Posted by: Yvonne | January 8, 2010

The Social Gospel Summed Up

Here’s an excellent summation of the social gospel from the January 2009 newsletter of Jews For Jesus‘  by David Brickner:

Why was it, and why is it popular to blend evangelism with social action? Can’t each stand on its own merits? Some believe it is necessary to combine them in order to gain an entrée for the gospel, or to earn respect from those who think Christians don’t care about social concerns. The problem is, since social action is far more acceptable to unbelievers than attempts to point them to Jesus, it is easy to convince ourselves that our social actions will speak volumes about our faith. And people will want to know more about Christ, some insist, without our having to offend them by talking about sin and the Savior.     {emphasis mine}

We all prefer appreciation to rejection – I know I certainly do. And isn’t it wonderful that some of the things God commands us to do may lead people to appreciate us? But if we try to blend that which people usually appreciate with that which they often reject, we should not be surprised to find ourselves giving precedence to the former at the expense of the latter. That’s how many “missions” programs minimize the difficult doctrine of the uniqueness of Christ for salvation, undermining the gospel message and rendering it essentially powerless. Hence the phrase “social gospel” implies a lot of social, but not much gospel.

HT: The Watchman’s Bagpipes


We have had visitors who have insisted that if we,

 Open nearly any book of the Bible…the demand for social justice appears and addressing physical needs is commonplace.

or that those who believe ‘redeeming the culture’ is NOT Scriptural would

be on the wrong side of church history

…as if church history always got it right. 

Jesus makes it quite clear what His command is for His people:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…”
Matthew 28:19-20

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
Mark 16:15

“…and that repentence and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…”
Luke 24:47

This is our mandate as disciples of Christ.   This is what ministries should focus on teaching. 

As Brickner implied in the quote above, when ministries and Christian leaders step on the slippery slope of mixing a ‘social justice’, the ‘cultural mandate’, and/or ‘redeem the culture’ with evangelism they are sliding into syncretism and eventually apostasy.  They are guilty of preaching ‘another gospel’ (Gal 1:6); a ‘way that seems right to man’ (Prov. 14:12). 

God commands us,

“You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.”
Deuteronomy 4:2

“Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.”
Proverbs 30:6


“For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
1 Cor. 2:2




  1. Well said!

  2. Here is what I truly don’t understand, Yvonne, I really don’t. This author warns, wisely, about the potentials of using social concern action to impress the nonbeliever and thereby minimize the hard truths of the need to repent and turn to the Savior. I agree with him on this, and find it to be the kind of wisdom that only comes from those who are in the field, doing hard work, doing evangelism, etc. He is I applaud his concerns.

    You, however, then say he implies that any effort to do social ministry “are sliding into syncretism and eventually apostasy”. I know YWAM ministry and publishing. They stand in the classic orthodox tradition of doing obedient missions for body and soul: they run health clinics, do educational work, run anti-drug programs, and all sorts of innovative cultural activities. I don’t have reason to think they do it just to earn a hearing, they do it out of love and obedience, caring for hurting people with the love they have been given by God, and the mandates they see in Scripture.

    I don’t think the author was implying that all social concern work leads to apostasy, not at all.

    So I think you are may be reading into the author’s words, saying he is implying something he is most likely is not.

    Do you think that YWAM that published this piece is preaching “another gospel” because they want to improve the social health of the third world villages in which they work? Do you fault them for publishing books that teach this??

    I think because they do this multi-faceted Kingdom work of service and evangelism and discipleship and prayer they have learned to watch out for minimizing the verbal proclamation of the pure gospel, so they can write this advice that you nicely posted for us. But it doesn’t make sense that it means what you said it means. YWAM is doing social concern work and verbal evangelism. Do you disagree with their work? Are they syncretistic?

    If you could clarify this it would be very helpful, since I just am not sure what you post this and then say what you said. It doesn’t quite follow, and maybe I’m reading you wrongly.

    Further, I don’t get why you often quote the Bible warning about not taking away anything God has commanded (you’ve quoted several citations on this, again, above) but yet—-if I understand you—-you seem to want to take away those texts that tell us to do justice. You seem to minimize the many texts that point us to love of neighbor in ways that engage the social oppression of some poor folks; I am sure you read the prophets, but if anybody rails against injustice today, you would mostly likely say they are wrong to do so, as if any of the “social reform” texts have become irrelevant. I am not sure if this is your view, but it sounds that way. When I’ve invited you to be balanced and say that not all who talk about cultural stuff are wrong, you’ve not clarified or set my concerns at ease, but have continued to make these pretty strong statements, that everybody like that is a social gospel liberal. I’ve asked for clarification or qualification and it has not been forthcoming, so I remain unsure of your teaching.

    I don’t know what you make of commands such as Leviticus 25 (some people think we draw ethical principles about lending or debt forgiveness or land use from this historical command) or something specific like Deut. 10:19. True spirituality is described in Isaiah 58;6-7, as including resistance to economic oppression, and true knowledge of God is defined in pretty political and social justice terms in Jeremiah 22:16. God seems to want civic justice, as seen in Psalm 72 or Romans 13, verses I hope you don’t “take away” (or refuse to comment on.) What do you do with Micah 6:8 or Luke 6:35 or Matt. 5:16 or Matthew 25 or I Cor. 10:24 or Gal. 6:10 or Col. 3:17 or I John 3:17 or James 2? Do you believe in helping feed hungry enemies, like Romans 12:20? It says to abhor evil? Do you abhor abortion and nuclear bombs? You have spoken ill of those who are fighiting those evils, and if you hate those evils, it would seem you’d at least have some sympathy with pro-lifers and peace-makers, who shall be called blessed.

    I guess my point isn’t that we agree on the implications of these many sorts of verses that seem to compel us to action in the world, but only that you say (properly) that we ought not take away anything from the Word but yet you routinely time and again minimize the concern that these verses teach. I know you say you love God, but it is clear in the Bible that love of God is related to love of neighbor, and true love for others necessarily suggests concern for their various sorts of real needs (yes, including salvation, their most ultimate need.) If you love your neighbor, you’d be at least a little sympathetic, it seems to me, if somebody is keeping her away from violence by running a domestic violence clinic. You’d be happy if somebody helps out a bit, even if it isn’t saving her soul. I know people who love others in amazing ways, and they preach and teach the gospel, but they also show love in concrete ways. I’ve not seen on your cite any affirmation of anybody doing this kind of charity. Have I missed something?

    Why you suggest, as you do above, that those who talk about what we think is faithfulness to these many sorts of texts (and you know I’ve only scratched the surface of the hundreds of such passages) are teaching another gospel? The gospel is that God’s Kingdom has come through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus and that we can be reconciled to Him by His own costly death and His sovereign grace. But, verbally presenting the gospel message is not all we are called to do. (Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 3:23.) Some people and ministries try to remind folks of these implications of Christian discipleship (but never suggest that our social service to others is saving or should be done at the expense of preaching the truth of the gospel.) Do you think they are soon to be apostate, as surely as you say above?

    So I think the above article has gets it pretty right. I think your terse comments after his quote suggests more than the author intended, and makes claims about those doing various sorts of things—-starting hospitals, teaching in clinics, fighting abortion, planting trees, tutoring children, trying to be helpful to the poor, whatever—that may or may not be true. As always, I wonder if you intended to say this because you really believe it, or if you are just being needlessly provocative, overstating your judgments.

    So, could you clarify, please?

    Do you really think that everyone who does any social concerns work is necessarily preaching a false gospel?

    It may be a slippery slope: I can accept that warning. But you suggest that everyone who has gone on that slope has fallen into falsehood, and it seems inevitable, leading to falling away.

    Do you really believe that? The ministry you cited above does not. The authors you and/or Judy have quoted recently (Spurgeon and Baxter) do not. Your friend Glen seems to think that I need not worry about this because you never really said that. He himself does some social outreach, yet he affirms your pieces when you seem to overstate these very things. It sure would be good to have you clarify this.

    Are all of those who say the Bible teaches us to “do justice” necessarily preaching a different gospel that the gospel of Jesus? Do you think everyone who uses the phrase “cultural mandate” means to imply some false gospel?

    If you answer no, I will rejoice, and be glad that you have not tarred everyone as heretical that it seems you do in your paragraph above. If you answer yes, we will know clearly where you stand. Can you just answer yes or no?

    Thank you for clearing this up.

    • Byron,

      You say:

      “Do you think that YWAM that published this piece is preaching “another gospel” because they want to improve the social health of the third world villages in which they work?”

      I’m a bit confused by this question. YWAM did not publish the newsletter from which this quote was taken. This is from the ministry called Jews for Jesus; a ministry whose focus is preaching Christ, not social services.

      The OT/NT passages that you quote are excellent examples of how God commanded the Israelites to love their neighbors, treat strangers and the poor. We, as Christians, should do likewise. To extrapolate that these commands mean we are to create an entire ministry around them is a misuse of Scripture. Period.

      You ask:

      “Are all of those who say the Bible teaches us to “do justice” necessarily preaching a different gospel that the gospel of Jesus?”

      Anyone who makes a ministry of social justice, cultural mandate, redeeming culture, etc. is preaching another gospel. Yes.

      As Brickner asks above, why do so many feel we must combine social action with the Gospel?

  3. Byron, you are so deep and blinded by the deception from which you partake — it is impossible for you to understand.

    I have only looked at a few organizations represented at Jubilee — Hope International, Restore International, Nuru International and on and on and on they are listed . . . I suspect they are “ecumenical” as is CCO/Jubilee and I don’t see where Scripture supports “ecumenism”. If an organization must be ‘ecumenical’ (like Habitat for Humanity) then you cannot preach Christ first.

    Paul’s example seems to be preach Christ first and while your there build a tent. Not the reverse which is promoted by ecumencial and social justice organizations.

    Were Paul and friends put in jail for their offensive mission projects or were they thrown into jail for their offensive preaching of Christ?

    Paul described himself as a soldier, an athlete, and a guardian of the faith — the Truths and Standards of the revealed Word of God. No mention of ‘justice’.

    It is very simple, Paul preached Christ first.

    There is a “crown of righteousness” 2Tim 4:8, “crown of life” Jas. 1:1-2, crown of exhultation 1Th2:19, ‘crown of glory” 1Pe 5:4.

    There is not a ‘crown of justice’.

    If Christ is not preached FIRST then it is another gospel that is preached.

  4. Dear Yvonne,

    I am sorry you think it is “impossible for me to understand.” I think I can understand most plain English pretty well, and I would truly appreciate it if you answered the question I asked. In cat and dog language, as some folks put it. It was one specific question, that I repeated several times.

    Perhaps you think you answered it, but I really don’t see a clear answer For instance, you say Paul doesn’t mention justice in the verses you cited, and that may be true. But that doesn’t answer the question: I, too, cited Paul on doing acts of service, “good works” and loving others by doing concrete acts of kind service like offering food. So your citing Paul saying there isn’t a “crown of justice” avoids the question of the texts I did cite, it seems. Did you mean, by saying that there is no mention of justice in Paul that anybody that mentions justice is preaching a false gospel? I asked if you minimize or discount other passages from other parts of the Bible. You see, I’m not sure by saying that Paul doesn’t mention justice that it answers my question of what you are saying about this topic.

    I just am wanting an answer to this one question about your teaching.

    I asked if you really think that everyone who teaches that the Bible commands us to “do justice” and that social concern is an important part of Christian living is thereby preaching “another gospel”? I’ve gathered that you believe that, but I’m not sure, and Glen suggested you never quite said that, so I wanted to get it right. Do you believe that or not?

    Yes or no? There has been some confusion, it seems, about what your teaching is on this, and it is respectful, I think, to ask you to clarify, so we don’t misunderstand or misrepresent your views.

    Do you think that Bible-teaching, gospel-preaching groups that also engage in acts of social concern and cultural reform are necessarily apostate?

    There is no doubt that Paul “preached Christ first” as you say. That is very simple and true, but it fails to answer the question.

    Do you think that everyone who does socially-concerned ministries of service are all necessarily preaching some other gospel? OR do you think that some who engage in social betterment and also preach the gospel are perhaps not in error?

    I have tried to ask this politely and clearly. I explained why I am asking, because it seems to me that you have overstated things by implying that some good folks are reprobate because of their involvements in social concern ministries Some may be, I’ve agreed, but that wasn’t my question.

    I am interested in your teaching on this. Do you or do you not say that everyone involved in justice advocacy or social ministry or cultural reforms or loving ministries of mercy to others are necessarily wrong to do so?

    Can you say yes or no to that? I would be grateful for a straight answer.

    • Byron,

      Again, I believe there is some confusion. It would seem you have taken Judy’s comments as mine.

      I have responded to your questions.

    • Byron,
      I think it has been apparent all along that neither I, nor Judy, nor Yvonne have said that Christians shouldn’t be interested in social justice, helping the poor, etc. What has been plain from the very beginning is that we have said these concerns should not be the FOCUS of Christian ministry, rather they should be a by-product. Our FOCUS should be preaching the Gospel. For whatever reason you want to make a fight out of this. I agree with Yvonne – you don’t seem to try to understand at all.

  5. Yvonne,

    For some reason, when I replied to this last post I had not seen the previous first answer further up the screen. (Your second reply that started saying I was “blinded” had some truth in it—-I was blind to that previous post!) I don’t think I saw it at all, and now, in looking back, I see it. I don’t know how I missed it. I only saw your second part.

    You note that I said the article you quoted was from YWAM and I was absolutely mistaken. You clearly quoted Jews for Jesus, another fine ministry. I was clicking around a bunch of websites, and don’t know why I thought Youth With a Mission had anything to do with it. I am truly sorry for that error, and any confusion it caused readers. Please forgive that error.

    AND, I see that you were fairly clear in your answer, there. The second post presumed the first answer, which I didn’t see, and, again, I apologize for that. The second post really seemed to miss the question, but you were more forthright in the first answer. Not sure why I missed that, but I’m glad it is posted there, now.
    Again, I apologize for responding only to your second answer.

    If you want to delete that reply to your second post, I wouldn’t mind, since it doesn’t make much sense given that first answer you gave.

    So, I am gathering that you affirm social concern ministries if they do verbal evangelism FIRST*** You do not say that everyone that is doing any such work is apostate, although you think that if that is ALL they do (“building their whole ministry around that”) that is wrong.

    Okay, that is clear. Thanks for clarifying your position on this.

    ***we don’t need to argue about this, really, but I do kind of wonder how that always works. I’ve helped start a couple of crisis pregnancy centers, for instance. If a troubled gal comes in for a sonnegram, must we do a full gospel presentation first before we answer her questions about abortion? Glen has worked with down and out, poor urban folks, hard and dangerous work (I know.) Must he present the whole message of being lost and the possibilities of being saved through the Cross first before picking up a drunk off the highway? I hope you are being a little rhetorical in your insistence, and I hope you recall the Pauline injunction not to judge harshly. There are those that do social concern work out of love, and share the gospel with great urgency whenever it is sensible and humanly possible, which is quite often. I hope you don’t presume that they have lost their first love or have failed to preach the gospel because of their robust work for human betterment (unless they have shown otherwise.)

  6. Byron,

    If I may be so bold, I believe you should re-read this thread of comments.

    It is clear that you are confused by the comments made by Judy and me.

  7. Yes, I have re-read these, and several of our other exchanges when I asked for simple clarifications.

    I did, here, confuse Judy and Yvonne, and apologize; I should have cited one rather than the other. I don’t know if you two have identical views, so I should have been extra careful there. Sorry, that was sloppy of me.

    HOWEVER, I disagree with Glen’s note that you three have been clear about this all along. When Glen says it has been apparent, I think he is being a bit too generous. Other readers have exclaimed to me that things that each of you have said were nearly heretical in their original wording. NOW you make it clear that you are concerned about the “focus” being Christ-centered and evangelistic and that everyone that helps the poor is necessarily apostate, as it seemed Yvonne had implied in the start of this post. (That is why I asked, said I didn’t fully understand. Why she didn’t just clarify it then with such simplicity, if it is just so obvious and apparent and something I am not trying to understand. (How can you say that, Glen, when I ASKED for a simple answer and didn’t get it, so I had to ask again: yes or no, do you or don’t you believe…?? I WAS trying to understand, but the answers I got were mostly telling me how dumb and blinded I was, NOT plain-spoken answers to my question.) If it was so clear that that is what you were saying, I don’t think I would have spent hours and more tears and prayers than you know, insisting that you clarify yourselves.

    As you word it above, Glen, it is fine. Had somebody said that in just such an “apparent” way, there would have been no argument.

    However, Judy and Yvonne have insulted friends, said things that were inaccurate, made vast overstatements that they never apologized for, and refused to clarify simple matters without long and laborious questioning and not come through with this kind of a clear answer early on. I don’t know why that is, but it strikes me as a bit odd.

    Apparent? Not to many readers. I’ve gone over the past few weeks worth of threads and started a list of the things that where said imply strongly that anybody that does social justice work is wrong (not just those who make a whole ministry of it.) I also started a list of the times I specifically asked for a simple clarification. I have chosen not to throw those back at you, in part because I had way too many to list easily. And, because you have clarified here a bit, and will accept that this recent comments clarifies your earlier ones.

    If Judy and Yvonne agree with you in what you wrote above, I am glad.

    Hopefully you will be more judicious and accurate in your statements about others in the future. Thank you.


  8. Yvonne:

    In the thread above you affirmed that Christians should show some concern for the poor, an affirmation I had not really seen before, so I am glad we can agree that the Bible insists that we do this sort of thing. Thanks for being forthright about that.

    YET, you said two things that I wanted to ask about, thinking that readers may want to know your teaching.

    You said that if a group “makes a ministry of social justice” that is a false gospel. And you said that the various Old & New Testament verses I cited to show that God desires justice and charity and social concern should not be read in such a way to justify “creating an entire ministry” around that sort of work. (“Period” you said, to make it clear!)

    Am I right to say that you were very firm that we dare not have a ministry focused around justice or service.

    I suppose you have been praying as most Christians have been, for the relief work in Haiti. Nobody likes to see little children crushed or poor people–some eternally saved, some not–running out of water or in such awful grief as their homes are destroyed and the bodies pile up and the food runs low.

    Now you know that there are disaster relief agencies that have long prepared for this, that do this kind of work, that–in the name of Jesus, also on preaching the gospel as they can–specialize in this calling of doing Christ-centered “humanitarian” relief work. They’ve built their ministry around this, and they are now being called upon to do what ordinary church planters and evangelists cannot do.

    By your blunt insistence, it seems to me, you would say they are heretical, wrong, anti-Christian. They should not have wasted time and money building a ministry focused upon disaster relief. Heck, in an earlier post, you may have indicted them for being “social gospel” heretics.

    Am I reading you wrongly? People who are talking about your blog wonder what you really think. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but unless I have misunderstood you, you would say that because these organizations, Christianly motivated as they may be, have created a ministry around relief and development, disaster relief and social service outreach, that they are sub-Christian.

    Surely no caring person would say that before we pull a child out from under the rubble we must first share the call to repent and receive Christ. (Although I do know some rescue missions that insist that a homeless person sit through a sermon in order to earn the privilege of a free meal.) I doubt if you’d think that gospel tracts have to be passed out right in the middle of the disaster relief. Or maybe you do—you said “period” to imply there is no compromise on this in your view.

    So, do you mind clarifying? Do you think that organizations that have specialized and focused and created their ministry around the social service stuff in Haiti are wrong? Most people are grateful that they are stepping in with experience and abilities and skills and resources to save lives and relieve suffering.

    There is no debate between us that if that is all they do, the gospel is not being preached in fullness. There is no debate that if somebody suggests that this is all there is to Christian ministry that they are unfaithful to the Bible. We agree that Christ must be preached fully and clearly whenever possible.

    But you seemed to say that such organizations are wrong to exist. I thanked God for them this week. Did you? Why or why not?

    Here is why I am asking, Yvonne: it seems that if you can agree that some of our brothers and sisters who have specialized in social service relief work in Haiti are being used by God to help others now, and thereby give some approval to them, you would have to reconsider that “period” you wrote. Maybe some social service specialization is called for, so somebody is ready for such awful disaster work. I don’t want to leave it to the secularists, the United Nations or the Red Cross, but hope that help can go out in the name of Jesus. So I affirm organizations that do that kind of work. I’d like to think you would too.

    If however, you really think that those organizations are false Christians, teaching heresy, and that we ought not to be doing any concrete work there, then that would be a powerful confirmation that I understood your earlier bluntness. Glen earlier wrote that it is apparent that you don’t object to social service work. But you said twice that ministries ought not be focused on or built around that kind of social concern. Frankly, I’m glad those relief organizations have built themselves up around these very things that allow them to know what in the world to do in times like that.

    JUDY: I’d like to pose the same question, in different style, since you too were firm about this matter. If you’d be so kind, could you clarify? You said Christ must be preached FIRST. You capitalized it, and said anything else is false. I tried to be agreeable and affirmed what I presumed was your basic sentiment–yes, yes, Christ preached! Christ is the gospel, and may not be left out! But I did wonder ( but you didn’t answer) what that literally looked like: do you oppose helping somebody out of Christian love, and then telling that person about Christ, afterwords? Is that really how it must always be, preach first, then serve? You were so insistent that it be “FIRST” and that anything else is another false gospel.

    SO, again: there are Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Godly groups that have specialized in relief and disasters and “humanitarian” aid. They do it in Christ’s name, and hopefully everyone knows during and after that these are Christian people showing God’s love. But they are organizations that are not firstly or primarily evangelistic. They are saving lives by the score, even as we speak.

    DO you support such organizations, if they are Christ-exalting, or do you not?

    Some who have followed our exchange have told me that they interpreted your remarks to mean that you do not think those groups are to be applauded, that you oppose such groups, like Christian relief and development groups serving in Haiti.

    I don’t think you really do condemn them, do you?

    Thank you for clarifying.


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