I have just had a piece published over on the Political Theology blog. Within it, I give some reflections on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, discussing the relationship between Christian charity and the gospel message.
Our Lord preached a message of good news to the poor, yet for many of his followers today the gospel message and Christian concern for the poor stand in uncertain and uneasy relation. Although few would deny that Christians have an especial duty to the poor, maintaining this duty in the context of a full-bodied Christian faith has proved surprisingly challenging.
For some, the Christian message that summons people to the works of mercy can be reduced to a vanishing mediator for a generic message of social justice and welfare. Christ’s teaching and example may be invoked to underwrite and inspire the moral fervency of a secularized social activism, yet, in the final analysis, he may prove dispensable for it.
Typically coupled with this is a shift from Christ to the government as the agent who must effect the awaited kingdom’s advent, and from the Church to secular society as its focal community. Christ ceases to be set forth as the king of the coming kingdom—the one to whom every knee must bow—being diminished in stature to the level of a mere moral teacher, exemplar, and vocal advocate for social justice. A smile of universal benevolence lingers as, like the Cheshire Cat, Christ himself gradually disappears.
In other quarters, concerns about the wayward trajectory of a ‘social gospel’ (coupled with wariness about the over-emphasizing of ‘works’ among Protestants), have led many conservative Christians theologically to minimize the importance of Christian charity. Lest it come to displace Christ in his centrality, Christian charity must be handled as a matter of secondary, peripheral, or even extraneous concern.
Yet, when we read passages such as 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, a vision of Christian praxis emerges for which the works of mercy operate in a close and inseparable relation with the specific claims of the Christian gospel.
Read the whole thing here.