Monday, October 02, 2006

Is the "Social Gospel" Replacing the Gospel?

Seems like everywhere I turn I keep hearing and seeing preachers and ministries referring to the gospel as a partnership between the message of salvation and feeding the poor and social activism. I see it popping up all over the place. The Emergents are obsessed with it. Rick Warren wants to save the world from physical suffering with his P.E.A.C.E. plan and tell you how to live with his S.H.A.P.E. plan. Guys like Shane Claiborne are going to take us back to the hippie movement where everyone lives in a commune and who knows maybe you'll see a photograph of him inserting daisies in the rifles of our soldiers in Iraq. The church I left last year recently did a sermon series on the Kingdom of God being about feeding the poor and how we have been neglecting the "other half of the gospel". Strange, I have never seen this much passion and excitement when talking about saving souls from hell. But boy when you talk about meeting people's physical needs WOW now you're talking. This is something we can get excited about!!! This is something people can understand, unlike the gospel which might make people mad at us and makes us look unlikable, undesirable and like social rejects--not cool, not cool.

Are these two methods of evangelism really the same thing? I am very reluctant to draw that conclusion. Have we really lost that much confidence in the power of God through the gospel to change lives? To really change lives? I know every time someone brings up an issue like this there is a long line of people hurling questions such as "don't you care about the poor?" You mean to tell me you are just going to go up to some poor starving person and give them a tract without doing anything about their physical condition?"----and my (obvious) answer....NO! I 'm not going to do that.

Here is the distinction I am trying to make. I see christians getting excited when challenged to help the needy and see the potential of the physical good a social justice movement can achieve (I am not including Jim Wallis' and Tony Campolo's version of social justice which I believe is very politically liberal movement and spiritually deceptive). I also see christians being very apathetic when encouraged to speak of Jesus Christ to their friends and neighbors. I am concerned because I see christian leaders in churches so reluctant to verbally explain the gospel message to the lost and ministers unwilling to speak of the offensive portions of the gospel for fear of appearing intolerant and judgmental but very willing to do something for others which anybody can do. Let's keep in mind that Muslims, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Politicians, the Red Cross, and the United Nations can all feed the poor and provide physical aid. These can also and do get involved in social justice movements. They can be generous, compassionate, and self-sacrificing to the poor and downtrodden. So I would like someone to answer me-what is the difference between them and us? Do we need to be reminded that the one thing we christians can do which the false religions and social justice organizations cannot do is offer salvation from an eternity in hell - God's redemption through the blood of Christ's crucifixion on the cross and his resurrection. That is what makes us unique. That is what will make them not like us at some point. They will love us if we keep feeding them. Just like they would love anyone who is so generous. Shouldn't the proclamation of the gospel message be highest on the priority list for christians? Shouldn't this be our primary concern and addressing physical needs secondary? Shouldn't this be our motive for evangelism? Shouldn't this be the subject of our earnest and desperate praying? Have we lost confidence in the gospel and in God to raise the spiritually dead?

I don't think you will find too many martyrs dying for the cause of feeding the hungry--who would kill someone for that? But upset the apple cart by preaching the WHOLE council of God and you may (will) ruffle some feathers along the way.

There is a whole lot more which could be said about this. One thing is for certain--this "social gospel" trend is not going away, it will only intensify. It fits very well in our humanistic, politically correct, man-applauding, man-pleasing, felt needs postmodern, be whoever YOU want to be context.

For further reading this article from Crossroads website sheds some light on some aspects of how the social gospel movement has influenced and infiltrated christianity through the years.

Here is an excerpt:

Rauschenbusch introduced Jesus "not as one who would come to save sinners from their sins but as one who had a 'social passion' for society." He and his comrades established the "Brotherhood of the Kingdom," which unified like-minded church leaders under a common socialist quest for an earthly "Kingdom of God."

Their plan would have fit our times! It called for political reform, ecumenical unity, "social justice" (ending poverty), and global peace. To justify its place in "Christian" theology, words like redemption and regeneration were redefined to fit their socialist ideals.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Popular church leaders use the same strategy today! Pastor Brian McLaren's recent book, The Secret Message of Jesus, twists God's Word into an endorsement of an earthly, interfaith Kingdom. Likewise, Tony Campolo's hope of earthly perfection mocks the Biblical promise of eternal life:

"The gospel is not about... pie-in-the-sky when they die.... It is imperative that the up and coming generation recognize that the biblical Jesus was committed to the realization of a new social order in this world.... Becoming a Christian, therefore, is a call to social action."


Blogger Mark said...


I can feel where you're coming from. It's easy to "help" someone, and to fool yourself into believing you're doing it in Jesus's name.

At the same time, let's not neglect the example of our master -- Mark 1, Luke 5, many other places -- Jesus healed the sick. He cared about the hungry.

Want to know part of why US society hates Christians? Because they see us a hypocrites. Lots of rules that are followed on Sunday. No visible differences the rest of the week. Let's throw that on its ear and start living like Christ -- submitted to his law and will, and humbly loving those around us. Part of that is Christ-like social outreach.

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Well said and true!


It's like what John Murray said in his sermon on DIscernment, it's what you emphasize that makes the difference. These people into the social gospel movement are doing "good things" yes, but their "good deeds" end up taking priority over what Christ commanded in the Great Commission, i.e. the first preach the cross and repentance, baptise and make disciples, then the ret can follow.

This is why the social gospel movement is a deception. It rearranges the order of things set by God himself.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Kennyo said...

Mark, I agree with your comments. I worry though. If I am motivated and compelled to spread the gospel for the salvation of souls, in obedience to the Great Commission and I see a physical and ignore it then I am not truly being obedient to Christ. However, my first and foremost motivation and priority should be the spread the message of Christ's redemption through the cross. If a need manifests itself then yes we must fill it if we're able. If the message first is not a priority then we run the risk of thinking we've accomplished obedience to Christ by feeding the poor and not necessarily spreading the gospel, (it's something we can get around to at some point), some may think but they may never get around to it and we have just deceived ourselves and a lost soul. This is a dangerous trap to fall in to and I fear we are making ourselves more vulnerable to fall in to it if our priorities are a bit off.

1:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many years ago, I had a college professor who happened to be a prominent doctor and a great Christian. He used to drill into us how it was pointless to simply save the body and lose the soul. He had patients who objected to his witnessing while he treated them, but he insisted on it. Whenever I sit in hospital waiting rooms or doctors' offices, I remember that. Jesus spent most of his waking hours, it appears, healing "all manner of disease" among the peoople; but there was always a purpose behind it. Whereas we should be mindful of the physical pain of others, as Christ was, we cannot stop there.

7:50 PM  
Anonymous dPazos said...

Ah, one of the great controversies of the 20 and 21 centuries.
It appears that socialism has infiltrated all aspects of life, even Christian religion. Jesus healed the sick. He did not re-distribute wealth, nor did He even try to change the economic or class structure of society. Every society has and will always have a lower class and a middle class and an upper class. Economic equality simply has never existed. For most of history around the world:
10% upper class
40% middle class
50% lower class
The USA is an exception because of its middle-class majority, like 65% of the nation, with only about 25% in the lower classes (poor or working class). Many Western prosperous nations would also be exceptions. The Third World today provides an example of the historical norm, in terms of class structure.
Many guilt-ridden white Westerners throughout the modern West are simply not realistic about this.
The focus should be on both evangelism and discipleship, not restructuring the caste system!

12:07 PM  
Blogger Latty said...

I'm a new reader of your blog and I question your reason.

Please explain your take on Jesus' life here on earth. What was the majority of his time spent on?

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am just curious as to your take on what Jesus spent most of his time doing while here on earth?

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dang, Kenny.... just had a conversation with Shane today at Catatlyst and its pretty tough to argue against him actually living out what Jesus said

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you saying Jesus went around and feed the poor ? I know he feed the 5,000 but he also rebuked them when they keep coming back just to get feed, right?
Did He not have comments about the poor ? He was much more concerned about the sin of men and the obedience of men . The problem of man is not that they are hungry or too poor to live a "normal" life it is their rebellion against God, that is what sends them to hell .
When someone feeds a poor man that is not the gospel.
It is like when someone misses the bull's eye by just a little does that count ? No because you got to hit it dead center to count. Promoting the social gospel is just a trap , a distraction , a way to get the focus off the sin of man and the rebellion of man against God's law . It is also a way to get back in with the world or to get in better graces with the world so they don't hate the christian (us ) so much.
The christian church (people in the church ) has an inferiority complex , he just can't live in on earth knowing that the world just does not accept the bible and God's narrow way so they change the words and start "kissing up" to the world .
Do you think this is correct?

8:14 AM  
Blogger Kennyo said...

If Jesus' purpose was to feed and clothe then by those standards he was a failure. He only healed one man at the Pool of Bethesda and that man approached him, Jesus did not approach that man. Even the people he did heal one day died. Those very people one day will stand befor Jesus at the Judgement seat and have to give an account for their life. Jesus will only want to know if they submitted their lives to him while on earth. If so, they are the ones who are saved.

Feeding the poor is necessary but it is NOT our primary purpose or goal. Seeking those who are under God's wrath and offering them hope through the gospel is our task. Feeding the poor can be done at the same time but should never be our main focus, just as it was not Jesus' main focus.

This verse explains the purpose of his miracles:

John 20:30--

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

9:06 AM  
Anonymous dpazos said...

I suppose I agree with Alan that Christians try too hard to win favor with the secular types. All these U.N. and Peace Corps types like us when we feed the poor. I suppose any religion or philosophy including Buddhist or New Age could get their people together to feed the poor. We need to stand on our absolutes. If other Christians feel guilty because they are rich in this world, then let them help the poor. Of course, they should not fall into the errors of a welfare state, which often battles poverty while encouraging lazy oppourtunists.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

I liked your post!

I work with street children and we MUST feed them, clothe them, and rehabilitate them but that doesn't mean the GOSPEL and their spiritual need for Christ should be separated or put SECOND. Christians can do social work, but the reason we're doing it, (Christ)must come first!

6:16 AM  
Anonymous Roger Smalling said...

Thank you for your fine article.

Please note our many free resources in English and Spanish, especially the material concerning the Social Gospel:

In His bonds,
Roger Smalling

10:19 AM  

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