TGC Asks Ray Ortlund: How Do We Work for Justice and Not Undermine Evangelism?

Note from TGC’s editorial director, Collin Hansen: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization opened on Saturday, October 16, and will conclude on Monday, October 25. The event, convening 4,000 evangelical leaders from 200 countries, will address issues including poverty, HIV/AIDS, consumerism, and child sex trafficking. No doubt these and many other issues crying for justice in a broken world affect evangelistic efforts. But already, some observers wonder whether the evangelical bird (to borrow John Stott’s analogy popularized through Lausanne) is tilting toward the justice wing and away from the evangelism wing. So TGC turned to four leaders and asked: How do Christians work for justice in the world and not undermine the centrality of evangelism? Ray Ortlund responds today. He was preceded on Monday by Don Carson and will be followed on Wednesday by Russell Moore and Thursday by Mike Wittmer.


It’s a good question. But I would also ask, “How can Christians neglect the work of justice in the world without undermining evangelism?” And I am not thinking only of our credibility in human eyes. I am thinking of God. He said to us in Isaiah 58:9-10:

If you take away the yoke from your midst,

the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,

if you pour yourself out for the hungry

and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,

then shall your light rise in the darkness

and your gloom be as the noonday.

Jonathan Edwards, in his “Thoughts on the Revival“, when discussing how to promote the awakening, quoted Isaiah 58. Then he wrote this about serving the poor and defending the oppressed:

Nothing would have a greater tendency to bring the God of love down from heaven to earth. So amiable would be the sight in the eyes of our loving and exalted Redeemer that it would soon, as it were, fetch him down from his throne in heaven, to set up his tabernacle with men on the earth and dwell with them.

Social justice and spiritual power are bound together by Christ himself.

  • Carl Nelson

    This morning at Cape Town, Brenda Salter McNeil gave a strong argument in support of this same logic. She used the example of a witness in a court of law who swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. When the cross-examiner finds an error in their testimony they use that to weaken the witnesses entire credibility, undermining the part of the testimony that is in fact true. The witness loses credibility in the eyes of the jury or judge.

    This has been the same in the Church. Our lack of presenting the whole and complete truth (e.g. being effective agents of Jesus doing justice work) undermines our witness to the Truth of Jesus (e.g. evangelism).

    In all probability, the church needs to improve in both areas – evangelism and justice – and our attempts to improve and focus on evangelism may be unproductive if not accompanied by greater effectiveness and response to the many injustices in the world.

  • Concerned

    hmmmm why are we only asking western Christians this question? Are we not the minority?

    • Steve Cornell

      Perhaps–but are we the wealthiest minority?

  • Zach Hoag

    I. Like. This. Response.

  • Pingback: Ortlund on doing justice & loving mercy « God Is My Constant()

  • Pingback: TGC Asks Russell Moore: How Do We Work for Justice and Not Undermine Evangelism? – The Gospel Coalition Blog()

  • Pingback: Working for justice and keeping evangelism central « Faithful Discipleship()

  • Pingback: Different Perspectives | africabound()