Life + Culture

The Social Gospel Saved my Soul

In honor of 5 year of BTSF, we continue to revisit old favorites


Man speaking like a dove, but actually with the tongue of a snakeThere seems to be a belief that 'loving thy neighbor' is something to do in the Church's spare time, after it has 'sealed the deal' for the state of the soul in the afterlife.

Personal salvation is extremely important, but it goes hand-in-hand with addressing the brokenness of the world in which we live. The fact that the Church often sidelines issues of justice is at the root of much of the public distrust of Christianity. It's what so often brands us as 'hypocrites.' The world hears us say "who cares what the rest of your life is like...just say you'll join our club!"

Cover of Wakabayashi's book 'Kingdom Come': the Earth inside a walnut shell
In scripture, we constantly see Jesus forming his ministry around the pairing of service and salvation. We follow a Christ that was very concerned with personal salvation, but did not trivialize the suffering he encountered on earth. When addressing the earthly needs of those around us, we demonstrate God's grace in a tangible way (Servant evangelism being largely based on this philosophy).

Perhaps if we took more of a stand for justice, the world would understand that God really does care about His creation, and therefore is invested in individuals, not just a religious institution.

These concepts have been eloquently fleshed out in Allen Mitsuo Wakabayashi's book, 'Kingdom Come.' Wakabayashi describes God's heart for the Kingdom, and the deep need for redemption that includes both personal salvation and a transformed world.

Wakabayashi declares that Evangelism/personal salvation is not at odds with social justice. They go hand in hand! He asks, "how much more effective would our evangelism be if all Christians and churches were characterized by a commitment to dealing with social issues that trouble our world?"

Stone church with sign in front: 'church closed'
He notes that we are constantly battling against a stereotype that Christians are uncaring and uninvolved, but that "the world needs to see that our faith really does make a difference for life, especially as we deal with some of the most vexing social struggles, like race, gender, and class suppression." Wakabayashi mentions several important questions: "If your church were to leave the community you're in, what impact would that have? Would they miss you? Would they weep?"

Specifically about racial justice, Wakabayashi  observes "when it comes to the racial problems in our nation, white evangelicals have tended to deal with the problems by encouraging each other to make friendships across the racial barrier and to treat people kindly. While this is commendable, the same people do little to change the laws and policies that perpetuate so many of the racial problems."

Thick ink: "If you want peace, work for justice. Paul 6"
Christians are a prominent demographic in the political world, but too often we occupy a narrowly defined role in that sphere, focusing only one or two high-profile issues. But we remain largely silent when it comes to "advocat[ing] peace, justice, and compassion." How can this be?? Weep, Church, for we have forgotten our call.

We cannot 'preach Good News to the lost' and then retreat to the safety of the familiar, expecting that our words will be taken with sincerity. In reality, that behavior becomes a barrier to forming the relationships that facilitate a personal relationship with Jesus.

Perhaps, if we were better at loving our neighbor, and fully invested in our neighborhood, people would better understand us as agents of God's Good News. True, we are "not of this world," but God gives us a lot of time here before calling us Home. Surely God intends for us to invest that time in the world that God created.

Consider and comment: 

"When was the last time you heard your pastor encourage you to get involved in the policies of the city in order to effect kingdom change?" 

How do personal salvation and social justice intersect/interact in your life? How can we better integrate them going forward? 
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