Social Gospel v.s Gospel Justice

There has been much debate today about the church’s resurgence to serving the poor. Good and Bad. Some believe it to be a strategic attack against consumerism, some a potentially dangerous return to historical social gospel, some a superficial attempt by the church to follow Hollywood and remain socially relevant, and others to be an honest attempt to respond to the biblical invitation to “Pure Religion”.

I’ve heard some describe today’s movement as “Gospel Justice”, a seemingly intentional attempt to contrast with yesteryear’s “Social Gospel”.

I’d love your thoughts. Why is this happening? Is it a good thing? What are you seeing in your community? In your church? Impact? Fears? Theological ramifications? Gospel implications? What are you doing… and why?

Ready go…


About Brandon Hatmaker

Church Planter, Missional Strategist, Non-Profit Collaborator, and Author of "Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture". View all posts by Brandon Hatmaker

8 responses to “Social Gospel v.s Gospel Justice

  • Marlow

    I think “Gospel Justice” is deeply rooted in the story of Jesus and how and why He pursed issues of justice. The knock on the social justice movement, was/is the lack of Jesus focused, cross-centered living. Maybe, that was implied? Because of that, folks split evangelism and justice into two camps, which I say is impossible when you read scripture and follow the story of Jesus. He was and is about both, therefore, His people should also be about both!

  • kevin

    Good stuff. I think it is probably a combination of all of those things. Weaksauce answer, I know. For me, it has been this realization of what it really means to be like Jesus. Feeling the emptiness of chasing a corporate dream. Finding life in conversations with homeless men. Realizing I am more like the poverty stricken than the “successfull.” It comes from being fed up with what church has looked like for me for most of my life (which I’m convinced every generation has said at some point in time). On a bigger level I think it is The Church trying to get back to its roots. In America, Christians have a pretty bad reputation right now. We walk, talk, smell and act like everybody around us. People are drawn to those that walk, talk, smell and act like Jesus. That, to me, looks like serving the poor, the widow and the orphan. Kind of a long-winded answer but it boils down to me wanting to be more like Jesus. I think he would fight for the marginalized. Not because it’s sexy (and let’s be honest, it’s far from it), but because he wanted them to know Love.

  • Brandon

    I think I like this: Three assertions from Chester/Timmis in “Total Church”

    1. Evangelism and social action are distinct activities.
    2. Proclamation is central.
    3. Evangelism and social action are inseparable.

  • Pamelagrace

    just wanted to say that your forum question requires WAY more of an answer than I can give right now…but I’ll come back!!! I will say though, that I’m not comprehending a “____Gospel”… or a “Gospel _____”. It’s all composed into ONE deal!

    As a society, we tend to get really polarized and we don’t do so well of approaching things holistically. I’m glad it’s being recognized as a different part of the Body but I hope we don’t play the see-saw game and think that “Social Gospel” is any less essential.


  • Jennifer

    When I was pregnant with malaria I learned an awful lot about God. For one thing, I learned that all my life I had naively been worshiping an American God of Abundance. After seeing all the statistics on malaria, I jumped into action. So I was dumbfounded when a friend told me during one of my fundraisers for bednets, “Well, I guess this is kind of ‘missions.’ If they live another day then they’ll have another chance to hear the gospel.” Until that comment, it had never occurred to me that I was doing anything BUT sharing the gospel. The whole reason I’m passionate about fighting malaria is because it breaks the heart of my precious Savior!
    I had a similar “hmmm” moment when I started leading medical mission teams to Honduras (to the same village where I had contracted malaria) and there was a bit of a tension when the VBS team conveyed that they were sharing the gospel and the medical team was not. Seriously?
    It has certainly caused me to challenge my own views, to be intentional about sharing the gospel with my words and not neglect sharing it with my hands and feet (and money). I think it really just saddens me that there are even two camps on this. There is so much about the gospel that is “both/and” and very little that is “either/or.” I want to be a part of this conversation, though, because I have a lot to learn.

  • Missy @ It's Almost Naptime

    I have been pondering this all myself.

    For as long as I have been in the church I have noticed certain trends ~ from “community groups” to an extreme interest in eschatology, to rethinking justification, to even a book of the Bible becoming trendy (eg several years ago it was Daniel; currently it is Ruth.) So in the past couple of years the “trend” has been Gospel Justice, a phrase I have not heard before but I like.

    Yeah, so, I think it is a trend. But that’s okay. Because certain trends stick. For instance, several years ago – post our parents’ generation – it became trendy to actually read your bible. Still sticking. Sometimes a trend is so good and life changing that evolves into a standard.

    I honestly feel like this trend-to-standard to actually care about the poor is happening in the Church today, and I am so excited about it I can’t hardly stand it.

    Cause this is way cooler than a Left Behind video game (well, if there is anything is cooler than that.)

  • Brad Melton


    Thank-you for this post! I’ve been wrestling with these thoughts for a year or so now and your words prompted me to get them down in writing…

    What would Jesus think (WWJT as opposed to WWJD) about how we so often attempt to love on Him?

    What would the Son of God, whose entire purpose in visiting earth was to provide us the way and show us the way back to life with Father Abba, think about how we spend so much of our limited time either ignoring Him or gushing on Him instead of doing what He told us to do? (Matthew 22:37-39, Matthew 25:34-36, James 1:27)

    I mean, how would you feel if you were sent on a mission to redeem your beloved “others” and so many of your redeemed wanted to spend their time ignoring or praising you rather than sharing you with the rest of your beloveds?

    Was not His entire earthbound ministry about pointing us to and offering us restoration to The Father? (John 3:16) I sometimes picture Jesus pointing His index finger to Heaven and thinking, “It’s not about me! I exist to bring you back to Pappa! I appreciate and adore your adoration but please honor me best by listening to what I tell you, believing it, and doing it! Then we get to be with each other forever!” Then, He uses His other index finger to thump me in the forehead as if to say, “Is anybody in there? Are you listening to me, Melton?!!!”

    Seems like we’d do well to learn from Isaiah’s relation of God’s rebuke to Judah about their “meaningless” prais’n and hand rais’n. (Isaiah 1:10-15) Maybe instead we should spend more of our brief earthly existence doing what He told them to do in verses 16-17:

    “wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”

    I also wonder WWJS (What would Jesus say) to us today. Might it be something like:

    “Please take the fish off the back of your car and use that vehicle I blessed you with to drive hot meals to my hungry children.”

    “Please lower your raised hands. Instead, go use them to hold my lonely children without fathers and mothers.”

    “For you who I’ve given so much, please share with the widow who has lost so much.”

    “See all that food in your cupboard, cold drink in your fridge, clothes in your closet, medicine in your vanity, and time on your hands? How about sharing it with your neighbors?”

    “Stop fighting to protect your rights and work hard, damn hard, to seek justice for those with little hope of getting any.”

    “Oh, another thing, hear that knock on your door? Guess what, that’s not some random stranger. That’s me. Please let me in! It’s lonely out here without you!”

    “And maybe tomorrow why not drop by the local jail you pass on your way to and from the office? All those dirty, strung out, misbehaving, repeat offending, throw away degenerates behind the bars? You guessed it, that’s me too!”

    “Ain’t it cool! It’s like I’m everywhere! All you gotta do to find me is to stop what you’re doing, look, and engage. It’s the surest way to be with me this side of Heaven!”

    “Sorry if I overwhelmed you with my words. Let me sum it up of you. It’s like I told my brash young Peter. (You can read about it in my beloved John’s book in chapter 21, verses 15-17.) If you really want to show your love for me please stop giving me lip service and just get up off your blessed assurance and take care of my peeps. Ok, I said ‘sheep’ but you get my point.”

    “And, after you do all this for me, feel free to tell me (the widow, the orphan, the lonely, the naked, the thirsty, the hungry, the stranger, the oppressed, the justice lacking prisoner, the sick, your neighbor, the lambs, the sheep, the sinner) why you just loved on me. Then you will not have denied me. You will have believed me, accepted me, and shared me with my beloveds. Well done, good and faithful servant! Now you can enter into my courts with praise!”

    “For you who claim me and believe that I Am the One and Only Still-Living Son of the One and Only True God, you will have eternity to cast your crowns and sing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy!’ However, once your time in this world is complete, you will have zero opportunity to glorify me by serving each other on earth. And, whether you do this during your brief time down here will determine whether and how you will spend eternity with me.” (Matthew 25:14-30)

    “So get busy doing all that so-called ‘Social Gospel’ and ‘Gospel Justice’ stuff. They go together, you know. In fact, one cannot exist without the other. You could even say, ‘one completes the other.’ For it is your actions that reveal whether you believed in me.” (James 2:14-26)

    “Love ya, Peter. I mean, Melton. Do ya love me?”

  • Zach Hoag

    Gospel Justice is good. But gospel is better. If Jesus didn’t qualify it in Luke 4, we shouldn’t either.

    That said, I understand Brandon’s invocation of Chester/Timmis above. There are situations in which a distinction has to be made between views that dismiss or devalue the proclaimed gospel and ones that don’t. However, my main thought these days is that there is a problem on the other side of the fence – with dismissing and devaluing the gospel deed of justice and compassion. Many, especially those within newer Reformed camps, say that justice is DEFINITELY less important than proclamation. Still important – but less.

    I think what we see in Jesus is literally the absence of dichotomy. I actually think this is what we see in Paul, too, with all his emphasis on the creation of a new society where there is no Jew or Greek or slave or free. The point is that proclamation and deed are supposed to live together in the same body, or Body, all the time, every day, until the two are inseparable and to do is to proclaim and to proclaim is to do.

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