A Gift Received in the Giving

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.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in 2 Corinthians, Bible, Ethics, Guest Post, NT, NT Theology, Politics, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Gift Received in the Giving

  1. karacter0 says:

    I wish I knew how to properly reply to your post your linked. I say so for two reasons: one, your plane of of thoughtful expression is almost beyond me. If I can even have the capacity to grasp all aspects and nuances of in one of your posts, it takes a lot of mental straining in my part. It can get discouraging for me as I try to follow your thoughts and ideas, but I do my best when I sense its probable importance for me. Which leads me to my second reason.

    I have struggled with charity especially since getting to know and marrying my Filipino wife of two years. My battle seems to get to this reality: I don’t like equality, even seem to do what I can, and yet I most likely am benefiting from it.

    For instance, my brother is a coffee connoisseur. He was telling me that if growers of coffee were actually getting a fair wage, then my single origin bag of coffee would cost around $80. Do you know the minimum wage for a Filipino is? The equivalent to $10 a day. And please don’t tell me that’s their fare wage so it is ok. Land and home prices around Manila are ridiculous even in American wages.

    But let’s put aside global issues for much “easier” ones. What about inequality in our own community where my church resides? One struggle I see keeping the divide strong is the way housing units are situated. they are divisive by their very structure upon economic ability. No intermingling.

    I guess what I am asking is for you to paint a scenario of what conservative Christianity looks like in the your take that they have ‘come to minimize the importance of Christian charity’. And what it may look like today (in American) if we bore this testimony ‘calling the poor to the spiritual orientation appropriately corresponding to their material condition and the rich both to their responsibility to and their need to follow the example of the poor.’ I guess what I am asking is where would you like the rich (since I am most likely this category in my middle class privileged case) in their community context to go from here?

    And I ask this because I have recently began discussions with my wife about downsizing. About selling our house and buying something smaller and cheaper. This will free up money we can utilize elsewhere. Plus, now that we are familiar with the area, we would like to consider living on the same street as some church member. (One recent example, a family in our church needed family dinners, so we obeyed the Spirit’s calling to provide them dinners.) I am not asking for input. It’s something for us to chew on, maybe. I am just giving you an idea of the things we consider or are doing in response to the applications of scripture we see, beginning at the “one another” passages.

    I hope I wasn’t too confusing.

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