A Word for Wednesday by Jonathan Tame
3rd February 2016
Ever since I joined the Jubilee Centre, one phrase seems to capture the heart of our mission: biblical social reform. The lives of the great 19th century British social reformers such as Wilberforce, Shaftesbury and Booth have been a wonderful example to me as they combined an evangelical Christian faith with a deep concern for the poor, exploited and marginalised – and by the grace of God, they did change the world. When I lived in Switzerland I used to take people on walking tours of the old city of Geneva, introducing them to the inspiring legacy of two other Christian reformers: John Calvin and Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross and the driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.
On account of these associations, I think that ‘biblical social reform’ describes a vision to aspire to. However, not everyone sees this phrase in quite such a positive light, so let me explain what I mean by each word in turn, in the hope that you will come to share some of my enthusiasm.
Biblical. Scripture is the key to understanding God’s work through history, the essence of human nature and the deepest forces at work in the world. We can’t fully understand people or the world without the Bible, which also introduces the central theme of relationships which underpins all of Jubilee Centre’s work. The biblical worldview gives us the creation/fall/redemption narrative, which is radically different to prevailing secular thinking about the root causes of injustice, poverty, suffering and exclusion, and what should be done to tackle them. This doesn’t mean that we ignore contemporary theories of social change and practice, but we acknowledge the unique authority of the Bible.
Social. God’s intentions to redeem the world aren’t limited to changing the hearts of individuals and building the church. Redemption extends to wherever sin has brought brokenness and corruption –which means it should include the transformation of business, diplomacy, architecture, psychology, sport, neighbourhoods, universities, hospitals – in fact every part of society. Some Christians think of this in terms of seven mountains or spheres of influence; our Jubilee Roadmap builds on eight core themes from biblical law. The bottom line is that we view organisations and institutions, government and public policy all as spheres of mission, where God’s people are called to act as culture-changing salt and light.
Reform. How does change takes place? Some want to withdraw from what they see as completely corrupt society and set up alternative institutions; others seek to overthrow the existing order through revolution, but we believe in the third way of reform: transforming institutions gradually from the inside – whilst at the same time modelling an alternative, counter-cultural society to the world through the microcosm of the church. Social action and social justice initiatives do not go far enough if they only alleviate the symptoms of a broken society, but fail to tackle its root causes – and win people back to God's purposes and priorities.