As I mentioned in my posts called “Beyond Charity – Introduction” and “Beyond Charity – Our Vision“, I’m reading John Perkins’ book Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development. Part Two of the book is called “Our Gospel”, and it is divided into eight chapters: “The Living Gospel”, “The Burden of Proof”, “Filling the Leadership Vacuum”, “Evangelism”, “Wholesome Care”, “Providing Services”, “Economic Development”, and “Pursuing Justice”. I cannot discuss all of these chapters, so I’m going to focus on Chapter 4 (The Living Gospel), then hit some of the high points in the remaining chapters which flow from Perkins’ understanding of the gospel.
Chapter 4 – The Living Gospel – is probably my favorite chapter in Perkins’ book. The gospel, as Perkins describes it, is not a gospel of mental ascent, nor is it a gospel of works. The gospel flows from God’s love and transforms us into agents of God’s love.
As I understood more of God’s love for me, and the extremity of the sacrifice he made for me, I began to be transformed, little by little. I was overpowered by God’s love that morning, and I wanted to share it with those whom I was coming in contact with. As as the love of God worked in my life, it was changing me so that God could use my life to demonstrate his love for others – and he is still at work in me today… So God calls us to be transformed by his love in order to make us instruments of his love to the whole world.
If you miss this very important point when reading this book, you may think that Perkins is pushing a “social gospel” without a spiritual foundation. Perkins’ gospel is social, but it begins with the spiritual – the love of God that transforms individuals. When God transforms a person – that is, God CHANGES a person – that person begins to demonstrate their new character – a character that starts with love.
Social action is not a means to earn salvation, nor is it a means to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. Instead, social action is the (super)natural outcropping of a life that has been transformed by God’s love. Just has James could not imagine a life of faith without works – that faith is dead, James says – Perkins cannot imagine a gospel that does not result in active care and concern for other people – demonstrated in social action.
It seems that for Perkins there are two motivations for social action: 1) a desire to see others reconciled to God, and 2) a desire to demonstrate the love of God. Therefore, social action is valid and necessary even toward those who reject the gospel. God’s love is unconditional; Jesus even loved the rich, young ruler who turned away from him. In the same manner, our active love for others should not stop if they reject the gospel.
The next seven chapters in Perkins’ book flow from his understanding of the gospel. For example, he says that the “burden of proof” lies with followers of Jesus to demonstrate that our love – the love that flows from God through us – is authentic by connecting our words and deeds. Furthermore, as we love others, we trust them with leadership, not thinking of ourselves as better. Similarly, our evangelism will “take place inside the community of faith” and “is most effective when it calls people into a relationship with a holy God and into a fellowship of believers”. In case some may misunderstand his purpose, Perkins clearly states, “Christian community development cannot happen without the work of evangelism”. Furthermore, Perkins gives practical suggestions and examples for creating an environment of hope through dignity, power, education, employment, health, security, recreation and beauty. Finally, Perkins exhorts Christians to use their energy and resources to pursue justice for the poor, the needy, the fatherless, the widows, and the foreigners.
I think that Perkins has described a very biblical gospel – the Good News that Jesus Christ reconciles people to God and then gives them the ministry of reconciliation. This gospel expects a faith that works.