Recently I have had someone claim while speaking to me that social justice is “un-evangelical” (in so many words). I have demonstrated several times in my blog that social justice is a biblical concept (for example, here and here), though it may differ at points from how the rest of the world may define it. But is it “un-evangelical”?
The short answer is “no,” but we have to define our terms.
Regarding the “evangelical” moniker, the black church by and large has been ambivalent about that title (even when they have adopted it) because of its association with right-wing politics in recent decades, despite the fact that by all accounts they are just as theologically conservative as white evangelicals, including when it comes to issues such as abortion or sexuality. By all accounts, they would meet the criteria of what it means to be “evangelical” in the original sense. Major concern about social justice (including related boogeymen such as “cultural Marxism, critical race theory, and intersectionality”) is largely a white church issue, but the black church has been holding onto orthodoxy while championing justice for decades, because they have often been victims of injustice. They have been preaching the Bible while standing up for justice before “CRT-I” was part of the lexicon. We would do well to learn from them.
As for white evangelicals themselves, the modern evangelical movement began as a reaction to the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. The earliest evangelicals were neither fundamentalists or modernists (i.e. liberals): they were orthodox in their theology but understood the importance of Christian social witness in regards to justice. Carl Henry was one of them; for example, when he wrote the book “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism,” he criticized the fundamentalists for not engaging in social justice issues. Billy Graham would go on the record later in his life saying that Christianity includes not just personal morality but social justice. John Stott helped frame the Lausanne Covenant with Graham to include language and articles about social justice.
So you see, social justice has quite a pedigree with evangelicalism’s founders. What we are seeing today is simply a rehash of the old Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy.