The social gospel seems to be two things:
- Redistribution of power, government, authority, and money from the rich to the poor, or the moral to the immoral. "The right ordering of power is called "justice."
- The theme of the entire Bible- a kingdom of heaven come to earth. "Justice then becomes not just the concern of the major or minor prophets, but of Matthew and Philippians and Corinthians and Philemon and 1 and 2 Peter and far more. Such preaching enables God's people to hear and see God's heart for justice.
Certainly Christians in a republic are obligated to participate in reshaping the government at the appointed times, but what of a Christian in a communist or totalitarian country? How do we reconcile Romans 13 and our submission to the governments established by God, or of Jesus when He said "My Kingdom is not of this world?"
Which leads me to my problem with point 2- there is no scriptural support for this assertion. Richard Sterns in his book The Hole in Our Gospel made the best, most systematic effort I have read, and has several passages he uses to define social justice, but they are all taken out of context. (Kevin DeYoung does a good job pointed that out here)
Nor is justice the key concept of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus as the King bringing in the coming Kingdom is the theme of Matthiew. This is to say nothing of the rest of the books picked out.
Other generic thoughts:
The Social Gospel flattens the Ordo Salutis, and the concepts of Divine Wrath, Regeneration, Justification, and Sanctification.
Why is it that the social justice proponents are consumed with the concept to the exclusion of the other great truths of scripture? Its proclaimers don't seem to understand the nature of total depravity and inability to please God. Consider, are we transformed by doing good, or do the transformed do good? From what truth do they get the idea a non-believer doing charitable deeds is pleasing to God? Why does justification never appear in the demand of the social justice crowd? To hear it you would think that the meta-narrative of scriptures is justice, but it only finds it's legitimate place in sanctification. If they understood the nature of fallen man and the need to be Holy they would push people to the new birth, and then charitable deeds second. That we don't see the first concept is an indicator our theology is out of whack.
None of the apostles engages in Social Justice.
When confronted with the need to distribute food to other Christians the apostles decided it was not good to give up their ministry to wait on tables. When they had the chance to revolutionize the world they abstained, deciding instead to change the heart of the hearers. Curious that we would take up a mandate they didn't.
The Social Gospel looks dreadfully like Liberalism.
http://spider.georgetowncollege.edu/htallant/courses/his338/students/kpotter/ "Because the Kingdom of God has been dropped as the primary and comprehensive aim of Christianity, and personal salvation has been substituted for it, therefore men seek to save their own souls and are selfishly indifferent to the evangelization of the world."
How do we know that old time 19th century liberalism is not back and walking the Earth in the clothes of social justice? Why if we accept this movement we won't end up in the same place they did, denying the inerrancy of scripture, or the person and work of the Holy Spirit? Why does social justice look like something Rob Bell would be into, trading doing earthly good for the virgin birth or substutionary atonement?
The Social Gospel looks like Socialism
Jack London's People of the Abyss is the social gospel. That ought to make readers pause and think twice about supporting this as a Christian concept. Personally, when people tell me that MLK is a great model I'm immediately suspicious that they understand the basics of the Bible. He was not a Christian, therefore he's a terrible model, even though he was passionate about helping people, and did great things. Yes, we may praise virtue that God places in non-Christians by His common grace, but why are Christians picking out non-Christians to admire? Shouldn't we question a movement that ultimately concludes that man is the prime person and noble goal?
Now there is no question in my mind that we can see virtues in atheists, because God has not taken the common grace out of them, but that's not what the social justice people are saying.
The Social Gospel solves the problems of the world
Do we need to offer the people of this world a form of Christianity that address the same problems Capitalism does? Is it not a little curious that Von Mises or George Reisman has a better and more lasting remedy to this problem than our Bible? Is it not also strange that Karl Marx is offering something in his (proven false) writings that looks like the social gospel? That conclusion is that the best the Holy Spirit could do is less than the wisdom of the economists. Once we arrive at that conclusion it's time to re-examine our premises.
Lastly, and most importantly, the Social Gospel eclipses the Glory of the real Gospel.
The social gospel has us not talking about Christ and His finished work on the cross, it has us talking about ourselves. The most glorious thing we can do is have a relationship with God, and worship His revealed nature, but it makes it about us. His gospel was in the past, ours is in the future. His makes us message bearers, ambassadors, bringers of good news. The other makes us builders, agents of action that causes change. It is to put the lesser things before the greater. The idea of our works are fine, they are after all God's commandments which are in all ways good, but they aren't the gospel of our great Lord and Savior handed down once for all time. Our works are not equivalent to the atonement Christ offered the Father on the cross. Now I know the social justice advocates would say that this is not the case, but as a practical matter of theology, it is. When Gods plans, views, and ideas come second they will ultimately not come at all.
Well there it is- I might have missed something, but I suspect that this encompasses most of the problems I have with this brand of ideology.
Update: there is a great analogy posted by Ryan Kelly on social justice and the gospel being compared to marriage. Married people do things together after they have a covenant relationship, but not before. To ape the things seen in marriage without the ceremony and dedication is to miss the whole point.
I think it's a spot on comparison and a great way to see the proper place of both good works and gospel message.