Social Involvement and the Gospel
Wheaton: Crossway books, 2013
Publishers website here.
To rephrase Bishop Tutu "When people say that the Bible and social action don't mix, I ask them which Bible they are reading." Yet it seems that many evangelicals are reading different Bibles. Evangelical attitudes to social action have always been mixed. Some see it as a capitulation to the social gospel others as an integral part of the gospel. Chester in this introductory book helpfully examines this relationship.
The book begins by outlining four ways in which evangelicals in general have responded to the relationship and poses a number of key questions:
Is social involvement something we do as well as evangelism? Is there another way of doing evangelism? Is it a distraction or the real job of proclaiming the gospel?The book attempts to explore these important issues. He provides a good case for evangelical social action but has some pertinent criticism too and he wants to see social action that is truly evangelical. He sees proclamation of the gospel message as being central to Christian social action and the need for social action to be shaped by the gospel. He argues that evangelism and social action are distinct but inseparable activities.
Is social involvement a legitimate activity of Christians? Does it have biblical support?
In the first chapter he looks at three biblical reasons for involvement: the character of God, the reign of God and the grace of God. He maintains that social involvement is rooted in the character of God and that "Our understanding of poverty is fundamentally related to our understanding of God". This focus on the centrality of God is to be welcomed.
One of the reasons for the lack of involvement is that Christianity is too often considered to be a private with no public ramifications. This misconception is investigated in Chapter 2. Calvin, Kuyper, Elizabeth Fry, Wilberforce, William Booth are all cited of examples of Christians whose faith has made a public difference. The privatising effect of human reason on through the Enlightenment and human experience on faith through Romanticism are briefly - albeit oversimplified - examined.
Chester focuses on poverty as a key social issue, but he sees it including social marginalization and powerlessness. He advocates a relational approach to poverty. Tackling poverty is much more than feeding the hungry, poverty is more than a lack of income. The root of poverty is alienation from God, poverty is economic and social: it is "about marginalization, vulnerability, isolation and exclusion." This is obviously an area in which Christianity can help.
Chester makes a good case for social action that precedes, accompanies and follows evangelism. What he doesn't do is to show how social action and social reform relate. Does social reform need to follow social action?
Chester provides good reasons for the need for evangelicals to be involved in social action. He also provides some useful suggestions and ideas for involvement and includes some pertinent warnings: social action doesn't mean doing something for the poor, it is more than providing solutions. More effective ways include helping people to help themselves: "Good social involvement is helping people o find their own solutions." Participation is key.
The book includes some thought provoking poems by Stuart Henderson, a number of vignettes that help focus the issues on real situations, a useful list of further reading and a bibliography.
1. The Case for Social Involvement
2. More Than a Private Faith
3. The Case for Evangelizing the Poor
4. Social Involvement and Proclamation
5. Social Involvement and the Kingdom of God
6. Good News to the Poor
"Land of Milk and Honey" Stewart Henderson
7. Good News to the Rich
8. Welcoming the Excluded
9. Strengthening the Powerless
10. Following the Crucified Lord
11. Can We Make a Difference?
"Jesus, Jewel of the Poor" Stewart Henderson