There is a divide in this country, and you can almost discern it based on the question, “How do we help the
poor?” Politically, there is a divide for sure, but even within the church there is divergence on this question. To be sure, the Bible instructs us that we are to care for the poor, but even that point is debated as one group emphasizes responsibility and another justice.
Because faith without works is dead, we need to understand just how it is we should care for poor and downtrodden in our society. Tim Keller, writing at Thermelios, has written a thorough and helpful essay on the subject, “The Gospel and the Poor.” Keller is senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, N.Y., and an adjunct professor of practical theology at Westminsters Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Among the books he has written are “The Reason for God: Belief in the Age of Skepticism” and “The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith.”
In his essay, Keller explores from the position that the church is commanded to help the poor, yet this is not the primacy of the gospel:
So what does it mean to be committed to the primacy of the gospel? It means first that the gospel must be proclaimed. Many today denigrate the importance of this. Instead, they say, the only true apologetic is a loving community; people cannot be reasoned into the kingdom, they can only be loved. “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” But while Christian community is indeed a crucial and powerful witness to the truth of the gospel, it cannot replace preaching and proclamation. Nevertheless, the primacy of the gospel also means that it is the basis and mainspring for Christian practice, individually and corporately, inside the church and outside. Gospel ministry is not only proclaiming it to people so that they will embrace and believe it; it is also teaching and shepherding believers with it so that it shapes the entirety of their lives, so that they can “live it out.” And one of the most prominent areas that the gospel effects is our relationship to the poor.
It is a lengthy read, but well worth your time. For conservatives, it is a good reminder that merely proclamation of the gospel while failing to help the poor and needy shows a lack of understanding of the gospel. For liberals, it is a good reminder that giving aid is not an end in itself.