn.” The poor in Isaiah are not just materially poor; they are the humble poor, the mournful ones waiting for their promised “oil of gladness” and their “garment of praise” (Isa. 61:3). The Hebrew anaoim in verse 1 can be translated “poor” (ESV, NIV) or “meek” (KJV) or “afflicted” (NASB, ESV footnote). All are possible because something more than material poverty is in mind.

(2) Likewise, the Greek word ptochos can speak of literal or figurative poverty. Of the ten uses of ptochos in Luke, seven should be taken as literal poverty (14:13, 21; 16:20, 22: 18:22; 19:8; 21:3), while three may be figurative (4:18; 6:20; 7:22). Elsewhere in the New Testament, Revelation 3:17 is a clear instance where ptochos should be taken figuratively. Laodicea thought themselves rich (and they were materially), but on a deeper spiritual level they were “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” As in English, the Greek word for “poor” carries different shades of meaning, both literal and figurative.

(3) A strictly literal understanding of “the poor” in the immediate context would not make sense. If “the poor” are the literally poor, then “the captives,” “the blind,” and “the oppressed” should be taken literally as well. And yet there is no instance in the gospels of Jesus setting a literal prisoner free (something that confused John the Baptist [Luke 7:18-23]). Quite naturally we understand captivity and oppression to include spiritual bondage. It is not inappropriate, then, to put a spiritual gloss on “the poor” as well.

(4) The slightly wider context makes the same point. Jesus mentions two examples of the type of person who experienced the Lord’s favor in the Old Testament. One is the widow of Zarephath. She was materially poor. But the other example is Naaman, the important Syrian general who humbled himself by dipping seven times in the Jordan River. If these are the examples of good news for the poor, the poor has more to do with poverty of spirit than material destitution.

(5) The materially rich do not always fair badly in Luke-Acts. In fact, David Bosch, one of the seminal thinkers in the missional theology, goes so far as to say Luke is more “the evangelist of the rich” than “the evangelist of the poor.” Bosch doesn’t mean at all that Luke favors the rich. That’s plainly not the case. What he means is that Luke more any other evangelist tries to show how the materially rich can, and do, get it right. So only in Luke’s gospel do we get John the Baptist’s instructions on what repentance looks like for tax collectors, soldiers, and those with two tunics (3:10-14). Only in Luke do we have the story of Zacchaeus to offset the story of the rich young ruler (Luke 18-19). And in Acts, Luke mentions the generosity of land-holder Barnabas immediately before he tells the story of lying Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 4:36-37; 5:1-11). If Jesus were only good news for the materially poor, there would be no way to explain these stories of the commendable rich.

So for all these reasons I agree with Andreas Kostenberger and P.T. O’Brien that “The ‘poor’ to whom the good news is announced are not to be understood narrowly of the economically destitute, as most recent scholars have suggested; rather the term refers more generally to ‘the dispossessed, the excluded’ who were forced to depend upon God.” I agree with David Bosch when he concludes, “Therefore, in Luke’s gospel, the rich are tested on the ground of their wealth, whereas others are tested on loyalty toward their family, their people, their culture, and their work (Lk. 9:59-61). This means the poor are sinners like everybody else, because ultimately sinfulness is rooted in the human heart. Just as the materially rich can be spiritually poor, the materially poor can be spiritually poor.” Many other scholars past and present, including Eckhard Schnabel, David Hesselgrave, Robert Stein, Christopher Little, I. Howard Marshall, and Darrell Bock have come to similar conclusions.

This does not rule out an economic component to ptochos in Luke 4. The poor are often the economic poor because material hardship more often than material plenty translates into spiritual sensitivity, humility, and the desperation that gives you the ears to hear God’s voice. There’s a reason Jesus said “blessed are the poor” instead of “blessed are the rich.” The poor are more apt to see their need for help than the rich. The Greek word ptochos is, to use quote Darrell Bock, best described as a “soteriological generalization.” It refers to those who are open to God, responsive to him, and see their dependence upon him. It is to these that Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. Therefore, Jesus’ mission laid out in Luke 4 was not a mission of structural change and social transformation, but a mission to announce the good news of his saving power and merciful reign for all those brokenhearted enough to believe.

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35 thoughts on “Seven Passages on Social Justice (7)”

  1. Malin Friess says:

    Might these ideas on social justice expand into a book?

  2. John Thomson says:

    Kevin

    I’ve enjoyed your blogs on this topic. Is this a future book topic (as above)?

  3. Kevin, as John above, I also just wanted to express my gratefulness for your labor in this series. It has been enormously helpful, and I trust, will serve me well in the future. Thanks!

  4. Kevin DeYoung says:

    I’m glad the series has been helpful. I plan to use some of this material in a book I am writing with Greg Gilbert, tentatively titled “What is the Mission of the Church?” (Crossway 2011).

  5. Daren says:

    Kevin,
    Could you follow up this series with a series on the right Biblical response to many of the social issues we are facing today? What should our response be to poverty, sickness, HIV, starving children…? I’ve spent the last two years working at a rural African mission hospital and as a physician looking to do that kind of work long-term, I would appreciate to hear what you have to say. I have appreciated your willingness to take the time to explain some of these passages, but at the same time, you’ve really made me question some things. You’ve been careful to point out what these selected passages don’t say. Will you follow up with a series explaining our responsibilies as Western Christians in dealing with the pressing social issues of our day?

  6. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Daren, those are excellent questions, and a I certainly don’t want to discourage brothers and sisters sacrificing to meet the needs of those around the world. My sense is that we should speak less about what we must do and more in terms of what we can do. That is, I’d like to see the church inspire its members by saying “Here are opportunities to love” rather than putting a burden on folks that says, “This is a matter of justice. We are responsible to fix this.” I think it’s also important to see the difference between the church’s mission (to make disciples) and the calling God may have on our lives as individuals (politics, medicine, agriculture, etc.). A doctor doesn’t have to evangelize his patients to justify being a doctor. But on the other hand, the mission of the church is not to build hospitals. May God bless you as serve.

  7. Skeeter says:

    Kevin,

    You nailed it by saying, “Here are opportunities to love’ rather than putting the burden on folks that says ,”This is a matter of justice. We are responsible to fix this.”

    This is what is happening with the new shame and blame confessions (Belhar and the Accra) that are being introduced to the church. They turn the doctrines of the faith into matters of hatred, racism and bigotry by presupposing injustice rather then focusing on giving and serving out of love, concern and compassion toward our fellowman because their eternal soul is at stake.

  8. Daren says:

    Kevin,
    Thanks for the follow-up. I’ll keep all of that in mind as I pray about my own family’s future in Africa and as I seek to inspire other believers here in the States to get involved in what we were doing there. I know for me and those I worked with, it was certainly the “opportunity to love” coupled with an overflowing sense of gratitude to God for the grace he’s shown to us that has compelled us to go. I’m praying I’ll keep those things central.
    Thanks again.

  9. Kevin,

    Thanks for your work in these posts. I worry though that we often are opposed to “social justice” because we don’t rightly understand it. Not at all suggesting you don’t, but merely stating that as westerners we have an aversion to the social gospel, as well we should. However, many Latin American theologians like Padialla and Escobar have clearly set forth a holistic view of the gospel that is Kingdom focused and while it does advocate the churches involvement in social justice it clearly is very evangelistic realizing that transformation and the advancement of the KOG comes by the proclamation of the Gospel. However, a transformed people who are citizens of the KOG live as such and that permeates all of society. What are your thoughts?

  10. MF says:

    Kevin, as someone who works in mercy ministry, I appreciate your series here, and I agree with your broad exegetical points like that the poor (who are not exclusively the physically poor) will always be with us, that care should usually be localized, etc. I’d add that the structure of care should be from the family, then friends, and then the church, and churches should give priority to their people over outsiders. That the state is involved at all is somewhat adiaphorous.

    One might yet see Jesus as modeling ministry to the whole person when he, in Mat 9:35, “went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” He cast the net wide, serving all in both spiritual and physical needs. Likewise, Paul says we are to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:10).

    And one might see a call to “do justice” as standing up for those who are poor and powerless like widows, orphans (and the unborn), and strangers and aliens (Jas 1:27; Dt 14:29; Ps 146:9; etc.). I agree with you that it should generally be more localized care, though there is the example of Paul collecting money for the poor and starving church in Jerusalem.

    I think of the book of Ruth, which shows how Boaz cared for the poor by giving them a place to come and collect free grain, rather than handing out free bundles (cf. George Grants _Bringing in the Sheaves_).

    Finally, there’s the oft-cited letter of Julian the Apostate about the early church, which has no normative authority for the church but does represent an interesting historical artifact on how the early church saw its mission. Here’s a passage on this from the Wikipedia:

    Because Christian charities were open to all, including pagans, it put this aspect of the Roman citizens lives out of the control of the Imperial authority and under that of the Church. Thus Julian envisioned the institution of a Roman philanthropic system, and cared for the behaviour and the morality of the pagan priests, in the hope that it would mitigate the reliance of pagans on Christian charity:

    “These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.”

    “Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.”

    It’s a tricky balancing act, trying to serve all appropriately when there are so many needs and when there is money involved.

  11. Justin says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for taking the time to address these important issues in some detail. I was wondering, however, if you could explain how your last sentence (reprinted below) avoids a needless false dichotomy between the social and the spiritual, between proclamation and practice, between word and deed? You say,

    “Jesus’ mission laid out in Luke 4 was not a mission of structural change and social transformation, but a mission to announce the good news of his saving power and merciful reign for all those brokenhearted enough to believe.”

    Why is it necessary to pit and prioritize word over against deed, proclamation over and against practice? These things are dear friends, not enemies or even competitors. Thus, I appreciate the way Christopher Wright has articulated the complementary rather than contradictory relationship they share in the passage under quesiton when we writes:

    “Jesus did not announce a jubilee and hope it would inaugurate the kingdom of God. Rather, he announced the arrival of the kingdom of God and then used jubilary imagery to characterized its demands. Jesus’s use of jubilary imagery, like the prophets’, take the themes of release and restoration and applies them both in the economic sense in which they originally functioned, and also with ‘value added’ spiritual dimensions. Release from bondage of all sorts, and restoration to fullness of life and harmony in relation with God and other human beings were part of the prophetic vision of the age to come and part of Jesus vision of the in-breaking Kingdom of God.”

    While often over looked, it is significant that Jesus is not only quoting from Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4 but actually also splices this reference with Isaiah 58:6 as scholars such as Walter Pilgrim have pointed out. This is extremely significant in assessing the nature of the “poor” who are being discussed because of the context of Isaiah 58 which clearly involves the problem of material poverty. Of course the important point is that we do not pit one against the other.

    Visions of the gospel and the kingdom of God can function on one-sided planes, removed from the realities of spiritual need or economic injustice. We easily can fall prey to overemphasis, assuming the “poor” Jesus had in mind were only the spiritually lost or the socioeconomically impoverished. The only way to strike a balance between the two is to look at the way Jesus and his Apostles applied his own mission statement to their actual ministry. When we look to Jesus’ ministry for the answer, we find that Christ and the early church laid a radical emphasis on both spiritual and material dimensions of human poverty. Jesus not only fed the hungry (John 6:1-15) but also explained that he is the very bread of life (John 6:35). Not surprisingly, we find this beautiful balance in the incarnation and the cross upon which Jesus died, purchasing our spiritual salvation through the supremely physical gift of his own flesh and blood.

  12. Gordon Howe says:

    “Not surprisingly, we find this beautiful balance in the incarnation and the cross upon which Jesus died, purchasing our spiritual salvation through the supremely physical gift of his own flesh and blood.” Justin

    Very well said!

  13. Paul says:

    > the messianic mission statement in Luke 4 highlights the announcement of good news

    That’s true, of course but I think the issue Kevin misses when he says something like that is whether there are actions in addition to announcements. When Jesus says he comes:
    “to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind….” doesn’t Jesus have actions to back that up in addition to the announcement? If that’s true, shouldn’t the church also have actions and not simply “preach the Gospel” (if “preach” in that context means mostly speaking)?

    > While ptochos in verse 18 is probably not without some reference to material poverty

    That sounds like Kevin is trying to downplay the “material poverty” aspect as much as possible.

    > Kostenberger and P.T. O’Brien “The ‘poor’ to whom the good news is announced are not to be understood narrowly of the economically destitute; rather the term refers more generally to ‘the dispossessed, the excluded’ who were forced to depend upon God.

    I haven’t read Kostenberger and O’Brien but I suspect Kevin is misunderstanding them if he thinks they would agree with his conclusions. It’s commonly said that Jesus’ ministry focused on the “dispossessed, the excluded” which would include the material poor but not be limited to them (it included tax collectors, for example) and as far as I know, that’s not controversial. However, that’s completely different from saying that ptochos means “those who are open to God, responsive to him, and see their dependence upon him” which is what Kevin would like it to mean.

  14. I think it’s also important to see the difference between ‘church’s mission (to make disciples) and the calling God may have on our lives as individuals (politics, medicine, agriculture, etc’ (In Kevin’s subsequent repsonse to Daren).

    It is reductionistic to simply state that the church’s mission is ‘make disciples’. In the Matthew 28 passage Jesus went on to say, to teach them to obey all that I’ve commanded-which surely includes what is now generically called, ‘mercy ministry’.

    And isn’t is also redcutuionistic to say,
    ‘While it’s certainly true that Jesus healed the sick and gave sight to the blind (as pointers to his deity and as signs of the kingdom’s in-breaking)?

    Was Jesus that mechanical? Healing just as a ‘pointer’ or to demonstrate a sign? Did he feel no emotion? Was he like a neurosurgeon who operates merely to ‘prove that he is a top surgeon’? Did he not heal to relieve suffering? I’m not of course excluding the ‘pointers and signs’ component of the signifcance of Jesus’ healing ministry, but I fear that much ink spilt explaining what Scripture does NOT mean sometimes seems a veiled way of supporting emphases other than what would be perspicacious to the ‘ploughboy in the field’. (If you see what I mean!!!)

  15. christopher says:

    Kevin,

    Your reply to Daren on July 21, 2010 at 12:50 pm suggests that the mission of the Church is to “make disciples.” i wholeheartedly agree. But then you seem to imply that disciple-making is synonomous with evangelism. Do i understand you correctly on this point? Because it would seem to me that Jesus defines disciple-making in Matthew 28 much more broadly than just verbal proclamation; it includes obedience to *everything* He commanded, which encompasses both word and deed.

    Also, in these discussions re: the mission of the church i have often noticed that many make the distinction between individual Christians and the so-called church qua church. Admittedly, i have difficulty wrapping my mind around this distinction. Is it truly a biblical distinction? Perhaps you can flesh this out in future blogposts or your upcoming book. Is the church only a reality when gathered on the Lord’s Day? Do individual Christians (in some sense) cease to be members of the church Mon-Sat? Even if there are commands given to individual Christians vs. the church qua church, don’t the commands given to individual Christians fall under the heading of discipleship? And if so, isn’t the church responsible for encouraging such individual discipleship in accordance with Matthew 28?

  16. david carlson says:

    Kevin – I enjoy your writing, and have shared your book “Just do something” with my children.

    However, this series really seems to be “seeing the trees yet missing the forest”.

    It really is undisputed that the bible is full of references to caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan. To pick seven passages, yet ignore how they interact with a dominant biblical theme, summarized quite clearly, for example, by James Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world. is simply not understandable.

  17. Michael says:

    Paul, shouldn’t the church also have actions and not simply “preach the Gospel” (if “preach” in that context means mostly speaking)?

    Is not speaking, proclaiming the gospel, and making disciples, an action?

    david, says It really is undisputed that the bible is full of references to caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan.

    I think you miss the point of Kevin’s series. No doubt there are references to helping the poor in Scripture. But the question is why? Why does James tell us this is “pure and undefiled religion”? Is it because helping the poor, widows and orphans is proof we have works to back up our faith, faith that commands us to love one another? Or should we help the poor because that is the gospel?

  18. Just wondering why my comment was deleted. I thought this is a timely issue, particularly if you look at the way Liberals are using these passages.

  19. Ben Stafford says:

    Nice exegesis, Kevin. I wish more Christians would understand these things. Christ sets people free, gives them liberty, etc. Any government efforts to better anyone’s life is only an insult to that person an pure thievery if it involves taxing someone else.

  20. Jacob Rodriguez says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for your careful exegesis. I praise the Lord for your’s, and the Gospel Coalition’s efforts to maintain the purity of the Gospel in time where evangelicalism is going through growing pains and wrestling with the issues of social justice. However, I do have some concerns.

    Two comments:

    1) In the case of Luke 4, the emphasis on Jesus “proclaiming” the year of Jubilee does not minimize the social implications of Jesus’ ministry, nor of the Church. Proclamation is a speech-act. By proclaiming liberty, Jesus was enacting this freedom. In the context of the canon this freedom includes freedom from the earth’s bondage to decay (Rom 8), and every aspect of the curse (Rev 21:1-4). In Luke, the themes of Jubilee, Exodus, Second Exodus, and new creation are all summed up in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (as in the other synoptics). Surely these themes find their consummation in eschatological shalom. Furthermore, the Revelation 21 picture is a restoration of the covenantal relationship between God, man, and the land–a vision for which Jubilee originally existed (cf. Lev 25; 26:9-13). Should not the Church be a locus in which this eschatological new-creational exodus/liberation is shown as a foretaste (of course this liberation language is not meant to minimize the penal substitutionary aspect of salvation)? Should this not also translate into the Church’s mission at the present age to model this movement toward shalom? This need not be the preaching of Postmillenial Utiopianism; a healthy Reformed view of Church and Society supports this.

    2) A reader in the Majority World would not see the need to separate the spiritual and socio-economic aspects of “ptochoi” here. Granted, as you aptly point out, there is a very important difference between the spiritual and physical needs of people, and as those entrusted with the gospel we should never minimize the original sin in each individual, and the eternal conscious torment of Hell. However, must we, in our exegesis, rid the Global South Christian of his or her hope that in Luke 4 Jesus is directly speaking to them–that Jesus has come to set them free from sin, and through their communities of faith (i.e. the Church) enact the social justice that eleviates poverty and returns dignity to the forgotten and downtrodden? Unfortunately, I think that our harsh dichotomies in the West neglect our brothers and sisters in the Global South, who will soon outnumber us. (another disclaimer: I’m not advocating for reader-reponse hermeneutics, rather, I am saying that Global South eyes can remind the West of the perspicuous meaning of Scripture that we are prone to miss because of our own cultural lenses).

    You’ve probably read these works, but Christopher J. H. Wright’s books, “The Mission of God” and “Old Testament Ethics for the People of God” seem to articulate quite well a biblical ethic for social justice that does not minimize the eternal aspects of the gospel. I suggest these reads to any young-restless-reformed types like me who are trying to understand what preaching and living the unchanging gospel looks like in our ever-changing world.

    blessings,

    Jacob

  21. Paul Janssen says:

    Just wondering — can you cite a scholar who claims that the economically poor are automatically spiritually righteous, on the basis of their poverty? I’m just not sure what these folks are arguing about; I know all kinds of people who advocate for ministry among the poor, but not a single one of them contends that poor folks automatically are somehow righteous. The argument isn’t about who’s more or less “righteous” or “fit” for communion with God. The argument, as I understand it, is what the Biblical testimony says about those whose cause God tends to advocate. And that would include, of course, not only the economically poor, but also the broken-hearted and downcast. As well, by the way, as the peace-makers and prophets. So, what’s the point, exactly?

  22. Jacob Rodriguez says:

    Paul,

    Liberation theologians are quick to assume that the economically poor are somehow more “righteous” (see Gustavo Gutierrez, “Theology of Liberation,” Elsa Tamez, “Bible of the Oppressed,” and more recently, Miguel de la Torre, “Liberating Jonah”). However, these authors are by no means evangelical, and their understanding of Scripture and the gospel is a far cry from what is orthodox.

    Jayakumar Christian (see his book, “God of the Empty Handed”), on the other hand, is an evangelical Christian of Indian background who offers helpful biblical insight into God’s character as the one who by His nature upholds the cause of those who are oppressed in any shape or form. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he makes some good points.

    Lastly, Chris Wright (“The Mission of God”) offers that Psalm 145 portrays Yahweh as the creator King of the whole universe. The scope of Yahweh’s kingdom therefore is cosmic. So when it says that “the eyes of al look to him and he gives them their food at the proper time,” and “Yahweh upholds all those who fall, and lifts up all who are bowed down,” it is speaking in terms of God’s commitment, by virtue of his character as Creator and King, to uphold the cause of the oppressed.

    Just some thoughts. I appreciate the mutually uplifting realm of godly blogging!

    blessings,

    Jacob

  23. Paul Janssen says:

    Jacob,
    Okay; you can offer me names of liberation theologians, but you haven’t cited any passages that indicate what you call their assumption that the poor are, by ‘virtue’ of their poverty (I use that as an idiom, not to impute virtue to the poor), closer to God than to anyone else. What this feels like is the construction of a paper tiger argument, in order to make some sort of point that, without a foil, isn’t that much of a point to begin with. Who argues with the proposition that God rains on the just and the unjust? Who argues with the saying that God shows no partiality? Who, further, makes the argument that it is easy (or easier) for a rich man to see the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle? (Noone) If this argument is about possession or non-possession of worldly goods, then we would be far better off looking somewhere else entirely — that is, to the arguments that go back and forth in the monastic tradition, on the one hand, and for a more ecclesial institutional perspective, on the possessors/nonpossessors dispute of the Russian Orthodox church.
    I just don’t regard it as honest discourse to allege that those with whom one purports to disagree “assume” something…
    Anyone who has spent time in ministry with the poor will understand that they are just as materialistic (in the sense of desirous of finding meaning in what Paul called “the flesh”) as are the rich. And most theologians who have spent time in base communities will tell you just that.
    So again, I ask, I understand the point (I think), but why make it? What difference does it make?

  24. Matt says:

    Let me ask a simple question about the rich and the poor. How did Jesus get an audience with the “Rich”.

    Quite simpley, He went and served the poor and chose his disciples from among commoners. In my studies and in my personal endeavors, if you want to spread the gospel to the “Rich” and I am talking about those who are materially Rich, then start serving the poor and soon your heart will break for those that are poor that you will either have the Rich ask you a the questions “Why are you doing that” or you will have to ask the Rich for finanicial support to help lift the burdens of those less fortunate.

    In my opinion those that are poor are more responsive to the gospel because most often financial hardships lead to spiritual hardships. I also find that often those that are rich pretend that they are not spiritually poor and then we see colosal colapses and wonder why such a perfect person on the outside fell apart.

    What the church needs to start to do is do such RADICAL things for those around be they Rich or Poor so people ask the question Why are you doing this. For me, when ever someone asks me “WHY” I know that I must being doing something right cause then it allows me to open the conversation that centers around Christ. Why are you going to Haiti or Why do you visit people you don’t even know in prison?

    Why is the most powerful question in my Aresenal as an evangelical christian. I don’t typically start the conversation about Christ until I hear a clear invitation. That invitation to me is the question WHY. Go serve those who are poor materially and financially and I garauntee that both those that are Rich and Poor will begin to ask you the question “Why are you doing that”.

  25. Jacob Rodriguez says:

    Paul,

    Thanks for the helpful cautions about my portrayal of others’ arguments. I probably should have said that these authors “argue” or “indicate” or “support” rather than “assume.” I’m glad for your advice.

    Also, I was probably too harsh in my words “far cry from orthodoxy”–I think these liberation theologians have a kernel of truth in their arguments but it is not in conjunction with a proper understanding of the gospel.

    Regarding what difference it makes, the argument goes that understanding the character of God and His interaction with the poor may provide greater motivation for the church to reach out to the poor as a part of their mission. Whether or not “helping the poor” is actually part of the “gospel” proper or just an implication of the gospel is where the disagreements come up among evangelicals.

    When it all comes down to it, though, all of this argumentation isn’t worth it if we don’t follow Jesus’ commands to preach the gospel and care for the widow and orphan (Matt 28:18-20; James 1:27).

  26. Radiance says:

    (Sorry if this is a repost, for some reason my previous posts of this comment have not been showing up! I’ll try one more time.)

    “KABUL, Afghanistan – A Christian charity said Monday it had no plans to leave Afghanistan despite the brutal murders last week of 10 members of its medical aid team, six of them Americans.”

    “The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Thursday murders, alleging that the group, most of them devout Christians, were spies and tried to convert Muslims. Some local officials suspect common criminals carried out the attack.”

    “During a press conference Monday, Dirk Frans, the director of the International Assistance Mission that organized the trip, insisted that conversion was not the aim of the trip and that the Afghan government had given them permission to treat Afghans in the area.”

    “He said the IAM had made no secret that it was a Christian organization during its four decades in Afghanistan and was legally registered with the Afghan government.

    “Our faith motivates and inspires us but we do not proselytize,” he said. “We abide by the laws of Afghanistan” that make proselytizing illegal.

    Frans said “as things stand right now” his organization has no plans to leave Afghanistan, having operated here during the Soviet occupation of the 1990s, the civil war of the 1990s and during five years of Taliban rule.”

    (from the AP story on Yahoo news)

    ***********************************

    I believe this news story is significant, because the LORD in his mercy, has chosen to finally shine the light on the hundreds of unsung Christian humanitarian aid workers that have been ministering to the physical needs of people in the Afghan region for decades.

    Notice that while the men and women of the group identify as Christian, they do not engage in any outright proselytization or evangelism efforts.

    Yet their deeds are evidence of their loving commitment to Jesus and their loving commitment to their Afghan brethren.

    These men and women are martyrs and heroes. They believed greatly. And they loved deeply: their neighbors and enemies alike.

    Most importantly, they laid down their lives for the GOSPEL.

    “How did they do that?,” one might ask. “They weren’t church planting. They were doctors, not missionaries!”

    Can’t people see that GOD, in His magnificent Sovereignty has clearly been using these people to plant and sow seeds? That through their sacrifices and efforts, they are *laying the groundwork* for even greater plans to unfold in the future! To pave the path for future missionaries and proselytizers to enter the region? These brave believers have been OPENING doors.

    The Taliban has taken notice, and so should we.

  27. Don Law says:

    A great collection of seven – thanks!

  28. Tim Catchim says:

    I am always suprised, (but I shouldn’t be) at how easy it is for the priveleged to dismiss the needs the of underpriveleged. When you have access to a hospital, why help other people have access to one? The word “poor” in Luke 4 is obviously economic. Even the sign of Jesus mesiaship given to John in prison is that the gospel is preached to the poor. Middle/upper? class white folks rationalizing and explaining away the verses about ministering to the poor. Classic indeed.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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