In my previous editorial, I suggested that biblical justice combines both the concepts of retributive justice and social justice. Its aim is always toward restoring God’s shalom, to foster life and restore relationships.
But how does justice relate to gospel proclamation? This question seems to imply that doing justice and proclaiming the gospel are two different things that need to somehow work together. Previously I suggested that from a biblical viewpoint, justice, righteousness, and love are interconnected. I believe that justice and the gospel are also deeply related.
What is the gospel? The apostle Paul described the gospel as reconciling “all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” to God through Christ Jesus (Col. 1:20). The gospel is comprehensive. It is not only good news for human souls but for all creation.
From Abraham Kuyper’s famous mantra of every square inch under the Lordship of Christ to more recent articulations, our Reformed Christian tradition has long emphasized this comprehensive scope of the gospel. To cite just one contemporary example: “Since the kingly authority of our risen Lord extends to the whole world, the mission of his people is equally comprehensive: to embody the rule of Christ over marriage and family, business and politics, art and athletics, leisure and scholarship (Matt. 28:18-30; Rom. 12)” (The Cross and our Calling, Redeemer University College, p. 9).
This also means that we do not reduce gospel witness to only verbal proclamation, even though that is essential. God’s reconciling of all things to himself includes reconciling humans to one another (Eph. 2:14-16). Such reconciliation among estranged groups must inevitably involve justice work.
Furthermore, as one reader emailed me, in a world where “actions speak louder than words” and where “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” our gospel witness must include both word and deed. And our loving acts cannot stop at only charity and benevolence. If we love people consistently, we need to move beyond charity into justice. As theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” Loving our neighbors who live in poverty includes trying to fix any systemic injustices that keep them poor.
The newest generation of young adults is highly sensitive to justice issues. Any movement that ignores the injustices of the world will probably be ignored as irrelevant at best or unethical at worst. Our gospel proclamation cannot gloss over injustice. Instead, it has to show that God’s good news in Christ brings about true justice, a true righting of all wrongs.
Our seeking after justice as Christ-followers cannot simply mimic the ways of the secular world. We can use the usual channels available to us—advocacy, the state, policies—in redemptive ways to further God’s reconciling mission. But we do not solely rely on these human avenues for justice. As Christians, our ultimate hope for justice is not in the government or in human solidarity but in the Lord Jesus. We need to rely on God’s ways of love, truth, prayer, forgiveness, repentance, and justice.
The gospel without justice is hollow. But justice without the gospel is deficient.
In the November editorial, I will explore a third question: Is justice the work of the institutional church or the organic church, that is, Christians working individually or together in organizations apart from the church?