WHAT ARE WE
I read through the Old Testament, I see God's
purpose for Israel to be the establishing of a
society governed by the absolutes of justice, mercy
and compassion. The Law is replete with
commands of the Lord to look after the orphan and
the widow, and goes to great length to establish
mechanisms for doing so, because God knew that left
to itself society would rather exploit them than
care for them.
Of God's purpose for Israel, Samuel and Sugden say
in 'Evangelicals and Development'
(Ron Sider, ed.,
"He called a community to be the sign of the
kingdom by demonstrating God's action of Law and
promise in their life. The community was to
in her economic, social and political life
the operation of God's Law and promise, breaking
down and building up, putting to death and
The purpose of his Law in the Old
Testament was to prevent structures from exploiting
the poor and to provide protection and relief for
and vulnerable. The Law did not
preserve the status quo, but sought to change it and
open it up for the ultimate acceptance of God's
Walter Bruggeman, in 'The Prophetic Imagination',
speaks of the "alternative community of Moses":
"Whose role was to act as a prophetic voice to the
nations, and that the task of prophetic ministry is
to nurture, nourish, and evoke a
consciousness and perception alternative to the
consciousness and perception of the dominant culture
He then goes on to argue
that this same purpose energized Christ's ministry,
that Christ came to establish the kingdom of God -
in the hearts of men, to be sure, but equally within
the socio-political and economic structures of this
It is my conviction that Christ's redemption was
intended to encompass not only man's vertical
relationships (man-to-God, God-to- man) but just as
importantly his horizontal as well (my relationship
to my fellow man - my "neighbor").
humbly take exception to those who say, "Christ
always first cared for people's immediate
predicament whether pain, hunger, fear, whatever
before going on to teach them about the Kingdom."
If you mean by this that needs such as hunger,
homelessness, health, and the like are certainly
important and to be addressed out of Christian
compassion, but they are really only important insofar
as they prevent men from seeing their true need - a
relationship to God through Jesus; it is this latter
- the winning of men back to God - that is the
church's true vocation.
This is where, to my
mind, Western Christians have dichotomized the
spiritual (vertical) and physical (horizontal),
declaring that redemption consists only of the
former. Salvation means the establishing of a
proper relationship to God; man's relationship to
man will correct itself once the vertical
relationships are restored.
And this is precisely where I disagree. I am
convinced that true redemption encompasses both the
vertical and the horizontal, and in (more or less)
equal measure. Any schema which stresses the
one component at the expense of the other is
unbalanced and distorted. Thus, the liberal social
gospel of the early 20th century, which stressed
social action and justice but ignored God, was
fundamentally in error. But equally in error
is any theology which declares that redemption
consists only in the vertical, and this is precisely
what I perceive most modern theology to be doing. .
Now, all this would remain a purely academic debate
were it not for the fact that it is precisely this
sort of theology which is responsible for a lack of
true commitment (and indeed a sort of blindness)
toward the fundamental issues of justice, compassion
and the human rights of our neighbors. I look
out upon the cries of a hurting humanity and grieve
that the church of our Lord is failing to "do unto"
its neighbor as Christ intended.
Largely, perhaps, this is a consequence of the
wealth of the West
which has allowed Christians the leisure to do
Theology, you see, was never meant to be done in
isolation from the issues of life. Paul, for
example, was a "task theologian" who did theology
not as abstract reflection but in reaction to and in
dialogue with the life-situations he encountered.
We, in our leisured, abstract, philosophizing, have
so sterilized and formalized our theology that we
have divorced it entirely from the human situation;
we have become anesthetized to the very pain and
anguish which God intended to inform and shape our
theology. We have ceased to grieve as we were
meant to grieve.
would I call upon you to do, then?
me upon the griefs, the aches, the anguished cries
of the world in which we live.
Look out, and grieve. Look out, and ache. Look out, and feel its
But most of all, understand that
Christ, our Lord, lived and died and rose again, not
only that we might be redeemed to God,
but that we
might be redeemed to one another as well, and that
we might come to live out that redemption
building a community of justice and peace.