“If the preferred sin of the previous generation of Evangelicals was reducing the Christian faith to mere spiritual conversion in the absence of an appreciable doctrine of social action, then it might be that the sin of the current generation is in reducing the Gospel of Jesus to mere social action in the absence of spiritual conversion. Do we think that faith in Jesus is so light a matter that “justice” in the community will arrive in the absence of spiritual renovation?
Without change in the spiritual condition of one, we should not expect change in the spirits of many. Social change can be and often has been the result of new spiritual maturity. If we want to change the world, it would be hard to see that taking place in the absence of a change in the inner person so powerful that entire cultures might be transformed by the force of it.
The focus of Jesus’ ministry was spiritual transformation as the means of material change, and seldom the reverse. At times changes in poverty, disease, persecution or oppression were the prerequisite to faith and repentance (social conditions can inhibit or stimulate certain kinds of sins) but these tend to be exceptions to the rule, and so Jesus encouraged conversion as the means of challenging the standing social order.
Perhaps no one in history fought harder than Jesus against the idea that true religion is found in mere exercises of morality in the absence of a true and lively faith, these things not being identical.
There might be a social justice found in the absence of Jesus, but the record of the human race is replete with social justice movements that ended in the creation of convoluted evils. The Soviets preached Social Justice. The Nazis had a form of social justice. “Justice” is not a neutral term and we will always be compelled to ask the question, “Which justice” and “Who’s Justice”, because justice arrives with tags on its baggage.
Christian social justice is as foreign to the world’s social justice as Christian faith from the world itself. They inhabit the same space at the same time but have remarkably different applications, ends and means.
We might see this as an application of the Two Kingdoms interpretation of St. Augustine, who held both the world and the church as striving through a common law (the laws of God being common to all) but toward marvelously different ends, so that both can dwell for a time in the City of Man, even as citizens of the City of God look forward to their Heavenly City, and the coming of the Kingdom of God; “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, in Earth as it is in Heaven”.”
Section Three:”The Problem of Evil and Social Justice within Contemporary Urban Missiology”
Presented, 2011 Conference of the Evangelical Missiological Society, SW.