News and Articles

26 March 2014

Refresh Update - ‘Why is social action essential to gospel centred living?’ - No

Ruth Norbury Ruth Norbury Office Co-ordinator (Formation School)
Tim Keller Blog Post

In this Refresh Update, Ruth Norbury explores why Social Action is an important aspect of our faith.

How do you view social action: as vital for every Christian, or just for those with special interest? How do you think it integrates with your faith? Although I’ve always been aware of needs in the world, I’ve often struggled to explain how social action fits into gospel-centred faith. Yet both Old and New Testaments teach that we should work for justice for the poor and oppressed, and Jesus showed incredible compassion for the marginalised.

Evangelism or social action – is it a choice?

As a student, I was confused that many evangelicals were suspicious of Christian organisations which focussed on social action, preferring to stick to the ‘more important’ work of evangelism. I concluded that all Christians must know and spread the gospel – and if you wanted to be involved in social action too, that was fine, but it shouldn’t take centre stage and distract from the real work of evangelism.

Then I read Tim Chester’s Good News to the Poor. He insists that social action and evangelism should always go hand in hand. I’ve become more aware of organisations like Tearfund which passionately believe that concern for the poor and oppressed is an essential part of Christian living, not an added extra.

I strongly recommend Tim Keller’s Generous Justice to all of us as we think and pray about Refresh and what God might be calling us to in the heart of Southampton. The subtitle – How God’s Grace Makes Us Just – explains the book’s central theme. Keller makes it personal: we have received God’s immense grace at the cross, and it follows that we must show grace and justice to others. He argues convincingly that social justice issues should be integral to Christian faith: our God cares for the oppressed and needy and so should we. It is not an optional extra.

Some challenging quotes

  • A true experience of the grace of Jesus Christ inevitably motivates a man or woman to seek justice in the world.
  • Those who are middle-class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who come to grasp the gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating toward the materially poor. To the degree that the gospel shapes your self-image, you will identify with those in need.
  • A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.

Keller gives many practical examples of what it looks like to ‘do justice’ in today’s world. After reading it, I’m even more convicted that the gospel means that I must care for the vulnerable, showing this with my whole life: with my money, my gifts, my time. The Refresh project shows that as a church we are trying to take this seriously, and I’m really excited about it!

This book would be great to read as we pray about how God is calling us to join in his work in Southampton and beyond. Keller wants Bible-believing Christians to ‘see how central to the Scripture’s message is justice for the poor and marginalised’. This book will challenge those who think social justice is important, but have never really connected it to the cross of Christ, and it will help those who fear that social action distracts from evangelism.

Maybe you could read it in your home group and discuss it together?

Ruth Norbury

Recommended books

Tim Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just (Hodder & Stoughton, 2010)

Tim Chester, Good News to the Poor: The Gospel Through Social Involvement (IVP, 2004)

Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity (Thomas Nelson; first published 1977)

Pray for

  • A growing concern within Above Bar Church for the vulnerable and marginalised
  • The process of setting up a Christians Against Poverty debt centre, appointing a centre manager and finding debt coaches and ‘befrienders’ to come alongside those in financial difficulties
  • The right person to be the Social Action Development Worker to develop our social action ministries, support volunteers, and help integrate individuals into the church.

Backing the vision

"City centre ministry in Bristol taught us we needed not only to be good stewards of our building resources but also fully engaged in connecting with our community. I’m delighted to see ABC moving  forward boldly with these initiatives."

Andy Paterson – Mission Director,
Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches



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