Why The Social Gospel Isn’t The Gospel

Jan 10

The Son of God didn’t need to come in order that people who are hungry could have food. There’s already plenty of food on earth, and people could be fed without Him having to leave His heavenly throne. He did, however, instruct us to feed the hungry.

The Son of God didn’t need to come in order to give people money who were in poverty. If so, He did a poor job fulfilling His mission. The poor Guy (pardon the pun) had no money of His own. He did, however, instruct us to take care of the poor and give them money.

But if the Son of God had never come to save humanity from our sins, we would all still be lost and eternally separated from God. That was the reason why He needed to come.

Jesus did, in fact, perform “social” acts of justice. But these “social” acts of Jesus were done in the context of declaring that the Savior of the World had come. Not just as acts of social justice. For example, when Jesus would heal people, He often told them their sins were forgiven, and they would be healed. In one instance, Jesus tells a paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven. The leaders get upset at Him for claiming to have such authority. So Jesus proves it to them by telling the guy to rise up and walk.

It’s no different today. Today, we declare a Gospel that itself declares that Jesus is the only Son of God, and that only He is worthy of worship. That all other gods and religions are just man-made. And just like back then, today’s leaders (even within supposed “Christianity”) object. These proponents of a social gospel get upset: “How dare you claim that He has such authority! What narrow-mindedness! Jesus was about loving the poor and feeding the hungry–THAT is the gospel.”

Case in point: Audra and I met a lady several months back in Alabama who left her denomination, and the last straw for her was the that denomination’s response in the relief effort in Haiti. According to her, churches were encouraged to provide much-needed packages for the survivors of the earthquake. However, they weren’t allowed to provide Bibles or any Christian literature in their packages.

Maybe the Haitian government wouldn’t allow religious literature, but apparently her experiences within that denomination up that point had convinced her that social issues were more important than sharing Christ as the one true Savior and Lord. If so, it is a sad commentary. Although Jesus definitely had compassion and met the needs of the hurting, it was in the context of letting them know that salvation was here–not just from our earthly plights.

I saw this quote from a proponent of the social gospel on someone’s Facebook profile the other day. The quote’s author objects to the term “social gospel” as an accurate description of his faith:

I don’t preach a social gospel; I preach the gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned with the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, “Now is that political or social?” He said, “I feed you” because the good news to a hungry person is bread.  –Desmond Tutu

I strongly disagree with part of what this author is implying. Yes, at the moment, bread is very good news to a hungry person. And we should provide the hungry with bread. But bread does not satisfy as much as we’d like to think it can. For example, I just ended my fast. During the fast, food seemed like the greatest thing ever. “If only I could have food, I would need nothing more!” That wasn’t true. I have food now. But it doesn’t satisfy as much as I had hoped. I need it, for sure. But I need something else even more. Nothing in this world satisfies as we think it ought to, except when one comes to know Christ. I become more satisfied with Him every day. I still haven’t experienced all the satisfaction that comes from knowing Him.

Please don’t misunderstand: It was hard, if not nearly impossible for me to worship Christ when I was without food. I’m NOT saying we shouldn’t give the hungry food. That is ludicrous. We must alleviate the real, earthly needs of suffering people. But merely having food (or shelter/money/whatever) once again isn’t enough to cause people to worship Jesus and come to know Him as Savior and Lord.

It didn’t surprise me to learn that Tutu believes that only parts of the Bible can be trusted, but other parts are not from God. I too have encountered this belief, and with it comes a devaluing of the truth of the Gospel.

This all indicates that there may be many people within “Christianity” who have yet to experience the Gospel or Christ himself. When they do, I am confident their understanding of Him will be enlarged and they will see Him for who He truly is. That’s why we must do more than just uncover the social gospel for what it is, we should pray. Pray that the light of the Gospel would reach everyone.

And those of us who have come to know and experience the Gospel in our lives should not shirk our responsibility to feed the hungry, help the poor, shelter those without homes, etc. While this can’t fix anyone’s eternal predicament, they do serve as band-aids–they help alleviate the earthly predicaments people find themselves in.

We need band-aids. They have their place. But the Gospel is more than a band-aid–it is the promise of complete healing. Can we save anyone? No, only Christ can. But we can help save them from whatever earthly predicaments they are stuck in, and then share about Jesus who can save them from much more!

Next, we can smile with the love of Christ and ask, “Now, are you satisfied with just a band-aid, or do you want to be totally healed?” Jesus has come so that every soul who breathes might come to know Him as Lord and Savior, and may worship Him as such!

While most people we help may not believe that total healing is possible for them, that’s indeed the Gospel–and no exaggeration of it!


  1. avatar

    I’m pretty sure I wholeheartedly agree, but let me qualify/clarify that a bit. You are absolutely right that focusing on the social aspects alone without presenting the Gospel is wrong. It is also wrong to neglect people’s social needs, though. I presume that this is your perspective as well.

    • avatar

      Absolutely. How can you say you love someone and neglect their earthly needs? God’s love isn’t hollow.


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