Friday, October 02, 2009

the cure for social ills

As a lead-in, I really like how today's "Quote of the Day" over there on the left sidebar fits so nicely with the topic of my post...

Nothing but heaven itself is better than a friend who is really a friend. - Plautus

So, I'm finally getting around to rereading Keller's great book Ministries of Mercy (which I have mentioned before here and here) as part of my own prep plan for my upcoming overseas trip* with my church team. As usual, here it is, one week before I fly out, and I'm finally hitting hard some of the reading and general prep I should have been going full speed at months ago. What else is new? My ability to organize and discipline myself is just awesome. Good thing God will be the one really making things happen and not me.

Anyway, in the introduction I came across this excellent passage that sums up the problem with the approaches to poverty from the logical positions of the Left and the Right and the only real, lasting solution to this aspect of a fallen world:

While accomplishing that task [of confronting social problems], Francis Schaeffer said, Christians may be at times, "cobelligerents" with the Left or the Right, but never allies. "If there is social injustice, say there is social injustice. If we need order, say we need order....But do not align yourself as though you are in either of these camps: You are an ally of neither. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is different from either--totally different."

The ideology of the Left believes big government and social reform will solve social ills, while the Right believes big business and economic growth will do it. The Left expects a citizen to be held legally accountable for the use of his wealth, but totally autonomous in other areas, such as sexual morality. The Right expects a citizen to be held legally accountable in areas of personal morality, but totally autonomous in the area of personal wealth. The North American "idol"--radical individualism--lies beneath both ideologies. A Christian sees either "solution" as fundamentally humanistic and simplistic.

...Neither a simple redistribution of wealth nor simple economic growth and prosperity can mend broken families; nor can they turn low-skilled mothers into engineers or technicians.

Only the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ, and the millions of "mini-churches" (Christian homes) throughout the country can attack the roots of social problems. Only the church can minister to the whole person. Only the gospel understands that sin has ruined us both individually and socially. We cannot be viewed individualistically (as the capitalists do) or collectivistically (as the Communists do) but as related to God. Only Christians, armed with the Word and Spirit, planning and working to spread the kingdom and righteousness of Christ, can transform a nation as well as a neighborhood as well as a broken heart.

Not much one can add to that. The dichotomy of Left and Right thinking with regard to legalism is profound I think. Though people don't often express their views in such stark terms, he pins down the logical conclusion of a lot of what we hear today from both sides. And he rightly points out that neither side is fully on the mark but is simply pursuing its own goals and by happenstance borrowing some truth from the gospel.

Another good point here is the emphasis on relationships. People are led to change by other people, and that requires intimate relationships. All the money, programs, and good intentions in the world can only work to the extent that they enable people to form close bonds with each other and become involved in one another's lives. And that is one of the core tenets of Christianity--people forming close bonds with one another and sharing truth with one another. The progression or regression of social ills in our society in the years ahead will be directly tied not only to how well the church as a whole engages the culture as a whole but also how well individual Christians engage other individuals around them who are in need.


* I'll have the privilege of joining a team to go overseas and assist with mercy ministry and outreach in support of an HIV/AIDS program for two weeks starting next Saturday. Although I've gotten a little better at it over the years, the whole relating to people thing still isn't really my cup of tea, and so the trip will be challenging in many ways. But I've no doubt it'll be a great trip and a learning experience for sure. Any prayers for our team would be much appreciated!