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The Gospel and Social Justice

“Social justice is the gospel.”–Dan Jackson

“There may be those who overemphasize social issues while downplaying or neglecting biblical truth and its relevance for today’s society.”–Ted Wilson

These two statements served as rallying cries for both sides in Adventism’s culture wars. For years now, there have been two movements within the church that are drifting further and further apart. I’ve watched as people have retreated from diverse meeting grounds to private groups on social media. I’ve watched as long-running press staples like the Review have been discarded in favor of an increasingly polarized independent Adventist press. In many ways, Adventism has mirrored America with people picking tribes to go to battle within the culture wars.

Irreducible Complexity

The problem with our era is that everything gets reduced down to a single headline or tweet. Both of those statements are fiery on their own, but both men actually have quite a bit more to say. As passionate as Dan Jackson is about social justice, he is just as quick to say that accepting Jesus as your savior is part of the gospel.1

For all the criticism Ted Wilson received over his Annual Council remarks on social issues, the next line out of his mouth was, “Yes, there are appropriate social issues we need to address, but always within the context of God’s last-day warning.” Not enough? The next day he would apologize for his remarks and affirm his commitment to social issues. 2

I wonder how many problems we could solve, not with the right series of texts, or a “focus on mission” (whatever that means anymore), but rather by simply allowing complex thoughts to exist without trying to reduce them down to one-liners.

The Good News

The word “Gospel” comes from the word “Euangelion” in the Greek and “Basar” in Hebrew. It means “Good News.” Not just any good news, though. The word is always used in connotation to announce the good news that there is a new king on the scene with a new kingdom. When Jesus first arrives He tells people that He came to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). What does this kingdom look like? As the gospel writers tell us, the kingdom of God is where the sick are healed, the prisoners set free, the lame walk again, and the meek inherit the earth. Every time Jesus brings up the kingdom of God it is connected with an act that makes earth a little more like His kingdom. Once you are looking for it, you can’t miss the connection.

To say the Gospel is just about the grace we receive from Jesus’ death and resurrection is to say the Good News is only about the King. To say the Gospel is only about social justice is to say the Good News is only about the kingdom. Neither makes sense. The king and the kingdom can’t exist apart from each other. Who would want to live eternally in a kingdom identical to our earthly kingdoms? That wouldn’t be good news at all!

If we take the term "gospel" at its word—literally—we must conclude that social justice is part of the Gospel. Maybe that social justice looks a little different than how political groups view social justice, but it has to be there. The kingdom has to be there. But we can’t conclude that social justice is the gospel, because we can’t build that kind of kingdom without God as our King. Thousands of years of history show us we can’t do it without Him.

So as you feel the culture warriors pulling you apart, insisting you pick which version of the gospel to accept, I suggest you answer with the following question.

Why not both?


3. The idea of the king and the kingdom comes from When Helping Hurtsby Steve Corbett and Bryan Fikkert

Written By: Ben Kreiter


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