Social Justice, Shalom and the Gospel

The Millenials Generation (1982-2002) of Evangelicals are latching on to the the issues of social justice in a way not seen by their forebears, yet are leaving the church in an equally staggering way. This is not sustainable.

In a recent 2 part sermon series at Northwestern University, I was asked to address what Christianity brings to the table on the topics of reconciliation and social justice. I began by talking about how Martin Luther King Jr. came to the table of the justice issues of his day, as an outflowing of his Christian convictions — his Christian worldview.

The call to social justice is a call to what Dr. King often called “The Beloved Community”, something that is effectively a description of the biblical notion of “Shalom”, or “the way it’s supposed to be”. Christianity, in its core commitments, recognizes that in the Creation-Fall-Redemption narrative, things of inherent value lie broken and in need of restoration — a restoration set in motion in and through the Cross of Jesus Christ.

“For in Him (Jesus), all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross” Col 1:19-20

This recognition that things are broken, in need of restoration (to Shalom), and that Jesus’ work on the cross becomes a calling to his followers to respond to injustice. “all things” are being reconciled to Himself. . . to the way they are supposed to be.

As much as Dr. King’s Christian worldview brought him to the table of dealing with justice issues of his day head on, it didn’t keep him. Jesus did. The personal power of redemption and relationship with Jesus was the thing that allowed Dr. King to preserver through the impossible odds faced in the walk toward social justice. It was the higher calling of Jesus and the gospel that allowed him not just to face insurmountable odds, but even death.

As I reflect on the tendency of the current generation to embrace social justice and yet to leave the church, I realize that there is a great deal of skepticism about the roles of institutions. Yet, this also belies a loss of comprehension of the power of the gospel. We are called to embody the gospel in the broken places and among the broken people of or world in ways that help us shed our American Idols of materialism and individualism. Yet, we will lose both the foundational motivation to justice and the means of being sustained in the insanity of the battle if we lose Christ, his gospel and his church along the way.

This year I’ll be preaching around this theme from Gen 1-3; Jeremiah 29; Micah 6; Matt 18 and other passages. Pray that we can continue the encouragement for the millennial generation to act on the need to pursue justice but to recognize that the church and the gospel are the bedrock needed to sustain the call.

(As I write this I received a call that one of my daughters was robbed outside my front gate. What will sustain us?)