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Evangelism and Social Justice
Today’s college students are drawn toward social justice. Even more, today’s Christian students are concerned with integrating social justice concerns into their experience of the Christian Life.
Since the turn of the 20th Century and the fundamentalist / modernist controversy, social justice concerns have often been linked with theological liberalism. In the wake of Marxist economic policy, Freudian psychology, Darwinian evolution, Nietzschean philosophy, and historical criticism—all of which challenged the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures—a great gulf has separated the evangelistic mission of the church and its mission to the poor and marginalized. Conservative Christians took the Bible as authoritative, defined the problem in the world in terms of personal sin, emphasized the holiness of God, and focused on evangelism as their public mission. More liberal Christians took reason/science/experience as authoritative, defined the problem in the world as social sin (sin in the structures of society), emphasized the love of God, and focused on education and justice as their public mission.
When I became a Christian in 1987, as a freshman in college, I was taught that concerns about social justice issues would be solved through the aggregate conversion and discipleship of individuals—if enough people really started following Christ, social concerns would remedy themselves. In his most recent book, To Change the World, sociologist James Hunter argues that this common evangelical strategy has not resulted in the kind of social change that the conservative church hoped it would.
Today, a younger generation of evangelicals have been trying to re-integrate social justice concerns in the theology and practice of their spiritual journey. Instead of being a litmus test for theological liberalism, social justice has become a benchmark for a richer and more full gospel. It is difficult to get around the numerous Old Testament and New Testament passages that talk about God’s concern for the poor, the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the marginalized, and the disadvantaged.
Cru’s campus ministry has a specific calling to the evangelization and discipleship of college students, staff and faculty. As we take seriously Hunter’s critique and the teaching of Scripture, we encounter a question about how to (or even if we should) integrate social justice concerns and activities into our ministry on college campuses—how do social justice concerns fit into our mission of “helping to build spiritual movements so that everyone on campus knows someone who truly follows Jesus?”
I think that it fits in four ways:
1. Discipleship. As followers of Jesus we have to take seriously the call to demonstrate the love and justice of God to all of our “neighbors.” Part of our discipleship is to teach our students how to attend to the needs of those on the margins.
2. Sending. As we seek to integrate and emphasize 100% Sent into the rhythm of our ministry, we have the unique opportunity to teach, inspire, and motivate students to take the gospel into every sector of society. Someone who may never come on staff with Cru may be the next founder of a non-profit like Kiva, a socially conscious business like Tegu, or a social justice organization like International Justice Mission.
3. Evangelism. Including social justice efforts into the rhythm of our ministry will contribute to our specific calling as an evangelistic mission. Specifically, it integrates naturally into the Body Mode of evangelism. As a community who follows after Jesus, we can ask students, staff, and faculty to join with us in our social justice efforts. They can see a community who is concerned about their neighbors, they can work on “Kingdom projects,” and they can more easily participate in conversations about deeper life issues. Historically, the gospel has traveled more quickly and with greater power when the good news of Jesus Christ is accompanied with the Gospel in Action.
4. EFM. Finally, integrating social justice concerns can connect us more genuinely to the ethnic students, staff, and faculty on campus. Traditionally, ethnic students have had a richer understanding of the need for social justice in society. For some, the university experience has come as a result of a hard-fought battle to overcome many barriers of marginalization. We have the opportunity to learn from these communities and to participate with them on and off campus in social justice projects.
Discussion time: How have you seen social justice activities impact the above four priorities in your movements? Please comment below.
Photo courtesy of denharsh.com