Monday, October 22, 2012

Poverty and The Gospel: Part 1-Misconceptions

The other day I posted a simple statement, "Poverty is the lack of what it means to be truly human." 

In the coming days, I want to unpack this statement a little bit and look at how the gospel really gets at the heart of what poverty really is. To start, I think it is important that we ask ourselves, what is poverty? First and foremost, we must ask ourselves this question because it is evident throughout Scripture that this is something God is passionate about. In the Old Testament, God continually calls his people, Israel, to extend his rule and reign by being compassionate to the hurting, by welcoming the sojourner, defending the fatherless, and carrying for the widowed, orphaned, and poor. In the New Testament, not much changes. God's people (The Church, or the New Israel), are called to the same mission of social justice. In addition, in Jesus' ministry, it is glaringly apparent that he has a unique passion for the poor. We will certainly unpack this more in the coming posts, but just by doing a fly by glance at the whole Bible, it is safe to say that God's heart is for the poor.

Further, it is important we ask the question of, "what is poverty", because the way in which you define poverty greatly effects how you will determine its solution. Whatever we deem the problem to be determines what we deem the solution to be. For example, if poverty is simply the lack of financial resources, then the solution is to provide financial resources. I bring this up because we all bring preconceived notions of what poverty is. We all come to the table with past experiences that have shaped our worldview, and that consequently have a deep effect on how we define something like poverty. That being said, if we want to get at the heart of what poverty is and how the gospel relates, it is imperative that we approach the topic with humility, being willing to recognize our own misconceptions and the ways in which our limited worldview distorts God's biblical truth. 

I'll give a couple examples from within Christian circles. On one end, there are those who tend to focus on the simply spiritual  aspect of the gospel. The good news of Jesus primarily becomes a pronouncement of forgiveness of sins and justification by faith for the individual. In essence, this is the error and misconception that many conservative evangelicals bring to the table. The gospel is about individual forgiveness, and helping the poor is merely an extra curricular mandate for some. On the other other end of the spectrum are those who make the focus of the gospel God's restoration of social justice. God is about the poor, so the primary goal of the gospel becomes ministries of mercy. These individuals and churches tend to be passionate about actually caring for the poor in the forms of homeless shelters, soup kitchens, providing resources for the under privileged, and extending love to the socially marginalized (homosexuals, single moms, immigrants, etc) at the expense of God's message of repentance from and forgiveness of sins. 

I hope that as we unpack what is at the heart of the gospel that we will see that in themselves, both extremes are wrong. In this case, the gospel isn't an either/or, but is a both/and. One of my main goals in the coming days is to show that poverty is a gospel issue, and poverty alleviation is at the very heart of the gospel. As some see it (conservative evangelical Christians), it is not just an extra curricular biblical mandate. It is not something some people are called to be passionate about and others not so much. On the other end (liberal mainline churches), poverty is much deeper than just a social justice issue. The gospel is so much bigger and more beautiful than simply alleviating the material and physical elements of poverty in this life. In fact, you can't actually help those who are physically poor without the dynamic power of the gospel that is the message of salvation for all who believe. The poverty issue lies within the very fiber of the gospel. 

To see this, I want to redefine poverty within the context of the biblical narrative. I want us to retrace what poverty is according to God's story. But first, my next post will look at what Jesus actually came to do. What were the intentions of Jesus? 

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