Tyndale House, 2001.
As the days grow darker and it appears that the Christian faith is taking a beating in many parts of the world, there seem to be two reactions by believers. One is to go into panic mode, and argue that the world has just about had it, and therefore we just need to try to save a few more souls and get out of here.
But there is a second approach. That is to argue that Jesus said we should “occupy till I come”. Thus we are to be about doing the work of the kingdom, in all its forms, until he does return. And when that will be no one knows for sure. Thus we don’t despair, but continue to be salt and light in Jesus’ name.
Now the truth is, both approaches have been argued for – and lived out – over the last two millennia. Some Christians have argued that saving souls is all that matters, and trying to reform society, improve morality or change institutions is a waste of time. Others have argued that to meet the needs of our fellow human beings is an integral part of the Christian mission. They claim that we must both preach the gospel and seek to improve our world.
Well, Tom Minnery is of the latter camp. He believes that Christians not only have a mandate to proclaim the gospel, but to see it exemplified in society as well. He believes that we are not really forced with choosing one or the other: either evangelize or do social reform. He says we can and should do both simultaneously. He rightly argues that meeting people’s basic needs (of food, shelter, clothing, jobs, etc.) is part of what it means to be salt and light in the world. And such activities also make the gospel message much more palatable, much more believable, much more acceptable.
And the history of the Christian church is full of examples of the use of a whole gospel to meet the needs of whole people. Wherever missionaries went they did good deeds as they preached the good news. Hospitals were built, women and children were ministered to, hunger was dealt with, schools and job opportunities were developed, prison and work conditions were improved, and so on. It is exactly because so many Christians treated people as whole beings, not just souls to be saved, that so many people were in fact saved.
For example, many people became Christians in the early days of the church because of these acts of mercy and compassion. When a plague or pestilence swept through an area, most people would flee. But it was the Christians who stayed behind, ministering to the sick and needy. Many thousands of conversions took place as a result.
In this book Minnery, from Focus on the Family, provides examples of great saints whose lives were a testimony to many, not just because of the words they spoke but because of their actions as well. He looks at Theodore Weld, the Christian anti-slavery activist who made such an impact in nineteenth century America.
He also examines the remarkable life of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army in England. The number of souls saved and people whose lives were changed for the better as a result of his ministry numbered well into the thousands. London saw a radical transformation because of this Christian work. The help given to the city’s many prostitutes, for example, is a powerful and moving story. And practical help offered to the poor and homeless by the Salvos over a century ago still provides inspiration and instruction for Christian workers today.
Other history makers and social transformers are discussed, such as the Wesleys and William Wilberforce. Their inspiring stories demonstrate what a handful of people can do when empowered by the spirit and motivated by Christ’s compassion. Not only are souls saved but whole societies are transformed.
And as Minnery makes clear, the opposition such world-changers receive does not come simply from unbelievers. Often the greatest critics of these men and women of God were other believers who thought their zeal to change the world was misplaced and misdirected. Many thought they should just preach a simple gospel, and forget about slavery, prostitution and other social ills. But these saints persevered, and all the world owes them a debt of gratitude as a result.
This book not only provides historical examples of why Christians need to be involved in their communities, but offers solid biblical reasons for why we must be so involved. He thus answers many of the common objections, such as, “Christianity and politics don’t mix;” “You can’t legislate morality;” “Christians should avoid controversy;” and “Social engagement is worldly”. And he provides a theological rational for why we need to be involved in our world. The command to be salt and light is just that: a command. Jesus did not say, “Hands up all of you who want to be salt and light”. He said it is part of our job description.
Minnery deals with other objections, such as the lament that I am just one person, and what I do cannot really make a difference. He reminds us that God often works through one person, or a few people, to accomplish his purposes.
He also offers practical advice on how concerned Christians can impact their communities, on a local level as well as on a national level. Solid advice is given on how Christians can influence local issues and politics; how they can set up social actions committees; and how they can network with like-minded groups to make a difference in their communities. And several appendices offer down-to-earth advice on how Christians – both as individuals and groups – can get started in really making a difference in their church, their local community, and their world.
In an age where the world in many ways really is going down the tubes fast, there is the temptation to shrug one’s shoulders and simply say, well, there is no reason to rearrange deck furniture on a sinking ship. But just maybe it is this wholesale withdrawal of so many Christians from the world around them that has led – at least in part – to its destruction and disintegration. Instead of being salt and light, and turning our world upside down as the early church did, we have simply opted out. And the world has been the poorer because of it.
So this book is an urgent and necessary wake-up call for many believers. We have offered a half-baked gospel to a desperate and needy world, and we are surprised that so few heed our message. Well perhaps it is time to rethink our message and our lifestyle. And this book helps us to do just that.