“On Social Justice and Early Christianity”
The word “justice” ticks Evangelical Christians off to the core, as if the concept is a threat to the Gospel. Put the word “social” in front of it, that would help advocates of social justice (as an intrinsic element of biblical justice) earn a new label: liberal or Marxist.
The problem lies in an unhelpful view of (Evangelical) eschatology that looks forward to a new world and renewed culture; thus, Evangelicals are not concerned about systems and structures that create patterns & structures of injustice in society. Their home is not in this world.
Evangelical Theology is too theoretical to be incarnational in the manner that God of the universe became a mere flesh & (table-) fellowshipped with those whose collective lives were characterized by extreme poverty, dehumanization, humiliation, alienation, colonization, & exclusion.
Jesus, the God-Man, related to the real experiences & living conditions of those who suffered in First-century Roman Empire. Until Evangelicals come to grip with the practical meaning & existential consequences of the incarnation, they will always oppose the social justice model.
Evangelical Theology must reckon with the reality of the incarnation of the Son of God and explores what it means for those who live on the margins in society. This is the Great Commission of American Evangelicalism of the Great God-Man in the twenty-first century America.
It is terrifying that social justice a way of thinking about & applying the Gospel in life is now becoming the “great omission” of the gospel in contemporary American Evangelicalism. By contrast, social justice is a heritage of Christianity; this legacy began with the early Christians of the First century Rome who devoted themselves not only to the spreading of the Gospel of grace and salvation to non-followers of Jesus the Christ in their pluralistic (Greco-Roman and Hellenistic) and secular culture and beyond. They seamlessly integrated a Gospel-based grace in their social outreach programs and ministry of reconciliation, resulting in their radical collective action to care for the poor, provide spiritual equality to the enslaved, bury the dead with dignity, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and attend to the existential needs and living conditions of the widow and the elderly in society. The early Christians adopted abandoned orphans and unwanted children in the Roman society and advocated for the dignity and rights of women and the marginalized, comparatively.
Early Christianity was a social movement within its Greco-Roman context and world, one that radically transformed its culture toward human flourishing and provided a more promising path in Christ Jesus to the spiritual destiny of men and women. Yet there were contemporary social and philosophical movements that were campaigning for better living conditions for the poor and the marginalized; it was, however, the early Christians who were proactive in changing the face of their society by giving the poor and the vulnerable an existential hope and promise that was grounded on the generous and self-giving character of God. They were also persuaded that they were fulfilling the great commission of their Savior-Messiah Jesus Christ—through both social activism and announcing spiritual salvation. These early urban Christians did not theorize the Gospel; they were pragmatists.
Early Christians knew the Gospel graciously delivered to them entailed both the spiritual salvation and the social salvation of men and women in contemporary Greco-Roman society. It is safe to infer that Early Christianity was not just a spiritual movement, but also a social movement that championed social justice as a heritage of the Christian faith. The Gospel is God’s liberating message to all people and social justice as part of that Christocentric-good news is a Christian heritage for all people, regardless of their economic status, race, gender, sexuality, culture, geographic location, and linguistic preference.
What does this all mean for contemporary Evangelicals & Christians in this culture?
Let me make five recommendations:
A. to stand against systemic structures that racialize & dehumanize people who are created in God’s image;
B. to campaign against forces & powers that unjustly & illegally incarcerate black and brown people;
C. to be a voice on racial justice issues;
D. to become an ally to the poor, racialized minorities, the economically-disadvantaged class, & the marginalized in our society; and
E. to challenge public policies that disfranchise the group & races mentioned in part D.