I recently got hold of a copy of this book by Tim Chester and have just finished it. Firstly, let me start by saying that at 170+ pages long it is a short, sharp read on what can be quite an involved topic. For those of us who have read anything written by Ron Sider, particularly, it is not going to add anything new to our armoury, but it is British!.

In Chapter 1 Tim makes the argument for social involvement from a biblical perspective. As he reminds us:

The Mosaic Law was given to the redeemed, covenant community, but it made specific provision in its social legislation for the care of those outside the covenant community – ‘the alien’. (p22)

In summary, his first chapter challenges us to care for the poor because it is line with God’s character, reign and grace. The great strength of the book lies in Tim’s reminder that the Christian should be concerned for both the soul and the body when thinking about this issue. However, the challenge to move beyond ‘felt needs’ is presented to us clearly. As he says,

To engage in social action without evangelism is to fail the people we profess to love. (p55)

His chapter on social involvement and proclamation is clear, concise and helpful. He is bang on when he discusses the fact that social action can either precede, follow or accompany evangelism and shouldn’t be seen as exclusive to.

Evangelism and social action should be seen as distinct, but inseparable activities in our mission to the poor in which proclamation is central. (p67)

Chapter 5 is pivotal in terms of discussing Christ and kingdom issues, particularly given current debate in church planting circles (about which I have blogged previously). It is a strong, and to my mind convincing, chapter that reminds us that we should not tie any social change to the biblical concept of the coming kingdom. That kingdom only comes about through confession of Christ as Lord. Instead, we should be seeking to talk of “reforming” society rather than “redeeming” it.

I found the second half of the book less engaging than the first. That might be down to my personal dislike (and distrust) of so-called facts and figures! I much preferred his chapter on, “strengthening the powerless” which warns against doing for the poor what they can do for themselves. Again, I have blogged extensively on this and Bob Lupton is something of a practitioning expert in this regard. Tim does makes the distinction between Welfare and Development as follows:

Welfare is an approach that involves giving something to the poor, like food, clothing, or skills. Development involves working with the poor to help them define their own problems and find their own solutions to them.

This is where the book also slightly frustrated me. The whole issue of development and helping the poor to help themselves sounds neat and tidy on paper. Although, there were lots of Two Third Wold illustrations where this might be true, it just doesn’t wash in UK housing schemes. We have inherited a generation entrenched in the Welfare system of this country and they are not interested in solutions to their problems. They expect the state to sort them out. They come with an attitude of dependency. I think in his rush to defend the poor (and so he should) he forgets that a huge majority are manipulative and lazy and we need a theology and a way of doing church that deals with this. People in my scheme don’t want to participate in building community or making life better. They want to screw the system as hard as they can and get away with it. They live within a culture of entitlement. That sounds harsh but it is the reality for those of us who actually live in these places and engage in this work. It affects our evangelism and our discipleship in profound ways. It really is a glaring weakness in this book.

Having said all that, I loved the book. It is definitely one to read for the UK scheme worker. Even if the book is not one in terms of resourcing for our type of ministry, it offers a great section for recommended reading at the back.

Extremely helpful. Definitely worth a read.

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Comments
  1. Colin says:

    I have commented on your blog before and made the comment about there is little writing on the post welfare context in the UK … certainly from Christians …

    I made these comments on another blog about the UK context when we seek to apply the work of evangelicals of the 19th century to the 21st … but these things need to be wrestled with when we advocate Evangelical involvement with the ‘poor’

    Firstly the more obvious needs which the evangelicals of the 19th century met have largely gone. A good example of this is the need for orphanages. The state now looks after children who cannot live with their parents.Yes there are issues still to be dealt with but these have very much moved from the category of need. No one will die if Christians do not help out. If they did it will be because other state agencies failed as well.

    Secondly, we have moved absolute poverty in the UK to relative poverty. People (including the ‘poor’) are all much better off than ever before. I am not saying there are not still issues, unemployment, poor conditions, people’s ability to use the things they have (impacted on by issues like mental health, drug misuse etc etc). This very fact tells us that the response from someone who receives from us in 2010 (12) relative poverty would be different to someone who received from us in 1850 in absolute poverty.

    Thirdly, we have had 60 years of the welfare state. This is one of the most fantastic blessings of living in the UK. But … it has also had unintended coinsequences. For some it can sap their motivation and it has undoubtedly affected the pre welfare strong family support networks. By people ‘helping’, it may not always ‘help’ if you see what I mean … eg if a load of well meaning Christians (from outside) come in and clean up an area, why do those that live there have to do anything …. and whilst the Christians may perceive that they are ‘transforming the community’, those who live there may just see them as doing things the state should be doing

    Fourthly, Evangelicals are not the only ‘do gooders’ in town. The area of my church is one of the most notorious in the UK for gang violence. Every week (at the time of writing) for 16 – 20s yr old young men. you can imagine what I deal with. Like with you, money is pumped into our area our boys are offered all kinds of things (by the council and vol agencies) to keep them out of gangs. What they offer is far better than what we do !!

    So the lads really do not see us as being kind, good, or anything we do as being distinctly ‘Christian’ … many of them see us as just one more activity which ‘should’ be put on for them. (this obviously is the ‘entitlement’ you speak of)

    Keep on .. this needs to be put in book form…

  2. John says:

    This book literally changed my life. Until I read Tim’s book good works where always tainted in the evangelical circles I moved in with the smell of good works. I think I always felt something was not right but until I read Good News to the Poor I had never clearly heard an evangelical expound it. Reading this was life-giving to me and I fell in love with the gospel all over again. And probably got me in a whole heap of trouble too.

    Since then I have red Sider and a whole heap of other stuff… and realised that there always was a whole lot more voices than ones I was accustomed to hearing.

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