Detroit pastor Chris Brooks gave a riveting talk on “The Church and Economic Renewal” at the 2014 faculty retreat of the Oikonomia Network. The following is adapted from his brand new book, “Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel is Good News for the City,” from Kregel Publications.
Political polarization has wreaked havoc on the body of Christ. Recently, I received a Facebook post to my page from a woman who was deeply concerned over the way she felt Christians were responding to President Barack Obama. Her disappointment centered upon the fact that so many Christian leaders seemed to literally hate President Obama in spite of his apparently clear commitment to helping the poor, which after all is a biblical principle, she reminded [me]. She wanted to know my take on why there was such an outrage over his dedication to social justice and civil rights.
My reply to her question was to highlight the obvious wrongfulness of hatred and the admonishment from Scripture to pray for our leaders. I went on to expound on the extreme complexity that comes along with these issues. My perspective is that many Christians experienced a profound emotional conflict as they strive to encourage, for example, racial equality on the one hand, while discouraging a redefinition of marriage to include homosexuality on the other. I shared with her the dueling passions that war within us when we firmly support a woman’s right to have autonomy over her own body, while vehemently opposing a mother’s choice to destroy the life of the baby within her womb. Finally, I urged her to celebrate the president’s sentiments about helping the weak and needy, but also to resist any policies that forced a secular view of compassion upon us, while stripping the church of its freedom to proclaim the Good News through its good deeds.
These are not easy waters to navigate, yet to those who are willing to put in the hard work of learning how to engage socially without compromising biblically will be given a harvest of souls. And this is our ultimate goal. Unlike secularists who are attempting to establish a utopia on earth (which can never come about apart from the future reign of Christ), we are seeking to win men and women to the Lord Jesus by means of His gospel expressing itself through words of truth and acts of justice….
I want to provide guidance on how urban apologists should handle the concerns of economic fairness with care and theological correctness. My conviction is that if we as apologists are silent on this subject, we will seem callous and emotionally disconnected from those whom we hope to reach with the gospel. Our lack of thoughtfulness on the practical needs of people’s lives will call into question our credibility in their eyes. Their perception of our faith will be that it is insensitive and uncaring about the heartache that touches their lives because of their affliction. My further contention is that if we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who simply desire to experience the holistic salvation and abundant life spoken of by Jesus in John 10:10, then we can remove one of the greatest barriers to our witness….
The second reason I have chosen to focus on economics is that Scripture is replete with passages on how Christians ought to think concerning material things, as well as the fact that this has been, historically, the main thrust of the civil rights struggle for minorities. Pragmatically, I believe that Christians should invest effort and energy on the justice issues that will have the most impact on transforming the status of individuals who feel trapped in an endless cycle of subjugation. There are many who feel that their lives are controlled by others who would do them harm, thereby stripping them of the freedom to prosper physically and spiritually. My view is that apologetics, even around the subject of social concerns, is never a replacement for proclaiming the gospel. Yet, the more we can reveal about the love of Christ, the softer the unbelieving heart will be to the Good News of God’s great salvation. As the old saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”…
In my opinion no one speaks more eloquently and biblically on these issues then Father Robert Sirico, cofounder and president of the Acton Institute, and Dr. John Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association. Both men have a profound understanding of the gospel and how the Christian worldview can produce economic shalom among the poor. Father Sirico is noted for his view that those who truly care about economic justice for the poor must ask themselves what type of economy would best help the poor. A bad economy will always produce bad results, especially for the financially powerless. In Sirico’s opinion, Christian capitalism has proven to be the most effective means for helping ensure financial freedom for all. He states, “Capitalism offers wide ownership of property, fair and equal rules for all, strict adherence to the rule of ownership, opportunities for charity and the wise use of resources.”…
Over time, wealth redistribution and one-way charity only cause people to feel incapable of providing for themselves. Dignity is derived from the right to enjoy the happiness that comes from earned success. True prosperity and empowerment come when a person is given equal access to education, employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities, and is allowed to achieve based upon one’s own hard work and ingenuity. I am not advocating for a rugged individualism, rather a community that shows its compassion by ensuring that everyone will have the right to learn and work. I am also mindful of the balanced admonishment found in Galatians 6:2–5, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. . . . But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” Notice the way the apostle Paul balances the call for Christians to advocate for a compassionate community that acts justly by helping those who are in a weakened or vulnerable condition, while at the same time discouraging an unhealthy reliance on others by upholding the responsibility we each have for self-sufficiency. As apologists who care deeply about a world that is socially just, these are the things we should fight for. We should oppose any barrier that limits a person’s ability to be educated and employed. But we should also stand against the type of toxic charity that creates generation after generation of government dependency. A governmental policy that curbs a person’s affluence by forcing the reallocation of their hard-earned income is both unbiblical and unhelpful to the poor….
Having much in common with Father Sirico philosophically, Dr. John Perkins challenges us even further in the area of application. As a man who came back to Mississippi after leaving and finding success in California, Dr. Perkins has dedicated his life to transforming broken communities with the love of Christ and effective compassion. Unfortunately, he has found that many Christians are guilty of giving lip service to justice but being unwilling to roll up their sleeves in tangible ways. To cure this, he has established certain core values that govern the Christian Community Development Association, one of which is a commitment to “relocation.” This is simply a recognition of the fact that one of the greatest challenges in our urban communities is the escapism that has led many to leave the inner city in search of success, thereby creating a vacuum of leadership. Perkins encourages Christians to move into and to work in the poorest communities in America. He is convinced that our presence will bring about transformation from the inside out. But it will never be accomplished if we continue to operate with an “arm’s length” mentality.
If we were to summarize the methods of these two voices for justice, we would say that economic freedom for the poor can only be achieved in a free economy where gifted leaders are committed to living among those whom they serve and advocating for fairness in opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship. Our willingness to embrace this philosophy as urban apologists will produce results and overcome any barrier that attempts to limit the credibility of our message. Our examination of the major ethical, religious, and social challenges to the gospel has revealed that in order to be an effective witness for Christ we must embody the truth that we believe and never shy away from giving an answer to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that lies within us! And this we will do with gentleness and respect.
Christopher Brooks, “Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel is Good News for the City,” ©2014 published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Mich. Used by Permission.