Imagine (horrible as it sounds) a fire breaking out in a church kids club that your children are in. You rush into the building. Who are you desperate to get out of the building? Who is it that you’re looking for? Your kids, right?
Through this illustration Kevin DeYoung raises the issue of moral proximity when it comes to our obligations as Christians to helping others.
In conversation with Matt Chandler, Trevin Wax and Jonathan Leeman during TFTG’11 DeYoung uses it to inform a discuss the issues that surround social justice and church mission.
What was most helpful for me was DeYoung’s recognition that whilst the whole world might be my neighbour I am not under exactly the same obligation to the 6 billion and more people on the planet.
In fact unless and until we recognise that Scripture does differentiate on the matter we will find ourselves under an ‘impossible burden that will beat us up’ and a sense of obligation that no-one lives up to.
According to DeYoung Moral proximity describes ‘the different moral obligation we have on us in different situations’.
Why does this matter? Well quite simply if Jesus tells us that the whole world is my neighbour and I am under an obligation to love my neighbour, indiscriminately, then what does it mean to fulfil this command? How is it possible, to love every man, woman and child equally?
What would it mean for my personal priorities and our corporate church programmes?
DeYoung argues that the notion of moral proximity is not an excuse to avoid responsibility but is clearly demonstrated in the New Testament and life of the early church. Whilst the whole world may be my neighbour I have particular responsibilities to some by virtue of their relationship to me ie their proximity to me and me to them.
Where in the Bible do we find moral proximity?
He touches on a number of examples in the Scripture (and I’ve added a few others!)
We have a particular obligation to our biological family – so much so that to fail to provide for family is to behave worse than an unbeliever and also to place an inappropriate burden on the church. c.f 1 Timothy 5:3-4, 16.
We have an obligation to our local church family – so 1 John 3:11 the call to love one another is best understood in the context of the local church.
We have an obligation to our wider church family – so Jesus in Matthew 25: 34-40. Paul, in Galatians 6v.10 differentiates a particular obligation to the people of God when he says ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’
The collection of money for the church in Jerusalem, 2 Cor. 8&9 would be a further example.
Does that mean that these statements negate the teachings of Jesus that the whole world is my neighbour and that I therefore cannot put limits on my love? Not at all.
But even Jesus’ parable suggests something more. Snodgrass in Stories with Intent writes
One cannot define one’s neighbour; one can only be a neighbour. We cannot say in advance who the neighbor is; rather nearness and need define ‘neighbor’.
I guess what that means is that as individuals and churches we are willing to respond to all in need but geographical nearness and urgency of need suggest a greater obligation.
Geographical nearness may mean choosing some social justice project in our community to join with or establish.
Urgency of need may mean collecting money to meet for example a famine in east Africa.
Snodgrass also cites Kierkegaard
‘To love one’s neighbour means, while remaining within the earthly distinctions allotted to one, essentially to will to exist equally for every human being without exception.’
To my mind every human being without exception but not every human being without distinction serves as a helpful summary.
A few take home points for me;
1. No-one lives as if they owe the same obligation to every member of the human race. DeYoung’s argument helps liberate us from a sense of guilt or hypocrisy.
2. The Bible gives us a framework for assessing who we owe what to. It would seem to me that we are to be proactive in seeking to provide for our biological family and the local church and that we are to reactively respond to need as we discover it in the wider world on the basis of nearness and need paying particular attention to the needs of believers.
3. We need to identify some social justice projects that we think it wisest to support. Not because we dismiss all others but because of our limitations and that moral proximity will help us decide.
4. We need to watch our hearts that are quick to avoid the awesome obligations that Jesus puts us under. Am I really ready to be a neighbour to even my enemy?
Why not follow the whole conversation or listen in to Kevin’s answer at the 40 minute mark.
DeYoung’s book What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission addressing these issues will be available (in the US) from September.
Tomorrow John Lennox debates Peter Singer at Melbourne Town Hall.
Clearly the manager didn’t think so. He substituted him just a minute or so later for showing disrespect to the other team. In total he was on the pitch for three minutes! Full report here.
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it – Proverbs 22:6
My 5 year old son can just about recognise a 50 pence coin and that’s about it where money is concerned. Maybe its time for an education but what approach should Christians take when it comes to an allowance or pocket money?
Here are my thoughts so far;
A. Why give your kids pocket money?
It seems to me that the point of an allowance is to train your children to handle money in godly ways.
What then are we trying to teach?
- budgeting skills – so children realise that money only goes so far
- the value of the things – buying one thing may mean they can’t afford something else
- the place for delayed gratification – saving to enable a bigger purchase somewhere down the line
- Responsibility and the need to look after things – putting the money somewhere safe
B. Should we give a ‘flat-rate’ or should an allowance be ‘reward-based’?
What are the advantages in going for a flat-rate?
It could be argued that it helps children to manage money because they know what they are going to get not just in one week but future weeks and they can begin to anticipate, plan and budget appropriately.
It teaches kids that you’re not just helpful around the home simply to get something in return. Nothing can be more irritating than a child being asked to give a helping hand around the home only to have them ask what they will be paid in return.
What are the advantages of the reward-based approach?
If pocket money has to be earned then children begin to understand it’s not a right. They learn early in life as someone has put it ‘You work, you get paid. A basic life lesson that some of us need to be reminded about’.
Pocket money functions as an appropriate reward NOT for good behaviour which should be expected not rewarded. But an allowance can be given to reward work done well.
Kids can learn the value of achieving the amount of pocket money they have earned
The hybrid approach that can teach both principles at the same time
I wonder whether a hybrid system gives the best of both worlds in which you give your child a flat-rate that can be topped up with rewards for chores etc.
The hybrid approach enables your child to recognise that being part of the family means that they have certain responsibilities but chores done on top can receive a financial reward.
C. How should we encourage children to use the money?
Giving an allowance provides an excellent opportunity to teach our kids something of the gospel.
Saving. We can teach why it’s a good and godly principle in life to save some money.
The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty – Proverbs 21:5
To help a younger child it might work best to give then something specific to aim for ( particular toy, or treat) that can be achieved by saving a set amount over just a few weeks.
As a parent you may wish to reward saving by some form of matching system ie telling you child that if they save so much you will add to that figure on top of regular allowance.
For slightly older children it is certainly a good idea to set up a bank account for your child.
Generousity. Just as we want to instil the principle of stewardship so we want to support generousity. We should encourage children to give some money away to those in need
A generous man will prosper, he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed – Proverbs 11:25
Worship. If, and I suggest only if, our child wants to make a response as a believer to God then they should be encouraged to give back to God in the form of a gift to the church.
One article I read suggested teaching your child when she receives her allowance to divide it three ways
Spend – money to enjoy spending between allowances
Save – putting some money aside for the future
Serve – giving back to gospel work and being generous to others
D. A final few thoughts
The message of grace and taking money away
I wonder whether it is wise to take allowance away because of either bad behaviour or failure to do chores?
How do we show our children that the gospel is about getting from God what we don’t deserve? That we have received from him what we were not owed?
One piece of advice on failure to do chores that I thought a wise one was make it clear in advance that failure to do the agreed task will result not in a financial fine but the adding of a further chore. So if a child fails to make his bed or put away dirty clothes by the agreed time then they will be asked to help mum do a job in the house, etc.
“Don’t give in and give more money if they have spent it all.”
The temptation will be to bail out children who make a hash of their spending and blow the allowance! You need to judge on a case by case basis whether to compensate your child if they run out of money. As a general principle it seems to me that it is a dangerous thing to offer additional money.
Show them how their situation is highlighted in the Bible;
He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich – Proverbs 21:17
A remarkable post in the New Statesman by David Allen Green is yet further demonstration of how Richard Dawkins’ star is waning even among the liberal intelligentsia in our media.
Green’s closing comments are telling;
Can Richard Dawkins still credibly pose as a champion of rational thinking and an evidence-based approach? In my opinion, he certainly cannot, at least not in the way he did before.
The principle of the “survival of the fittest” applies in respect of intellectual reputations as it can elsewhere, and what now happens to the intellectual reputation of Richard Dawkins may be an example of the principle in practice.
This sunday morning I’m preaching on Psalm 137. It’s my own fault because I chose to do so. The reason I’m a little bit concerned is because this Psalm is a psalm full of the spirit of vengeance. It’s a hymn of praise that celebrates the thought that God will destroy his enemies;
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us –
he who seizes your infants and dashes then against the rocks.
It’s not called the ‘baby-bashing’ Psalm for nothing! So I’d appreciate your prayers as I prepare.
In my preparations I came across this blog post by Kevin deYoung Is it Okay for Christians to Believe in the Doctrine of Hell But Not Like It? It asks and answers some of the concerns I’ll be covering this Sunday.
The sentence that stood out to me became the title for this post; It’s never safe to dislike the truths God has revealed.
The more I think about that the wiser it seems to be! Why? Because deYoung is hihglighting that to accept God’s word whilst disliking it is still to say ‘I wish God were other than he is’. It is to prefer a God of our own making to the God of the Bible.
It forces us to consider the real issue which is ‘who should change?’ when we come against something in the Bible we don’t like (even if as evangelical Christians we are willing to accept it).
The natural inclination of my sinful heart is to make God in my image. God’s plan and purpose is to remake me in his image. Every sermon is an opportunity therefore to demonstrate our willingness to change not just in our thinking but in the affections of our hearts as we discover why it is good not only to agree with what God says but to learn to love what God loves, to be grieved by what grieves God and to glory in what God glories in.
For the many of us who live with the reality that most of our family are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ it can be an emotional as well as an intellectual challenge to our faith and our lives.
Here are four practical tips adapted from a new book on witnessing to family Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman.
1. Recognise that there is something uniquely difficult about witnessing to those closest to us.
When it comes to family the relationship dynamic makes for a challenge. Maybe it’s their familiarity with our faith that means they stopped asking questions years ago that makes it hard. Alternatively it’s that they see our many failings because they see us up close that leads them to question the reality of our faith. Whatever the issue it makes it tough!
2. Find grace to move from fear to boldness
One of the things that stops us speaking for Christ is an underlying fear of a negative reaction of our family. At times it takes courage to speak for Christ and to stand for him.
We need to be clear about our faith and bold in our stand. But the secret is not ‘to muster up courage. That’s what many people try – with little or no success. Instead soak in grace.’ Newman reminds us that fear of our family and their judgment of us can only be overcome with a greater desire to live in the light of God’s judgment of us, his covenant love for us in Christ.
3. Deny the guilt.
There is a guilt which is decidedly not from God and yet many Christians live with a great sense of underlying guilt that those closest to them don’t believe. Despite faithful witness, love and prayer Christians are still tempted to think they have failed.
The appropriate emotion to feel in such circumstances is not guilt but sadness. Just as Jesus wept for unbelieving Israel so too we are right to feel pain but we are wrong to feel guilt.
4. Accept that truth divides.
However painful it may be, Jesus warned that his message would divide even family members.
We need to anticipate that our faith brings new loyalties, new priorities and new desires that may lead to a distancing of what was otherwise a close relationship. In some cultures truth divides even to the extent of being disowned by unbelieving family.
The temptation in the face of losing a relationship with those closest to us is to compromise. We need to anticipate that danger, seek God’s grace and the love and support of our church community to help us remain strong in the truth in a difficult situation.
In a later blog I’ll be bringing another 4 ideas to help dealing with issues of love, humility, time and eternity.
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