Have Missions Become Too “Deeds”-Centric?

I really enjoyed a column by Brad Greenberg (of The God Blog) a few weeks back in the Wall Street Journal‘s “Houses of Worship” column. The piece, entitled “How Missionaries Lost Their Chariots of Fire,” took a look at the trends in Christian missions in recent years–most notably the shift among younger evangelicals from proselytizing and preaching to doing more service and social justice oriented work as mission. A shift in focus from words to deeds.

Evangelical youth now hold the term “missionary” at arm’s length, afraid of the colonialist connotations of the word. They prefer being involved in “social justice” under the auspices of a more generalized Christian sense of charity rather than operating under anything resembling (groan) “soul winning.”

Greenberg cites such popular organizations as Invisible Children, an ostensibly Christian social justice organization whose media kit states that its founders “believe in Christ, but do NOT want to limit themselves in any way.”

Greenberg, who notes that “Christians today typically travel abroad to serve others, but not necessarily to spread the gospel,” ultimately concludes that as much as abandoning the colonialist undertones and “vacationary” short-term reputation of evangelical missions is a good thing, we have to remember that both actions AND words are necessary in missions.

He writes:

Spreading Christianity through deeds alone aligns with a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” But research suggests that non-Christians often miss the message without the words.

A 2006 study by Calvin College’s Kurt Ver Beek found “little or no difference” in the spiritual response between two groups of Hondurans—one which had its homes rebuilt by missionaries who did not proselytize and the other by local NGOs. Intuition would suggest as much. Unless foreigners explain that they are motivated to help by their religious beliefs, locals may be grateful for the new home but they should not be expected to connect dots that they may not even know exist.

The reality is the Church should be doing both: serving the needy and spreading the gospel. This is what makes the humanitarian work of Christians different than that of the American Red Cross. Both are motivated by the desire to help others, but Christians are spurred by that Jesus thing.

Props to Greenberg for highlighting this important point–that in our desire to move away from the ills of “old school” missions thinking we don’t throw the baby (preaching the gospel) out with the bathwater (colonialism, etc). Sadly, we  pendulum-prone evangelicals have a hard time with these both/and scenarios–always inclined to correct the ills of one thing by a wholesale replacement of it with something equally full of its own ills.

I’m all for social justice. I’m passionate about it. Christians have to be serving people and loving them not just in word but in deed. But man, if I hear another well-fed, Toms-wearing evangelical kid quote St. Francis (“preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words”) one more time as a justification for their unwillingness to utter a word to anyone about Christ as the one true hope, I don’t know what I’ll do.

It’s an ongoing debate in missiology: Should missionaries in foreign countries prioritize meeting physical needs (food, water, social justice, development) before they preach the gospel, or should evangelism always be given primacy?

To me, the debate is silly. Can’t we do both simultaneously? Can’t we serve others and meet their circumstantial needs while at the same time telling them about Jesus? Yes, we should be in Africa building water wells, or in Haiti building schools, but what’s the harm in mentioning along the way that we are Christians acting as the church, loving the world because God loved it?

I’m not sure missions could ever be too focused on deeds–unless it is at the expense of the equally important words of truth that people need to hear. I hope my generation figures out a way to emphasize both.

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49 responses to “Have Missions Become Too “Deeds”-Centric?

  1. I appreciate this post a lot, Brett — especially having returned just yesterday from a Campus Crusade mission trip in Juneau, Alaska.

    On the way home from the airport, I talked with my friend who had picked me up about the sins of our generation. I agree with you that in hindsight we will see that we were too hesitant to speak the Gospel — and that coming from someone who isn’t a huge fan of going around sharing the Four Spiritual Laws with strangers. Which is to say, I think there’s a middle ground between abrasive proselytizing and social justice devoid of any transcendent message.

    On our recent trip to Southeast Alaska, we had the privilege of spending Fourth of July weekend in Angoon, a Native Alaska village. Though I had visited Angoon last summer, ideas about colonialism and imperialism had since popped onto my radar screen. I became worried a month or so from our trip that we might be committing spiritual imperialism: using the Natives and our time in their community to make ourselves feel all nice and spiritual. As it turned out, though, we were warmly welcomed. And I think the guys I was leading did a great job of participating in Angoon’s holiday traditions and learning about Tlingit culture and interacting with the Natives on their own terms.

    Thanks again for the post, Brett. Keep up the good work.

  2. pursuingintegration

    There needs to be a balance for sure. In my opinion, the abundance of short-term missions opportunities have changed the game. If you are going on a one week missions trip to build a house, I’m not sure it’s really your place to be evangelizing in a strange culture when you will be leaving in a matter of days.

    Let the long-term missionaries who have the relationships and knowledge of the culture do that. They probably know how to do it better than you anyway, right?

    Regardless, great post.

  3. Agreed. Without words AND deeds, we’re presenting a skewed message at best.

    Regarding St. Francis, if I understand correctly, his statement was made to his friars as they roamed about (and preached a lot in churches). In other words, people knew they were religious monk-types. There was no mistaking the good deeds of a friar for those of a well-meaning atheist, New Ager, or Buddhist. If someone goes around wearing a t-shirt that says, “I am a Christian. Ask me about it sometime,” then I’ll cut him some slack if he doesn’t talk much. That would be more like the situation Francis’s statement was aimed at.

    Also, he didn’t say, “NEVER use words.” I think he was trying to remind his followers that their deeds ought to match their professed beliefs, and they ought to be humble rather than try to control others–as those who are preachy usually do. Anyway, my point is I think those who use St. Francis to support their reluctance or refusal to evangelize have got him all wrong.

  4. Christianity Today’s Mark Galli has a good article on the “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” quote: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/mayweb-only/120-42.0.html.

  5. Marshall McLuhan wrote, “The medium is the message.”

    Whether the message is of a healing gospel or of something else, if it is not mediated through loving actions, it will be lost, or misunderstood. If we objectify those we serve and reduce our message to the content itself that we are supposedly “teaching” – if we separate ourselves from those we are ministering to, then the true message of Christianity, of the word made flesh, will be diminished.

  6. I’m with “pursuingintegration” and would argue that prioritizing word over deed (or vice versa) usually only becomes an issue in the instance of short-term “missions” trips.

    The distinction between “making disciples” and “making converts” is one of time invested.

    Likewise, serving the neighbourhood often leads to loving your neighbour – provided you’re afforded enough time to actually get to know the people who collectively make up said neighbourhood.

    All this to suggest that if we were to ask Jesus “who is my neigbhour?” today, He just might answer with a story pointing us back to the people we actually live beside…

  7. Great thoughts and analysis here, Brett. Appreciate the challenge.

  8. Michael Schutz

    In a word, yes. :)

    I must admit I’ve never been a fan of Assisi’s maxim. Has not Gospel proclamation always (eventually) used words?

    A group I know refers to these short-term “mission trips” as “servant events”. I think that might be a more accurate term – they are opportunities for Christians to serve others. Do we hope there will be an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel because of these types of events? Surely. But the events themselves – in the example, building the house – are not “missions”. They may provide the opportunity to mission to happen, but in and of themselves, they are serving others, nothing more (and, it must be said, nothing less!).

  9. Reading both this post and Galli’s on St. Francis, what strikes me is the tension in the phrase “when necessary”. It seems to me that the whole of the question of words vs. deeds falls on whether one has sense of what is necessary. It seems to me where one approach would be more “necessary” than the other. Perhaps, St. Augustine’s encouragement to “do all things in love” would be a useful rubric for deciding when words are “necessary”.

    • Excuse me i meant to say:
      “It seems to me that there may be times where one approach would be more “necessary” than the other”.
      I apologize for poor editing.

  10. Great essay. Jesus gave many instructions and commissions. It’s easy to pick and chose, but the Great commission is the end game.

  11. Insightful and incisive post, as usual Brett.

    Nothing matters if the Good News isn’t communicated. I could build my neighbor the nicest house on the block, if I haven’t clearly communicated the message of Christ to him, I’ve failed. Speaking for myself, I know that one tendency which hinders me in this area sometimes is being preoccupied with myself in the situation. As believers, this really has nothing to do with us. We are simply serving as Christ’s proxy in the conversation, as a conduit for the Spirit to speak to another soul. So to be concerned with how we will be perceived or whether our intentions could be construed as imperialistic, etc is really irrelevant. The only question that matters is: Was the Message clearly shared?

    Also, just wondering what “social justice” is, Brett. I’m certainly all for Justice, but I’m not aware of a need for a subcategory of Justice. Maybe you wouldn’t mind fleshing out this term so I understand?

  12. It seems that the deeds-over-speech shift is a response of the younger generation to feeling ashamed of the Church and distancing themselves. And I get it! I remember with much discomfort the day-long field trip in my lifestyle evangelism class in college where we were sent out to share the gospel with as many people as we could in one day. However, acting in response to shame will not beautify the Bride of Christ. The service-only mentality will absolutely do a great deal of good and may be a good exercise for those who find themselves talking too much, but it will not redeem negative perceptions. I love getting to draw attention to churches that *gasp* actually do what the Bible commands. I love getting to show people what the Church is supposed to look like–not loving only with “words or tongue” but with “actions and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:18)

    But, to show love with actions and in truth, the truth must be communicated!

  13. Maybe this is while I’ll never be really a Protestant. I think this shows considerable blindness to the reality of history–the awful, bloody history of conquest and colonization. Deeds, not words, are the ways to demonstrate to people the message of the Gospel. The implication that there are casual ways of mentioning it that is not harmful shows a singularly first world perspective that ignores a bloody history and a still existent cultural and economic domination from first world countries that preach Christianity and practice the imperialistic doctrine of nation building and laissez faire economics.

    We’re not at the point where our actions are innocuous as Christians going to parts of the world (that often have very strong Christian communities) that have experienced long term entrenched poverty, which at the very least, is not abetted by the punishing policies of the world bank and unwillingness of industrialized countries to act as economic partners.

    • Snacktastic, I’m don’t want to engage in an economic debate here, but I always bristle when people blame poverty on laissez-faire economics. Check out Hernando de Soto’s “The Mystery of Capital: Why capitalism triumphs in the west but fails everywhere else”. His take is basically that rule of law, some political stability, and strong private property rights are essential if capitalism is to work as it should. Those conditions typically have not attained in the developing world. The conditions facing the developing world are not unusual: they have been the norm throughout history. It is the advances that the developed world has made that are so unusual, and those were made possible by the free market system working together with individual liberty guarantees that were previously unheard of.

  14. i feel like we’re making this conversation a lot more complicated than it is, though i don’t want to be rude in saying so. i also feel there’s been a lot of opinion stated with little bible. if i didn’t know better, i’d say we were followers of saint francis and not Jesus Christ.

    summary statements of Jesus’ ministry on earth generally go something like this: “Jesus was preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.”

    when he commissions the 72 in luke 10, Jesus tells them to heal the sick and to preach that the kingdom of God is near.

    we are the body of Christ today, and we are commissioned by him to go into the world. it seems plain to me, then, that both words and deeds are necessary.

    the question for me, then, is one of practical application. “how do we do this in the realm of foreign missions?”

    then other questions of practicality arise:
    – are deeds and service an access ministry?
    – are they an access ministry only?
    – what do we actually preach? Jesus preached the kingdom — are we preaching personal salvation instead?
    – is it feasible for one family on the mission field to manage both the words and deeds?
    – or do our different gifts within the body require that we work together to accomplish Jesus’ mission?
    – if partnership is required, should Christian missionaries do the ‘word’ bit and partner with existing ngos who are already doing the service and deeds?
    – or should we form large enough teams to keep all this “in house?”
    – how and when do nationals enter the process?
    – etc.

  15. Again, I believe we’re getting way off track.

    @ snacktastic – deeds sans words cannot communicate the truth of the Gospel. Period. There is a reason why Christ is called The Word. The truth of the Gospels is born out by the actions of a believer who is compelled by the love of Christ but our deeds cannot bring us to salvation, nor can they bring anyone else there either. They simply testify to the truth of The Word, they cannot substitute for The Word. Also, I’m really trying hard to think of a “first world country that preaches Christianity” but practices nation building. Maybe you can help me out with some actual historical examples.

    @ James – I have some honest questions and I hope you won’t be offended by them. Why did Christ die? And how exactly can we “accomplish Jesus’ mission”?

  16. “The Sermon on the Mount indicates that when we are on Jesus Christ’s errands, there is no time to stand up for ourselves. Jesus says, in effect, Do not be bothered with whether you are being justly dealt with or not. To look for justice is a sign of deflection from devotion to Him. Never look for justice in this world, but never cease to give it. If we look for justice, we will begin to grouse and to indulge in the discontent of self-pity – Why should I be treated like that? If we are devoted to Jesus Christ we have nothing to do with what we meet, whether it is just or unjust.”
    – Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost for His Highest”

  17. luke, there are two “james” above, but based on the portion of your post that includes a quote, i believe you were speaking to me. i apologize if i am wrong.

    and i’m not offended by your questions, though i am a bit overwhelmed in that good answers to these questions could be quite lengthy — and because these are typically the kinds of questions asked when one is wanting the other to give a wrong answer, or setting a trap per se. i’m reminded of the teachers of the law and Jesus.

    but, all that aside, i’ll attempt to give you my best answers, trusting that you are indeed interested in actual conversation and not tricks and snares:

    “Why did Christ die?”
    – Christ died for the sins of the world, in order to bring reconciliation and restore relationship. He died (and rose) so that he could be the Lord of the living and the dead. His death ushered in a new kingdom and is an example to us that we, too, must die to enter into that kingdom and true life.

    “And how exactly can we ‘accomplish Jesus’ mission?'”
    – we are to be the body of Christ in our communities. we proclaim Christ and his kingdom as we serve, and minister to, one another and those in our communities. we make disciples, acknowledging that it is not our responsibility to draw men to God or to save them. but our responsibility is to proclaim the gospel as we live obedient lives to the glory of God.

  18. This is a very, very difficult topic, so I am glad you are highlighting it. Having spent more than 15 years discipling young Christians for missions and missional life, this has been a constant tension. Two major challenges (among many) stand out.

    First, there is very little available to help disciple these young missionaries in a new kind of proclamation. We affirm the need for a proclaimed Gospel, but find that all too often it becomes repackaged, well-intentioned repetitions of unhealthy approaches & understandings. I am not suggesting we have to have a model that is put in a box, but we need to demonstrate some tangible alternatives.

    Second, many forget than doing good deeds can be equally colonial. Both emphases, done out of even an unintentional assumption of superiority or primacy, can be ineffective at best, harmful at worst. The book “When Helping Hurts” is one example of an attempt to demonstrate this.

    Just some thoughts.

  19. jamie, you wrote: “First, there is very little available to help disciple these young missionaries in a new kind of proclamation.”

    what do you mean by a new kind of proclamation?

    our mission team uses as its “tangible alternative” the bible in small groups. i don’t teach the bible studies, rather i mentor a facilitator in each group who leads his group in reading and interpreting the text.

    i feel two of the biggest problems in missions today are that 1) we don’t trust God to draw souls to him and the Holy Spirit to mature leadership, etc, and 2) because of this distrust, we form elaborate methods and systems for mission.

    • All I mean is that the forms of evangelism that are rightfully seen as colonial still form the basis for most Christians understanding of sharing their faith. In addition to unlearning the unhealthy forms, there is (comparatively) little by way of alternative understandings (which translate into action). I know they are there, but the discipleship gap is huge, making the tendency to avoid evangelism understandable if not excusable. Does that make more sense?

      • jamie, sorry i’ve been so slow in responding. i do understand, now, what you mean.

        i think i’d suggest it’s less of a problem with forms of evangelism — and more of a problem with a poor understanding of the kingdom and true worship.

  20. Thanks James(Brett). I understand your answers and I do agree with most of it but in my opinion we need to be careful about referring to the path of discipleship (serving others, proclaiming the Word) as accomplishing Christ’s mission. Christ’s work was completed on the Cross. He already completed His mission and it is up to us to share that fact, and the tangential truths surrounding it, with those around us.

    Another issue that no one has mentioned is that we seem to be talking about mission-work as existing primarily outside America. The sad fact that there are third-world countries who are sending their own missionaries to our inner-cities is shameful. Is there a need for international ministry? Of course. Does it outweigh the need to minister to our fellow countrymen/women? Absolutely not. In fact, our country is crumbling into a mess of secular humanism. Isn’t this something the Body of Christ here in America should address?

  21. luke, i think i would disagree concerning Christ’s work having been completed in its totality on the cross. i understand justification and forgiveness of sins were completed on the cross, but i don’t know why we’d limit Christ’s mission to that alone. after all, there was a resurrection in which Christ overcame death once and for all — and that apparently occurred after his “work was completed on a cross.”

    luke believed that Jesus had only begun to do and teach until he was taken up into heaven (acts 1). my understanding, then, is that the apostles (and soon after, all disciples), empowered by the Holy Spirit to indeed be the body of Christ, are to continue to do and teach what Jesus had begun.

    i’d suggest Jesus mission was/is to bring reconciliation and abundant life to mankind, not to merely make such things possible.

    as for our only addressing foreign missions in the comments section, i think that’s because the topic of the original post seemed to be discussing such. but i would agree with you completely that we ought to be reaching out to those within our own countries.

  22. shakespeherian

    The sad fact that there are third-world countries who are sending their own missionaries to our inner-cities is shameful.

    I’m not sure why. Is it shameful that we send missionaries to countries that already have very high Christian populations, such as Honduras, Mexico, and South Africa?

  23. Thanks JamesBrett. I guess you and I just disagree a bit. When Christ uttered “it is finished” I believe His work was finished. The curtain in the temple was torn, opening the way for mankind’s reconciliation with the Father. Is there more work to do in order to spread the Gospel? Absolutely. But Christ’s work is done.

    @ shakesperian – How did those countries (Honduras, Mexico, S Africa) come to hear the Gospel in the first place? Missionaries from what are now considered first-world countries. The shameful (and tragically ironic) part is that now they are having to reciprocate the gesture. The equivalent would be if the US Army had to bring in members of the Iraqi Defense Force to train our soldiers because our military was so broken that the Army had forgotten and neglected what our military had taught other nations. It’s a sign of the abject failure of the American church. The pastor of the largest church in America refuses to acknowledge the primacy of Christ on national television. And we wonder why our moral foundations have crumbled?

    • yeah, luke, i think our disagreement seems mostly to be with whether the work we’re to be doing belongs to Christ or… (not sure who you’d insert here — the HS or just us?). but i think we agree on what work we need to be doing, just maybe in whose name we’re doing it?

  24. Great Post- As a missionary dentist in Kenya– I struggle frequently with am I doing enough evangelism..or just a lot of pulling teeth. I think it is fair to say the pendulum may have swung too far in favor of just social action.

    I write about it this very same topic:

    http://wwwfriessfamily.blogspot.com/2010/05/holism.html

    Malin Friess (Wheaton 1998)

  25. shakespeherian

    Luke, I’m talking about American missionaries who are currently going to places such as Honduras, Mexico, South Africa, etc., not historically.

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  27. I’d like to add that I understand where everyone is coming from when they say that short term missionaries shouldn’t preach the gospel. I have to ask then why are they there? Obviously, the answer to that is they are they to fulfill a need of some sort (i.e. build a house, provide food, etc). If you’ve ever read When Helping Hurts, it talks about these types of mission trips. Sometimes they can do more harm than good. Why not partner with an already existing organization & tell them about Jesus while you are there & trust that the existing organization will continue to disciple. I totally agree that you shouldn’t convert someone and then just leave them trying to figure it out for themselves. However, you also shouldn’t waste precious time while doing good deeds and NOT tell them about God. If done correctly, you CAN preach the gospel on a short term mission trip.

  28. Lots to think about here, in the post and the comments. Appreciating the generosity of all who stir excellent and worthwhile thoughts into my days. Glad to have found my way here.

  29. I’d highly recommend the book “Humanitarian Jesus – Social Justice and the Cross” by Christian Buckley & Ryan Dobson for further discussion on this very important topic.

  30. I love your article. I am a missions pastor and we focus on UPG’s in North Africa and the Middle East. I have seen the exact same thing you speak of. Social Justice and Poverty eradication must be done simultaneously. And yes we evangelicals are the most pendulum swinging people around. Thanks!

    • Meant to say “Social Justice and Poverty eradication must be done simultaneously with the sharing of the gospel”

  31. Social justice? Poverty “eradication”? In my estimation, these are not words that should be associated with the Gospel.

    I’m still waiting for someone here to delineate the difference between justice and “social justice” for me. I’ve never found “social justice” in Scripture, justice is all over the Bible but “social justice” is not. As for poverty eradication, it will never happen. Christ Himself has said that the poor we will always have with us. Why? Ask any social worker with a good head on their shoulders. They’ll tell you that there will always be poor people because there will always be people who choose not to do the things necessary to lift themselves out of poverty. Can we provide aid and training? Can we help those people who want to escape poverty and are willing to work towards that end? Absolutely. In fact, we’re told to do so. But that’s poverty alleviation, not eradication. Eradication smacks of social utopia and that is the paean of humanism, not Christianity.

    • I haven’t done a full semantic study on the difference between biblical justice and social justice, but it seems to me that focusing on the difference is unnecessary. Justice in any form will affect society as a whole, and the Bible focuses on that kind of justice that protects and provides for the oppressed and marginalized (clearly, a society-affecting justice).

      As a social worker who likes to think she has a good head on her shoulders, I do agree that we will always have the poor among us. Does that give us an “out” to not fervently seek justice on their behalf? Absolutely not! I work with the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, and the addicted on a daily basis. While it is a common perception that the poor are poor because they simply lack the desire or willpower to “lift themselves out,” the truth is that most of those living in poverty, whether in the U.S. or abroad, are not there by choice. Chalk it up to cycles of poverty, oppression by the rich of the poor (yes, even in the good ole U.S. of A.), or mental illness, but please understand the solution is so much more than providing aid and training. If this was the case, I would stay in social work instead of working my way through law school.

      I understand your resistance to the ideologies that seem to come out of a utopian worldview, but the Bible encourages us to share the Gospel with everyone in hopes that they may know Christ. Why should the goal to eradicate poverty be any different? If the Bible gives us commands throughout the Bible to seek justice for the poor and the oppressed, the orphan and the widow, why should we hold ourselves back simply because it is too ideal? Of course this justice-seeking cannot take the place of sharing the Gospel, but what better way to tangibly show the love of Christ than to give of ourselves in working to secure a better life for others?

      In my opinion, the poor will always be with us not because of the habits and choices of the poor, but because of the conservative selfishness of the rich.

      • Thanks Sarah for your response. I think it’s important to do a semantic study on the differences between justice as we find it in the Bible and social justice as we find it on the lips of men. In my experience, people are talking about two completely different things when they discuss these two “ideals”. Justice is blind. Doesn’t matter if you are rich, poor, black, white, etc – justice is justice and should be equal and available for all. I am whole-heartedly in favor of this because we are told that God is perfect justice, and He tells us to seek it on behalf of each other. Social justice on the other hand, as I’ve been able to discern, is justice with an agenda. It is the desire to somehow “make things right” through restitution, redistribution of wealth, and other socialist schemes. This is not Biblical, in fact it is contrary to Biblical teachings about property and the charitable duty that we owe our brethren. Justice is justice. Social justice is justice sans blindfold, avec une agenda.

        Did you read what I said, Sarah? I said that we have a duty to help the poor among us. I do not believe in generalizing about groups of people, so of course I do not think that “the poor are poor because they simply lack the desire or willpower to lift themselves out”, in my experience individuals in poverty who really don’t want to be in poverty and are willing to work, don’t stay poor too long. This is especially true here in America, where we have more opportunity than any nation in the history of the world. Are there mitigating exceptions to this? I’m sure there are. But I am speaking of individuals and opportunities available to them in this country, not speaking in the general.

        I’m curious to hear what, besides aid and training, you feel we need to offer in the way of help to the poor.

        You say you understand my “resistance” to Utopian ideologies, but it doesn’t seem that you do, Sarah. Utopian ideologies are heretical. I don’t “resist” them, they are anathema to me. There will be no Utopia here on Earth until Christ returns to establish His kingdom. To pretend otherwise, or act otherwise, demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the Gospel of Christ. We should absolutely seek justice for the poor and the oppressed. Completely agree. But we should seek this justice with a clear understanding that we do so because God tells us to and because it honors Him, not because we are under the false assumption that we can achieve Utopia here on Earth. It’s a question of motivation, not the action itself.

        Your last statement is utterly confusing. In your estimation, if all of the “rich” people in the world were forced to turn over their wealth and this wealth was spread among the poor of the world, poverty would be eliminated? You don’t really believe this do you? People are wicked and selfish. There is none who are righteous, no not one. Poverty is one of many social manifestations of this Scriptural truth.

  32. Jane Louise Waldron

    The cure for this dilemma is “The Way of the Master” (www.livingwaters.com). After all, the result of achieving perfect utopian “social justice” and “eradication of poverty” on this Earth without proclaiming the Gospel as Jesus did it is happy, healthy people who spend eternity in the tortures of Hell.

  33. Luke: I do appreciate your difference of opinion. Popular connotation is an important element in considering ministry activities/missions. However, I hate to see the Church shy away from “social justice” activities because others have perhaps used the term to describe so-called socialist activities. For the record, I do not agree that restitution is in any way a socialist scheme.

    Yes, I read what you wrote very carefully. I read that you believe we should help “those people who want to escape poverty and are willing to work towards that end.” In my experience, is not always true that someone who is poor and willing to work does not stay poor for long. Most of my clients who are poor are either mentally ill, disabled, and/or addicted to substances. There are so many issues, too many to include in a blog comment, that hinder and limit the opportunities they have to work and even to access public assistance like Social Security and mental health care. I could give at least one story for each week I’ve worked as a social worker about the struggles these people face.

    Besides aid and training, I believe it is critical to invest our lives, not just our money, with the poor. Referencing my “utterly confusing” statement, the “conservative selfishness of the rich” does not solely implicate finances. Actually, giving of finances is easy to do and Christians are doing a better job all the time in giving to the poor and giving to organizations that help the poor. Giving of self is much much harder. Some examples: the modern Church is very supportive of short-term missions, but few will leave their homes to move 15 miles into a neighborhood where even just their presence would do a world of good. Many Christians will spend one Saturday a month at a shelter feeding the homeless, but few will commit to building a consistent relationship with a homeless person. I know these steps cannot be mandated, nor would I want them to be, but I believe that transformational change will ultimately be the result of empowering and reciprocating relationships. Public policy changes to make the system work for the people instead of against them wouldn’t hurt either. (Sure, call me a heretical socialist if you want, but I have seen more people hurt by the current system than helped.)

    Luke, ultimately I really think that we support the same things: showing the love and compassion of Jesus to others in hopes of bringing glory to our Father in Heaven. Hopefully through all our differences we can sharpen each other to be even more loving and compassionate and represent Christ well.

  34. Perhaps this is the reason we missionaries in Western Europe are accused of not being “real” or “legitimate” missionaries–because we don’t have First-World deeds to perform. All we can do is share the Gospel because the deeds needs are already handled. People here may live in nice houses and drive nice cars, but with <1% evangelical Christian in most parts of Europe, they're still going to hell.

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  37. I don’t get this. Its obvious that eternal consequences far outweigh and immediate earthly need that is very very very temporary. The entire goal of a missionary should be to convert people to Christ. Doing good deeds and charity work is the way to open up a door to actually spread the gospel. I am very tired of Toms wearing “missionaries” spouting off liberal hippy nonsense. This most notably comes from postmodernist kids from Biola University whose mission trips are nothing but “christian” vacations. Its a joke. Stop studying missiology and pragmatism and start studying THEOLOGY! Then figure a way out to teach people about Jesus Christ through the Bible. Social justice kids are just pharisees in the guise of charity work who do a works based salvation through doing nice things. They have changed the entire meaning of the gospel and say it is an action of feeding poor or fighting sex trafficking etc…but thats not true. That is just what is an outcome of Christian faith. not the extent of it. Without telling people about Christ you leave that person in hell. How unloving. These postmodern emergent church missiologists are just cowards and want to feel special that they went to Africa to help build a water well. Or went to India to work at some orphan house…while a the same time smoking hooka and drinking. uuugh it makes me so furious.

    • Amen, brother.

      Good works are a natural response to the grace shown by God to us sinners, but explaining the Gospels and leading people to Christ is the only priority. Everything else is of secondary importance.

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