Bryan Chappell of Covenant Seminary asks the question: “How can a local church make a difference, and how do individual Christians meaningfully reflect Christ’s grace when the disparities of wealth and power in our world are so great?”1 As our leadership team begins to lay the groundwork for church planting in Philadelphia, we have had to try to wrestle with this question in a practical way rather than the typical way of theorizing from the relative safety and comfort of middle-class suburbs and seminary classrooms. Located in a transitional urban neighborhood where urban blight meets white flight, we are confronted by challenges regarding our biblical responsibility to the poor. We are not experts in urban ministry and poverty alleviation. We recognize the complexity of the causes of poverty and confess the failure of many Christians, including ourselves, to address and to engage this issue. Some people are born into poverty through no fault of their own and find themselves trapped in an inescapable and infernal cycle. Others fall into poverty as a result of calamity including natural disasters, unemployment, health problems, or traumatic experiences. No easy solutions are forthcoming. Our response must be rooted in the Bible as we seek to lay a theological foundation for our engagement in dealing with societal problems which in reality are spiritual problems.
We have examined the vision of the gospel that is being propagated by Scot McKnight of North Park Seminary and by Timothy Gombis of Cedarville University. They are certainly not unique in the evangelical world. Indeed, their understanding of the gospel has become influential among an increasing number of evangelicals.
The theory, however, is not new. As an example, consider Walt. Like Scot and Tim, Walt did not wish to abandon the gospel of personal salvation. Also like Scot and Tim, he yearned for a gospel that could deal with problems that he deemed larger and more important. Here is what Walt said: