Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Review: Ministries of Mercy

Who is our neighbour, and how should we relate to them? That's the question that drives this book by Tim Keller, as he reflects on the call of the Jericho road, a book that is challenging, especially for conservative evangelicals whose main (or indeed only) focus is on the word.

Ministries of Mercy comes in two parts, the first of which is an extended commentary and application of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Through a series of seven chapters, Keller explores the parable, drawing out the principles involved in a ministry of mercy in obedience to the Lord's command to 'Go and do likewise.' 'Our Lord attacks the complacency of comfortably religious people who protect themselves from the needs of others.'

In an astounding opening chapter, Keller discusses a range of (American) social statistics on the abundance of poverty, leading to his assertion that 'We do indeed live on the Jericho road.'Living in the midst of such great need, it's not enough to only talk about love, we need to do something about it: 'Love cannot only be expressed through talk, but through word and deed.'

The parable of the Good Samaritan isn't dealt with in isolation, though. Keller explains it in its biblical context, as an illustration of the love God demands: 'Jesus is seeking to humble us with the love God requires, so we will be willing to receive the love God offers.' Therefore: 'In the gospel we discover that we are far more wicked than we ever dared believe, yet more loved than we ever dared hope.'

Acts of love and service in the mercy ministry aren't a diversion from the 'real' business of the church. As Keller points out, they are an essential portion: 'The ministry of mercy is not only an expression of the fellowship of the church, but also an expression of the mission of the church.'

Having laid the principles which are foundational for the ministry of mercy, the second part of the book explores the practical dimension to providing mercy to those around us. At times, it appeared as if the book was a little too American, and aimed at the huge megachurch with endless resources and people, but there are still thought-provoking and useful tips that any sized church in any culture can profitably use.

The advice on surveying the community and reflecting on the needs of the people living around the church was helpful (if perhaps a little overdone), and wouldn't just apply to the ministry of mercy. There is much that could be helpful for the ministry of the word as well, in knowing the community and addressing the good news to the places where our people are coming from.

All in all, this was a good book to read, opening the horizon of ministry, and helping this pastor to consider things which had never really been considered before through college or prior placements. It would be a good read for those in the church seeking to be involved in the community, reaching out with love and practical concern to further the kingdom in the local community.

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