It was a Friday evening, and my father was standing outside the varsity basketball game at Grand Rapids Christian High School. It was during the years when halftime was the time for a smoke break by the gym doors. While enjoying the cool night air, my father struck up a conversation with the many standing next to him. They chatted a bit about kids and work. Then the man asked my father, “Where do you go to church?” My father responded, “I don’t go to church. I am a Muslim.” The man was appalled, responding, “Well, you have to know, Jesus Christ is Lord. He will judge you someday. You have to believe in him to be saved, or you can be sure that you are going to hell.”
This incident of “drive-by evangelism” is yet another example of a completely misguided effort to share the “good news” that does more harm than good. With his words, this man sent my father the message: I have something you need. You can either accept it or reject it, but I am going to present it to you regardless. It also deflected the responsibility from the person delivering the message and placed it upon my father, the person who had the choice to either accept, or as was the case, reject the message.
Charity work is much like drive-by evangelism. It is not rooted in relationships. It has no concern for making disciples of all nations. It merely places a Band-Aid on a festering wound. While often born of good intentions, charity usually does more harm than good. It may give attempted healer a small sense of accomplishment, but the one in need of healing remains in circumstances that are largely unchanged.
Charity has its place, but like “drive-by evangelism,” in careful ways, in certain contexts, and in small doses. God’s people are called to do justice (Micah 6:8). Doing justice is the task of seeking a right relationship with God and others. It is about removing the stumbling blocks to the gospel message. Yet seeking justice is not merely a means to a salvific end, but the way we live the gospel message — giving it legs to walk without hypocrisy because it is rooted in love (Luke 11:42). False pretenses come with an agenda, ready to impose something, to deliver something the other person doesn’t necessarily want, but love cares. Love seeks justice (Isaiah 16:5).
We’ve all heard “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” But teaching a person to fish is just one component of justice work. Justice work also sees that the road is cleared for a person to get to the fishing hole. It is seeing that people have access to fishing poles and to fixing them. It is empowering the fishermen in a community to train other fishermen, just as Jesus did with his disciples.
The gift that Christians have to offer the world is the message of God’s shalom, that Biblical vision of righteousness and justice at work (Isaiah 32:16-17). It is what Walter Brueggemann describes as “a costly way of caring.” (Brueggemann, Walter. Peace. Duluth: Chalice Press, 2001. 20. Print.) This costly way of caring is frequently inconvenient, but well worth the effort. Because through it, we can partner with God to bring his kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. As Christians, we have been empowered to live justice as a gracious response to the God who loved us enough to take it upon himself to see that justice was done at Calvary (Matthew 12:20).