Does a church have to choose if it must focus on evangelism or justice in its community? Regretfully, Christianity in North America has a dichotomy between evangelism and justice. Some argue the church should only focus on evangelism and winning souls to salvation. Others argue the church cannot turn its eyes away from the injustice around it.
Adam Gustine, a good friend and colleague in ministry, helps to correct this unbiblical bifurcation. In his book Becoming a Just Church, Gustine restores balance between the two in the mission of the church. He broadens our understanding of what mission for the church means by showing that God’s mission is so much greater than simply the salvation of souls. Justice is a cornerstone of God’s mission in the world and He invites His people to be on that mission.
Is Gustine correct in his understanding? North American churches tend to go one of two ways: either being fundamentalist and concerned only about salvation or being progressive and only concerned with social justice. When one reads the Old Testament, one can see that God condemns the Israelites not only for not being a witness to their neighboring nations, but also for not standing up for justice. The book of Amos, for example, repeatedly communicates judgment on Israel for not addressing and correcting injustices, along with their false worship and lack of heart for God. God called the Israelites to be a community and propagator of shalom–of peace and restoration.
The New Testament continues such a call. One sees where Jesus’ primary ministry was to those who were marginalized. He fed, healed and cared for those on the edge of society. The cornerstone ministry of the church in Acts was to the marginalized. Through Spirit-empowered ministry, they were able to address concerns of injustice. Paul and Peter not only preached on salvation, but also spoke truth to Roman power while at the same time establishing churches that were preaching the Gospel, caring for people and addressing injustices.
Gustine addresses the heart of the church’s failure in the North American context. From racial reconciliation to feeding the poor and fighting gentrification, churches have abandoned their call to work in their communities. Churches have also abandoned their call to share the gospel while working in their communities. Gustine gives solid biblical, theological and pragmatic content to equip churches and leaders. Using personal anecdotes and examples, Gustine does not hold back in addressing tough topics of justice, such as white privilege.
The concept of shalom is a central theme in Gustine’s book. Shalom carries the connotation not only of peace, but also of restoration. When we merely preach the gospel, we are giving shalom, but when we work for restoration, as Adam explains in this book, we are fulfilling God’s vision for churches and communities of shalom.