Gospel and Justice

I'm reading a lot these days in the area of external focus, social justice, and the mission of the Church. A lot of what is being written is incredible stuff, and it's neat to see my generation attempting to help put our hands and feet where our mouth is when it comes to issues of faith. That isn't a tension the Church has held well in the past and I'm optimistic that my generation could do better. Unfortunately, I'm also worried that we'll simply swing the pendulum back to another side.

A lot of what I'm reading today talks about social justice as a part of the "Gospel." Richard Stearns' book "Hole in Our Gospel" is a popular example. Writers warn about "bifurcating the Gospel;" that is, dividing the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) from the Gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). The Gospel of the Kingdom is the "good news" of the promised kingdom in which Jesus will reign in righteousness and justice and the creation will be restored to what God intended it to be: justice will be served, the poor won't be poor, violence will be no longer, etc... The Gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection is that because of Jesus' death on the cross you can be reconciled to God personally.

Stearns (and many, many others) argue that you can't separate the two. The Good News of Jesus' death and resurrection is inseparable from the Good News that Jesus is King and the world (through you) should reflect that. This leads to the conclusion (or at least implication) that if a person is not tangibly reflecting the Kingdom, they aren't trusting the Gospel and aren't going to heaven.

However, we have to be very, very, very careful that we don't just assume when the Bible says "gospel" it's always talking about the same good news. The word doesn't seem to be that specialized.

Plus, some degree of "bifurcation" is necessary. The message of the Kingdom is not good news until after you've trusted the message of Jesus' death and resurrection on your behalf. In fact, the news that the King of the Universe is going to rule on David's throne and judge in perfect righteousness and justice is terrible news if you are on the wrong side of justice. If you're a traitor, the message of the Kingdom is the worst possible news you could receive.

Until you're rightly related to God, the message of the Kingdom isn't "good news" at all. Once you've believed the Gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection, the message of the Kingdom is great news. But they're different messages we can't afford to get scrambled.


B and K said...

Yes. We need to be very nuanced in our language here. One additional thought is that the proclamation of the systems of this world NOT having power anymore is good news regardless of whether you trust in the one who won that victory. But, yes, your point is clear as well. Just the other day, I was convicted that my gospel proclamation was simply addressing the "sin problem," and not addressing the rest. Yesterday I met a man who didn't get the problem that he couldn't bear his own sin - so I was prepared this time to share about how Jesus broke the powers of sin, death, and Satan. He still wasn't convinced, but I was glad I could proclaim it clearly. Anyway, yes, I'm glad our generation is seeing the two sides. It's important to proclaim both as equally true and equally deserving of the title 'gospel.' Thanks for your thoughts.