Friday, November 13, 2009

social justice and the gospel

There is a huge interest in social justice these days. This is among both the so-called “secular” and among numerous young Christians who long to see social transformation through activism but do not see any churches doing it. The Bay Area in particular has a long history of activism and fighting against discrimination. This is a large concern because what is the nature of true social transformation? What are the connections between the gospel’s individual call to repentance and transformation of a community? There are many young Christians today disenchanted with the church and the mission of God. I spoke with one young man this week who saw his “church” as those whom he was trying to empower and organize to effect change in their community. No joke, he actually used the word “community organizer.” Additionally, as I work with other pastors I fear that some are trying to respond to poverty through humanitarian motives and not truly Christian ones.

This brings up the issue of the connection between social justice and the gospel. What is the difference between a philanthropist and a Christian activist? This must be addressed theologically. It is one of the reasons why I have taken up reading Augustine’s City of God because I believe until Jesus returns there are two trajectories, the kingdom of God through the church and the kingdom of the world. The answer to the question is One loves Jesus and is motivated and rooted in Him. The other loves man, and is motivated and rooted in that no human being should live in such a way. One’s Jesus died on the cross. The other’s Jesus is themselves. They serve as the judge for what a human being should live like. The one who loves Jesus is united with him and his church. They cannot achieve any real transformation without being connected to the Head and the support of the various gifts of the body. The other will seeks to organize all humanity together, in mutual cooperation not unlike in the construction of the tower of Babel. They desire to ascend to the heavens that they may be like God rather than live in submission and by sustained by Him

We should not however resign to merely a individualistic gospel that assumes individual transformation will by default lead to social transformation. Unfortunately, this has led in part to individual piety. One’s faith is a private one. It is just between “me and Jesus” and if that relationship is maintained everything else will take care of itself. God was not passive when seeing our situation, but He was active sending His Son to carry out justice on the world through Him. Jesus endured the wrath of God on sin, and through Him social transformation is possible. Through Him ALL things will be reconciled to God. But it is only through Him and his instrument is the church which ought to reflect the reign of Jesus over us individually and corporately. Because of Jesus, we are moved to be active in the world in the name of Jesus, for the promotion of Jesus, for the expansion of the kingdom. The kingdom of God has not come apart from Jesus and apart from the church over which he is the head. There is no social transformation apart from a body of believers who loves Jesus, loves their neighbor and weeps over their city. Furthermore, we must understand the age in which we live. We must not buy into an over-realized eschatology and think complete restoration is possible. There will be no complete restoration of all things until Jesus returns. The City of God and the City of the World are caught in a constant conflict for the people of this age, until the one true King returns to bring his City to completion and removes the false city for all eternity.


  1. Excellent thoughts, Chris! I've been mulling over this very topic for a few weeks, also, since we spent a couple weeks discussing human trafficking on Sunday evenings. Your emphasis that social justice comes through Christ by means of his church sounds good to me theologically, but how do you see that working out? Can you flesh out how the redeemed should live out the gospel with respect to systemic or social injustices?

  2. I though I posted a response to your comment Paul but it didn't go through. Perhaps it is best since I have had more time and circumstances to reflect on this.

    The struggle I have is to what extent does the church work with other organizations to enact social change. Obviously, para-church ministries can be partnered with, the weakness is they are para-church and often work apart from the church. Missionally, Christians should be involved in what is going on in the city and argue for gospel centered ministry principles. That is the hard part. I have become a part of a group of churches downtown trying to work together to provide temporary shelters for the homeless in the winter months. Some are more about social justice than the gospel. The "social gospel" of hundred years ago is alive and well in them. Do we work with them or not? It is confusing to attempt to not utterly separate "gospel" and "social justice" when you work with some who functionally do separate them. I have encouraged participation with a faith-based organization that is not overtly Christian but emphasized that in working with others we stress our reasons and witness.

    In our service we proclaim the gospel. This is what the apostles did in Acts. They did not heal the sick and then say, "Have a good life now." They said, "God has healed you by his Son Jesus Christ." They gave a theologically interpretation to those whom they helped. When secular organizations or government organizations serve they are proclaiming the government saved them, Red Cross saved them, good citizens saved them, but not Jesus. We have to be clear that it was Jesus who saved you by sending his people, his church, to carry out his mission. One of our guiding principles at City Church is to proclaim the Gospel Message while we live out the Gospel Mission. The two must be done together.