Monday, March 15, 2010

Social Justice Distracting?

Much has been said in recent times about the role that social justice should play in the proclamation of the Gospel. Both sides of the aisle stridently appeal to their understanding of the Gospel, which unfortunately leaves sparring partners in separate corners throwing jabs at their opponent. This is both unhelpful for the cause of Christianity and the Gospel, and a poor understanding of what the Gospel actually is.

How did we arrive at this point?

First, we divorce Jesus from His Old Testament roots. If we were to read the Old Testament, and actually take it seriously, we would find not a story of individuals looking for entrance into a disembodied existence, nor would we find persons striving to obtain individual forgiveness. Instead we find the story of Israel, and God being faithful to His covenant with them [even though they are unfaithful time and time again.] If we divorce Jesus from this story line, we assume that His message is about how to gain entrance into a disembodied existence after you die, which leads us to think that the pain and suffering in the here and now is simply a distraction from that goal.

Second, we divorce Jesus from his primary teaching, which is the Kingdom of God. I cannot imagine how one could read the Gospels and do so, but we forget that Jesus came preaching a message about His coming Kingdom. Even a cursory reading of Luke’s Gospel plunges us into this social message, when Jesus proclaims that he is here to proclaim the year of Jubilation.

Third, we completely miss out on the teachings of the Minor Prophets. This omission is understandable, because most Christians don’t spend much devotional time in the book of Zechariah. However, if we were to divert our attention there for a few moments we would soon find a clear picture of the social message of the prophets of the Old Testament, who emphasize justice, peace, and right living before burnt offerings, and songs of praise.

To divorce the mandate for social justice from the Gospel of Jesus would be akin to removing the cross from the life of Jesus. If someone were to make the statement that: “too many Christians are focused on the cross, and that is taking away our attention from the Gospel”, I am quite sure there would be a resounding answer to that misguided thought. The same must be true for social justice. Our job as Christians is to promote justice, so that God’s Kingdom may come “on earth as it is in heaven” [Matthew 6:10].

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