I’m concerned. There is a prevalent undercurrent especially among evangelicals in their late teens and twenties. These young Christians seem particularly focused on what is popularly called, “social justice.” And I’m all for that. It’s a helpful corrective to the overly spiritualized concern for merely “saving souls” that was so predominant in the evangelicalism of my generation.
Very often, however, when making course corrections, the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. In the name of social justice, we may lose our sense of urgency to continue to strike at the spiritual root of what causes injustice in the first place, namely sin—in ourselves as well as others.
But let’s leave that aside and address a much more disconcerting problem in contemporary evangelicalism, namely, the overwhelming passion to be culturally acceptable and respectable. One of the primary reasons social justice is such a popular catch phrase among emerging evangelicals is simply this: it’s a popular theme within the culture at large and we want to be accepted and loved by those around us.
After all, very few people want to be labeled outcasts and troublemakers. The roll of iconoclast has always been a lonely occupation, and only masochists and misfits intentionally seek rejection, derision, and persecution for its own sake.
Christians often argue that the goal to be relevant and inoffensive is noble because it makes us attractive to our culture and demonstrates love in a culture of hate. It opens doors to share what we believe and why. But to be frank, this is a cultural message not a biblical one. Real love warns of danger and rebukes the foolish and educates the uninformed. It does not keep silent when people are ruining their lives and facing eternal separation from God.
If the goal of the Christian life becomes a passionate quest to be popular and not offend anyone, we are no longer living out our calling to follow Jesus. At its root, this desire reveals that we live in fear and not faith. Like everyone else in our culture, we fear for our personal comfort. We fear being disliked and ostracized. We fear losing our status and our livelihood. But we do not fear God above all else. Ultimately, we end up being ashamed of the gospel because we do not actually believe Romans 1:16 when it tells us that “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” in Jesus Christ.
True disciples of Jesus were not ashamed to preach the gospel in all its power to offend and cause trouble. In Acts 5:41-42, when the disciples were flogged for publicly and persistently proclaiming it, “They went on their way . . . rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” They were not ashamed, but considered it a blessings and a privilege to suffer for and like Jesus. As 1 Peter 4:16 says, “if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
Of course social justice should matter to Christians, but when it only matters because we want to be culturally “relevant” and “chic,” we have not only lost the foundation upon which genuine justice is based, we have lost our understanding of the gospel message itself—that is has the power not only to save, but also offend.
The gospel doesn’t change people by affirming them. It changes people because it confronts them and reveals to them who they really are—miserable, poor, blind, naked, helpless, and godless. It does not offer hope for a materially better life here on earth. It invites us to come and die, to offer ourselves as a living and acceptable sacrifice to God, just as Jesus did.
Ultimately, the goal of the Christian life is not to be liked, relevant, or inoffensive. Neither is it to be odd, countercultural, and offensive. The goal is to know and follow Jesus, to not be ashamed to share His gospel, even when doing so might not only distasteful to others, but downright dangerous to yourself.
We don’t seek to offend needlessly, but neither should we mute our message for fear of displeasing others. To remain silent is to deny the priority of evangelism, the glory of the gospel, and the power of God. We have to get over our love affair with cultural relevance and acceptability and reignite our love affair with Jesus Christ by boldly sharing His gospel of hope and love with all who will listen. Anything less is a sham and a shame.