Social Justice and the Individualistic Gospel

David Fitch, in an excellent post at Christianity Today’s Out of Ur blog, offers some insights into why we relegate social justice to merely a “program in the church.”

“When we pastors think about leading God’s justice in the church, our first inclination is to organize a ministry. It could be a soup kitchen or an outreach event to the poor "down in the city". Sometimes we will find ways to become active in policy making on the local or national governmental level. We are tempted to make justice into another program of the church.”

The reason for this? It’s because we are so entrenched in an individualistic gospel. When the good news is reduced to just me and my personal relationship with God, then any actions to right injustices are seen as add-ons to that which is truly important. “Sure,” the thinking goes, “we can help the poor, but only as long as we help them each know Jesus as their personal savior.” Social Justice is a second-tier thing, while personal conversion is that which is of top priority.

Fitch says,

“Imagine what it would be like in our churches if there were no such division. If we were not invited to go forward as individuals to receive a packaged salvation from God that gets us out of hell, but instead came forward to become part of what God is doing in the world through Jesus Christ—the reconciliation of all men and women with Himself, each other and all of creation (2 Cor 5:19), which BTW inextricably must still include my own personal reconciliation/relationship with God.”

He concludes by saying,

“If we are to resist the urge to make justice into another church program, then we must overturn this split between the personal and the social. We must go from preaching ‘accept Christ as your personal savior’ to ‘you are invited to enter a relationship with God through Christ that changes everything’. We must go from being justified, to being justice-ified. Justice should no longer be something we do, but who we are.”

In the full text of his post, he discusses how rethinking atonement and justification by faith can cure this dis-integrated gospel understanding.

Check it out: Justice-ified by Faith: Preventing social justice from becoming just another program in the church.

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Dan Turis said...

Amen Bro...
I believe that this extends to other areas instead of Justice.
Christian education? lets start a group.
Evangelism? lets start a comity.
Loving others? lets create a policy. (the last one was facetious)
In history i guess i can see the necessity of this but not now.
Its just too unrealistic.
This is why i point to our lack of a body to programitize things that were natural in the Bible. My main point is Discipleship. Like Tony Jones said where is the model of seminary modeled in the Bible? We sit you down and teach you what should be modeled in life. Also our definition of discipleship is so watered down, and pal mal that when i say the word they picture something else. It would be like if i said chicken to someone and they think a cow. I think the bar of what is expected from an active Christian needs to be higher. thusly this business of program would be fazed out. Because when someone thinks of justice they know it internally and will respond not because a committee tells them how but because they are so intertwined with the Spirit that Christ like actions will be second nature.

Nate W said...


This is something that has become so repetitive and obvious to me as I have been surrounded by many within the CCO and the emerging church. Yet, as cliche as it has become to me, I still find myself part of a worldwide community (the Church) that has turned a deaf ear to the notion that the bride of Christ is actually called to join God in putting the world to rights (as NT would say), not just "save souls" for Heaven once we die.

My wife and I are now in Long Beach, California, and it already is evident to us that the culture here is totally turned off to organized religion (aka church), but oddly enough in search of a spirituality that unites humanity and seeks justice for all. Now, praxis is often another story. But for the most part, the desire is there.

I believe in some cases, the institutional church is in need of being evangelized by the culture. This may be a stretch, but I think you understand what I am getting at.

Anyways, good post. Pray for us as we are seeking to be a light in the context of this city for the sake of the Kingdom come!


Bob Robinson said...

Let's raise the bar! The problem is that our Christian faith demands too little of us (believe and be assured of heaven) instead of what it should (believe and transform the world through the power of Christ).

Bob Robinson said...

Wow. I like that phrase: "the institutional church is in need of being evangelized by the culture." I certainly know what you mean. There is a deep desire in people to make this world a better place. But all the "programs" of the world are anemic and powerless. They look to the church, and find our "programs" to be just as anemic and powerless.

Let's understand and live the holistic gospel and see what God can do with this world!

Dan Turis said...

Yep... Justification starts now. You are not justified for "the great white throne judgment" I think what Lehay calls it. You are justified now and so it requires to live as if you are justified now (I am reading Barth's Romans).
I think the area in which we develop this is the area of discipleship. I don't buy it is only on community but the personal relationship between Paul and Timothy, or Jesus and John or Peter or James and through me and the person who wants to grow.
Man what a good article though Bob and the other Blog has some good discussion with it.