In my first interview after the release of Wasted Evangelism, I was asked:
In The Hobbit, Gandalf tells Bilbo Baggins that if he does come back from his journey, he will not be the same – a quote you use. Has your journey to the start of this book changed you forever?
I heard that dialog in the movie and I felt it best described the journey I have been on, not just in writing Wasted Evangelism, but in social action, a the journey I want others to take—a journey through the Gospel of Mark and entering paths that get them much closer to those living in poverty.
Wasted Evangelism is the result of a seven-year journey in Mark’s Gospel, seeking to determine the relationship of the gospel to the wider biblical material regarding poverty and justice. For me, this was no mere academic exercise alone, but a deeply spiritual one that made it clear to me that the church has a biblical responsibility to be intentionally involved in social action. For me, not only has social action been my profession, it has been an important part of my spiritual journey as well.
Over these years I have come to realize there is a wide gap, a very unbiblical breach, between the issues of poverty and my evangelical Christian community. For many years I lived out my faith at the far “right” end of that gap. For the last sixteen years on the other side of this gap I have had the privilege of working with people dedicated to moving our economically vulnerable neighbors, often trapped in poverty, toward self-sufficiency. As a result of experiencing both ends of this gap, I often find myself alone in most any room I am in. Among my peers and colleagues in social action I am extremely conservative as an evangelical Christian, sometimes even politically suspect; among my conservative Christian family I am often viewed as too liberal regarding social action and the gospel, sometimes even borderline heretical. During the summer of 2006 I began to seek out my own biblical rationale for my new vocation in community action—I wanted some personal justification from God’s Word that my faith should be legitimately connected to my work in social action. Wasted Evangelism is a reflection of that search.
As Gandalf said to Bilbo Baggins, I can’t guarantee a safe return—seriously the wading into the swamps, caves, rugged mountains, and precarious valleys (using Tolkien’s middle earth imagery) of the world of poverty is not safe. It is dangerous. The conditions themselves are not safe; the politics are not safe; the surrounding powers and wealthy will be chief in opposition, and they are not safe. Even the church itself will often be unfriendly while on the journey, nor will the church readily offer shelter. Self and status will have to be sacrificed. There is no guarantee of return. But if they, the poor rich readers, non-poor Christians, do return, they will certainly not be the same.
Michelle Snyder graciously provided my first interview upon the release of Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism, on her blog, White Knight Studio. This post an excerpt from that interview.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.