Is the Gospel at Odds with Social Justice?

A recent report from Mission Network News focused on the Urbana ’09 conference, which wrapped up last week. The article contains a few blurbs from Jim Tebbe, the Urbana director, on their approach to social justice during this conference:

The question is, are Christians focused more on these issues — helping the victims emotionally and physically — rather than sharing the Gospel? Director of Urbana 09, Jim Tebbe, says, “There is a high consciousness of issues of justice and what Jesus has to say about this. How do we as Christians live this out? That is really important. We will be emphasizing evangelism and reaching out with the proclamation of the Gospel at the same time, just as strongly how we as Christians live that out.”
“Students respond to social justice issues and move from that to hearing the Gospel, rather than hearing the Gospel and moving to social justice.”

Tebbe says as young people get involved in these issues, they begin asking questions of those their serving, such as, “What does Jesus say about that? Would you like to know more about this Jesus who speaks to this? Let me introduce you to him.”

Read the whole article, Social Justice vs Gospel – Is it a battle at Urbana, over at MMN.

College students are acutely concerned with social justice issues, even to the extent that Tebbe says that students respond to social justice first then to the Gospel. It seems almost contrary to what I remember learning about how to do evangelism growing up in church (convert and then find a way to serve through the Church).

How would you respond to Tebbe’s quotation that “Students respond to social justice issues and move from that to hearing the Gospel”? Any other thoughts on social justice and Christianity?

Here’s a listing of all the MNN’s reports on Urbana.

12 Responses to “Is the Gospel at Odds with Social Justice?”

  • I think our culture has changed so much that new methods are needed to reach those for Christ. Just as God cannot be put in a box so too do methodologies need to be assessed on a regular basis. Jesus, while on earth, employed all tactics but in essence met people right where they were using methods that would be most understandable and appealing. I do not see anything wrong with this method even though it goes against tradition; tradition in fact can be a hinderance to the flow of the Spirit working in people’s lives. Let’s not focus so much on the “how to’s” but on the results in people’s lives. The Pharasitical attitude looked more at the letter of the law and was more of a stumbling block than a blessing.

    • paul says:

      Hi new found new found friend Valerie! God is good to us and we all need his peace and grace in our lives. The Bible speaks against tradition and your right that we need to focus more on what comes out of the lives of people not how to talk to them. Jesus was a one on one kind of person but many feel scaired to be cloose to anyone, so we shold use the computer or papers or the news, what ever is there to be used we should use. read more at my wedsite ok? I am a missionary to Peru’ and have a church here in Dothan Alabama called “La Casa de Dios” if your ever here please visit me! God bless and cuidate si!?

      • I pray dear brother in Christ that you will be used strongly as you submit to whatever methods He employs in ministry. God too has a sense of humor and if you avail yourself just totally to Him you will see Him work in ways you never dreamed. May all you do this year bear great fruit.

  • Anthony Snedker says:

    Valerie, you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head! Tradition, as far as the spiritual goes, is usually totally stifling: “we use this Order of Service because that’s the way we’ve always done it”! I’ve believed, and have been saying for a long time now that Christianity is neither a religion nor a denomination: it IS a life-style, and the sooner we realize that, and act accordingly, the sooner we’ll start having much greater success with the Great Commission.

  • paul says:

    Gods word stands as it is, the problem is in the home were it all begins. We put music and the TV in front of our children and let them learn from the world. But the word says train up your child in the word of the Lord so when he is older he will not depart from it. And when we don’t depart from the law of God(the word) we are better people indeed and in love. This world is at lose and we are the virus that plages it. The cure? Jesus and his salvation. Acts 4:12, Acts 2:38, Acts 8:16, Acts 10:48, Acts 19:1-6, Acts 22:16. 1John 2:12, Luke 24:47, Mark 16:16, John 7:38 All of these are the DEATH, BURIAL, and the RESSURECTION the salvation plan of Jesus. Look here to see who is God.. John 1:1-14 1:1 and 1:14 is God 1Tim.3:16 who is it? “GOD” John 8:24-27 Jesus says I am God and if you do not believe this you will die in your sins. I pray that you all learn this and believe and recieve the Holy Ghost for real and be baptized in Jesus name not in the titles. Acts 22:16

  • Carlos says:

    Valerie and Anthony: I perceive that you all are calling something a “tradition” when in fact it is God’s Word. Please be careful in what you call tradition. Jesus in fact came proclaiming the gospel saying, “…repent and believe in the gospel.”(Mark 1:15). What good is it if we feed the hungry and clothe the naked and poor if we proclaim not the Gospel of the Grace of God? Jesus and His Disciples were all about proclaiming the gospel. I’m not saying Social Justice is not to be done, it’s good to do these things only as avenues through which we boldly share the gospel. What good is it to a hungry lost person if we feed their stomach if we offer not the Bread of Life? What good is it to offer a thirsty lost person natural water if we offer not the Living Water? They will only be lost people who’s stomach was filled and who’s physical thirst was quenched, but they will still continue to be lost and without hope of redemption. Paul made the proclamation of the gospel the center of his ministry(Acts 20:24). And Paul told the reader to imitate him as he imitates Christ(1 Corinth. 11:1)…The only reason Christ came into the world was to save sinners, not through social justice but through become a propitiation for sinner’s. We must not try and change what God has commanded in His Word. Remember what happened to Uzzah(1 Chronicles 13:1-13) because they had made a “new cart” to take the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, but they did not heed the Word of the LORD that said they must carry the Ark in a certain way, on their shoulders. and so when the “new cart” hit a rock, it almost fell off so Uzzah touched the Ark and dropped dead…We might have good intentions of bringing the knowledge of Christ to the lost, but only what has been commanded and commissioned by Christ is a valid method, and He has chosen the “foolishness of preaching” the proclamation of the gospel” as a means to save lost souls.

    • Carlos,
      I believe the Word is a vital avenue in reaching the lost but today we live in a world of broken people that trust no one and therefore need to see the love displayed without strings attached before they will lend an ear to anything we have to say. I will never discount the Word but with all the abuses suffered today people have shut their heart and mind to what we say and want to see unconditional love. Some indeed are ready for a Word but we need to sensitize ourselves and get the Lord directive as to how to approach those He knows best. Should we pray daily for our methods to be used? I firmly believe we should ask for direction for when we get insight with His help it leads to fruitful results.

  • I think the core question is to – what is the Gospel? Is it God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ so that all sins are forgiven and in response to His compassion for you, you move towards social justice(Protestant) or is it Jesus Christ initially moving you so that you may experience God’s grace as long as you stay within the doctrines of the church, such as participating in social justice(Catholic)? See, two people can be participating in socials justice, both believe they are motivated by the Gospel, but have very different views on why the Gospel motivates them. The ironic thing is that claims it can be both. Please check out my e-mail correspondence with on my website.

    • Chris says:

      @Tod can you explain those two views you present on the gospel a bit more?

      • The best distinction between the Protestant and Catholic Gospel that I have found is a Catholic blog It describes the differences between the key doctrinal terms of grace, redemption, justification, and sanctification. Very concisely of what I was trying to describe earlier, a Protestant views God’s grace in the sacrifice of Christ as sufficient for one’s justification before God. The Catholic views God’s grace in the sacrifice of Christ for setting the Catholic in motion so that he now can do God’s work and if staying within the parameters of the Catholic church, experience God’s justification. The Protestant moves in his world as a regenerated, new creation motivated by the compassion of the Gospel, while the Catholic, ultimately, moves through his world unregenerate, but with new knowledge and in conformance of the Catholic church. My chief frustration is that has carefully worded their statement of faith to encompass both Gospels. Perhaps they should change their name to

        • Hi Tod,

          But since that does not actually impact salvation, it’s not an issue. As I stated – 1-6 are our salvation issues and the RC agrees with those. #7 is our own preference, and not something that all churches or denominations must subscribe to. Again, thanks for your comments.


          On Apr 30, 2008, at 9:21 PM, Tod Zechiel wrote: >

          Mr. Atkinson: The Roman Catholic Church fails point number seven on your statement of faith. Pope Benedick VXI has recently affirmed that Vatican II states that there is no salvation for those outside of the Roman Catholic Church. Not much unity with this statement, is there?

          In Christ,

          Tod Zechiel

          Brian Atkinson wrote:

          Dear Tod, Thank you for your thoughts and I appreciate that you feel comfortable to share them with us. Gospel Communications is a non-denominational entity whose mission is to preach the Gospel, world-wide, using media. That media includes a variety of film and internet projects, including our internet ministry alliance community. Members of that community subscribe to a statement of faith and the Navigators affirms that with each contract, every two years.

          Our Statement of Faith

          1. We believe the Bible to be the inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God.

          2. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

          3. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.

          4. We believe that regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential for the salvation of lost and sinful people.

          5. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, by Whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live the Godly life.

          6. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost – those who are saved to the resurrection of life, and those who are lost to the resurrection of condemnation.

          7. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in Christ and the evidence of that unity being shown by how we love one another.

          Since Roman Catholicism does not conflict with our statement of faith, protestants and catholics can gather around the things that we share, rather than the ways that we are different. As it says in our 7th point above, “the evidence of that unity being shown by how we love one another” we will not exclude a denomination simply because of a preference. However if there were a problem with a salvation issue as expressed in the Statement of Faith, points 1-6, that would be a different matter altogether. Thanks again for your time and your thoughts.


  • aaron says:

    We are called to help people. How can you say you love your brother whenyou dont help him when he is in need? pure and undefiled religion is to help the orphans and widows (james 1:27). That ho we are to live ourlives, in svice to one another. But… Is that the primary thing Christ called us to do or what is somethin else? Because the scripture is the final authority, not society, not culture, not media, not tradition; where then is the biblcal emphasis put? No where in scripture does it ever say that in order to effectively preach the message, you have to have fixed their problems or healed their suffering. Tha last cmmandement of our risen Lord was not to go out and heal the problems of the world. It was to go out and preach the gospel. Jesus said, the poor you will ALWAYS have with you. The idea that they will be more likely to have faith in Christ if we fix their problems is not biblical.
    This comes down to an issue of what you believe is the natural state of of the human heart? Can a man choose God of his own? Is there something that could happen through acts of kindness twoard an individual that can change him from being spiritually dead (Ephesians 2) give him life and make him a follower of Christ? No. The only thing that can give life to a spiritally dead person is if the holy spirit makes Him alive. Faith come through HEARING and hearing by the acts of kindness?? No. By the word of God! Ephesians 2 says that you HE made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins… and were by nature a child of Wrath. It is nothing but the sheer grace of God through the hearing of the gospel that brings people of of their sin, into faith in Christ. So we must preach that message as primary, and we must live how Christ has called us to live!