Do Social Justice Activities Detract From the Gospel?

Activities that fall into the category of “social justice” (like fighting poverty, digging wells for clean water, and working in inner city communities) are becoming popular in many of our churches and Christian circles today. But do you assume that social justice and the Gospel go hand-in-hand? I’ve appreciated the most recent set of blogs on Rising Voice where Jenny Abel gives us some thought-provoking considerations as we endeavor to live out our faith in ways that are true to the Gospel and tangible in their expression of God’s love.

For starters, Jenny suggests we need to consider carefully what priority we’re placing on social justice and the Gospel:

“At the same time that strong anti-Christian forces are seeking to silence the Christian message in the public sphere, many churches and Christians (perhaps as a result of the public pressure and desire to steer clear of controversy) are shying away from direct, ‘with words’ evangelism—and putting more emphasis on the same kinds of problems gaining greater attention from the world at large. Within churches, this shift may be blatant and formal—perhaps making its way into a church’s statement of faith—or more subtle and vague (e.g., sermons may gradually contain less talk about more absolute terms like sin, death, repentance, and salvation, and more talk of God’s love, neighborly love, and God’s plan for human flourishing and the ‘renewal of all things’; one particular organization speaks of having a ‘faithful presence,’ which they believe is a ‘fuller reflection of the integrity’ of the Great Commission and cultural mandate—’a more effective model of Christian engagement’).

“Now most of this sounds really good (new, innovative ideas tend to have that sort of luster); and much of it does have a biblical basis. The problem is one of emphasis and motivation—and of what is being left undone as a result. God’s work in the world and our lives does entail more than saving us from death and sin; it isn’t enough to only win converts—we must also grow in grace and ‘work out’ our salvation on a practical level, bringing light into darkness.

“But the question is not whether we have a full picture of God’s dealings with His creation, and whether we should take part in acts that further His purposes. Of course we should! The question we’re wrestling with is this: What is the primary role of the Church in the world?”

So I’d ask you to consider: Is there a difference between the Christian activities you participate in through your church and those of a local do-good organization (think United Way or March of Dimes)? Does there need to be a distinction?

I think there is a very clear danger (as Jenny posits here) in Christians (whether as individuals, churches or community groups) of getting so caught up in preaching the good of humanitarian efforts that we forget that those things do not lead to salvation — which should be our ultimate identity and goal.

Still not convinced that we need to think carefully about our mission when it comes to social justice activities? I encourage you to read the rest of the blogs in this Rising Voice series