TGC Asks Mike Wittmer: 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? Mike Wittmer responds today. He was preceded on Monday by Don Carson, on Tuesday by Ray Ortlund, and on Wednesday by Russell Moore.


Everything hinges on how we answer the question, “Why justice?” or “Who is justice for?”

We fight for justice in part because we want to stop the perpetrators of evil and violence. This is why the most satisfying part of a Chuck Norris movie is the last ten minutes, when the smirking gangster takes a boot to the face.

A better answer, especially for pacifists, is that we seek justice to help the victims of oppression. We care about the widow being scammed by a conniving contractor and we grieve for children who are forced into prostitution or maimed to enhance their begging.

But the best—and only Christian—answer is that we seek justice not only to pay back the perpetrators and to rescue the oppressed but because we love Jesus Christ. No one weeps over injustice like Jesus (nor has anyone been treated so unjustly), and he has been taking names for a very long time. Unlike Chuck Norris, who returned each week to battle new bad guys, Jesus will return to settle things once and for all. He will “set the world to rights” (see N.T. Wright), for his words will become swords that “strike down” evildoers and he “will wipe every tear” from the eyes of his suffering children (Rev. 19:15; 21:4).

We are committed to justice because it matters to Jesus. But if we fight for justice for Jesus’ sake, we will never be satisfied with justice alone. We will not rest until every perpetrator and victim bows before his name, the returning King who gave his life so every unjust person who repents and believes in him may live forever.

This requires evangelism, and it flows naturally from the Christian passion for justice. If justice is primarily about Jesus, we will eagerly tell others about their need for him. If we forget Jesus, it won’t be long until we also lose our passion for justice. For without the promise of his glorious return, really, what’s the point?

  • Matthew Westerholm

    Nicely (and neatly) stated.

  • Preston Stell

    I enjoyed reading this. We do it for those who suffer…because we love Jesus. Thanks for that. All the talk about social justice, and I tend to try to ignore it…when it can’t be ignore. Thanks Dr. Wittmer.

  • Ryan Clevenger

    So, what I hear you saying is that in this whole discussion of “evangelism v. justice,” the stereotypical concept of justice is too small and that by having a more appropriate understanding of our just God, this dilemma disappears.

    Also, the reference to Chuck Norris was a nice touch.

  • Jonathan Shelley


    Good thoughts, especially tying justice to eschatology. Our hope is not in vain.

  • Phillip

    I would encourage the Gospel Coalition to gain the perspective from Christians who are seeking to hold this tension. As much as I respect the writers who are chiming in on this subject, it is absent of voices who have boots on the ground. With the exception of Ortlund, the other two brothers are theologians.

    Thanks for keeping this discussion going.

    • Gary T. Meadors

      Theologians don’t have “boots on the ground” just because they are theologians? Gees… I always thought John Stott has good lookin’ boots. Chris Wright’s are not half bad either. Etcetera.

      But what do I know, I teach Greek and NT. I suppose I have never seen the ground compared to a theologian.

      It is this kind of assumed bifurcation of thinking and living that underminds justice and evangelism.



    Thanks for the response but the larger issue I have put forth is to provide more diverse voices in the discussion.


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