In the twentieth century the American church divided between the liberal mainline that stressed social justice and the fundamentalist churches that emphasized personal salvation. One of the founders of the Social Gospel movement was Walter Rauschenbusch, a German Baptist minister whose first pastorate was on the edge of New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen in the 1880s. His firsthand acquaintance with the terrible poverty of his neighborhood led him to question traditional evangelism, which took pains to save people’s souls but did nothing about the social systems locking them into poverty. Rauschenbusch began to minister to “both soul and body,” but in tandem with this shift in method came a shift in theology. He rejected the traditional doctrines of Scripture and atonement. He taught that Jesus did not need to satisfy the justice of God, and therefore he died only to be an example of unselfishness.3
In the mind of many orthodox Christians, therefore, “doing justice” is inextricably linked with the loss of sound doctrine and spiritual dynamism. However, Jonathan Edwards, the eighteenth-century author of the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was a staunch Calvinist and hardly anyone’s idea of a “liberal.” Yet in his discourse on “The Duty of Charity to the Poor,” he concluded, “Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor?”4
Unlike Rauschenbusch, Edwards argued that you did not have to change the classic Biblical doctrine of salvation to do ministry to the poor. On the contrary, such ministry flows directly out of historic evangelical teaching. He saw involvement with the poor and classic Biblical doctrine as indissolubly intertwined. That combination is relatively rare today, but it shouldn’t be. I am writing this book for people who don’t see yet what Edwards saw, namely, that when the Spirit enables us to understand what Christ has done for us, the result is a life poured out in deeds of justice and compassion for the poor.5
Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, 1st ed. (New York: Dutton, 2010), xi–xiii.
We have just released a new Bible study on topic of Justice and the Prophets
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