The Gospel and Social Justice
The notion that social justice is a distinct action that is not part of the Gospel is a failure to understand the good news of Christ. When Jesus Himself proclaimed the Gospel, he quoted from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). When he promised his final return, he said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5). While the Gospel certainly includes dealing with sin and the hope of life eternal, it also includes the destruction of death (see 1 Corinthians 15:26), removing the curse from creation (Romans 8:20-21), and the ushering in of shalom and true justice (Isaiah 11).
Missiologist Samuel Escobar can say on the basis of Scripture, “The records reveal that compassion for the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed has been a distinctive mark of Christian character, modeled by Jesus himself, while also revealing the effect of the Gospel on social structures: bringing help to the victims of social injustice but also challenging and sometimes transforming the evil structural roots of social injustice.” Michael Goheen rightly criticizes any attempt to separate these various components of the Gospel from the mission of the church an “emaciated Gospel.”
Lesslie Newbigin points out that Christ’s teaching often followed his miraculous works and served to clarify them, which provides a helpful corrective to the valid concern of conservative Christians that deeds of social justice will replace the necessary proclamation of the Gospel verbally: “There is a call for radical decision, for repentance and faith. The healings by themselves, uninterpreted, do not make such a demand. They should be fitted into the existing order….Healings, even the most wonderful, do not call this present world radically into question; the Gospel does, and this has to be made explicit.” Any attempt to truncate the Gospel of its acts of justice or of its verbal call for repentance and faith must be rejected. The mission of the Church is to embrace the Gospel in its totality and serve as its witness.