Salt, Light and Cities on Hills: Evangelism, Social Action and the Church by Melvin Tinker
The uneasy relationship between social justice and evangelism has troubled evangelicals for some time. The desire to focus on social justice issues as primary puts evangelicals in a bind because they often feel that evangelism and gospel believing proclamation is lost. Yet, as Pastor Melvin Tinker points out that there should not be a strong division between the two if we rightly understand the good news of Jesus Christ.
Broadening the landscape of social action and evangelism, Tinker gives us a historical snapshot in the first chapter surrounding these issues in Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries. With some groups, social action was carried out with little or no biblical basis (24), yet others such as D. Marty-Lloyd Jones were convinced that the Kingdom of God, the salvation of souls was primary and Christian witness in the halls of justice were second (24-26). There is an uneasiness in the history of evangelical thought regarding social action from Stott to Jones, and this is no more apparent in their writings.
In chapter 3, Tinker looks at Reformers and Radicals with special attention to John Wesley and William Wilberforce. As for Wesley, Tinker writes,
“…Wesley’s impressive endeavours in promoting social action, working towards slavery abolition,
ameliorating the effects of liquor and gambling abuse, promoting literacy and education amongst the poor,…arose from a Spirit-fired application of the following fundamental Christian doctrines: (1) Our unity and responsibilities as creatures before the Creator, (2) The corruption of the will by sin, so that all social problems are fundamentally spiritual, (3) the principle of stewardship and the future judgment to come. At no point did Wesley conceive social action as possessing the same theological weight or primacy as Gospel proclamation, although the latter entailed the former (39).”
We know from Wesley’s itinerant ministry that he preached as much as 4 times a day and ceaselessly went from town to town telling all people about Jesus Christ. Yet, he did not deny that people needed to read, that alcohol wrecked lives, and that slavery should be abolished. In fact, his gospel proclamation undergirded his social action activity.
Dr. Tinker shares of his personal experience in church at how social action and gospel truth go hand in hand. He speak of both debt counselling and ESL, especially for people from Easter European countries (112). Melvin makes a point to mention that this work is long term work, work that takes much time and much effort from many volunteers. Yet, Melvin never mixes up the priorities of gospel proclamation and social activity in the church.
Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and EP Books for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.