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March 18, 2014

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> ... we don’t actually argue about whether
> we should be concerned about the poor.

Unless you're a Democrat/Liberal. Then you ARE arguing over whether we should be concerned about the poor. Rhetorically so at least, but I suspect that it's not just rhetoric for a lot of 'em. They really believe their own lies.

I would argue this post on the grounds that it sets the stage for many of the abuses we see in Christianity, namely, that it shifts the primary focus of Christians from that of "making disciples" to that of "feeding the poor".

It's great to work to help the poor, feed and clothe the homeless, etc., but it's all a bunch of "wood, hay, and stubble" if we aren't also telling them the good news of Jesus Christ as we're doing so. I would rather share the gospel with the least of these than I would give them a meal. (I would like to do both, but sometimes I'm not in a position to be able to do that.)

Christ certainly took account for the poor and destitute that he came across, but that wasn't his PRIMARY purpose. Yet we magnify his example into something that it isn't, and that's because we fail to understand Christ's nature. As fully God, it would have been against and contrary to his nature and attributes to turn a blind eye to the poor, hurting, and destitute. So, of course he healed them, of course he fed them. How could he do otherwise?

If we are helping the poor on those grounds, because as Christians we're in the image of Christ, then that is right and proper. But I'm afraid that too often we opt to do so because we're taking the easy way out so we can still think of ourselves as "Christian", as opposed to the harder and sterner stuff of sharing the gospel. As Paul Washer at HeartCry writes: "The greatest need of all men of every culture is the clear proclamation of the Gospel." This transcends any physical or temporary need that could possibly be imagined.

There are two classes of people in the world. Those who are under the Law, and the resulting wrath of God. And those who are under the blood of Christ, who took the wrath of God in their place. God makes provision to materially take care of those in Christ, Matthew 6:24-34 and similar passages. For those under the Law, anything they do is sin. Amassing wealth only increases their hardness, sin and damnation.

The Gospel is the only solution for those who by Grace believe and follow it.

f,

Jesus said we would be held accountable for how to tend to the least. It's not either or. We're responsible for managing both the preaching of the gospel and tending to the poor.

Jesus said we would be held accountable for how to tend to the least. It's not either or. We're responsible for managing both the preaching of the gospel and tending to the poor.

I never claimed it was either/or. If you'll re-read my original comment, you'll see that I wrote, "If we are helping the poor on those grounds, because as Christians we're in the image of Christ, then that is right and proper."

What I did say is that we have replaced the preaching of the gospel with caring for the poor. We have twisted Christianity into a big social welfare cause. That misrepresents the gospel and runs contrary to what we see set forth as our example in the New Testament. The purpose of Christianity is NOT to "alleviate poverty"; the purpose of Christianity IS to "make disciples." And I think this article wrongly leads us to the former position.

f, what in the post do you think would lead a person to the conclusion that we ought to replace the preaching of the gospel with caring for the poor? Your reaction of "The purpose of Christianity is NOT to 'alleviate poverty'" doesn't make sense to me. The post says nothing about the purpose of Christianity or what our main task is as Christians. All it says is, "God cares about the poor, and He expects us to care about the poor," which you agree with.

"The post says nothing about the purpose of Christianity or what our main task is as Christians. All it says is, "God cares about the poor, and He expects us to care about the poor,"

The article is shockingly lacking in what's not said, thus, it would lead those unskilled in doctrine to suppose that this is what Christianity is about. I'm sure you would agree that sometimes what is not said is more telling that what is said...

For example: item 6 - "encourage belief in the truth..." How about "proclaim the need for belief in Jesus Christ"...

Or, item 8 - "Instill a proper understanding of the nature of wealth and poverty—that wealth is created, that free trade is win-win, that risk is essential to enterprise, that trade-offs are unavoidable, that the success of others need not come at your expense, and that you can pursue legitimate self-interest and the common good at the same time."

A proper understanding of the nature of wealth and poverty is incomplete without starting with the idea that "every good and perfect gift comes from above"...this more than just some theoretical or theological belief.

Also "you can pursue legitimate self-interest and the common good at the same time.." The NT record shows us that we are to die to self, take up our cross, and follow Christ. That means forsaking our self-interest and instead concerning ourselves with the interests of Christ and others.

All in all, I found the ideas in the linked article/video to be vacuous and misleading, having the ring of Christianity but denying its reality. It makes Christianity seem to be nothing more than a big social welfare cause.

The article is shockingly lacking in what's not said, thus, it would lead those unskilled in doctrine to suppose that this is what Christianity is about.

f, I think that's a huge overreaction. I honestly can't imagine anyone coming to that conclusion from this post. The post is about the economic policies that will help people in poverty--the policies we ought to support if we care about the poor. That's all. It's not about the big picture of Christianity.

It's also posted here in the context of all our blog posts. No one blog post here discusses everything about Christianity. Rather, we discuss a variety of topics in light of the Christian worldview and clear thinking. Even so, no one can read our blog consistently and not know what we think about the gospel.

I don't think it's an overreaction at all. It's a fact.

"The post is about the economic policies that will help people in poverty--the policies we ought to support if we care about the poor."

Uncharacteristically fallacious...first, it's yet to be determined if these policies would in fact help the poor...in other words, the question of "is it policy that causes poverty?", or, "does good policy abate poverty?" has yet to be answered...second, the implication that not supporting these policies equals not caring about the poor doesn't follow either.

To be more plain, here's an example of what I'm talking about:

"So my question is, as Christians, if we’re supposed to care about the poor, and we’re supposed to care about the poor in the developing world, and we actually know the way in which cultures create wealth and alleviate poverty, why would we try something different?...I think, as Christians, if we’re really serious about poverty alleviation, what we need to do is focus on the known steps..."

So, if the blogger is going to link Christianity with this, then the first step better be something along gospel lines. Otherwise, it becomes what I've already indicated.

While I am well aware of STR's stance on such matters, I stand by my assertion that articles like these tread dangerous waters. It's the strategic equivalent of "loving them into the kingdom", which as I'm sure you'll agree has been proven to be no gospel at all. Oh, I'm sure the "loving them" part sounds great, even Biblical. But when put to scrutiny, the path leads anywhere but "the kingdom". The "loving them" part we've got down pat, and that's great, and this article shows that somewhat. But the problem is "the kingdom" part is somehow never brought out, highlighted, or reached.

I go back to my earlier statements. I'm sure this is a well thought out post, and I'm sure the motivations are pure and well-intentioned. But let's say for sake of argument all these strategic steps were implemented by Christians and succeeded with flying colors. What then? Where's the gospel? My point being that ANY attempt to address poverty under the banner of Christianity had BETTER include and start with the gospel, otherwise it's just a bunch of good-will that will pave the way for people to go to hell in a Lexus rather than pushing a shopping cart.

f, I have to disagree with you here:

Also "you can pursue legitimate self-interest and the common good at the same time.." The NT record shows us that we are to die to self, take up our cross, and follow Christ. That means forsaking our self-interest and instead concerning ourselves with the interests of Christ and others.

Christian morality is concerned with the interests of both the self and of others. For example, Paul said, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4). In discussing Christ’s love for the church, his body, he says, “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Ephesians 5:29).

Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). If we don't love ourselves, then this command is vacuous, so it assumes that loving yourself is appropriate, and that means looking after your own self-interest.

There is nothing wrong with being motivated to repentance by self-interest either. Throughout the New Testament, the writers are constantly appealing to self-interest as a motivator. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses the promise of rewards, punishments, and consequences to motivate moral behavior. For example, Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). Many of Jesus’ parables also appeal to self-interest (e.g. the parable of the 10 virgins).

There is nothing wrong with self-interest. Self-interest is not the same as selfishness. Self-interest is a concern about the self. Selfishness is a concern about the self at the expense of others. Christians are supposed to be concerned about both themselves and about others. Self-interest is a necessary part of life. We eat so we won’t get hungry. We put on clothes so we won’t be cold. We get jobs so we’ll have money and can support ourselves. Most of what we do is out of self-interest. If self-interest were a sin, then we’d be in an impossible situation. We couldn’t breathe without sinning. It cannot be wrong, then, to embrace the gospel out of self-interest. That is not selfish.

I also agree with Amy that your criticisms against this blog post are misplaced. I see no reason to infer the distorted picture of Christianity that you think emerges from what she wrote (or rather from what she didn't write). If somebody drew those odd conclusions, I'd think the problem was with their reading comprehension, not with anything Amy said or didn't say.

first, it's yet to be determined if these policies would in fact help the poor

Which is why I included the video in the post, since that's what it's about. It's not really fair to choose not to watch the video and then say that I didn't include the information in the video.

second, the implication that not supporting these policies equals not caring about the poor doesn't follow either.

You're right that it doesn't follow, which is why I didn't say it (and also why Dr. Richards warns in the video against people drawing that sort of conclusion when they disagree with someone else's economic policies). What I said was that people who care about the poor ought to support these sorts of policies. I did not say that if people don't support these policies they don't care about the poor. There are many reasons why people who care about the poor don't currently support these policies, but I think the main reason is that they haven't heard a good argument for them. Hence this post to convince them to change their minds by appealing to their desire to help the poor and offering reasons to support these policies.

"There is nothing wrong with self-interest. Self-interest is not the same as selfishness. Self-interest is a concern about the self. Selfishness is a concern about the self at the expense of others."

While I stand by my statements overall, I'll concede this because it brings up a good point: I think you are highlighting the difference between "self-interest" as being sinful, and "self-interest" as in "good stewardship of one's self"...?

"Hence this post to convince them to change their minds by appealing to their desire to help the poor and offering reasons to support these policies."

This is my overall point: especially in this day and age, where we see a marked INCREASE in so-called "Christian" efforts in this area that turn a blind eye to the gospel, it behooves us to be cognizant of that, and for those that "haven't heard a good argument for them," we have a duty to not only present a good argument for the specifics of this topic, but to also take every opportunity to highlight the dangers of leaping onto the "fight poverty" bandwagon, particularly under the banner of Christianity, without starting from a gospel-position.

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