Is Social Justice Central to the Mission of the Church? (Jim Wallis debates Al Mohler)

“The Carl F.H. Henry Center, located on the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School campus, hosts Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, for a debate on the topic “Is Social Justice an Essential Part of the Mission of the Church?”. October 27, 2011.
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North American Evangelicals have recently experienced a revival of interest in issues of social justice. The growing sentiment among many today is that Jesus preached “good news to the poor,” and was indeed among the poor and marginalized. These Christians believe that the implications of these facts should renew the church’s understanding of the gospel and its mission. Rightly or wrongly, this interest in social justice is transforming the blueprint and vision of ecclesial ministry.

For others, this blueprint conjures up concerns about 20th century liberal Protestantism and a watering down of the gospel’s message of salvation. The defining mission of the church, for them, continues to be the sharing of the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to all nations, generations, and social classes. The issue of social justice, though important, is not to be considered as an essential part of the mission of the church.

A basic question at the heart of the debate is this: Is social justice an essential part of the mission of the church?

The Henry Center for Theological Understanding, in its Trinity Debates forum, is pleased to provide a public venue for addressing this question by hosting two prominent voices from competing perspectives. Jim Wallis will answer “Yes” and R. Albert Mohler will answer “No.””

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  • I agree with Jim Wallis that yes, it is a central theme of the church (you can pick up your jaw now, Kurt…yes, I agreed with Wallis)

    However, social justice in the absence of the One who defines it, Jesus, is not Christian social justice. So, any attempt at enacting social justice in the public sphere, while prophetic in character, is not Christian social justice. Unless you want to restore a Constantinian style state where the church and the state share power, there is no way to have Christian social justice using the secular state.

    So, to that end, I’d go along with Mohler in that, if you define social justice as something the church aims to establish within the state, then, no, it isn’t central to the church.

    • Thanks for posting this video, Kurt. It’s a topic I follow closely, but from the public policy standpoint. And in that vein, I agree with Robert.

      I think “social justice” from the church standpoint is crucial, and I am anxious for us to fully define it from that perspective. At this point it is too easily confused with the similarly named secular movement. I fear the church at times is co-opted by that movement.

      At the same time, I do recognize that the similar goals and the similar names of the movements offer us a wide-open door to better share the good news with our secular counterparts on a heart-to-heart level. I think this is a tremendous mission field.