This book, subtitled ‘Evangelism, social action and the church: how do they relate to each other?’, is a useful discussion of the relationship between evangelism and social action.
After a brief historical overview, the author moves on to the apparent retreat from social action by evangelicals in the early twentieth century, which was partly a reaction to the ‘social gospel’. He summarises the development of the Lausanne movement, recent shifts in Anglican evangelicalism and the views of Dr Lloyd-Jones.
The author then addresses the views of ‘radical evangelicals’, whose stance seems alarmingly similar to that of the theological liberals of a century ago. For example, Tinker robustly rebuts those who argue that ‘any movement, Christian or not, which tries to establish social justice, is to be interpreted as having the same character as Jesus’ kingdom acts of power and healing’ (p.42).
Tinker includes a chapter critiquing Tim Keller’s book Ministries of mercy. He argues that ‘our neighbour is not, as Keller claims, “anyone in need”; it is anyone in need with whom we have to do’ (p.51).
However, I was a little unclear by the end of the chapter whether Tinker had undercut this distinction by suggesting that our ‘global village’ has so reduced the matter of ‘moral distance’ that the distinction is no longer relevant. Furthermore, it seems slightly odd to do this by means of a lengthy quotation from the atheist philosopher Peter Singer.
There are helpful chapters addressing the theological basis for asserting the primacy of evangelism, while according social action a secondary though necessary place.
Tinker shows how the first four beatitudes have their grounding in Isaiah 61 and how the Old Testament background to Jesus’ words should inform our understanding of what it means to be salt, light and cities on hills.
The book concludes with a practical chapter, drawn largely from the author’s own experience as the minister of a large Anglican church that runs a number of community projects, all of which have a clear evangelistic focus.
As he observes, if evangelism is primary, ‘the “mercy” aspect of such ministries will not be lost and neither will be the gospel intentionality in sharing the faith. If, however, the main focus is solely on “doing good”, then the gospel-sharing aspect will often be eclipsed’ (p.113).
Although a short book, it is not an easy read. Nonetheless it is a subject worthy of careful attention.