Social Justice AND Evangelism

How do we live what we believe?  If we have a Christian Worldview, believe in God, love him with all our hearts, souls, mind and might and we love our neighbor as our self, how do we conduct ourselves in today’s world? How do we transfer our worldview into our Christian ethic, our Christian behavior?

This is really at the soul of the social justice vs. evangelism debate.  Those Christians who are dedicated to social justice say that Christianity without social work is hollow and appears as all talk, while proponents of evangelism talk about sharing the hope of the gospel because it is the good news that brings the Holy Spirit’s transformative power and redemption.  But the debate is misinformed and faulty in its construction because the teaching of Jesus is not social justice vs. evangelism, it is not either/or, but it is both/and,  social justice AND evangelism.

Simply defined, speaking about Christ, the sacrifice of his life for our sin and salvations through faith by grace is evangelism.  The acceptance of Jesus as making his sacrifice for us and the realization that our sin brought the necessity of his sacrifice brings us to repentance and that brings us to reconciliation with God.  And how does someone understand this and receive Christ unless they are told?  “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”  Romans 10:14 ESV. 

But James also makes clear that Christianity is more than words.  “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?’”2:16, 17.  He goes on to say that faith without works is dead. 

Therefore, faith carries action or it is not true faith.  James is advocating for social justice.  Giving someone clothes to wear or food when they are lacking is what is meant by the Christian view of social justice. 

Wrong Definitions

While Mary Danielsen, author of an 18 page Christian tract against the social justice gospel, says that no Christian would deny feeding the poor, she wrongly defines the Christian idea of social justice by using a government definition from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.  That definition states that social justice is “The equitable distribution of advantages, assets, and benefits among all members of a society.” [1]  She continues to tie this definition to a political view stating that this is also the definition for socialism. [2] 

Christian social justice is not a political party; it is neither a democrat platform nor a republican value.  It is how we as Christians act in society, how we live Christ before the world that is watching.  Christian social justice is not associated with socialism or any other political party line. 

The biblical importance of social justice

In his book, “Jesus For Revolutionaries,” Robert Chao Romero says that there are over 2,000 verses that address social justice ranging from feeding the poor and taking care of the widow and the orphan to how we treat the immigrant and how we do justice.  Micah says, “He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” 6:8 ESV.  Isaiah  goes further in defining from a biblical perspective what is meant by social justice.  “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”  1:17.  This is a pro-active command to correct oppression.

Martin Luther King, Jr. marched in protest against oppression against blacks.  He equated his efforts with “doing” justice and correcting oppression.  In his famous “I have a dream” speech he said, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain will be made low.  The rough places will be made plain and the crooked places will be made straight.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.  This is our hope.” [3] 

How is the glory of the Lord revealed if Christians are racists?  If blacks felt that whites were discriminating against them, how would they be able to hear a message of love from white Christians?  If you don’t think our Christian actions and inactions in social justice effect the presentation of the gospel, ask the Native American.   The Zuni village museum in New Mexico contains artwork of the Spanish monks that tortured and killed the Zuni “in the name of the Lord.”  Can this be why many Zuni keep an ancient animistic religion and still refuse Christianity and its God? 

Standing against racism, prejudice and oppression is not a political platform, it is a Christian ethic.  This is not a political platform, this is a Christian ethic.  Isaiah 58:6, 7 says, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your breach with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” ESV.

World Vision is a Christian organization whose aim is to help hungry children throughout the world.  Compassion International is another organization that through Christ and the love of God exhibited through Christian donation is able to reach orphans and feed the hungry.  They are organizations of “social justice” for Christ.  Should we do less?

James says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” 1:27 ESV

While many well intentioned good hearted pastors and scholars say they are “burdened” and “concerned” that social justice is “replacing” the gospel, I have a different concern.  It is that the gospel is not being preached in our actions, that our religion is not pure and that our faith, as James said in 2:17, is dead.

As a missionary to the Aymara people of Bolivia, I have led teams of doctors and nurses to remote villages without medical care.  This is a “social” project that opened doors to villages that are animistic and worship “mother earth.”  Upon our demonstration of love and our proclamation that it is because of the love of Jesus that we were there, many began to ask more about him.   Using this model, we have seen many converted to followers of Christ.

The Real Concern

The real concern is not social justice vs. evangelism, not social justice or evangelism, the concern is when one is emphasized over and apart from the other.  Biblically, they go together.

Are there concerns?  Absolutely.  As with anything, when it becomes extreme, when one part of a gospel is emphasized over another, it is out of balance with the word of God in its entirety.

Next Monday, in our next article we will visit the dangers of the extreme social gospel.

[1] citing

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Sustainability Planning Guide:




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