.
Sections
Opinions / Reflections
header bar gradient


Good news for the poor 


A reflection on how we share the gospel, and how it is heard. Can we do more justice to the big picture, Kingdom vision first proclaimed by Jesus - and what impact might this have? 

The third of Baptist minister Trevor Neill's reflections. Read the first here, and the second here  

 

Microphone


One of the privileges of ministry in the part of Birmingham where I live is the opportunity to lead a multi-cultural church. Most of the Afro-Caribbean families who worship with us are first-generation immigrants, members of the original ‘Windrush Generation.’ When I visit their homes, I am invariably struck by the many graduation photos of children and grandchildren which line the walls, often alongside a picture of Barack Obama and the US Presidential crest. These pictures give expression to the aspiration and perseverance of this generation, and they provide a testimony to the journey of liberation and socio-economic advancement which they have enjoyed in recent decades. This story can also be explained by a Black Liberation Theology, described by one writer, Anthony Reddie, as a journey from ‘nobodies to somebodies.’

When I go to the homes of the some of the hard-pressed white British families in my congregation, however, I see few, if any, signs of an understanding of the gospel which provide an explanation for the marginalisation they feel and offer the hope of better prospects for the future. One possible reason for this lack of a wider perspective is offered by Lynsey Hanley, a sociologist who grew up on the Chelmsley Wood estate near Birmingham. She suggests that ‘the middle-class approach to life… is founded on a bedrock of security,’ [1] a confidence in better prospects for the future which justifies planning for the long-term and which allows for the time and energy to think about life in more abstract and conceptual terms.

In contrast, she writes, ‘… the working-class approach to life… embodies generations of uncertainty. For how long can we keep the family together? Will our child survive? Will I still have a job tomorrow?’ [2]

Many of our tools for sharing the Gospel are shaped by that middle-class perspective. We invite people to attend courses (itself a notion more likely to appeal to those who see their own lives as a project, the goal of which is to fully realise our potential), with topics like ‘Why and how do I pray?’ and ‘What am I doing here?’. These are good questions, but ones which you might not have the time or inclination to consider if you’re further down the scale of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. What does good news look like if you’ve just been moved onto Universal Credit, and it’s now a four week wait for income? What hope is offered by Jesus if there isn’t much work available on a zero-hours contract?

The picture of Jesus offered to us by the Gospels is that of a figure who is constantly taking sides on behalf of the poor and marginalised. The stories of his birth found in Luke include a song of praise which speaks of the poor being lifted up while the powerful are removed from their thrones, as a well as a prophecy about the divisive outcomes of Jesus’ mission. A few chapters later, the Gospel famously describes the event early in his ministry when he addresses the synagogue in Nazareth appropriating the language of Jubilee and Isaiah’s vision of ‘good news for the poor’. For every blessing offered to the outsiders in Luke’s version of the beatitudes we read an equivalent word of warning to those positions of power and privilege in the current age.

When Jesus is loving and compassionate in the Gospels, it is invariably towards those who are struggling. Where he is angry, it is in response to those in positions of power who are abusing their authority (such as the Temple authorities or Pharisees) and even towards the very presence of disease and brokenness in the world (‘pity’ is probably too weak a word to fully convey what he feels towards a leper in Mark 1:41). Tragically, many of our presentations of the Gospel skew this vision of Jesus, presenting him instead as someone who is angry with individuals who have sinned.

Of course God makes a call to each of us to repent, but surely our message can be presented in ways which do more justice to the big picture Kingdom vision first proclaimed by Jesus: a message of God’s love for people; his willingness to enter into the experience of life in a fallen world; his displeasure at the injustice and greed which mars so many lives; and his determination that there will be one day be a reckoning, a judgement not only on each of us but also on empires like Babylon whose wealth is built on exploitation and avarice.

As the saying goes, this would be a Gospel which comforts the afflicted but afflicts the comfortable, discomforting for some but genuinely liberating for others.



 
[1] Lynsey Hanley, Respectable: The Experience of Class, Allen Lane, 2016, 40
[2] ibid, 40

Image | Creationswap 



The Revd Trevor Neill is minister of Yardley Wood Baptist Church, Birmingham. This is the third in a series of three reflections about our practice, and the theology behind it.  

 

  • After the action, a time for reflection? Churches are increasingly defined by their social action. It's time our thinking caught up, argues a Baptist minister

  • Individualism - making the connection How an emphasis on individual reform at the heart of evangelical convictions mirrors modern life - and blinds us to the injustice hardwired into our structures 

  • Good news for the poor A reflection on how we share the gospel, and how it is heard. Can we do more justice to the big picture, Kingdom vision first proclaimed by Jesus - and what impact might this have? 


 
Baptist Times, 04/04/2018
More Opinions / Reflections
header bar gradient