Last fall, towards the end of the semester I took to reading Ministries of Mercy by Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City at the urging of my cousin and her husband, who I was living with at the time. It was a paradigm shifting book for me and also proved to be a precursor to me moving from the suburbs into the city to begin working with the mercy minstries at liberti church.
In the book, Dr. Keller takes the parable of the Good Samaritan as paradigmatic of the Christian life. He develops three main themes throughout the book. First, the necessity of mercy to our existence as Christians. “It appears that Jesus sees care for the poor as part of the essence of being a Christian.” Second is the focus on the scope and dimension of the ministry of mercy. Third is the focus on the proper motive or dynamic of the ministry of mercy. Keller organizes the book into two helpful sections: principles and practice. The first section lays the Biblical groundwork for the motivation to do ministries of mercy while the second second serves as a practical guide for beginning or continuing the ministries of mercy.
Before I read the book I was a bit apathetic about the homeless community and domestic social justice. When I thought of the homeless community I would think something arrogant along the lines of, “If you can ask for a quarter then you can ask, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ So get off your (insert your favorite term for arse here) and get a job!” When I thought of social justice my mind would turn to Rwanda or Martin Luther King, Jr. I never thought of social justice being a current, domestic issue.
Perhaps that is part of my suburbian upbringing where homelessness was not something that I came into contact with or even thought about for much of my life. Perhaps it’s my own selfishness of not wanting to think about anything that didn’t affect me personally. Whatever it was, this book changed my way of thinking forever.
There are many great quotes from the book, but the one that hit me the hardest was the following.
Mercy to the full range of human needs is such an essential mark of being a Christian that it can be used as a test of true faith. Mercy is not optional or an addition to being a Christian. Rather, a life poured out in deeds of mercy is the inevitable sign of true faith.
What I appreciate about the book is the balance that Keller brings to the subject. Some people who write about mercy ministries tend towards the extreme. “Unless you are living in poverty in the worst neighborhood in the city then you are an affluent Christian who probably really isn’t a Christian!” Keller balances his discussion about mercy ministries, not by leaving a backdoor for people to escape from participating in mercy ministries, but by showing the broad range of what mercy ministries is really all about. No matter what your life situation is or what your spiritual gifts may be, after reading the book you will not only feel motivated to participate in ministries of mercy, but also have many different areas and ways that you can be involved in.
Whether you are mowing your elderly neighbor’s lawn in Glenside or clothing the homeless on 15th and Market, you are participating in the ministries of mercy. No matter where your location or situation, Keller makes sure that you realize that doing mercy is not optional. It is a mark of being a follower of Jesus.
To say that evangelism can be done without also doing social concern is to forget that our goal is not individual “decisions,” but the bringing of all life and creation under the lordship of Christ, the kingdom of God.