Justice Needs Evangelism
It is incredibly encouraging to see how the evangelical church has awoken to the need for global activism for justice as Jesus and the Scriptures teach. New generations are not simply seeing justice as something extra to do as a Christian like an annual trip to build a home in Mexico, but instead as a fabric of the Gospel itself and an incredibly important part of what it means to be a Christian.
Unfortunately, the more I interact with younger Christians in particular, the more I’m seeing them define the Gospel as participating in justice more than the cross. But the more we care about global engagement in justice, the more we need to care and spend effort on evangelism too.
Those of us who have been Christians a long time and were ingrained with a reductionist form of the Gospel that focused only on the cross and death, resurrection of Jesus and payment of sin have welcomed the infusion of a healthy holistic theology that includes seeing the kingdom of heaven come to earth. But emerging generations are often solely learning the Gospel as an emphasis on justice. They actively participate in justice projects and stay aware of global happenings. However, I am concerned that they aren’t learning about the importance of evangelism.
Making New Disciples
When I think of evangelism, I think of the embodiment of the “Good News” of Jesus and proclaiming that in intentional relationships. Yes, the Gospel is about heaven on earth here and now and not just about what happens when we die. But we all do die. Everyone will face judgment, and there is but one Savior and one cross. If we aren’t teaching how to evangelize with word and deed and seeing new followers of Jesus being reproduced in number, then the amount of justice we can become engaged in and active with will lessen. So if we care about justice, we have to care about making new disciples.
What a shame and horrible thought it is that because some current evangelical Christians became disillusioned with how we went about “evangelism” and explaining the Gospel in the past, many then forgot to focus our attention on making new disciples and only focused on justice. So in 20 years, 30 years or 50 years, if we haven’t been making new disciples, we won’t have the number of Christians to serve passionately on the justice issues that Jesus would want us to.
The Power of the Gospel
I also believe it is easier to focus on justice than it is to focus on evangelism. At a recent private discussion group with [New Testament scholar] N.T. Wright, someone said it is culturally acceptable and applauded to be involved in justice these days. Thankfully so! Even atheists are passionate about justice globally. But it isn’t as easy to pray, spend time, invest in a relationship and have a difficult conversation explaining the cross and salvation to someone. That goes against culture. We have to remember the power of the Gospel and that it did take actual words and explanation of the cross for most of us to eventually make a decision and become followers of Jesus and therefore get involved in justice activism.
I dread to think of the lives who won’t be helped by the church and Christians in 50 years through acts of mercy and justice if we aren’t evangelizing and seeing emerging generations of new Christians coming to know Jesus as Savior today.
This article first appeared in the September/October 2010 issue of Outreach magazine. Tell me more about this issue »