What is the Relationship Between Social Justice and Kingdom Work?

Social justice apart from the church not ‘kingdom work,’ author says 
By Terry Goodrich
Thursday, October 20, 2011 
WACO, Texas (ABP) — A rising generation of Christians intent on working for social justice must not confuse that effort with “kingdom work,” award-winning Christian author Scot McKnight said during the Parchman Endowed Lectures series at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary.”In our country, the younger generation is becoming obsessed with social justice,” including through government opportunities, politics and voting, said McKnight, author of The Jesus Creed:Loving God, Loving Others.“What it’s doing is leading young Christians out of the church and into the public sector to do what they call ‘kingdom work.’

“I want to raise a red flag here: There is no such thing as kingdom work outside the church — and I don’t mean the building. The kingdom is about King Jesus and King Jesus’ people and King Jesus’ ethics for King Jesus’ people.

“Social justice outside the church is not biblical justice or kingdom work. It is social work. Fine, that’s a good thing. But let’s not call this kingdom work.”

Instead, he called on listeners to make the church “a beachhead of justice and peace and love” for those in need in the church. Then, “let that kind of church and kingdom and justice work spill over into the walls of your community.”

Churches have lost sight in other ways of their mission of spreading the gospel of God’s atoning work through Jesus, said McKnight, the Karl A. Olsson professor in religious studies at Chicago’s North Park University.

“We like our music and our drama groups. We’re now more and more driven to act justly in social ways by engagement with the poor and despised, and we’re hoping that in doing this, our little lights will shine,” McKnight said, referring to the lyrics of a children’s gospel song.

Churches have shaped themselves using entertainment and business models — even down to satisfaction surveys, he said.

But “when will we ever learn as churches and as pastor/teachers that all we have to offer, all we have to tell people about, and all we have to show people is Jesus?” he asked.

Among the primary instruments for doing that are preaching and teaching the gospel, baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Spirit-shaped fellowship, he said.

Through baptism — with its embodiment of the death and resurrection — and the partaking of the Lord’s Supper, “the gospel is shown in a way that words cannot interpret,” he said.

McKnight recalled that in his youth, Communion often was observed quickly at sermon’s end — before roasts simmering at home for Sunday lunch would dry out. He remembered one church even set up a stand where Communion elements could be picked up by departing members.

He recalled thinking: “Yikes almighty. Drive-away Eucharist.”

“There’s no reason to rush the Lord’s Supper, because it’s the gospel,” McKnight said. “There’s no reason to tack it on to a sermon. There are good reasons to let the Eucharist be a sermon.”

Terry Goodrich writes for Baylor University.

Commentary from Scot McKnight written on his blog: I’m all for “social” justice. I’m fighting the trend I see today of equating “kingdom work” with public sector social justice work. As if “kingdom” is something done outside the church. As I read the Gospels, Jesus’ uses “kingdom” for himself/God as King, for his followers who enter into his kingdom vision, and for the ecclesial/social conditions created by those who follow Jesus and his kingdom vision. So, there is no such thing as “kingdom” outside those who follow Jesus. Yes, by all means, kingdom people extend kingdom into other areas but only so far as they are embodying Jesus’ kingdom vision.

Those on the right side of the theological spectrum may think I’m an ally of theirs on this point; not so. I want the church to be a kingdom embodiment and I’m not criticizing social work at all; I’m pushing back against the left-wing mistaken notion that kingdom is what happens outside the church, that kingdom is something bigger (and therefore other) than church, etc.. My view is traditionally anabaptist on this one. The local church is called to be am embodiment of kingdom realities. But kingdom realities only applies those ecclesial actions.

To listen, watch or download Scot McKights lectures at Baylor’s Truett Theological Seminary click HERE

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Filed under Anglicanism, Discipleship, Evangelism, Local Missions, Preaching, Social Justice, theology, Worship

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