Safe Streets, Saved Souls

By Mark A. Taylor

This week we’re making good on our promise to keep publishing articles about elders even after our 2008 emphasis, “The Year of the Elder,” is finished. The three articles featured in this issue won’t be the last helps for elders you’ll find in our pages this year.

Meanwhile, we’re continuing to develop issues around our 2009 theme, “Get Your Hands Dirty.” We’re gathering stories from around the world to show how Restoration Movement congregations and missions are redeeming broken bodies as well as lost souls.

Timothy Keller, in his challenging little book, The Prodigal God, offers a succinct statement of the rationale for such ministry. The book is an exposition of Luke 15:11-32, the parable commonly (and in error, according to Keller) labeled “The Prodigal Son.” It is a brief, thought-provoking exposition that prods Christians to rethink how they fit into the story. (Clue: All of us know, and most of us at some time have been, the elder brother.)

Toward the end of his volume, Keller writes about the feast in the parable and points out that it is an image found throughout the Bible. He reminds us, for example, that Jesus left us the Lord’s Supper as the celebration by which we remember his salvation. When Jesus met with the disciples after his resurrection, they ate together. And “the final goal of history is a meal, the wedding supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19).”

All of this, Keller says, is consistent with God’s verdict on the physical world he made. God called it “good.”

“The ultimate purpose of Jesus is not only individual salvation and pardon for sins,” Keller continues, “but also the renewal of this world, the end of disease, poverty, injustice, violence, suffering, and death.”

Keller says the miracles of Jesus “were not so much violations of the natural order, but a restoration of the natural order.” God did not create, nor is he happy with suffering, sickness, and death. Keller says Christians can “talk of saving the soul and of building social systems that deliver safe streets and warm homes in the same sentence. With integrity.”

Thousands of Christians reading this magazine are doing just that, working to improve society as well as invite its members to salvation. Throughout 2009 we will tell what they’re accomplishing in Jesus’ name by “getting their hands dirty.”

We know we don’t know all the stories that should be told. If you have an example to share, please tell us about it.

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