Evangelism vs. Justice: We can’t do both?

“You provided bread from heaven for them for their hunger, You brought forth water from a rock for them for their thirst, And You told them  to enter in order to possess the land which You swore to give them...‘ - Nehemiah 9:15

Andy Crouch in his book “Playing God‘ (InterVarsity Press, 2013) sets up the quote below with these two sentences:

"These days I do not often meet Christians so passionate about evangelism that they question the need for doing justice. I am much more likely to meet Christians so passionate about justice that they question the need for evangelism."

Meeting the physical needs of the poor wins attention and affirmation from a watching world. Naming the spiritual poverty of a world enthralled to false gods provokes defensiveness and derision from those who do not even believe there is a God.

Our secular neighbors care, many like never before, about relieving human need, and more of them than ever before are indifferent or hostile to the idea that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life and the One who meets the deepest human need. In short, working for justice is cool. Proclaiming the gospel is not.

The old saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care‘ is true. It seems disingenuous to many when the appearance is that Christians care about the “comfort‘ of people getting to heaven when they don’t seem to care about their hunger, poverty and pains in this life.

One Thanksgiving season a family was seated around their table, looking at the annual holiday bird. From the oldest to the youngest, they were to express their praise. When they came to the 5-year-old in the family, he began by looking at the turkey and expressing his thanks to the turkey, saying although he had not tasted it he knew it would be good.

After that rather novel expression of thanksgiving, he began with a more predictable line of credits, thanking his mother for cooking the turkey and his father for buying the turkey. But then he went beyond that. He joined together a whole hidden multitude of benefactors, linking them with cause and effect.

He said, "I thank you for the checker at the grocery store who checked out the turkey. I thank you for the grocery store people who put it on the shelf. I thank you for the farmer who made it fat. I thank you for the man who made the feed. I thank you for those who brought the turkey to the store."

Using his little mind, he traced the turkey all the way from its origin to his plate. And then at the end, he solemnly said, "Did I leave anybody out?" His two-year-older brother, embarrassed by all those proceedings, said, "God." Solemnly and without being flustered at all, the five-year-old said, "I was about to get to Him."

Nehemiah reminded the people of Israel that it was God who provided everything they needed. Perhaps we need to be reminded that the God who provides our salvation, also provides our daily bread. And perhaps we need to remember that He sends us out to bring both to those in need of spiritual and physical food. We can, and should, do both.

Prayer: “Oh, God, the world in which we live needs Your freedom from sin and freedom from hunger. We have the capacity to offer them both, we don’t have to choose. Help me to remember that giving to meet their physical needs may open their hearts to see that You are the giver of all good things and we are simply Your distributors.

I will strive to do both. In Jesus’ Name.‘