The Call of the Jericho Road

“The parable of the Good Samaritan is nothing if not provocative.”[1] So says the prologue to the book, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Notably, a similar sentiment is often expressed concerning the book’s author himself, Timothy Keller. A graduate and later adjunct professor of Westminster Theological Seminary, he has been dubbed a “C.S. Lewis for the 21st century” by Newsweek.[2] Dr. Keller is a respected speaker, author, and founder and pastor of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. And as former director of his denomination’s mercy ministries, Keller comes uniquely qualified to write the book on mercy ministries. Even today, his passion for evangelistic advocacy translates to his pulpit as he leads his church to extend a vital outreach to the New York Transit system’s so-called “mole people.”

Summary

Explaining mercy ministry as, “the meeting of ‘felt’ needs through deeds,” Keller sounds a passionate call to the church to seek to “bring substantial healing of the effects of sin in all areas of life, including psychological, social, economic, and physical.”[3]

Keller builds Part I of his book by deftly constructing a solidly biblical case for mercy ministry. Citing a plethora of verses from both the Old and New Testaments, he takes the reader back to the Bible time and again—even to the very beginning to witness the first recorded act of mercy (). Even here, where the obvious application of this passage is man’s need for atonement, the reader cannot dismiss the fact that in meeting the spiritual need of man, God likewise took the time to minister to his physical need as well. Such is the picture of the mercy of our God, a mercy that should characterize His people.

Part II contains the more practical aspects of the ministry of mercy—everything from how to get started, how to mobilize the people, and how to manage and expand a church’s ministry. This section even includes a chapter replete with thought-out, proactive follow-up strategies aimed at assisting ministry administrators to incorporate new believers into the church. After all, mercy ministry “is the best advertising a church can have. It convinces a community that this church provides people with actions for their problems, not only talk. It shows the community that this church is compassionate.”[4]

Keller’s purpose for the book is clear: he passionately seeks to motivate believers, for,

Only the church of Jesus Christ, and the millions of ‘mini-churches’ (Christian homes) throughout the country can attack the roots of social problems. Only the church can minister to the whole person. Only the gospel understands that sin has ruined us both individually and socially… Only Christians, armed with the Word and the Spirit, planning and working to spread the kingdom and righteousness of Christ, can transform a nation as well as a neighborhood as well as a broken heart”[5] (author’s emphasis).

Faithful to his goal and passionately driving home his purpose, Keller has composed a rich and extremely practical resource for the church or individual believer wishing to implement such a ministry. Written in an easy to follow, albeit slightly pedantic style, the book keeps a brisk pace, outlining the steps of mercy ministry, from its motivation to implementation to continuation and finally, to evaluation. Offering both historical precedent and Scriptural principle, he skillfully builds not only a solid, biblical apologetic for mercy ministry, but a practical handbook as well.

Keller’s strength lies preeminently in the power of the Word, secondly in his passion, and thirdly in his careful balance of said passion with practicality. To begin with, he presents an undeniable apologetic for mercy ministry: passionately calling the reader to ponder the greatness of our calling and then to go forth in the strength of that calling to witness not in word only, not in deed only, but in a holy consummation of the two. However, passion is balanced with wisdom as the practical eye is turned toward averting potential problems and risks before they arise (Proverbs 19:2).

Of Especial Interest

Mercy ministry then, is a searching ministry; an active ministry. Jesus bids us “go,” it is true, but far more often, the cry of the church is, “‘Let them come to us! Our doors are open.’ ‘We come to church to have our needs met, to escape the cold, cruel world.’” [6] Keller reveals the absurdity of this notion: “Dying persons on the road might moan audibly, but they do not have the energy to grab us and tell us all their troubles. Nor would we expect them to. Yet we in effect demand this from those around us.”[7]

Keller’s continuing refrain seems to be the unity—the essential inseparability—of word and deed. Only those who “see both word and deed, evangelism and mercy, as means to the single end of the spread of the kingdom of God” [8] truly understand the goals and purposes of mercy ministry.  “To say that social concern could be done independently of evangelism is to cut mercy loose from kingdom endeavor… To say that evangelism can be done without also doing social concern is to forget that our goal is not individual “decisions,” but the bringing of all life and creation under the lordship of Christ, the kingdom of God.”[9]

Conclusion

To say that mercy ministry is a “deed-based endeavor” is a misnomer, for at its core mercy ministry is a heart ministry. It is ministry which must begin behind the closed doors of the prayer closet, alone in worship and soul-wrenching confession; alone, for only the one who has personally met with God Himself is able to partake of it. He alone, convinced of his own sin, knowing the depths of his own depravity, and the far greater reach of a Sovereign love, is able to see the needs of others along the way. He alone can feel the weight of compassion and he alone is able ultimately to take on the posture of a servant—to kneel unbidden at the feet of the forgotten—and gratefully minister the oil and the wine.

Jesus quietly bids His disciples, “Go and do the same” (Luke 10:37).


[1] Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road, 2nd ed. (New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1997), 11.

[2] Miller, “The Smart Shepherd – Newsweek.”

[3] Ibid., p. 45.

[4]Ibid., p. 212.

[5]Ibid., p. 26.

[6] Ibid., p. 172.

[7] Ibid., p. 131.

[8]Ibid., p. 112.

[9]Ibid., p. 112.

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