Engaging views and analysis from outside contributors on the issues affecting society and faith today.

CP VOICES do not necessarily reflect the views of The Christian Post. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).

Why are Christians attracted to social justice?

 Unsplash/Malu Laker
Unsplash/Malu Laker

Evangelical Christianity is evolving by championing causes and adopting language and tactics once exclusive to social justice — such as combating the marginalization of people of color, addressing climate change, and supporting economic structures for women (with some even waning in their opposition to abortion).

This shift demands a unique discernment in our current era.

The need for discernment was a key tenet of the British Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892). Spurgeon served 38 years as pastor at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, and his prolific writing and teaching earned him widespread renown and established an enduring legacy. During his time as the pastor of one of the largest churches in London, Spurgeon was also a distinguished member of the Baptist Union. Founded in 1813, the Baptist Union has a long history of uniting Baptist churches for numerous common causes.

Get Our Latest News for FREE

Subscribe to get daily/weekly email with the top stories (plus special offers!) from The Christian Post. Be the first to know.

In 1887, however, Spurgeon parted ways with the Union over disagreements on Christian orthodoxy. He noticed the emergence of liberalism, whereby many pastors were questioning or even rejecting such basics as the inerrancy of Scripture and substitutionary atonement, culminating in what became known as the Downgrade Controversy. On leaving, Spurgeon emphasized the importance of discernment, defining it this way:  

“Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.”

Spurgeon further explained that we do not place discernment on a shelf, hoping to pick it up when we believe it is needed. Instead, we maintain it with constant vigilance so we aren’t misguided by our natural tendency to distance ourselves from God.

That hasn’t changed. From Spurgeon’s day to the present, vigilance is always necessary when it comes to all matters impacting the Church. Today, the Christian Church is at a pivotal juncture, thanks to an intensifying discourse on social justice. As such, we need discernment more than ever.

For some evangelicals, the idea of social justice entails standing up for marginalized groups that are defined by culture, such as people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, and those seeking gender-affirming treatments. Others take a nuanced approach to social justice, defining it as the focused outworking of the Gospel in the believer’s life. As the language, tactics, and goals of social justice normalize within the Church, especially among its younger members, nurturing biblically grounded clarity on such matters becomes critical.

A close examination of the modern evangelical landscape would reveal that social justice appears intrinsically linked to the Christian faith, which is why so many Christians think they should join the movement. But is it really? That’s why this alignment requires a sincere examination using biblical discernment. This article will examine the tenets of social justice and compare them to Scripture to clearly distinguish “between what is right and almost right.”

Social justice and cultural Marxism

In light of Christianity’s recent focus on social justice, a question arises about its connection to broader cultural movements. Answering this question became particularly prominent in May 2020, following the tragic death of George Floyd. The incident triggered discussions on the convergence of social justice and its cultural Marxist application with Christian beliefs, as Christians grappled with the demands for justice alongside doctrinal principles.

Although the origins of Christianity are widely known, the genesis of Marxism still needs to be understood. Exploring Marxism not just in theory but in how it is actually put into action within society is crucial to discerning any parallels with Christian practice.

Rooted in Karl Marx’s economic and social theories, the philosophy of Marxism was born in the 19th century to address the clash between the oppressor and oppressed classes and to dismantle societal structures. However, the practical implementation of Marxism in the West faced significant setbacks.

The Frankfurt School, which was founded in Germany in the 1930s and moved to New York’s Columbia University in the early 1950s, was instrumental in the evolution of Marxism and the creation of what’s known as cultural Marxism (i.e., social justice). Marxism was initially focused on the economically oppressed and oppressors through the mid-20th century, but professors at the Frankfurt School soon recognized that Western societies, with their robust middle class and free market economies, weren’t buying economic Marxism. So they turned their attention to areas that did act as sources of societal conflict — most notably race and gender (especially in the United States).

While the Civil Rights Movement, for example, arose out of Christian principles and relied on non-violence and civil disobedience to try to achieve racial integration, a colorblind society, and equal rights and equal opportunity for all, the Marxist tenets took hold in the parallel movement of Black Power, which was willing to use “any means necessary,” including violence and civil unrest, to dismantle the existing power structure and achieve autonomy and racial self-determination.

Likewise, first-wave feminism was led largely by Christian women (many of whom had been abolitionists) who used peaceful protests, community meetings, and letter-writing campaigns to try to get women the right to vote, while second-wave feminists utilized revolutionary tactics to dismantle the patriarchy, overturn laws regulating marriage and banning abortion, and increase their financial independence and career opportunities.

The effort to achieve ongoing structural change continued as academics pushed Marxist ideologies in elite universities and other key institutions. Thus, the core principle of Critical Theory (effecting change by identifying, critiquing, challenging, and changing power structures, often through tension and struggle) advanced alongside the rise of Critical Legal Studies (Critical Theory applied to the law) during the 1970s and 1980s, before reaching its zenith in 1989 with the introduction of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and, soon thereafter, Critical Gender Theory and Critical Queer Theory.

These ideological underpinnings serve as the basis for the contemporary approach to social justice.

While many supporters of these ideologies see religion, particularly Christianity, as a tool of oppression to be eliminated from society, notable religious thinkers have attempted to bridge the divide. They have created a theological basis that enables Christianity and cultural Marxism to coexist.

Cultural Marxism and Christianity

A critical factor that bridges the gap between Christianity and cultural Marxism, drawing Christians in, is the shared focus on justice and equality. A careful analysis of the concepts of justice and equality, however, reveals a stark contrast between how Christians and Marxists (and social justice warriors) interpret these ideas.

Though they share the same terminology, the underlying definitions diverge significantly.

For Christians, justice aligns with God’s standard of right and wrong as revealed in Scripture and reflected in God’s attributes and character (Deuteronomy 32:4). In contrast, Marxists tend to grant justice solely to those they perceive to be oppressed.

Liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez and black liberation theologian James Cone emphasized the societal division between the oppressed and oppressors. They ardently promoted the liberation of the oppressed, aligning these efforts closely with Christian principles of compassion, charity, and advocating for the marginalized.

Viewed through a biblical lens, the concepts of social justice, cultural Marxism, and liberation theology, as advocated by Gutierrez and Cone, contradict biblical principles. For example, these ideologies categorize people based on race and skin color. Scripture instructs us that we belong to one human race encompassing diverse ethnicities, all inherently deserving equal value, dignity, and worth as reflections of the imago Dei (Genesis 1:27; Acts 17:26–27).

Social justice promotes division and socio-cultural class struggle. Scripture views all of humanity as equally oppressed, labeling us as “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:15–23; Ephesians 2:1–7). Consequently, we find ourselves both subject to and complicit in the unjust subjugation of our fellow human beings.

Moreover, by ascribing sinful intentions solely based on skin color, transferring historical guilt to current generations, and fostering ethnic bias, social justice perpetuates divisiveness. The Bible speaks definitively against sinful partiality and tells us not to give preference to the poor (James 2:1; Exodus 23:2–3; Leviticus 19:15). Social justice provides preferential treatment for the poor. These dimensions clash with the biblical ideals of unity, equality, and individual accountability (Ephesians 2:12–22).

Social justice as a philosophical stance also compels its followers to engage relentlessly in “doing the work,” albeit without expecting to witness their utopian aspirations’ fruition. For the Christian, the labor of redemption has been fulfilled through Christ’s sacrifices, positioning believers as inheritors of an eternal kingdom.

Final thought

Christians view themselves as agents of change, called to be a light in the world; this means actively engaging with spiritual and social issues through words and deeds. However, as Charles Haddon Spurgeon taught, we must use discernment when thinking about important issues that can impact the Gospel’s message.

True transformation occurs from the inside out as we proclaim the Gospel to those needing salvation. The change in one’s heart can influence society, touching the lives of men, women, and children striving to live by the Gospel. While some advocate for social justice as a panacea, the enduring strength against adversity lies with a singular entity — the Church — and culture does not wield that power.

Originally published at the Standing for Freedom Center. 

Virgil L. Walker is the Executive Director of Operations for G3 Ministries, an author, and a conference speaker. He is the co-host of the Just Thinking Podcast. Virgil is passionate about teaching, disciple-making, and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Virgil and his wife Tomeka have been married for 26 years and have three children. Listen to his podcast here. 

Was this article helpful?

Help keep The Christian Post free for everyone.

By making a recurring donation or a one-time donation of any amount, you're helping to keep CP's articles free and accessible for everyone.

We’re sorry to hear that.

Hope you’ll give us another try and check out some other articles. Return to homepage.

Most Popular

More In Opinion