Response to David Platt on Caring for Poor and Making Disciples

mogadmin —  September 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

It seems to me that Platt is dealing with two things here: the affluence of Western Christians and global poverty in the context of mission.

On the first, it reminded me of what Tony Campolo asked a while back: “Would Jesus drive a BMW?” I am glad that I do not have to wrestle with that issue because of the salary I make and my car seems to be working okay but my son recently smashed the back of it and I have no money to fix it! Of course, things could drastically change at CIU and then I would have to do some soul-searching on whether to buy a luxurious car but I don’t think that will happen any time soon.

On the second, I wrote on this in my recent book, Polemic Missiology, that there are three relationships between word and deed in mission:

1) deed as a consequence of word (biblically justifiable);

2) deed as a bridge to word (not biblically justifiable);

3) deed and word as partners in mission with the latter taking the priority (again, biblically justifiable).

My default is to the apostolic pattern in the early church. What would the apostles do if they went to a village in India in dire economic straits? First of all, they would not be caught off guard by the poverty because they weren’t rich like we are. This reminds me of when we were in Mozambique. When we visited villages in the bush, the Mozambicans were not taken aback by the physical conditions of the poor as much as their spiritual conditions because they were poor themselves. We are confronted with and focus on issues of poverty as a function of not normally being acquainted with them in our own context.

But if Scripture is our guide, the apostles would have preached the gospel, planted the church, and if the believers continued to experience physical needs, they would have organized a relief project just like what happened with the Antiochene church on behalf of the Jerusalem church in Acts 11. (By the way, the case of 2 Cor. 8-9 which Platt references did not have to do with interchurch aid or even helping the poor masses around the world, but primarily the conversion of Israel in fulfillment of OT prophecy as I demonstrate in Mission in the Way of Paul, pp. 151ff).

Of course, rich people planting churches in impoverished situations and seeking to help poor brethren will necessarily result in some being attracted to the gospel for the wrong reasons. The apostles had to deal with the same thing with the magician Elymas in Acts 13, so the church will never be able to avoid such scenarios but hopefully try to deal with them wisely.

But I continue to be amazed by the lack of biblical sanction based upon sound exegesis for a call upon the church to address and solve the socio-economic problems of the world. It is just not there. And a little known truth is that what the church is doing in this area is actually doing very little as Mark Galli showed in his Christianity Today piece awhile back. Rather it is governments who are able to bring about widespread, lasting improvement in these areas.

At the CIU campus, the Zwemer Center recently held a symposium on what God is doing in the Muslim world.   One of the presenters, David Garrison, noted that the money being used for humanitarian causes globally is actually being taken from funds necessary to spark church planting movements among the unreached.  This was subsequent to what Jerry Rankin said on the opening night regarding Satan working hard to subvert the church’s mission to bring the gospel to the last remaining people groups in order to delay his doom at Christ’s return. So are compassion ministries the devil’s rabbit trail to distract the church from its mission?  Hmmm.

I have been reading on Eastern Orthodox mission theology recently. One writer noted that the greatest injustice in the world is not social, humanitarian, or political injustice, but gospel injustice where billions of people who don’t have access to the truth in Christ continue to die. I resonate with that type of injustice and am working the best way I know how to address it by the grace of God.

How does ministry in Word (proclaiming the gospel) rightfully connect with ministry in deed (e.g. caring for the poor)?


Dr. Chris Little is professor of Intercultural Studies at Columbia International University. His latest book is entitled Polemic Missiology.




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